Friday, April 30, 2010

Less, and More

Maisie and I had another visit from the vet this morning. Her left front is still very sore, although slightly better than last visit. As a precaution, the vet took x-rays of the left front and fortunately we didn't have to remove her shoes. No rotation, which is very good news, but to avoid any more micro-tears in the laminae, she's on 7 days of complete stall rest - no hand-walking and when her stall is cleaned she's going in another stall instead of standing in the concrete aisle. Bute 2x day for 5 days. And then the vet's going to come back and see her again. She does have significant ringbone between the P1 and P2 pastern joints, and that could be part of the inflammation. The likelihood is, looking at our experience last year and this year, that she develops some mild laminitis in reaction to the excessive grass and this is then aggravated by concussion due to her thin soles and her somewhat odd way of going - she was a terrible "paddler" in front when I got her but her movement has straightened out somewhat. The x-rays also indicated that she's tending to overweight the outside edge of her foot, perhaps in response to soreness.

In looking at all this, and thinking more about what I really want out of my relationship with horses, I'm coming to the conclusion that I both want less, and more. Some of you may have read my earlier post about losing the thread. Less heavy work involving horse care - I'm not really physically up to a lot of the work now - stall shoveling, dealing with frozen water tanks, and doing the morning job which involves a fair amount of hard work. Our barn is not my barn and never will be, and I really don't want to find another place to live so I can keep my horses at home, although this might have been ideal when I was younger. I also find that all the heavy labor leaves me without the energy to do what I really want to do, which is work consistently with my horses, year-round. But I'd also like to have the chance to take a break now and then and know my horses are cared for. I've decided to give up my morning job no later than September 1 - Scout and Joe's owner may be interested in filling in some over the summer and might even take the job in the fall.

Our barn has no indoor, which is one of its biggest deficiencies. There are a number of months every winter, and days when it rains (and days thereafter for our arena with its poor footing) when I can't really ride, and the winter care at our barn is brutal. There is no way to keep horses in consistent work, which makes it difficult to work with Maisie and almost impossible to work with Dawn. And I'm increasingly of a mind that our lush pastures aren't necessarily the advantage they seem to be. Due to Maisie's condition, she probably shouldn't be on grass pastures like ours, and we have none that are skimpy other than one very small paddock occupied by Charisma. We need to do a lot more mowing, but have neither the equipment nor the money to do it when we should. Due to the length of our grass, grazing muzzles just don't work very well.

So I've pretty much decided that, if Maisie recovers well, which I expect she will, I will move her to a nearby barn - the same one my older daughter works at now - it's about a 10-15 minute drive from my house. The barn manager is pretty accommodating and easy-going. There are good points and bad points about this barn - it's considerably more expensive, but has much, much larger stalls - 14'x14' (ours are 10'x12'), nicely bedded. The stalls don't have outside windows, but the ventilation is very good - nice high ceilings and big screens on the ends of the aisles. There are decent sized paddocks, but the horses don't go out all day - usually about 5 hours, but there's an indoor to lunge in if the weather is bad. There is a lovely large indoor, and two outdoors - one with jumps and one without. The rings are dragged and watered daily! The facility is well-maintained. The barn and indoor are somewhat heated in the winter, which I don't prefer but it does have the advantage that horses can be body-clipped and can then work hard without getting excessively chilled if they sweat. There are automatic waterers in the stalls, and the manager watches water consumption closely. There are indoor wash stalls with running hot and cold water. Grass hay is fed 3x a day, and they grow some of their own - the quality is acceptable. They will feed supplements you provide. There are no trails, although there's a big field to ride in and there are nearby trails that are easy to trailer to, and I have my own rig. There are two safety features I really like - hay and equipment are stored in a separate building a good distance from the barn, and the barn has a fire sprinkler system. The guy who supervises the barn labor lives on the property right next to the barn.

It's quiet - there are two trainers with small groups of clients, and some Standardbreds kept for racing by the barn owner. Although it's a pretty traditional hunter/jumper facility, and they undoubtedly do training in ways that might not jibe completely with what I do, there's enough quiet times that I can work in my own way. I might have a chance to actually make some good progress with Maisie, and Dawn if I move her over in the fall after my daughter goes back to college. Working with Dawn everyday, she could be a great riding horse. I will lose some degree of control over my horses' care, but I think they will be well-cared for - and I can ride consistently, devoting my horses hours to working and being with my horses and not just doing heavy labor. The extra hours that will be freed up in the early mornings can be used for other things - reading, writing, photographing and studying nature, all of which I've been short-changing. And the long-suffering husband will no longer have to do any barn work!

It's not perfect, but it'll do, I think. Noble will stay right where he is for the moment - he's the hard-keeper retiree who is the type of horse who benefits from our lush pastures, and I no longer ride him. He won't even miss Maisie (or Dawn), since they aren't in his herd. I think this rearrangement will allow me perhaps to take up the threads of my horse life in a different, and I hope more effective, way.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Maisie and Bob

Here are two lovely pictures of Maisie and Bob the barn cat from yesterday, taken by our wonderful P.M. barn lady with her cell phone - Maisie is so gentle with Bob, and he lets her snuff-a-whuff him all over since he knows she won't hurt him:

Today Maisie will stay in, with morning and evening bute and several hand walks. This morning I walked her on the grass around the outside of the arena, and then in the arena itself for a bit - she was pretty comfortable in the sandy arena footing. She isn't as uncomfortable as she was this time last year, but she's pretty sore. I think her grazing days may be pretty much over, and due to the length/lushness of our pastures, a grazing muzzle wouldn't really work - in my experience those seem to work best when the grass is short and more lawn-like. I'll bring Dawn back in from the pasture at noontime so she can graze outside Maisie's window in the small paddock - at least Maisie will be able to see her.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Suspiciously Familiar

Maisie was pretty sore this morning, and her stall showed signs that she wasn't comfortable overnight - lots of pawing. She was a bit better on the grass, although still uncomfortable - especially the left front. No obvious heat in the feet. This is beginning to feel suspiciously familiar. I went back and looked at my posts from last year - last spring, a little later than now, towards the end of May, Maisie developed very uncomfortable feet. We didn't think it was the grass, but rather just plain concussion - I had taken her shoes off for a bit and it really didn't agree with her due to her extremely thin soles and poor hoof quality, combined with our dry, hard ground.

It's looking like things are going the same way this year. The big difference is that last year, putting her shoes back on made her much more comfortable pretty quickly. She's already got shoes on now so that means of making her more comfortable isn't an option. I don't know if what we have going on this year is due to concussion/stone bruising, which is certainly possible - the fact that one front foot is much worse would indicate that - or due to something about the grass - we've been out for a while now, but she's a big eater and has obviously been gaining weight. (My farrier's comment yesterday was that she didn't look like she'd been on a diet - nice! - can we say "fat"?). The spring last year was consistently much colder and wetter than it's been this year, which could explain the one-month timing difference. Once she went back out on grass, she was fine, which made it seem like it wasn't the grass that was the issue, but I'm not so sure. She's been at our barn for a number of years now, and last year was the first year she'd had any problem of this type, although she's always had a tendency to sensitive feet and weight gain, both of which can be signs of insulin resistance.

I did put her out to pasture this morning, and also gave her a gram of bute for her discomfort. We had frost overnight, and sun and much warmer temperatures today, so the fructan levels in the grass will be high this afternoon - I'm going to go look at her early this afternoon and possibly bring her in (although she won't like that much). We have really lovely pastures, with appropriate grasses, but it may be that Maisie can't tolerate this much grazing. I've also upped her chromium/selenium/vitamin E/magnesium supplement (for insulin resistance), which may also help. If she needs to be on dry lot, I don't have a lot of options - we don't have a permanent dry lot, although perhaps we really need one - our big dry lots have been reseeded. She could share Charisma's paddock, but that would mean she wouldn't be able to have hay, and with her history of ulcers that wouldn't be good.

Poor Maisie - can we say "high maintenance"? I'm just hoping she feels better today, otherwise I'm not sure what we're going to do. I'd hate to have to move her to another barn, and would only be happy with one where the horses had stalls opening into a paddock so they could go in and out at will, or a place with other good all-day turnout options. Movement is probably good for her, but spring grass may not be.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

New Shoes

Maisie (and Dawn) got their feet trimmed and reshod (fronts only) this afternoon, and Noble had his trim. Noble and Dawn were uneventful, as usual. Maisie had walked out this morning a bit better (bute last night and this morning) and also walked in pretty well. After her shoes were removed, it became apparent pretty quickly that she was uncomfortable standing in bare feet on the concrete floor - lots of weight shifting and an unhappy face. So we moved outside on the grass so she could stand more comfortably. She was actually pretty cooperative. The farrier found no evidence of an abscess. She has a history of being dreadful with farriers, dating to her old chiropractic problems, but is much better now. She was able to deal with it - some occasions, while he was working on a front foot, of leaning back and using her head and neck and my body weight as a counterbalance. We got the job done, and she went back in the paddock with Dawn (who'd been screaming to her the whole time).

I think she may have a stone bruise, but I also suspect that she's just got some overall sensitivity in her feet - both feet seemed uncomfortable on the concrete when barefoot. She's got paper-thin soles, and it may be that she's somewhat insulin-resistant - she gains weight easily and can become cresty. She's on a chromium/selenium/vitamin E/magnesium supplement for that, but it may be that she needs a bit more. No sign of true laminitis, however, which is good, but I'll be keeping a close eye on her.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Who's Training Whom? and Maisie Update

The mares were taking a break from grazing, standing around in the sun with hind legs cocked - Dawn was lying down as she often does at noon to take a nap - the others were standing guard around her as she slept.

Maisie said: "Sometimes I find my two-legs front-eyes no-fur hard to work with. I want her to pay attention, and to respond when I'm soft by being soft herself, but sometimes it doesn't work - it can be frustrating to work with her. I want her to give with her hands, softly, when I soften with my face and neck. It's hard when she doesn't pay attention - I try to get her attention, but sometimes it wanders off."

Sugar said: "Do you think because they have such large foreheads that they think too much - I expect it's hard for them just to feel what is happening instead of thinking about it, and to pay attention when we're working with them."

The mares agreed and decided to continue napping for a while before resuming grazing.

* * * * * *

Maisie was better, and is now a bit worse. Last night when I brought her in from grazing, she was a little better - not lame but just somewhat unsound. And then she was the same this morning. Tonight, not so good - lame again. I expect it was the bute, or lack thereof - she had bute last night but not this morning, so was worse tonight. Our farrier is coming tomorrow, so I gave her some bute (1 gram) this evening and will give her another dose tomorrow morning. I hope it helps, because as it is, she's not very willing to lift the right front because that involves putting weight on the left front, and I'm also not sure she's going to be very happy having the left front fussed with. We'll have to see what tomorrow brings.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

A Little Better, But Still a Mystery

Maisie is still lame, although somewhat better than yesterday. No sign of laminitis - she was standing equally weighting both fronts this morning and walked out willingly, although she wasn't sound by any means. She's good about her bute - I can give her the paste without even putting her halter on, even though she knows it's nasty-tasting.

I decided to give her her regular turnout with the mares - she frets being confined in the barn with no company, and also doesn't drink well inside. She seemed none the worse for wear from her bout of playing yesterday.

She's still looking sore in the left front, but then sometimes takes some bad steps that don't involve that foot. She walks better on the grass, but struggles walking through the mud. I think we may actually have more than one thing going on. She may in fact have a stone bruise in the left front, but she may also have tweaked something in her hindquarters. She's doing a lot of hind-leg resting, switching sides often, and she looks a little tight to me in the area in front of the sacro-ileac joint at the high point of the hindquarters. There's some puffiness in the area just above the fetlock joint in the left hind, and she's got a lump on her right hock that seems a bit tender.

Who knows? She may have twisted or pulled something in her back or hindquarters a couple of days ago, been kicked or done some stall-kicking or body-slamming during the thunderstorm the night before last - she tends to get pretty upset in stormy weather. I don't think turnout is going to hurt her, since there aren't signs of laminitis and there's no heat or serious swelling anywhere. We'll see how she is this afternoon at bring-in - I'll find out then if I did the right thing turning her out.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Mystery Lameness

Maise walked out of the stall this morning lame - it looked like the left front. No particular heat in either front foot, no heat or swelling anywhere in any leg, and normal eating and manure output overnight and this morning. Since we just went out on grass full day, as a precaution I had the vet come instead of turning her out with the others. Neither she nor the other mares were happy about this - Dawn spent a long time calling for her from the pasture.

The vet came and looked. No obvious heat or swelling anywhere in the feet or legs. No strong digital pulses - they were pretty normal. Sometimes the lameness looked like left front, sometimes a bit on the right front at the walk and trot. Looked very much like left front when turned to the left, not so much when turned to the right. I rode her two days ago and she was sound - she could have stepped on a stone. She was sound leading out yesterday morning. I didn't lead her in last night but had no reports of unsoundness. She isn't really all that reluctant to walk - not at all how she was when she had her concussion laminitis last summer. She has very thin soles, as was shown on the x-rays we took last summer. With hoof testers, it seemed like the heel area in the left front was sore, and the inside heel of the right front, but no specific spots that suggest an abscess. After that, it looked more clearly like she was lame in the left front, and the soreness on the right may just be a result of standing with more weight on the right to take weight off the left.

The vet doesn't think it's due to the grass. She suspects that Maisie tweaked some structure inside her left front, either when I rode two days ago or while playing in the pasture. She can go out to graze for an hour in the morning and then another hour in the afternoon (I guess I'm not done with having to go to the barn several times a day), preferably not when hard playing will occur. Bute morning and evening today and tomorrow and once a day after that, and precautionary soaking of the left front, and then we'll see how she does, better or worse.

Of course when I turned her out, all the mares came running to the gate to greet her and running and playing ensued - no harm done that I could see - she wasn't completely sound but seemed comfortable playing (even though she wasn't supposed to).

Who knows what's going on? I was planning to ride today, but that's not happening for at least the next several days. I'm off to the barn again to bring her in - she's not going to think much of that!

Friday, April 23, 2010

(Sort of) Off Topic: Dragonfly Monitoring and Do We Overvalue the Special?

This post is somewhat off-topic, but it ends up having some relevance to horses and working with horses. I had the chance today to attend a 3-hour workshop for people interested in dragonfly monitoring. Our local Forest Preserve Districts and conservation organizations have an active network of volunteers who undertake monitoring activities for such things as rare plants, frogs/toads, birds or dragonflies in our nature preserves and on private property. This is interesting and valuable work, and provides an opportunity for interested amateurs to contribute to the work of scientists. The area where I live has many water areas, full of dragonflies - marshes, streams, small lakes and ponds, and I've always been interested in observing the dragonflies - this was an opportunity to learn more and perhaps contribute something.

There are many dragonfly species in Northern Illinois - almost 100 - so there was lot to learn about, ranging from the most common to the possible rare sightings. I was also inspired by some wonderful macro photographs taken by one of the participants - beautiful detail and insight. I did not realize how diverse the habitats are that dragonflies prefer, and how specific many species are in their flight, perching, hunting and egg-laying preferences.

Somehow this got me started thinking about horses - but then, everything pretty much gets me thinking about horses! As we were talking about the common, and then the relatively rare, dragonfly species, it occurred to me that we could have been talking about horses. There are horse with outstanding achievements - Tevis Cup winners, Olympic medalists, World Cup show jumping winners, Triple Crown winners and aspirants, and even that beautiful dressage/show jumping/eventing horse that wins competitions. And then there's breed preferences - like with show dogs - there are beautiful purebred show horses of every description. As a former hunter/jumper competitor, I've been as guilty of these preferences as the next person - I got Maisie largely because she was so beautiful.

But what about the ordinary, everyday horse? The perhaps ugly (by conventional standards), oddly colored or not purebred horse that is someone's special friend or companion, or that achieves in the backyard, or the lower level show ring, or on the trail, something special with a human companion? Or the therapy horse that provides help and comfort to someone who is mentally or physically challenged? Does it always have to be about the beautiful or the perfect or the competition winner? I think half (or more) of the problems in the horse world - abuses of all kind - come because of the human desire to compete and win, sometimes regardless of the cost.

There's a lot to be said for the value of the ordinary - the horse that is someone's valued companion or friend, regardless of breed, appearance or pedigree. How do we learn to value the everyday (but very special) horse, or dragonfly for that matter, as much as the "special" horse, dog or dragonfly?

Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Geldings Bring Themselves In

Today (keeping fingers crossed!) should be our last day of restricted grazing. We had frost overnight, and 50sF today with sun. We were out for about 7 hours today, and if every one feels well this evening, we'll be out full day tomorrow. Night time temperatures are going to moderate a bit, and we're going to have highs in the 50s and more cloudiness, so despite the rain in the forecast I think the grass will be OK. I brought the horses back into dry lot at around 2:15 this afternoon. For the past several weeks, the geldings have been in one of the pastures that feeds through a gate into their dry lot. Every day, as I bring in the mares, the geldings have been assembling, continuing to graze, near the gate between their pasture and the dry lot. When I'm done with the mares, I open the gate and herd them through - they're pretty amenable despite the lack of grass where they're going.

Today I tried something different - I left the gate between the dry lot and their pasture open. I knew they'd spend the day grazing in the pasture. As I brought the mares in, one by one the geldings walked back through to the dry lot. Noble and Joe stayed behind in the pasture for one last bite, but when I whistled to them they came right on through and I shut the gate. You'd think our geldings were a wild bunch from my post a few days ago, but they're actually a pretty sensible lot. They've learned the routine and are happy to help, which sure has made my job easier!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Birds On a Roof

And not just any birds - waterfowl. As I left the house to walk to the barn this morning, there was a Mallard Duck standing on the ridge of a neighbor's house. As I was taking out horses this morning, there were two Canada Geese standing on the ridge of Lily's old outdoor shed - right on the way to the pastures. I'm not sure how waterfowl manage this feat - they don't have the feet for perching or standing on surfaces that aren't flat. Maisie noticed the geese, but wasn't perturbed. Sugar and Misty came next (after Sugar trod soundly on my foot being a bit bargey coming out of the stall - we had a do-over on that one) and they didn't seem to notice the geese at all.

Dawn noticed the geese - Dawn notices everything. There was blowing and snorting, and at one point it looked like she was thinking of running over me - not an option as I made clear. Fortunately I had a pocketful of treats, so I clicked and gave her a treat at various points for standing calmly. She decided the geese weren't so bad after all, and we made it safely to the pasture. As I was walking back in, the geese went into a honking, neck-snaking display and flew off - I'm glad no horse had to witness that, especially Fred and Fritz who were next in line.

* * * * * *

Maisie and I got in a good ride this afternoon. We went on a short trail ride at the walk as a warm-up. She was pretty relaxed - warm temperatures and a belly full of grass help a lot. Then we went to the arena - she balked for a moment at the gate (she had already tried to head to the mounting block, thinking she was done), but then went in. We did some vigorous trot work - lots of 20-meter circles and serpentines at sitting trot and some stretches of straight-line work at rising trot asking for a bit of lengthening. She was extremely forward but controlled and responsive. Now that she's sound and able to use her hind end properly, she's got a very powerful trot and a lot of impulsion for me to work with.

A good ending to a day that started out a bit strangely!

Monday, April 19, 2010

Geldings Gone Wild

We have a fairly geriatric group of geldings - Noble will be 30 in a few weeks, Joe is almost 28, Fred is in his mid-20s. Fritz is in his late teens, but has some soundness issues. Scout's the baby - he just turned 7. It was a frosty morning (grazing still will be restricted this afternoon), and the old guys decided to show Scout that they could still strut their stuff.

Noble got things started:

Scout joined in:

Fred didn't want to be left out:

Noble leads Fritz on a lap:

Joe leads the pack:

Scout, with Noble following and Joe taking a breather at the top of the hill:

I love this shot of Joe - it really captures his personality:

Scout rounds the turn:

Dance moves were popular:

Fritz lays it out:


The mares asked what all the commotion was about - although Dawn had done her best racehorse-out-of-the-starting-gate imitation when I let her go this morning.



And Maisie:

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Scout and Joe Get In Trouble

Actually, it wasn't their fault. While I was cleaning stalls this morning, Scout and Joe's owner came running back into the barn - "Help, I put Scout and Joe in with mares by mistake!" I went out with her - she's a very experienced horse owner but said she was thinking about something else as she turned them out - the mares were at the far end of their pasture at the time. Much galloping ensued. When I got out there with her, the mares were clumped together at one end of the pasture keeping a close eye on the intruders, who were pasted together at the other end of the pasture. Everyone was grazing - the attractions of grass win out every time.

We went down to catch the two errant boys - Joe refused to be caught - I guess he was afraid we were going to take him in. He started running and so did the mares - Dawn and Sugar were aggressively herding the other mares to keep them away from the boys. I heard someone get kicked, but all legs were still operational so we focussed on getting Scout and Joe out. We took Scout out through a lower gate and Joe followed and could then be caught. We took down the electric in that pasture, which allowed us to get back into the aisle. Scout and Joe went off to the correct pasture, and I went to inspect all the mares for injuries. Sugar had a gash on the front of her right hock, but it wasn't even bleeding and she was sound - just the skin was taken off, so I called her owner and left it at that.

Dawn's had a somewhat swollen left hind the past several days - I think she got it by kicking the gate and fence between the two dry lots (showing the boys who's boss, I expect). There's a little scrape and some lumps. This morning it was a bit better, and she's completely sound.

* * * * * *

I got to see something wonderful this morning - there was a Yellow-headed Blackbird on the ground following Dawn as she grazed and eating the insects she was stirring up. I've never seen one before - they used to be common in the Chicago region before development eliminated much of their preferred wetland habitat. They're now an endangered species in Illinois, so seeing one was a real treat.

Never a dull moment!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

They're Back (Ominous Music)!

The tick count (0n me) for today is 2 - I took one . . . off . . . my . . . face (!!! yuck!!!!). One of the barn cats had 3. None that I saw on my horses, but that's coming too. Last year, one day, I got 22 ticks off Maisie alone. I'm hoping this year won't be so bad.

This morning the vet came to do another round of shots for 8 horses in our barn (3 others use different vets) - rabies and intranasal strangles/strep, which is by far the horses' least favorite. So, in addition to moving horses around for grazing (we're up to 4 hours today), there was the bring-in and out for the vet. Our new vet isn't quite as adept with the up-the-nose vaccine - she took two tries on some of the horses and after one they're not very cooperative - Dawn, Sugar and Noble were particularly difficult. At one point Dawn was against one stall wall, and turned her hear against the wall so we couldn't reach it, and Noble and Sugar thought the head-in-the-sky approach was the best, but we got the job done and no one seems to be holding a grudge.

The vet also took a look at Blackjack's eyes - his cataracts seem to be getting worse and he's got some scarring on his retinas, particularly in his right eye - but she says it's hard to know how much he sees. She does recommend that he go back in a fly mask to protect his eyes; and his owner is trying to find one that is a little less opaque so he can see better with it on.

I thought I might do some baths this p.m. - no riding in this heat (we got up to almost 80F today) due to the rabies vaccination - but all the horses are still a bit hairy, so I decided to wait until they've shed out a bit more - just groomed instead.

Our wonderful barn lady called me after feeding time to report that both Noble and Joe weren't eating much and seemed a bit warm - particularly Joe, who is still sporting a heavy coat. I went to the barn at about 8:30 p.m. to check on them. I could tell Noble was OK - I could hear munching from his stall. Joe seemed very quiet, so I took his temperature - 101.4, which isn't a high temperature, but he seemed listless and was sweaty, so I called his owner. She said to put him and Scout outside in a paddock with a bit of hay so Joe could cool down, so that's what I did. She'll check on them in about an hour. It's great to have such a clued-in p.m. feeding lady, and owners who really care about their horses and pay attention to what they need.

Tomorrow is our first day out in farther-away pastures, so the horses will be very excited!

Maisie and I Get Some Things Done (Together)

Many thanks to all of you who took the time to comment on my last post on the thread of horses in my life. Your words and thoughts are very valuable to me, and it's good to know that others have experienced many of the same things in their lives with horses. I try very hard to be honest in what I write here - good, bad and ugly - and the fact that you as readers don't mind when I do that is important. It's hard to tell where these thoughts will lead me, but it's good to get them out in the open so they are more visible to me. This may help to clarify what paths are possible and right; that's one of the things I really like about blogging - I think better when I have to write things out.

* * * * * *

I decided to go to the barn yesterday afternoon and see if I could work with Maisie enough to get a satisfactory ride - I expected it was going to take some effort by both of us and it did. I'm pretty tired, and I expect she is too.

It was warm - 70sF, sunny with some wind. After grooming, I saddled and bridled Maisie and took her into the arena and got on. After some warm-up at the walk, we worked at the rising trot for a few minutes, using the whole arena. After about ten laps, including some large circles, she was starting to get pretty revved up and was about to stop listening to me and have a meltdown, which isn't what I wanted. So I dismounted, got the fuzzy nose halter and lunge line, and we lunged, and lunged and lunged some more. She was fairly excited and working hard - lots of cantering and some vigorous trot work. Once she began to relax a little bit, I took off the halter and lunge and remounted. Still no go even at the sitting trot - she was distracted and wanted to ball up and explode. So I got off and we repeated the lungeing - she gave me some pretty dirty looks. This time the trot was more regular and she was starting to focus a bit. We worked for a while, then I stopped and got on again.

We walked for a bit so she could catch her breath, and every time her walk got too fast we did a small circle until she adjusted her pace, and then we moved on. Then we started our trot work. My objective was to be able to do some effective sitting trot work, keeping her in front of my leg and listening - when she sucks back and falls behind my leg is when the trouble begins, but she has to be able to accept my leg without exploding which was the point of the lungeing - to take the edge off her energy enough that she could listen. We got there - I got in a set of nice sitting trot work with her moving well off my leg and staying in front of my leg - if she started to think about falling behind I was able to move her up. We did a lot of figures - small circles, serpentines and some leg yields. There was a lot of impulsion, but it was controllable. I was able to add a small amount of straight line work at the end and we finished with a nice trot up the center line to X and a halt.

Then we went on a short walking trail ride with Sugar and her owner. It went well - Maisie was pretty tired by this point and was sweaty and needed to cool down. There were a couple of occasions where she wanted to jig on the way home - we turned in a small circle until she gave up on that idea.

I think in order to move forward with her that I need a plan - I went in with one this time; I need to be prepared to take the time and put in the effort to get to an acceptable result on every ride; and I need to be more assertive about redirecting or managing behavior that I don't want. I managed to do this today - I don't know that I'll have the energy to do it every day, but I shouldn't ride her unless I do. I think once she's convinced that she can do what I'm asking without flying off the handle, she'll be fine and the need for the extra stuff like lungeing may fall by the wayside. Right now I have to be prepared for her to not be a "just get on and ride" horse, and if on some days she is, that'll just be icing on the cake.

I know what to do, and how to do it, at least with Maisie, if I can find the energy and focus to do it. The real question is whether I want to enough to put in the effort required. Only time can answer that question, but as a number of you pointed out there are lots of possible paths to take - including taking a vacation, which is the best idea I've heard in a long time. I haven't had a real break in a number of years (too many to mention as it's embarrassing), and it's overdue.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

I'm Losing the Thread . . .

I've been thinking for several days about how to express what I'm feeling. (You may want to get a cup of coffee or whatever else it is you're currently drinking - long post ahead.) I think life is somehow a bit like a tapestry, or a complex weaving, with many different colors of threads, with each color representing an aspect, or theme, in one's life, or a person or place or situation - job, obligations, interests, and all that. Most peoples' lives have many colors, but with certain colors predominating at some times and then not at others. Sometimes colors disappear for a while and then come back again. Sometimes colors go away for good. So far, my life has had many different colors representing people, careers and interests that have gone, come and gone again or come to stay for the present.

I've often been someone who is willing to turn away from a career or an activity that no longer provides satisfaction, without real regrets. I like taking on new challenges and activities, and really enjoy learning new things. I have all sorts of interests. I haven't been much of a traveller, but love to read, think and write. I love the aesthetics of all of the things that go into my activities - the colors and textures of vegetables in cooking, the seeds and plants in gardening, the music and beautiful instruments in my recorder playing and the beautiful yarns I get to work with in knitting. I think sometimes that I love the objects in themselves as much or sometimes more than the activities that involve them - I think I'd rather look at and admire a beautiful red pepper than cut it up and cook it! (Maybe that means I'm just a tad lazy, who knows?)

With horses, I think it was the same from the first. I've always been attracted since I was a child by the look of horses - their various colors and markings and specific personalities and behaviors. When I was a kidlet - say from the age of 6 or 7 up to late teens - I was completely fearless and rode anything and everything with abandon. I liked to show off and I liked to go fast and prove myself. I was the original wild child - pretty much unsupervised, living out in the country, and getting into all sorts of things including the ponies in the field across the street. I had my own horses until I was about 16, and did all sorts of things.

Then when I got to college, I had the chance to take real riding lessons (I'd never had any before) - although I was a capable rider I had lots of things that needed correcting and improving. I also got to compete, and that fitted right in with my natural tendency to want to show off and win - I was intensely competitive. I rode a lot in college - it was part of who I was and how I defined myself. I'd had a pretty serious back injury in my pre-college years, and it gave me some trouble that got worse just before I graduated.

Then I went to law school and stopped riding completely - in fact I didn't get on a horse again for almost 20 years. And here's the odd thing - I don't think I missed it at all. I made no efforts to ride or even be around horses. The only horse activity I noticed was horse racing - I watched on television and even got to attend a Triple Crown race with a college friend who remembered that I used to like horses - I was at the Belmont in 1978 when Affirmed beat Alydar for the last Triple Crown in an amazing stretch drive.

The only other horse occurrence of (substantial) note during this time occurred when I was pregnant with my older daughter. My husband and I were on a driving vacation and made a big detour to visit Secretariat at Claiborne Farms - they actually brought him out of his paddock and I got to pet him on the shoulder. I had watched every race he was in on television, and it was a big highlight to see and actually touch this beautiful, gracious horse. He died shortly after that due to laminitis and I was grateful that I was able to make the visit.

My older daughter was fascinated and delighted by horses from the time she was a toddler. When she and her sister were about 8 and 7, they started taking riding lessons and seemed to really enjoy it. After a bit, I started taking some lessons myself, why not? I could still ride pretty well, and had some fun with jumping. Then I got Noble - I was spending a lot of time at the barn anyway and he just suited me. Although he was very responsive and forward, he was also a Very Good Boy at all times - my (non-horsey) husband could handle, groom and even lunge him. I had fun riding him (when I was home - my job at the time involved a lot of travel, including international), including on the trail.

Then my daughters got a horse (a little TB called Dawson) and pony (Norman) to show in hunters. They showed a lot, and I was spending a lot of time at horse shows, so I got a horse to show - Promise. We showed a lot, won a lot of ribbons and awards, and had a pretty good time for a while. Then Promise fractured her leg and I got Lily. My older daughter wanted to do jumpers at that point, and Lily turned out to be the perfect horse for that. Dawn and Maisie joined the herd, again with the objective of showing. But we were increasingly troubled by some of the things we were seeing in the show world - lame horses, mistreatment and even outright abuse of horses, and the ribbons-are-the-only-point attitude of many of the competitors. Standing around in bad weather waiting to go in the ring began to be a bit tiresome too.

Then an incident occurred involving our trainer at the time and Dawn, involving training methods we found unacceptable (I should have found things unacceptable before that time but I was a slow learner and too complaisant) and we immediately took all of our horses out of training and moved them to the barn we're at now, which has no trainer and no indoor arena. We were a bit at loose ends, and not sure where to take our horse lives. Then we happened to attend a clinic with Mark Rashid on the recommendation of a friend, and a lot of things changed. We had to completely rethink how we were riding and interacting with our horses. And it was very hard - it required a lot more attention and care. We rode in a number of Mark's clinics, including two week-longs in Colorado, and learned a lot which we worked to apply with our horses.

One thing I think that's difficult about using Mark's approach to working with horses is that there is no formula, no program - first you do A, then B, then C, etc. The work with each horse uses the same basic principles and ideas, but it's specific to the horse and requires an enormous amount of attention and care from the rider. That makes it hard. In the early days, I had trouble seeing where I was going and learning how to listen and respond to what the horse was telling me. In the old days I would have just gotten on and ridden and coerced the horse into doing what I wanted if necessary while making it look good at the same time. That was, oddly enough, a lot easier, but it was also wrong in a moral sense to me.

And we still have our legacy horses, who were intended for the lunge-down before riding, gear-up and ride approach we used in our show days. I would never have gotten either Dawn or Maisie (or especially Lily) if I'd intended to keep horses at home and just have fun on the trail. That's not to say they couldn't become good trail horses someday, somehow - I'm just not sure that I'm the one to do it. And I'm a lot older now - when I was the age of my daughters I was fearless enough and physically capable enough to ride just about anything (using whatever gear it took and riding through anything that happened, including rearing, bucking, bolting, you name it). I'm approaching 60, and my reflexes aren't what they used to be and I have a number of physical limitations, including a damaged back and arthritis and bursitis in various spots, that can make riding uncomfortable. I also am not longer happy taking the personal risks I used to take.

This is a long way of saying that the horse threads in my life may be petering out, or perhaps changing color. I'm not sure where this is taking me. I know a lot about horses and horsekeeping - maybe too much and too little at the same time, if you get what I mean. I know how, or mostly how, to work with a horse to make progress and improve things, but sometimes I feel as if it's just All Too Much Work. Maisie has been a very frustrating horse to work with - I still appreciate her beauty and sweetness (there's that aesthetic thing again - I got her in the first place because of her beauty and the sweetness was an added bonus), but she's a tad excitable and hard to teach (at least for me). Our ability to go on the trail just isn't there - oddly enough it used to be but she's more herd-bound and excitable now, probably due to some things I've been doing in my work - I just don't seem to have the will or gumption to take the time and effort to work things through with her. Dawn is an amazing horse - athletic, brave and exciting, but I've pretty much decided that I no longer have what it takes to ride her or even work with her much. I'll keep her here for my younger daughter over the next several years while my daughter is in college, and then we'll see what comes next. I don't think my younger daughter would ever consider selling Dawn, but perhaps she could keep her near wherever she's living at the time.

I'm seriously thinking about giving up my morning horse job - Scout's owner will probably job-share with me over the summer and the barn could hire a new person to start in the fall. I could still have significant influence over how the horses were fed and handled, and could see them every day if I wished. I'd love to have a life that was less governed by the daily routine of having to take care of and ride the horses - it's starting to feel like an obligation instead of a pleasure. Maybe some travel, maybe time for some other activities that I enjoy. My older daughter might be willing to take Maisie on as a training project, and perhaps even sell her for me as a lower-level hunter. If that doesn't work out, then I may just retire her and look at her in the pasture.

Or maybe these feelings will recede as the weather improves. Or maybe I'm just achy and sore today. Or maybe I'll get my gumption and desire to work with the horses and ride back again. Or maybe not. No decisions have to be made today, but I may be losing the thread . . .

Monday, April 12, 2010

Grazing Beauties

It was another beautiful sunrise - molten colors on the horizon with a layer of clouds overhead:

As things lightened up, the clouds looked very textured:

Each herd is going out for 1 1/2 hours today. The mares wanted to graze, but Dawn left the gate at speed and spent some time cantering around the pasture:

Here is one half of the characteristic Dawn head fling from side to side:

More cantering:

Finally, she settled down to graze with the others:

Sugar was very busy with grass:

Maisie was more interested in what I was up to:

Misty was on the move:

Little Blackjack let me take a few pictures:

At one point, Blackjack fell asleep while standing with his head down and nose resting on the ground - I was a bit worried about him but after a bit he came around and resumed his normal nibbling.

Looks like it's going to be a nice day, and even better, the fence contractor has started work!

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Back to the KK Bit

At one time I used to have a huge collection of bits - I was a bit junkie. Now that I pretty much only ride in snaffles, and in snaffles with smooth mouthpieces or at most a roller, a lot of those bits are gone - the ones I wouldn't want anyone using on a horse went in the trash and the others were passed on or sold. But I still have a pretty extensive collection.

I've found that horses often have very strong preferences for one type of bit over another. When I first got Maisie, she made it clear that she hated a single-jointed snaffle - I think her mouth is shaped in a way which means that a single joint is just uncomfortable, even when used correctly. For a long time I rode her in a KK Ultra - the double joint seemed to make her very comfortable:

In a search for more precision, and to help her with her softening work, we've been working for a while in the Rockin' S snaffle - it hangs in a fixed position and Maisie's softening work progressed well:

But since it's a single-jointed bit, I think we may have reached the limits of what the Rockin' S could do for us - lately Maisie tends to want to avoid contact with the bit, and will even suck back or curl up, particularly if she really wants to move forward. This results in her hindquarters coming up and losing engagement, which throws her on the forehand - even though she's not lugging on the bit.

So today we switched back into the KK Ultra full cheek. She did a lot of chewing and mouthing - this bit really moves around a lot, which is both a strength and weakness, depending on the horse and situation. There was a lot more horse in my hand, and some occasional pushing against the bit. Oddly enough, I was happy with this - I think she was somewhat afraid of the Rockin' S due to its single joint - and if she can take up some contact comfortably in the KK, I think the curling up evasion should disappear. In fact on the trail today, when she started to get a bit antsy - this is when she would suck back from the Rockin' S - I could take up some contact and use a bit of leg to ask her to soften and relax, and that worked pretty well.

When I first got Maisie, she only knew how to move around on the forehand, treating the bit as a "fifth leg". This was both a matter of training (or lack thereof) and also some soundness issues that had to be fixed. Maisie now is able physically to engage behind, and knows how to do this. So strangely enough, I want more horse in my hand rather than less at this point, in order to be able to have a connection through the bit. We'll have to see how that goes, but signs are encouraging.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Dawn Does the Shoulder Rest

Yesterday when I was grooming, Dawn wanted to do the shoulder rest, and our lovely barn lady managed to get some cell phone pictures:

Complete happiness and relaxation: