Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Footfall

For those who'd like a summary description of what Maisie and Dawn and I do every day, without all the elaboration (and blathering!) in my full posts, there's now a new page called "Work Log" that's a tab under the header photo. Even when I don't post, if I work with either horse there'll be something there.

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Maisie and I walked for 20 minutes under saddle this morning. She's continuing to feel good and move well, and the left hind looks normal (for it). I've been using SMBs all around for suspensory support, and icing the hinds after our ride. We even did a little trail excursion - she was happy to go and cheerfully walked out on the limestone surface - no foot-soreness there.

When I got Dawn and brought her into the barn to groom and tack, I noticed that her footfalls didn't sound quite as forceful as usual. She has a very determined walk, and slaps her front feet down with a definite "clop, clop". The sound wasn't quite as firm as usual. She had a hard work day yesterday - I rode her in the morning and my daughter took her on a long trail ride, with lots of trotting and cantering, in the afternoon - she may have been ridden for as much as 3 hours yesterday. I often use the sound of a horse's feet, and the weight and rhythm of the sound, to judge soundness, and if the sound and feel are slightly not right, as an indicator of subtle unsoundness or soreness. Sometimes it's possible to hear, and also feel, subtle unsoundness or soreness that's very hard or impossible to see with your eyes (although there are some tests I use at the walk that can pick up some pretty subtle stuff - see this post for those.)

Whatever was up with Dawn was so slight that I felt she was good to ride - I checked her feet and legs over to be sure and found nothing. We worked on our softening work at the walk and trot, with lots of figures and transitions, including halts and backing, thrown in. She did pretty well, although her trot didn't have the normal big lift it usually has. But there was only an almost imperceptible unevenness between the two diagonals at the trot, not even rising to the level of being off. (Note here: if she'd been off, much less lame, I wouldn't have ridden at all - what I was feeling and hearing was just the merest whisper of unevenness. If there's any doubt, don't ride.) We started working on leg-yield, starting at the walk. I had set pairs of cones on each quarter line to use as markers.

One of the things I've been working on in my riding is more accurately timing my cues so the horse's body is in the correct position to respond. This requires being able to tell which foot (or feet) is (are) in the air and which foot (or feet) is (are) on the ground at any point in time. For example, when the horse walks, its barrel swings from side to side. The side that's "indented" is the side where the horse is stepping forward with that hind leg - the barrel is getting out of the way. The side that's "out" is the side where the hind foot is on the ground. So, if I want a more energetic walk, I don't just squeeze with both legs - that can just create a brace and inhibit forward motion - I gently apply my legs alternately as the barrel swings away from my leg - that hind leg will be in the air and will be able to respond to my request by stepping forward more energetically. Works like a charm.

Similarly, when people complain that their horse is slow to respond to a canter/lope cue, it's often because they don't time the cue to make it easy for the horse. The cue needs to be applied just as the right hind (for left lead canter) or left hind (for right lead canter) is leaving the ground - that's the leg that takes the first canter step.

So, as Dawn and I were working on leg yield to the left at the walk, I would gently apply my leg as the right hind (if we were leg-yielding left) was leaving the ground - this is the same aid I use to energize the walk (right leg applied as barrel swings in), but keeping my other leg inactive. The right hind is the one that needs to step under, and all lateral movements of this kind need to come from behind. We did it the other way with the same ease. And then we did the same work at the trot - here's a quote from my post on horse #7 at last year's Mark Rashid clinic - the principle is the same as at the walk - you cue when the hind leg that needs to step under is about to leave the ground:

Their work on leg yields put particular emphasis on timing the cues to allow the horse to move most easily. To leg yield to inside (off the rail) you want to give the aid when the outside hind leg is about to leave the ground - ask as you come out of your rise (if you are posting). This is a specific case of a general principle - time all cues to move a particular hind foot - give the cue just as that hind foot is leaving the ground (or in flying changes when the new outside hind is just getting airborne) - this will make it much easier for the horse to do the movement and the whole thing will flow. In leg yield at the canter to the inside (off the rail), cue when the outside hind leaves ground in canter, which happens as the horse exhales on the effort (which Mark said we should do when we exert effort as well but we often don't); to move to the outside in leg yield your cue should fall between the horse's breaths.
To the left at the trot (right hind stepping under), Dawn said no problem - she just flowed over and I barely had to think the leg cue for her to respond. To the right, she really struggled. It might have been my timing, but I think it was actually that her left hind - perhaps hock or stifle - was a bit sore and she was having trouble stepping under. We went back to trotting around, and she wanted to lean on my hands and brace, partly because she was a little bit worried because she couldn't do quite what I had asked - I didn't insist since it seemed to be a physical issue - and partly because she was tiring and wanting not to use her hind end fully - this is one reason horses will brace, particularly when they already know how to soften. So, in order to end on something she could do successfully and feel good about, we continued to work at the trot, doing some figures and transitions until she was able to soften again, and then did just a bit of leg yield to the left, which she did easily. I told her what a star she was, and we cooled out by doing a bit of walking around on the trail. That was all - I certainly didn't want to push her, particularly if she felt a little sore. We'll see how she is tomorrow - I'm expecting she may feel better, and if she doesn't, I'll give her a day off.

8 comments:

  1. I think it's a sign of being around horses for so long that we can actually tell how a horse is feeling by listening to their footfalls. For my part when they are being led in/out to paddocks I think I unconsciously listen to footfalls and can pick up on the fact if something is wrong.

    Sounds like you had some good rides again. I was wondering if your daughter sees any difference in Dawn on the trails now that you've been working on her softness.

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  2. Grey Horse - oddly enough, now that you ask, my daughter mentioned yesterday that Dawn has been calmer than normal on the trails, and yesterday she mentioned that she was much less bracey - I suspect some of my work may be transferring over to my daughter's trail work.

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  3. I look forward to the day that I can actually tell when to apply the cue to lope! Heck, at this point, I am just trying to stay in the saddle when he finally does listen to my cue. :-) Food for thought - thank you!!

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  4. Kate-

    Your note about the horses barrel indicating where he is in the stride is very helpful. Val and I had a quick bareback ride tonight, just beating thunderstorms. Can't wait until I have a more regular training schedule with him.

    The work log tab is a good addition :)

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  5. Great video on leg protection for horses: http://useventing.com/blog/?p=7481

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  6. Anon - thanks for the link - very interesting!

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  7. I love the work log idea! I'm working on something similar with my mare to get her back into shape. It really helps to see what others are doing with their horses.

    I'll be using the footfall guide as well. I can see that coming in handy!

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  8. I drive my mom nuts telling her that Pie or Sovey is slightly ouchy - usually just a stone stuck - while we are leading them. I can hear it on the driveway in the tempo and weight of each step. Now, your post gives credence to my ears! Thanks!

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