Sunday, May 30, 2010

Leading the Thought

Like many riders, I think, particularly those from English disciplines, I tend to overuse my hands and focus too much on "riding the head" rather than the whole horse. Yesterday, to work some more on Maisie's tendency to work herself up and rush, I wanted to try something completely different. I decided to try riding with almost loose reins - no real contact at all - and see if Maisie responded by being able to go slower off my thought, as expressed through my energy level and my seat and posting rhythm. I also wanted to make it clear to her that I was confident that she could go slowly and didn't feel a need to restrain her. It worked pretty well. My daughter had ridden her earlier in the outdoor, and she'd been pretty worked up. I rode in the indoor, and although she had plenty of energy, she was able to listen to me and do a nice, slow trot in both directions all the way around the ring. Since it worked so well, after we did one set we took a walking break, and then repeated the set and then I got off to reward her. The whole time we were trotting, I was thinking "slow, slow, slow . . . " and consciously lowering my energy level.

This made me think some more about the things I wrote about in my previous post. To me, the concept of getting ahead of the thought (that the horse might have) directly points to leading the horse with my own thought. I think, if done well, that leading the horse with my thought can avoid the common practice of correcting/punishing the horse for doing what I don't want, which only teaches the horse that - what I don't want. It doesn't really give the horse a good idea of what I do want, and can be frustrating for both horse and rider. If I can lead the horse with my thought, and clearly and consistently communicate what I want the horse to do, then this should make it easier for the horse to do it. The horse is actually looking to me to provide leadership - to lead with my thought - and if I don't do that, the horse has no choice but to fill in the gaps with its own thoughts. I think that's where a lot of the trouble comes in. A quote from the Mark Rashid book Whole Heart, Whole Horse:
[M]ost of the problems we see boil down to simple miscommunication between the horse and rider. And the vast majority of those miscommunications often boil down to the rider not giving the horse the direction it needs to perform the task properly, or . . . inadvertently taking a little mental break while the horse is still working. (p. 104)
If I expect my horse to try to work with me and offer the best they can, I owe the horse some things too: having a clear idea in my mind of exactly what I want the horse to do at each moment of my work - not just "trot", but "trot exactly here, at exactly this pace, in this direction and with this destination". I know what I often do is give the horse a cue, the horse responds and then I stop giving direction - I don't keep leading the horse with my thought. Of course the horse is going to have to step in and make decisions. And then I'm back in the cycle of endlessly correcting what the horse does wrong instead of leading the horse with my thought to do what I want at each moment of our ride. This way of riding takes a lot more attention and, yes, thought, than how I was taught to ride, but when I can do it, results come, often in truly amazing ways.

Maisie and I are going to try out some different things today, and we'll see how that goes.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Getting Ahead of the Thought and Farrier Questions

My daughter rode Maisie outside today and they got some good trot work done. I came to the barn a bit later and rode Maisie again. Our work didn't go too well initially - she was wanting to rush at the trot and got fairly revved up, even offering to buck once, despite circling. I asked my daughter to get back up on her for a bit to show me what she'd been doing that was working. My daughter emphasized that, with a horse like Maisie who tends to get excited and worked up, it was important to do something as soon as she starts to think about speeding up, even before she actually does it - getting ahead of the thought as it forms is easier that dealing with the action once it's underway, as she then tends to get more and more excited.

So, my daughter would trot with fairly short reins but not a lot of contact, looking for a slow - in fact very slow - trot. We're not worried about head position or softness at the trot yet - first we want her to self-regulate her pace. One thing at a time. As my daughter said, at this point there's no trot that is too slow - adjusting for forward with Maisie isn't an issue as she's all forward all the time - no leg is required. We want Maisie to self-regulate her trot, and to also respond to a soft half-halt. As soon as Maisie thought about speeding up - but before she actually did so - it is possible to feel this but it's hard to describe - my daughter would circle her in a small enough circle to cause her to think about her feet and about rebalancing, and would continue to circle until the thought (again this is a matter of feel), not just the feet, was slow and soft. There was no hanging on her mouth or bracing against her - just giving her a chance to figure it out on her own. Then straight again until the thought of rushing formed again, and repeat. The circles I was doing were also too large, allowing her to continue to rush and build momentum - they needed to be about 10 meter circles to work well. This can be hard on her stifles, but she's coping well.

I got back on and was able to work with her successfully in both directions. Today, we didn't put together long strings of correct slow trot, but I rewarded her for being able to take 8 or so slow straight steps in a row in each direction. Tomorrow we're work on being able to do longer straight stretches and a 20-meter circle without rushing. It's lovely to have a horse with so much forward, but sometimes it's a challenge.

* * * * * *

Cheyenne in a comment yesterday asked a question about the picture of Dawn's shoe - she notice that it had four nails on each side and also didn't have a toe clip. Since the farrier came to trim Noble and shoe Dawn this morning, I took the occasion to ask him some questions. Those of you with farrier experience (I'm thinking of you, Mrs. Mom, if you're interested), please chime in with comments/thoughts/different ideas if you have them. My knowledge of farrier issues is limited - I know what I know because I've dealt with it, but that's all and there's plenty I don't know.

Here are some of the questions I asked, and his answers as best I can remember them (all inaccuracies are my fault):

Why would you use 4/4 nailing, or 3/4?

He said this was very much a matter of farrier preference, but that he would not use 4/4 nailing with a horse with long narrow feet - the last nails would be too far back towards the heel. Dawn has very broad, round feet, and so the 4th nail isn't too far back and provides some extra insurance against her taking her shoes off (it didn't work this time), and at her last shoeing her walls were a bit crumbly and the extra nail was indicated. He often does 3/4, alternating between shoeings with the 4 on the outside or inside.

Toe clips?

He says when he was starting out as a farrier a number of years ago, he was taught to do toe clips in front and side clips in back, but now rarely does toe clips. Since the toe tends to grow much faster than the heels, a toe clip tends to move the shoe forward as the foot grows, resulting in heels that spread over the shoe margins. He also says that toe clips tend to break off, making the shoe unusable for a reshoeing.

When does he use side clips?

When a horse like Maisie has squared off toes (as she does in front with her Natural Balance shoes to improve her breakover), the shoes tend to want to shift backwards with usage, and the side clips help stabilize the shoe.

He also said that shoeing is a trade-off - in order to shoe you do damage the hoof wall. He said that a horse shouldn't be shod unless there's a reason due to how the horse is being used or due to specific issues of hoof structure and quality - if a horse can do well barefoot that's preferable. My relationship with my farrier has developed and improved over time, for which I'm grateful. He's also willing to come and do Maisie at her new barn, which will make my life easier as he's familiar with her quirks and special needs. I appreciated his taking time to answer my questions, and thanks to Cheyenne for starting this off!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Horse Bends Steel (and Splits Teeth) With Bare Hooves!

I was reminded of how powerful our horses are by looking at Dawn's twisted steel shoe:

Even though all the clinches are still in place, she amazingly only removed one piece of hoof wall.

I was reminded of the same thing when looking at the x-ray of my tooth (the one on the left):

As the endodontist said, "you don't need me to see that" - it's split from top to bottom down the middle, in fact all the way into the root. No wonder it hurts - it's surprising it didn't hurt sooner. It can't be saved even with a root canal, so it has to go. I'm lucky it wasn't my jaw that looked like that, and just a tooth. Another dental appointment awaits to remove it.

Our horses are mysterious and powerful creatures with their own special powers and capabilities, different from but not inferior to those of people - and not just in bending steel or splitting teeth! I spend so much time with them it's sometimes easy to forget how amazing they are, how careful we should be in working with them considering their power, and how honored we should be that they allow us to work with them and do things together with them in partnership.

Maisie Isn't Mad and We Do More Trotting

Yesterday Maisie wasn't so peeved at me. My daughter didn't have time to ride her, so she only got ridden once, by me. Before I rode, I took her to the indoor and turned her loose to see how she was moving after her hard workout of the day before. I had noticed that her left hind was a bit puffy above the fetlock, but there was no heat or sensitivity, so I suspected she'd been resting the hind foot due to soreness farther up the leg - hock or stifle, perhaps - and it had stocked up a bit. She walked sound, and was a bit stiff at the trot, but not off. She also wasn't terribly energetic - I had to urge her to trot by swinging the lead rope - either she was still tired or had decided to conserve her energy.

When I got on, we did some loose rein walking to warm up and she felt pretty good. When we moved up to trot, she was slightly short-strided until she warmed up - just muscle soreness, I expect. We did some good trot work - she was able to maintain a forward pace without rushing. At one point when we were circling left, her left stifle briefly locked and she took a bad step, but she was fine after that. She's had trouble with locking stifles before, and the best medicine for that is muscling up. I expect her stifles were sore from the smaller circles she had to do when my daughter rode her the day before and she was a bit wild. Small circles are hard on stifles (that's one reason I don't lunge her very often), and Maisie isn't yet fit.

After we were done and had cooled out a bit, I got off and did some massage on the ligaments inside the stifles to relax them a bit, and also did some more pressure work on the muscle knots in the right side of her neck. Then we had a rinse off. It was a good day. Today I won't be able to ride - I have a visit with the endodontist to evaluate one of the teeth that was damaged when I was kicked in the face last June (if you missed that, here's the post about it) - it was pretty badly cracked but only has started to hurt recently. While I'm at it, I'll probably have him look at the other three teeth that had parts sheered off. It's a continuing reminder to me of how important personal safety is around horses.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Cruise Ship For Horses and Trail Permit

You know those cruise ships where there's an all-you-can-eat buffet, and where it's possible to eat, and eat and eat until you can't eat any more? That's what the pastures at the (old) barn are like right now. The grass is profuse and tall. We have far too few horses for the acres of grazing, so the pastures are going wild. We did finally get some of them mowed over the weekend, but the guy doing the mowing either set the mower too high or else the blades were dull. You can hardly see where he mowed and all the medium-height grasses, full of seed heads, are still there. We've got a number of insulin-resistant horses and a growing number of very, very fat horses - a recipe for disaster. Although our grasses have been carefully managed to have the right types for horses, there's just too much and they're all over-eating. We have no large dry lot area for horses who need to lose weight or can't be on grass. We don't even have any eaten down pastures. This is one of the main reasons I moved Maisie - there just wasn't anywhere to put her where she wouldn't risk another attack of laminitis. I'm pretty worried about Dawn, who is getting fatter and fatter, and is insulin-resistant.

I've sent an e-mail to the other decision makers with the message that we need to make some changes for horse health. I hope they listen.

Dawn lost a shoe yesterday in a big pasture with lots of tall grass. I thought the odds of my finding it were low, but decided to try anyway. I had seen where she had done some of her playing at turnout. I made a circuit of the lower area of the pasture where she'd been rolling and playing, and what do you know, there was the shoe sticking up out of the grass! It's still usable, so there's a little money saved.

This morning I ordered a trail riding permit from our local forest preserve district. There are a number of nice preserves with excellent horse trails within an easy driving distance. The permit doesn't cost a lot - $35. I've been meaning to load up Maisie and go to some other locations for a while, and now that she's at a barn with no trails I'm more motivated. She also needs a break from time to time in her more intensive training regime. As soon as my back's recovered enough to hitch and unhitch my trailer, we'll be on the road - I'm hoping to get her out perhaps once a week.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Maisie Is Mad . . . But We Trotted

I got a text message from my daughter this morning: "Maisie was wild". Today my daughter took her to the outdoor arena and they trotted out there for the first time (I'd worked her out there at the walk before.) Maisie did not want to trot at a normal pace - she was excited and wanted to race. They eventually worked through it, but Maisie had worked very hard by the time it was done.

When I got to the barn, Maisie was still damp from her rinse-off - even her face had gotten sweaty. When I brought her out and started to tack her up, she started giving me the evil eye. She was positively glaring - she was really mad. Now normally Maisie is very sweet and kind, so this wasn't the usual Maisie. I expect she was tired and perhaps a bit sore. She even fell asleep briefly as we were getting ready.

My objective today was to reinforce the work we'd done yesterday at the walk - we did that - and then to trot for a bit in the indoor - she'd already been going well in there with my daughter on previous days. My back's doing pretty well, so I was up for it. We did trot, and Maisie was good for me - we did a nice steady trot for a bit, making some circles and large figures. I wasn't worried at this point about softness at the trot - she was doing some bracing and rooting from time to time - but just about the rhythm and pace. We'll work on softness later; one thing at a time. We didn't trot for long, both for her sake (although she was sound) and for the sake of my back.

I also took her back out to the outdoor for a walk around. We stood for a while in the shade (it was quite hot), and she gave me a couple of glares out of the corners of her eyes. When I got off, she was still mad until I put her away.

We'll see how she is tomorrow - but if looks could kill I'd be dead by now!

Monday, May 24, 2010

Long, Short and Stepping Under

Yesterday it was quite warm - almost 90F - and today's supposed to be about the same. I rode Maisie yesterday in the late morning - I figured she wouldn't mind coming in from her hot outside paddock, and I was right - I got a big whinny when I went to get her.

We worked, still at the walk, on more strengthening of the right hind - lots of stepping under and into the corners and turns, and some spiral-out work while going to the right. I could tell it was somewhat hard work for her, since she started out somewhat bracey when we began our work on this, but she improved as we went. She pretty much stays soft continuously at the walk now, without any curling up or going too low. This means that I now have a pretty clear idea of when she's struggling a bit with something because the brace tends to come back until we work through it.

In order to "sneak up" on halting without bracing, and in lines with Jean's very good suggestions from a couple of posts ago, which were in line with what I was also thinking, we did lots, and lots, and lots of transitions within the walk from long-strided, marching walk to shorter-strided walk, while keeping the same tempo. I did this without any hand or leg aids at all - just either "allowing" with my seat to get the longer strides, or slightly resisting the motion with my seat to ask for the shorter strides. We also worked on maintaining the impulsion regardless of stride length and on keeping the same tempo - so the shorter steps weren't slower, we were just covering less ground. She picked this up very quickly, as we've done some of this work before.

While I was grooming, and while I was untacking and giving her a rinse off in the wash stall, I asked her to ground tie. She did beautifully, and one of the boarders said "my horse could never do that" - this is a pretty traditional hunter/jumper barn where horses are always cross-tied. I told her that Maisie had always been a very fidgety horse until we worked on some patience and self-calming exercises. They probably think I'm a bid odd, and perhaps they're right!

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Sunday Grazing

I remembered to take my camera to the (old) barn this morning. The horses were close to the barn, as our pastures are (finally!) getting mowed. The mares were grouped together - it still strikes me as odd not to see Maisie with the others:

The three geldings who were out (Scout and Joe's owner hadn't come to the barn yet) were also grazing together - I like how all the tails are flicking in unison:

A killdeer is nesting in the gelding's pasture - she (or he) was irate when I took a picture and stood up off the nest - if you look closely just behind the legs you might see the speckled eggs:

The geldings all stepped to the left (Noble wears a SuperMask II, which I find to be OK but not excellent - the fit is so-so and not very close and the mesh is very coarse which could make it hard to see through).

Fred wanted a closer look at what I was doing - he seems to have made a full recovery from his episode of choke:

Fritz was friendly:

So, nose shot!

Misty is, shall we say, a bit rotund - she's Impressive-bred and a HYPP carrier, so that accounts for some of the bulk, but the richness of our grass is a contributor, too. I worry about her weight, as she also has the tiny little feet that some halter-bred QHs unfortunately have.

Dawn is modeling her Crusader fly mask - I've been very satisfied with this mask - it fits well with good eye clearance, and the ears, forelock hole and long nose are all great features - Dawn has always tended to get flies and gnats in her ears and up her nose and the mask helps with that.

I'm hoping to get in a ride on Maisie (still only walking for me, alas) later this morning. Enjoy your Sunday!

Friday, May 21, 2010

Maisie Goes Back-to-Back

Fred is doing well so far - grazed just fine all day yesterday, no temperature and bright-eyed. As a precaution, we wet down his hay last night and also put several broken salt block pieces in his feed bin to slow him down.

Maisie got ridden back-to-back yesterday. My daughter was riding her in the indoor when I got there, and she was doing a lovely relaxed trot all the way around the ring - if she starts to go a bit too fast, she slows immediately in response to very slight pressure on the reins. When my daughter got off, I immediately took her to the outdoor arena and got on to continue our softening work at the walk. The goal was to work until we got 13 soft steps in each direction without her dropping her head too low and going behind the vertical. We started our work in her harder direction - to the right. She quickly got what I wanted, although I think it was harder work for her - when her head is very low and she's curled up, she doesn't have to engage her hindquarters. To carry her head in the proper position - somewhat higher and without going behind the vertical - while being soft and not braced requires her to engage her core and use her hindquarters while relaxing her top line from nose to tail. I could feel the difference. Whenever she went too low, I would slightly raise my outside hand so that she would feel zero pressure only when her head came up and forward - I didn't put her head in the position I wanted by pulling on it, but she got an immediate release as soon as she found the spot. Pretty soon we could repeatedly get our 3, then 5, then 7 and up to 13 steps to the right, and then we did it to the left.

Today, my daughter reported that they had their best trotting session so far. She's doing so well that they're ready to start on trotting sets to build her fitness. I rode in the indoor this afternoon (luckily - it poured briefly while I was riding - yeah, indoor!) and we did more work at the walk - almost an hour's worth. I wanted to give her a break from the intensive softening work, and also wanted to work on getting her to engage her right hind, which seems to be a bit weak. Before I got on, I did some massage and pressure work on her crest and the right side of her neck - as I suspected, she had some crampy areas. I'll work on them every day to help the muscles relax and release. After she has her teeth done, we'll do some more chiropractic - the jaw and TMJs are connected to everything else and getting the teeth and chiro done close together in time can really make a difference.

We did some energetic walking on a loose rein - I really wanted her to step under herself behind. Then we did a variety of lateral work - Maisie knows how to do these things, but getting her to step under herself with the right hind was part of my plan. We did some leg-yielding - particularly moving to the left where the right hind had to engage and cross over - and some turns on the forehand and haunches. We also did some sidepassing - she did this very well, I think the best she's ever done it, very soft and engaged. We'll work up to doing the "lateral floating" exercise - which really puts it all together.

Then we moved on to working on her backing. The objective here was for her to listen to me and not just start moving backwards without stopping, and for her not to drop her head down or overbend - just to take one slow soft step at a time backwards and wait for my cues. I started each bit of backing with her already soft - otherwise the backing just becomes a brace. She was a bit worried about this, but gradually relaxed enough to give me several sets of slow back steps - we only did two steps, one at a time.

We started some work on her halts from the walk - she tends to brace in downwards transitions, but part of that is her lack of fitness in her hindquarters. I ask for the downwards transition to halt by riding forward into it, feeling each footfall and cueing with my seat and energy level, and only then using just the slightest bit of hand and "planting the feet" as each foot comes down into the halt - works like a charm for getting that perfect square halt. Maisie tends to stay soft until the last step, when she braces just a bit against the hand - it's almost like she's using my hands for balance in that last step, or perhaps it's just a habit. To interrupt this brace, as it was starting, I would turn her slightly as we halted, and then take two steps back.

She was beginning to get tired and a bit frustrated. We got two improved halts and stopped - we need to work more on this and get the softness to really come through, which it will. Next ride I may start on this so she's a bit fresher both mentally and physically. I was really impressed with how good her concentration is - even when the rain came pouring down on the metal roof she only startled briefly then went right back to work. I'm really pleased with her progress in both her trot work and our daily walking sessions - it's only been a week since we moved!

* * * * * *

Thursday, May 20, 2010

"Tutoring" and Fred Chokes

Yesterday our newest barn cat got snatched up by me and taken to the vet. His name is Night, and he is a beautiful sleek young black male cat with yellow eyes - very sweet and friendly. He was clearly someone's young tomcat who got lost. Right after he came to us a couple of months ago, he got a bad respiratory infection - sneezing and runny eyes - so we couldn't take him in until he felt a bit better for his shots and neutering - "tutoring" as Far Side would have it:

It took him a long time to get well, and recently he's had a bit of a relapse - a bit listless and sleeping a lot. He also had an abscess on his leg - probably from fighting - which looked like it was getting worse. So I took advantage of his being a bit sleepy and stuffed him in the carrier and off to the vet we went.

It turns out he had a fever - over 103 degrees - apparently normal in cats is 100-101. Even though there was some risk in anesthetizing a cat who wasn't completely well, we decided to get everything done at once - he got his rabies, distemper and an antibiotic shot that would last two week, was "tutored" and had his abscess drained. I was able to pick him up in the afternoon and bring him back to the barn - he wasn't very happy with me, and slunk off. But by later that evening, he was his friendly self again. I have to bring him back to the vet in 2 to 4 weeks for a distemper booster, and we'll see how easy he is to put in the carrier then!

* * * * * *
Scout's owner was feeding yesterday afternoon, and called me when Fred had a problem. (That's Fred in the header today.) She was feeding and heard choking and coughing - it was Fred, and lots of chewed food and mucus were coming out of his nose - it was choke, which both Scout's owner and I had seen before. We took his food and hay away and called his owner who called her vet. I spent some time while we were waiting massaging the left side of his neck along the jugular groove - the esophagus is close to the surface there. The vet came within the hour, and my younger daughter and I assisted. He had some Banamine and a quick-acting sedative, and then the vet tubed him and gently flushed out the obstruction with water. The obstruction was very low - just where his neck joins his chest. As the tube moved up and down, it was possible to see it moving through the ridges of the esophagus, which was both amazing and somewhat scary.

A little later that evening, when the sedative wore off, we gave him a couple of flakes of soaked hay to eat. This morning, he had eaten all the hay with no ill effects, although he wasn't as perky as normal. We need to watch him closely for signs of aspiration pneumonia which can be a complication of serious choke - he probably inhaled some of what came back up. No temperature - it was 98.6F - which was good. I gave him a handful of his breakfast, which he ate. When I turned him out, he was grazing normally. Tonight if he's still OK, he can go back to his regular hay and feed. We'll keep taking his temperature a.m. and p.m. for several days.

* * * * * *
My older daughter and I both rode Maisie yesterday. My daughter rode her in the indoor, and they were able to use the whole ring while doing trot work without rushing. I rode outdoors - it was a beautiful day, and we worked some more on our softening work at the walk - we were able to start where we left off with 7 steps, and worked our way up to 9, 11 and 13 steps in both directions. She's still struggling a bit to the right and also wants to fall in - her right hind may be a bit weak or sore and she might also have some knots in the muscles of her neck - I'll do more carrot stretches and some massage today before I ride. Today I'm going to try to get her to refine her head position - she has a tendency to go very low with her head and get somewhat behind the vertical - this is what she thinks she's supposed to do - and I'd like it to be a bit higher and not behind the vertical. I'll have to adjust my hand position and ask until I get what I want precisely. It's supposed to be another beautiful day, so we'll be outdoors again.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Work Ethic

I've been thinking a lot about what it means to have a work ethic - whether you're a horse or a human. What my daughter and I have been doing with Maisie has made me think about these things.

Maisie's already making progress. Yesterday my daughter rode her and things were already improved. Maisie had had some turnout in the morning, but my daughter didn't let her run in the indoor before riding, she just got on. By the end of their work, Maisie was able to trot using half the arena and maintain a proper pace without rushing or falling in, in both directions. The day before, she'd only been able to manage a circle at one end of the ring. And my daughter said she was listening and responding to what was asked.

My ride in the afternoon was good as well. We only walked - I can't do more than that and still need help picking feet and tacking up - and ended up going to the outdoor arena since the indoor was being watered. Maisie hadn't been out there before, and it was windy and a bit chilly, so this was very exciting. There was a horse being lunged in the small arena and some folks driving around in golf carts across the street on the golf course - lots to look at. She was nervous and somewhat distracted. My objective for our session was to get some nice forward walk (not a problem) and then start to work on her softening.

We started doing small circles and figure eights at one end of the ring. We started with 3 steps of softening - it took a while to get even that correctly: I'm not looking for head position only - it's easy to fall into the sin of "riding the head" - but for relaxation of the jaw, poll, and whole top line to the tail and engagement of the core - followed by a release, and then repeated, and so on. We also worked on not falling in around the corners. By the end of our 15 minutes of work (that's all I was able to do), we were up to 7 steps of softening in a row, and were able to make a bigger circle in each direction using the end of the ring. We also made some expeditions up and down one of the long sides. The longer we worked, the more focused and engaged she became - she was still noticing things around her and got distracted, but would come back and reengage with what we were doing. My daughter came out to watch for a bit, and said that she was going to be a great riding horse again. We're both very pleased with her progress after only a few days.

I think for me work ethic describes how I want both the horse and myself to approach what we are doing - and I think it takes both of us, not just the horse, to achieve this. I think I have to engage in the work as much as the horse does. It certainly isn't just a matter of working, or exercising the horse, it's a matter of having a specific plan with thought-out steps and working together with the horse to achieve that. I have to provide direction, but the horse has to step up and engage with me, even if only to tell me that they don't understand or are having trouble concentrating. I often find if I can start with a task the horse can accomplish - like Maisie doing small circles at one end of the ring - and can get a conversation going while working on that, that the horse becomes more and more engaged and both my and the horse's concentration on the work increases. If it's going the way it should, there's a continuous conversation - ask/response - with both parties asking and responding so that a common goal can be achieved. There's nothing that feels better - exercise or just riding around is fun too but this has a completely different feeling - it's like having an intense conversation with a good friend.

I think this approach develops a work ethic in both horse and human. The objective is to have both parties really working when they're working, together. Knowing how much to ask for and when to stop is part of this too, and can be difficult. I also think there can't be a rigid program - each horse is different. I also think when we're working we need to be working - it requires concentration and effort - this means that I don't stop and chat with friends, and I don't answer my phone, and once the halter is on, my horse is working - no snatching grass. I need to make sure I accomplish something specific (sometimes less or more than I set out to do) - I can't leave the horse hanging, and bring my full attention to everything the horse says in asking or responding. I need to take whatever time it takes - horses don't wear watches - and take things as slowly as needed - impatience or being in a hurry doesn't work. I'm hoping as we work more consistently with Maisie, that very soon when she comes out of the stall we will be able to buckle down together and go to work very quickly - so far the signs are encouraging.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

20 Ticks and Maisie Gets Back to Work

Poor Scout - when he came in from turnout he was very itchy - in fact so itchy that he was rubbing his butt and tail so hard on the stall wall - he was almost sitting on the wall - that he broke the top mooring of the wall (it's horizontal boards in vertical metal holders that are attached to the walls) and ended up with one whole end slightly leaning over towards the neighboring stall. (His owner is going to resecure it.) We had to figure out what was bothering him before he deconstructed the barn. The geldings moved to a new pasture yesterday, and I expected ticks, and that's what we found. More than 20! Yuck! And his owner had de-ticked him the night before. Most were on his tailbone, in clusters, and the poor guy had one up between his butt cheeks. Our lovely evening barn lady and I worked and worked at removing the ticks, and poor Scout was so appreciative - standing like a statue and stretching out his neck and wiggling his lip. Once we were done, he calmly started eating his hay. He has a very long and thick tail - it almost drags on the ground, and his owner trimmed it up so that the ticks will have less opportunity to climb it.

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Maisie's getting back to work. I'm still not up to much riding, so on Sunday when my daughter isn't at the barn, I just went there and groomed and then did some in-hand and leading work with Maisie outside. There were horses in the big outdoor ring, so we went to the small outdoor which is adjacent and did some in-hand lateral work and also some backing. I switched bits - when my daughter rode her Saturday she was very bracy in the KK double-jointed with lozenge - and we're now using a version of this Mylar high port, although without the slots to attach the headstall and reins as we don't want the mild leverage effect. This bit is very stable - it really doesn't bend at the ends of the roller. When I put it on Maisie, she carried it well even when the headstall was still too loose, and her mouth was quiet, and stayed quiet when I moved the headstall up a couple of holes.

While we were in the small outdoor, we did some standing around just observing things - this was the first time she'd been out there and she was pretty relaxed. Then we did some backing. She wasn't really doing it correctly at first - just rushing backwards with her poll flexed, but there wasn't any real softness through her neck and back. We has to work for a while to begin to get that. I got a few nice, soft steps a couple of times and then we were done. I'm sure some of the hunter/jumper folks in the next ring thought I was crazy, but they'll get used to us and how we do our work, I expect.

Yesterday, since Maisie was staying perfectly sound, my daughter got in a good ride on her - I was there to watch. First I let her loose in the indoor to have a bit of a run - she was more energetic than she's been. We saddled her up, and after some warming up at the walk, they moved up to the trot. Maisie wanted to rush - that's her normal evasion - and my daughter worked on redirecting her energy in circles, but she was still pretty excited, even offering up dropping her shoulder to the inside, particularly to the left, and some crowhops. My daughter got off, we took the bridle off and had her self-exercise a bit more. Then back on - this time it went better - no crowhops. Maisie was pretty out of shape - lots of huffing and puffing and she got sweaty even though it was cool. They continued to work in one direction until she was able to go around a full large circle at one end of the ring without rushing. Then she got a good loose rein walking break to signal her that that's what we were looking for.

And here's what I think was the critical thing. My daughter asked her to do the same thing in the other direction, rather than stopping there. It didn't take as long, and my daughter said that Maisie was much more engaged mentally - not just rushing even when she was moving her feet too fast - and that she was listening and responding. She got the big circle with no rushing, and they were done.

It was a very good session. Being persistent enough to complete the specific work you have in mind - we wanted one big circle in each direction at an appropriate pace (the whole arena would have been too much for the first day at her level of un-fitness) - is so important. I sometimes failed to do that out of frustration in my ring work, and working on the trail really didn't do much as our maneuvering options were so limited. Being able to do consistent daily work is going to make a big difference - I think she's going to come right along and be the good riding horse I know she is, once again. My daughter's going to give her a good ride every morning except Sunday, and then I'll ride her in the afternoon. Initially, until my back is fully recovered, my daughter will have to help me tack up - I can't tighten a girth - and I'll only be able to walk, but that's OK - she can stretch and relax and we can do some lateral work and backing work. And soon, I can be reinforcing the things my daughter works on in the morning. I'm actually looking forward to riding again as I can see a way forward.

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The new header is Norman the pony in his last show season with my younger daughter - his show name was 14 Karat and as you can see he was a superstar. He is also enjoying his retirement in Tennessee.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Picture of Lily

I've been asked about the header - it's a photo of Lily and my older daughter, who was 16 at the time and doing her own training, competing in their last jumper class just before we retired Lily from competition due to heaves. Lily was an amazing jumper - they were double clear and placed third, beating a number of trainers, and would have placed higher but Lily no longer was as fast due to her respiratory problems. Lily had the ability to go much higher - my daughter jumped her to 5' and we know she could clear 5'6"- so this oxer wasn't much trouble for her.

It's almost a year since Lily moved to Tennessee, so she could live outside 24/7. She's doing very well there, and you can see her from time to time (along with our pony Norman who is also there) at the Paradigm Farms blog. I miss Lily's funny, big personality from time to time, but I don't miss having to take care of her!

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Dawn Says "eeeee"

I have never met a horse with as many vocalizations as Dawn - she seems to have a different one for every occasion, and she says something different with every one. Last week she actually managed to come up with one new to me - and I've known her for 9 years now (I'm saving this one for last - it's at the end of the post).

My old mare Promise had a silent nicker she used as a greeting - we called it "doing nostrils" - her nostrils would move but there was no sound. And Lily had a funny sound she made when getting to know another horse - she would sniff noses, and then give a short, very high-pitched "me" while turning her head away (in contempt of the obviously lesser being). And Norman the pony would, when excited, give a loud whinny always accompanied by explosive farting - I guess all that effort had to make sound from both ends!

But Dawn has more variety in her expressions. When she's bolting from the gate, or excitedly herding the other horses, or angry at a gelding for expressing interest when it's (not quite) the right time, she does a loud "eeeEEE!", usually accompanied by a head shake, a bite or a kicking motion. She'll do this in her stall when she's in heat and kicks the wall. When she's interested in another horse, she'll do a quieter, interrogative "eeEee" - it has a very come-hither sound to it. She does a bellow and stamp when she's intimidating another horse face to face.

She has a low, sexy nicker that she uses to greet human and horse friends, usually accompanied by sniffing and nuzzling - I think it's about the sound a mare would make to a foal. She oddly enough often makes this sound for our farrier - he finds it somewhat disconcerting. She has what we call her "frantic whinny" - this is used when she's calling to another horse from a distance or is worried about an absent horse.

And she grunts. She grunts "unh" - a short, fairly loud exhalation, sometimes when she bucks but also if she unexpectedly bumps her nose into something - she often is looking in a direction other than the one she's walking in and can bump her nose into objects like door frames or fences. It has a bit of a sound of protest about it.

And last week, she hummed. That's the only word I can think of that describes it - it was the same "eee" sound, but soft, low-pitched and elongated - just softly sing "e" in a quiet, low voice and that's the sound she made - she was using it to acknowledge Maisie as we walked by her paddock.

I wonder what she'll come up with next?

Saturday, May 15, 2010

No Photos Yet

I took my camera to Maisie's barn today, but for some reason all the photos came out badly - it was a lens I'm not used to so perhaps that was it. She'd had some fun playing in turnout, and my daughter was cleaning her up when I got there. She had the slightest bit of heat in the inside face of her left front, probably from the playing. We saddled her up for her first ride since April 20. She seemed pretty calm, but we let her loose in the indoor first - a modest amount of trotting around, but nothing silly - she seemed pretty relaxed and looked sound.

Although my back is still very stiff and sore, I was determined to at least sit in the saddle for her first ride at the new barn. I've been icing and continuing the anti-inflamatories and started adding heat as well, and my back's slowly getting a bit better. I got on without too much trouble, and just rode her around the indoor a couple of times in each direction at the walk on a loose rein. I wasn't too uncomfortable, but the right side of my back is still pretty locked up so I didn't want to ride her long - my right hip basically can't move at all and that can't be very comfortable for her. So I got off and my daughter rode her for about 15 minutes at the walk - that's enough for a first outing after almost a month off. She was very well-behaved, even with other horses trotting and cantering in the ring.

As a precaution, I gave her one gram of bute in case the foot's acting up a bit - we'll see how she's doing tomorrow. My daughter won't be there tomorrow, and I can't tighten the girth yet due to my back, so she'll just get a grooming tomorrow. She seems pretty settled already, which is good news. I met a couple more boarders - several teenagers and one mom, and again everyone seemed nice.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Maisie Moves

Maisie's journey to the new barn went well. She has a nice stall - all the stalls are 14'x14' - on a corner where two barn aisles meet, so there will be things to watch. The drive was less than 15 minutes, and she loaded beautifully - I don't think she's been on a trailer in over 2 years. She did her usual pawing whenever we were stopped, but otherwise travelled well. The trip was uneventful, except for my turning down the wrong street and having to back up and turn around - my truck and trailer are 55' long so that's a trick. We took a bale of the old barn's hay to help her transition, and they've also put a water bucket in her stall in case she takes a while to learn how to use the automatic waterer.

After we unloaded Maisie and her stuff, she'd settled in a bit and I'd completed the barn's paperwork, I was able to turn her out in the indoor arena - it had just been dragged and the footing was excellent (they drag it every day). She did a little bit of exploring and some running and trotting, but settled down pretty quickly. She was even willing to follow me around, and also backed up whenever I moved towards her - I haven't taught her to do either thing explicitly and it was nice to see her so interested and engaged. She was also pretty interested in the other horses - doing some calling and looking out of the doors.

I met one of the other boarders, who seemed very nice. I can't wait to get on and ride, although that may be a few days yet - my back's slowly getting better. My daughter may ride her tomorrow.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Rain, Back and Bath

We had torrential rain last night and all this morning - we've had over 3.5 inches in about 48 hours. Even grassy areas have standing water, and the mud . . . Our arena looks like it's auditioning for a pleasure boating site.

My husband is off to pick up my younger daughter at college, so when I got home from the barn this morning, it seemed like a nice morning to clean house. I was sweeping, bent over to pick something up off the floor and - those of you who have iffy backs will get this - all of a sudden I realized that was a very bad idea. I go for long periods with no significant back trouble and then I get sloppy with my body mechanics and pay the price. Shooting pain and cramping muscles. I've been doing a lot of stretching, icing and Ibuprofen, and also doing some self-massage on those pesky muscles that are cramping - particularly the psoas which give me trouble. And walking in short bits.

The timing of this is unfortunate - Maisie's moving to her new barn tomorrow morning, and I'd hoped to start riding her very soon - it's been almost a month since I've been able to ride her due to the laminitis and then the weather. My younger daughter is helping me out by hitching the trailer and carrying some things, and also helped by bathing Maisie for me this afternoon - she was disgracefully muddy and for once it was almost warm enough. It may be a while before I can ride - I'm hoping days rather than weeks, but at least there will be one less stall to clean on the weekends and she'll have an indoor to be turned out in when the weather is bad so she can run a bit and kick up her heels.

Our wonderful p.m. feeding lady will take the horses out for me tomorrow morning - I think I can do the feeding although she may have to help me make up feed and carry Blackjack's bins of beet pulp - and others have volunteered to help with my stalls and horses over the weekend. The people at my existing barn (I'll have to call it Noble's barn since he'll be staying there regardless of whether Dawn does or not) are very helpful; I'm hoping the people at the new barn (Maisie's barn) will be as well.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

What Is My Duty To the Horse?

Of course, horses are entitled to proper food, shelter and veterinary/farrier care. They should also be treated as creatures with emotions and feelings, and subjected to pain and fear as little as possible - sometimes veterinary procedures can be uncomfortable - but pain and fear should never be used as a training method, and equipment, including bits and spurs, should never be used in a way that produces pain or fear.

But I think there may be more than that in terms of duty to the horse. I feel a need to be sure that my horses can be handled by other people - good ground manners are a must - and I work to be sure they are manageable for the vet and farrier. No one wants a horse that kicks the vet or farrier, or runs people over. I guess that's what it comes down to for me - if something were to happen to me I want my horses to have the basic manners and training that would not leave them homeless.

With my horses that are not retired, I want them to be rideable at all three gaits, without fits or major difficulties. Would either Dawn or Maisie be suitable for a beginner to ride? No - except perhaps when they're ancient and creaky, and maybe not even then. But I'd like an experienced rider to be able to get on and safely ride them (perhaps after a little lungeing to burn off energy). Eventually I'd like to get both of them to the point that they could do more than that, but we've still got a ways to go. This of course requires that I take care of their other needs such as dental, saddle fit and chiropractic.

I feel I owe my horses this duty - to work towards them being rideable even if I'm not there to do it. I don't care if they can ever compete, and someday they'll be too old and will need to be retired, but as long as they're young enough and sound enough, I need to work hard to achieve these goals. This is part of my motivation in moving Maisie, and likely Dawn at a later date, to a barn with facilities that will permit me to ride almost every day. Both Maisie and Dawn are horses which require consistent work to remain rideable and improve from there.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Noble at 30

Thirty years ago today, Noble was a newborn foal. I have no baby pictures - I expect he was an extremely cute foal - as Noble and I did not meet until he was 17.

Every morning for the past few weeks, he's been jigging all the way to turnout and then galloping off from the gate - it's wonderful seeing him feeling so spry at his age, particularly after the period earlier this year when he wasn't feeling so well before we figured out his thyroid and insulin resistance issues. This morning, he was especially fast, and I saw a number of beautiful flying lead changes.

In honor of his birthday, I've collected some of my favorite photos of him from the past few years.

Galloping with the gelding herd this spring:

At the round bale this past winter:

A snowy face after rolling, and then showing them who's boss:

His wonderful curved ears:

Grazing this spring:

His tail with the white streak:

And my favorite picture of him, from the winter before last, taken by Scout and Joe's owner - it really shows his beautiful face and captures his expressive personality:

I'm hoping he has a number of good years left, but at this point every day I get to be with him is special.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Good Enough

One of the things I struggle with when I'm working with horses, or horse-keeping, and in life in general, is "good enough". I tend to want to be a perfectionist, which either means that: I have to obsessively oversee every detail, say of my horses' care, or else I worry that things aren't being handled properly (sometimes, unfortunately, for good reason, which tends to reinforce my tendencies); or I worry so much that I won't do something correctly or make the right decision that I have trouble making a decision at all. I suppose trying to control things, and get things right, is just a way of feeling safe (or feeling that my horses will be safe).

The transition from having Maisie, and possibly Dawn as well, at our current barn, where I'm there at least twice a day, do all the feed decisions and turnout handling, to the barn where Maisie (and Dawn at some point I expect) is going where I can ask for but not control things, will be a big one for me. Figuring out how not to worry when you don't control every detail is hard - I've had some bad experiences at boarding barns with people not paying attention - the horse that came in from turnout with a nail in its foot that no one noticed until I came to the barn (I still can't figure that one out since the horse couldn't walk with a nail sticking out of the bottom of its foot), the horse that coliced because no one noticed the warning signs, etc. Although I expect that having horses at home (not an option for me) can lead to the highest standards of care, boarding barns, if they're well-run, can do a job that is good enough to ensure horse health and safety.

One thing that makes this transition a bit easier for me is that my older daughter works at the new barn and will have her eyes on Maisie, and will be doing her turnout and bring-in handling for now, and I also feel that the barn does a good job watching out for the horses - for example, the head guy who lives on the property does an evening barn check on all the horses. I will also see my horse almost every day - I believe it's important for someone who knows a horse well and is observant to have "eyes on the horse" every day.

Things can go wrong at any barn, but I'll have to work hard at not obsessing about Maisie's care. I need to pay attention to be sure that things are good enough but without worrying myself too much in the process. These tendencies of mine also apply to how I work with horses, but that's a topic for a different day.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Birds and Financial Modeling

There have been some wonderful bird visitors this week in the pastures - Meadowlarks, Bobolinks and White-crowned Sparrows. Meadowlarks and Bobolinks are both grassland birds that are in serious decline due to loss of habitat, and our pastures provide just what they want. They both have beautiful songs - the links have recorded songs you can play. The White-crowned Sparrows are a favorite spring bird of mine - they are perky and bold and have recently been gathering dandelion fluff in my yard for their nests.

We've got chilly, rainy weather - the horses are out in their rain sheets. Maisie's been doing really well with her half-day of dry lot turnout, so I'm keeping my fingers crossed that the worst is over.

The past few days I've been working on some financial modeling for our barn. Fortunately, we have very good data on our spending, as the husband of one of our boarders keeps our books and has detailed data for me to use. As anyone who's ever done (good) modeling knows, a model is only as good as the data and assumptions that go into it (a point that the creators of some of the synthetic mortgage-related products on Wall Street seem to have forgotten). We're basically a small business with some unique features. Our barn's a bit of an odd duck - it was set up by the developer about 15 years ago and is now owned by a non-profit corporation that we set up - so there's no one who's its true owner who could invest in it or profit from its operations. We've struggled for years - I've had at least one horse there for 9 years now - with the fact that we have very high labor costs and maintenance and capital costs due to the way it was set up and built, combined with relatively few horses. Property taxes, for example, are a real killer in this part of the world, even though we were able to get an open space abatement. As our number of horses declines - we have capacity for 12 currently but will be down to 10 when Maisie moves to her new barn, and I expect at least one or two more to leave over the summer - and our remaining horses age - many are seniors - we need to figure out a way to operate that works. We have no indoor, and really can't take boarders who aren't able to do quite a bit of volunteer work to make things go.

We've done versions of this analysis twice before since I've been here, and have made some substantial improvements, mainly related to working to reduce expenses where we can and carefully control labor costs. In one of my past lives, I did a lot of modeling and was a bit of an Excel spreadsheet jockey, and I actually enjoy this sort of thing. The model I'm working on shows our expenses by type - some vary pretty directly by the number of horses, and some are fixed - and their impact on the bottom line (money available for maintenance and capital improvements) under certain assumptions, including varying numbers of horses. The trick with modeling, I've found, is to find a way to not just show a bunch of data, but rather to present it in a way that highlights the critical issues and helps get a handle on them. I've done about 3 hours of work so far and should complete it this weekend. Then we'll have some conversations about what needs to change to make things work better. I'm beginning to get a clear picture, but still have work to do to have the data presented in a way that will clearly help others see what I'm beginning to see - or the data may show that my inklings aren't right - I'm not quite there yet but I think the fog is beginning to clear.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

It Isn't Natural

Maisie's vet visit yesterday went very well - she's completely sound and had no heat or sensitivity to hoof testers. The vet and I agree that her problem was probably a combination of increased sensitivity due to the lush grass combined with her somewhat vulnerable hoof structure - very thin soles and her way of going - and our poor, hard arena footing and very hard trails. She's cleared for turnout, and we're tailing down her bute. She'll be going into the small dry lot paddock in the afternoons with hay (Charisma will need to come inside, as the paddock is very small and she also can't have that much hay, which is unfortunate). The footing in there is very hard and rough - our clay soil turns into this awful corrugated rock-hard footing - so I hope to minimize her running around by keeping Dawn nearby and hay in the feeder. I had walked her last night and again this morning on the grass, and she was very good - clearly happy to be out but also controllable. If she stays sound once weaned from the bute, we're good to go for our move to the new barn and resumed work.

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The conversation on the last post leads me to the conclusion that there's no clearcut answer to the horse/herd/human combination - it probably comes down to the personality of each horse, and the specifics of the the horse/herd situation and horse/human interactions. Very interesting stuff, nonetheless - read the comments if you haven't as there are many good thoughts and observations there.

A comment Funder made on the last post got me thinking more about some related things, and ties into some of the struggles I've been having in my mind and feelings about moving some of my horses to a barn where they will spend many hours inside, with only limited turnout on dry lot and not in herds. I feel somewhat bad about this, since some valuable things will be lost as well as some valuable things gained.

Domestic horses (including mustangs that are adopted) exist in relation to people, and the purposes people have for them, even if they also have their relationships with other horses or participation in a herd. Ultimately, almost nothing we do with horses is natural - in terms of their confinement (even if only to a pasture, not to mention a barn), their feeding, their healthcare, their forced association with humans, and everything we do with them across all horse disciplines. Domestic horses have been bred for different body types, temperaments and skills for the purposes of humans (sometime, unfortunately, without regard to their health and welfare). Even the mustangs are derived over however many generations from domestic horse stock.

And whatever training methods we use, and whatever they're called, there's nothing "natural" about them. Asking a horse to interact with or even bond with a human is highly unnatural. There are training methods that are more or less coercive, but ultimately we're always asking our horses to do things that aren't things they would probably choose to do, or even consider doing, without our request/demand. Some "natural" training methods purport to draw on and use horse herd dynamics in the horse/human interaction - I don't buy into a lot of this stuff - see my post "Are We Herd Members?" - but even if it were true that doesn't make it natural for a horse to interact with a human in these ways. However rough or gentle we are with the horse - and some "natural" methods, especially those that involve aggressive driving of horses around round pens, can be pretty darn coercive - nothing we do is natural.

So where does that leave us? To my mind, it leaves us with a lot of choices. However artificial it is, we can still interact with the horse to achieve all sorts of interesting and fun goals, but to my mind the interaction needs to consider the needs and thoughts of both parties - the horse should be a participant in a dialog with us, with asks and responses on both sides, and the horse should be listened to and respected as a feeling, thinking, being. Ultimately the human needs to direct and provide leadership, but the horse, in order to be an engaged and willing participant, has to have a voice in the relationship. None of it's natural, but in the end maybe that really doesn't matter - that comes with the territory.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Herds, and Herd-Boundness, and the Horse/Human Herd

I did a post a while ago about whether horses experience us as members of a herd, and to what extent herd behavior and dynamics have application to our interactions with horses - if you're interested you'll find that post here.

I've been thinking recently about a different question involving horses and herds. I've had my horses at different barns over the years - at some they were turned out individually or perhaps with one other horse, often for several hours and not a full day. At other barns, including the one we are at now, the horses are turned out in herds where their companions are the same horses every day, all day.

I've noticed something odd - and perhaps it's specific to my horses and not to others - turnout in semi-permanent herds seems to make them more attached to their herd members and therefore more prone to being herd-bound. I've found horses on individual turnout or in occasional turnout with others to be less herd bound and more likely to be able to focus on their human partners for riding and work.

I've taken horses to shows in the past, large shows with many horses, and although they're always interested in being with other horses, they don't show the more herd-bound behaviors that my horses often show in a more "herdish" situation like our current barn. That said, if they get loose, they are likely to make their way back to "their" barn and "their" horses, although not necessarily any particular horse.

It seems to me that where there are horse herds available to bond with, the human-horse interaction is always somehow second-rate to the horse. That's not to say that horses can't work, and work well, in these circumstances, but there's a higher barrier to overcome in building a relationship with the horse, perhaps. It may vary by horse, by barn, and by horse/rider combination, and it also seems to me that mares are more prone to this sort of herd attachment - perhaps there's a connection to the maternal instinct.

All-day turnout on grass is supposed to make horses easier to work with and more relaxed, right? I haven't always found this to be the case - Maisie and Dawn, who are of course a TB cross and a TB, are if anything harder to work with in this environment - partly because of the herd and because our barn set-up makes it impossible to work with them consistently from day to day.

I've certainly been able to build more of a human-horse relationship with Maisie over the past several years, and have taken steps to do the same with Dawn, but to them at this point, the herd always is foremost. I'm wondering if Maisie will bond more strongly with me at the new barn since in some senses I will be her alternative to the herd, and can be her "safe place" in a new setting, although I do worry somewhat about depriving her of her herd.

* * * * * *

The vet comes back tomorrow to look at Maisie. The left front had no heat today for the first time - I'm hoping that means we'll get clearance for some sort of limited turnout or hand-walking tomorrow - she's been very patient (even more patient than I have!), but the poor thing really needs to get out of her stall.

Dawn and I haven't started our lungeing work yet - we've been having gale-force winds and Dawn's in raging heat - much squealing and kicking the stall (not to mention (unmentionable) behavior in the barn aisle requiring clean-up - you mare owners will get what I mean) - this did not seem like the best combination of circumstances for starting up again on our work.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Quiet Days

Maisie is tolerating her stall rest pretty well - she would prefer to be with the other horses but is adjusting to the new routine. In order to improve the chances she doesn't develop an impaction colic due to lack of movement and inadequate water intake (she's had two impactions before), we're wetting her hay (she already gets plain table salt with her feed) and hanging it in a small-mesh hay bag for her to eat. I do this in the morning and then again at noon and at p.m. feeding time, and also pick her stall then. I'm able to hang her hay bag under the window, which she prefers - she can grab a mouthful and then look out. I've been bringing Dawn in at around noon everyday to graze nibbles in the small paddock just outside Maisie's window - they're both happy with that. Dawn is getting fatter and fatter, but thankfully does not seem to have the same susceptibility to laminitis that Maisie does - at least so far. Tomorrow I'm going to start lunging Dawn - she has to get some exercise or she's going to explode.

In the morning while Maisie's stall is being cleaned, I move her to another stall - she's walking really well and I think things are clearing up - it's pretty clear there's no abscess involved. When she gets back in her stall, I've been poulticing her left front from the fetlock joint down - it actually feels very good on my hands which tend to get dried out, and Maisie manages to get poultice on her nose and my jacket while I'm doing it. I'm hoping the vet will clear her on Monday for limited turnout - we may need some chemical assistance (Ace) to make this safe for her, but we'll see. Once she can be turned out for a bit, we can begin to consider our move to the new barn.

Saturday morning, when I went to take mares out, I discovered that a section of the fence in the pasture I was taking the mares to had blown down in the night (big storm) - a bad post went down and took several boards with it. This meant we didn't have a safe perimeter for 3 pastures - there would have only been electric between the horses and the outside - so Sugar's owner and I rearranged pastures and I rearranged water tanks. The fence section that went down had looked OK the day before - I'm just glad horses weren't in there when it went.

Scout's owner had planned to take him on a trail ride with a friend this morning - the friend showed up with his trailer and off they went - but when I came to the barn at noon, there was Scout, his owner and the vet - Scout had managed to cut the area above his eye open and needed stitches. The friend has a 4-horse slant with mangers, and Scout always seems to get his head where it shouldn't be and somehow cuts himself - this time he really did it. He'd been sedated and stitched, and this afternoon the cut looked pretty good - he always seems to get in trouble but I really don't like mangers in trailers.

Hope everyone's enjoying May, now that we've made it this far!