Sunday, July 18, 2010

Morning Work and Lameness Test

Conditions here have been so hot (well, not as hot as other parts of the country, but hot for us) that I decided to work with my horses this morning right after feeding time. Dawn was up first. We groomed and tacked and headed to the arena. First we did a small amount of leading work, including over the poles, and then we did some lungeing. This is our standard routine. The transitions on the lunge went well, including the whoa, except for the transition up to the canter. At first, in one direction she didn't want to canter at all, and then I made a mistake - I got a perfect, flowing upwards transition in the other direction but instead of stopping there, I asked for another one. As far as Dawn was concerned, she'd done what I wanted - she didn't really want to canter - it was getting hot and she wasn't all that thrilled about the lungeing - and when she gave me a perfect canter transition, what did I do but ask her to do it again! Humpf! So after that I never did get a nice transition - all I got each time was a grunt and small crow hop or butt hitch as she started to canter - the grunt meant she was doing it under protest. Tomorrow I think we'll focus on some minutes of trotting to build her fitness, and come back to the canter at another time.

She was happy to work under saddle. We started doing some softening work at the walk - I was focussed on having her soften without ducking behind the bit, while keeping a nice relaxed forward walk - I concentrated on being very relaxed and quiet to "allow" the walk. We worked our way up to 3, then 5 steps of softening in each direction, with some loose rein breaks in between. It took a while for her to be able to do 5 steps consistently without moving her head around or pushing on the bit. I like how she really stretches down on a loose rein - while we were walking on a loose rein I worked on signaling her to shorten or lengthen her stride by "allowing" with my seat and legs, or "resisting" with my seat and legs just for a second. She's doing very well with this. Then to finish we walked over the poles - she's really listening to me and accepting my direction and most of her pole issues seem to have greatly diminished.

Maisie and I did a set of lameness tests, with the assistance of Sugar's owner. These tests pick up subtle lameness at the walk, and I've found them very useful in seeing where a problem is:

Test one is to have the horse led away from you at the walk in a straight line - now watch the points of the hip move up and down on either side - are they moving up and down equally on both sides, or is one side moving less? How much both hips move up and down, even if they move equally, also is a good indication of how well the horse will be able to move - if things are tight and sore elsewhere in the horse the hips often won't move freely.

Test two - horse is led off as before, but this time look at the movement of the back and how the barrel moves - is the back flexing equally to either side (easiest to see on a horse with a dorsal stripe)? - also watch the way the tail swings. Is the barrel swinging out equally to either side? If the barrel isn't swinging out as far on one side, that often indicates that the hind leg on that side may have an issue.

Third test - have the horse led at the walk in a straight line and walk next to the shoulder. Match your right footfall to the horse's right front footfall, and your left footfall to the horse's left front footfall. If one foot is short-striding or being unequally weighted, you will feel it in your own body, even when it's difficult to see. Then do the same thing with the hinds, walking next to the horse's hip.

(I didn't create these tests - they were taught to me by Mark Rashid at the first clinic we took Maisie to - he showed me where her unsoundness was (at that time she would buck whenever ridden) and sent her home with a full refund of our clinic fees. It took a while to get her back and sacral issues fixed, but I finally did and was able to ride at future clinics.)

Although Maisie's apparently visually sound at the walk, in the tests her left hip seemed to be moving slightly less, her barrel was moving more to the right than to the left, and she wasn't equally weighting the left hind and she was slightly short-striding. At the trot she was visibly off in the right front/left hind pair, and I don't think it's the right front - she seems unwilling/unable to push with the left hind. Although she's been having some filling above the pastern joint in the left hind, there's no heat or sensitivity here and I think the problem may be higher - I'm suspecting hock, although I may be wrong. We'll see what the vet/chiropractor says on Tuesday. For now, we'll just be taking pleasure walks on the trail, as we did today for a bit - the flies were awful so we didn't go far. She seems perfectly comfortable walking along as long as I don't ask her to use herself. If it's time for her to become only a trail-walking horse, that's fine by me, although I hope we've got a few more years ahead of us where we can do more strenuous work together.

I was pleased with both mares for being willing (mostly) to work with me at a different time of day while the other horses had gone to turnout.

* * * * * *
A couple of comments and responses I wanted to copy from yesterday to clarify that, despite what that long list of questions might look like, it isn't really about analyzing a laundry list of body/mind awareness points - well, it is, but it isn't, if you know what I mean:

Danni said: "I must admit, I think all the same things you do when I'm riding and it's not going how I thought, and then I get bogged down in all those questions rattling around in my head *lol*."

My reply: "Danni - Other than doing some pre-planning and knowing what the ask should be and what the try will look like that can be built on, I try not to be overly analytical about this stuff while I'm working - for me it's more about having comprehensive body awareness as a goal and using that as a base to be able to make subtle adjustments. Now see - I could have just said that and avoided writing all those words!"

Albigears said: "So at what point do you leave your "head" behind and trust your instincts? If you're thinking of all these things while riding is it harder to tune into your horse's energy and connect with him/her?"

My reply: "Albigears - once I'm working with the horse, I try to mostly leave the thinking behind and just be there with the horse, feeling what I'm doing and how I'm moving - it becomes much more holistic. What I'm trying to do is work towards the day when all of this will be second nature, and I'll be able to carry that body awareness and precision to the work with the horse, while still carrying in my awareness a complete focus on the horse - I'm a long way from done with that but I'm encouraged by the progress I've made over the past year in being aware of and tuned in to the horse, as I said in the last post. I need to carry both those things simultaneously now in my body and mind - awareness of the horse and awareness of myself."


  1. Kate-

    I have gotten a lot out of the last few posts and was wondering if you were considering adding sidebar links for them so they could be easily accessed in the future...

    Thanks :)

  2. Valentino - thanks! Good idea - I'm not sure whether to add them under favorite posts, or under a new category like "Progress on the Journey", or something like that.

  3. Appreciate how stifling the heat can be for all concerned! Hope that Maisie is comfortable and the trail-only riding helps :)

    I was thinking yesterday about what you said. So I ditched my 101 questions at the manege entrance and ended up having a great schooling session! So thank you for the reminder to feel and ride each step as it happens :)

  4. Thanks so much for those lameness tests. I think I'll have to print those out. I think I see something in Corrie's gait and then it seems to leave, just ever so slightly.

    I have to admit that I too tend to ask for one more than I should have. I am learning to just stop when I get that good one, sometime that is only because I have someone else in the arena tell me though. :)

  5. Beth - Sometimes asking for something a second time - to be sure it wasn't just an accident and that the horse understands - is a good idea, and sometimes it isn't! I need to remember how smart Dawn is.

  6. I'v been forced by the blazing sun into a small corner of the arena with a lone Oak Tree's shade being the only protection.
    None of my horses are happy at the prospect of arena work:)

  7. I have given up totally in this heat--NJ. Since the Boys are out all the time, they keep their own minimal level of fitness, but it certainly isn't enough to do much in the way of dressage. And the woods are just too buggy for riding.

    Glad you are brave and determined enough to get something done with your girls.

    My comments don't seem to all be posting, so I hope this one does.

  8. Jean - this comment made it! I only manage to get something accomplished if I can plug away at it a day at a time - if I lose the routine, I lose the consistency.


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