Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Wild and Windy and Misty Takes a Tumble

We had some wind-driven rain last night and this morning it is cold - mid 30sF - and very windy with gusts up to 30mph.  We're supposed to get some light snow showers on and off, and then the temperature's supposed to drop in the afternoon.  Not much of a riding day - even Pie, who is pretty laid-back, did one canter around the pasture before settling down to the round bale.

Misty, on the other hand, was more excited this morning.  I don't write much about Misty - she's been at our barn for a number of years, but her owner only works with her on very rare occasions and no longer rides her, although I believe her owner does come late at night to the barn some times to groom her.  Misty is a pretty girl - a lovely buckskin with dapples and some frosting on her rump during the summer.

Misty is Impressive-bred (I believe she's HYPP N/H, which means she has one copy of the HYPP gene), and has the heavily muscled body type that many Impressive-breds have.  She had two foals when she was younger.  Misty can be very excitable - she prances, dances and runs at the slightest provocation, although she rarely runs for long - she's not in shape and is in her mid-teens with some arthritis and can't keep up with the other mares.  (In the header picture that's up right now, that's Dawn in the lead with Maisie, who was pretty fast although not as fast as Dawn, next to her and Sugar trying hard to keep up - Misty's completely out of the cropped picture as she got left behind.)  She seems to be a worrier and to have a nervous temperament, and apparently could be somewhat spooky on the trail when her owner used to ride her.

Sometimes when I go to halter her in the morning, she's pacing in her stall and flapping her lip from nervousness (she gets no grain - just mineral/vitamin pellets and grass hay).  And she's extremely herd-bound - she's one of those horses you can't leave alone in the pasture as she'll scream and run the fence line at a full gallop to the point of exhaustion, which isn't a good idea anyway due to her HYPP status (although she's never had an HYPP problem that we know of).  And she's obsessed with Dawn - absolutely obsessed.  If Dawn's not in the barn, Misty screams for her.  If Dawn goes to turnout first, Misty screams for her and is frantic to get out there and get to her.  Dawn, on the other hand, could care less for Misty - Dawn pretty much ignores her except when she's chasing her.  Dawn cares about the herd - Dawn is our alpha - and the horses in the herd as a totality - are they accounted for and behaving themselves - but not really about any one horse, and Dawn really doesn't mind leaving the herd.  This in my experience is pretty typical of alphas.

Long preamble to this morning.  Dawn went out first this morning.  Then I led out Sugar and Misty as a pair - all the horses were pretty up this morning with the cold and wind.  Misty was prancing at the end of the lead as I fed Sugar into the pasture and turned her to face me over the fence while keeping Misty in the aisle - Sugar headed off at a  gallop as soon as her halter came off.  Misty was beside herself, snorting and dancing.  I got her into the pasture without getting mowed down - I'm big on not getting mowed down and the horses know it - and turned her to face the gate - I always do this for safety as I remove halters.  I slipped off Misty's halter and she spun and bolted towards Dawn.  She didn't get far - she slipped in the slick area near the gate as she spun and her hind feet and then her front feet went out from under her and she flopped down hard on her side.  She immediately scrambled up and bolted off using all legs normally, so I figured she was OK, but I went out to the round bale and checked her out for scrapes or leg problems, but all seemed well.  I did sent an e-mail to her owner and the p.m. and other a.m. barn workers in case she comes up sore.  Silly mare! - I hope she's OK.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Glad We Rode

Pie and I had a lovely trail ride today with Jill and Scout - it was in the 40sF with some wind and pretty nice all and all.  We did a lot of trotting, some with Pie in the lead and some with Scout in the lead - Pie is pretty glad to follow if allowed and takes some urging to take the lead.

The weather was starting to take a turn towards misty and drizzly at noon, and the wind was really starting to pick up, so I went by the barn to put on Pie's and Dawn's rain sheets.  I got Dawn first, and as I was leading her to the gate, the other mares came galloping up and set Dawn off.  She wanted to bolt and run, but I strongly asked her to stay with me and she did.  Despite the fact that she wanted to bolt, and did at least one enormous rear on the lead, she stayed out of my space although I did have to be pretty firm with her.  I took her in the barn to get her sheet on - she was very good for that and leading out - when I let her go she explosively galloped off with high bucks, and then did some more spectacular rearing once she got to the shared fenceline with the geldings.  I've never managed to get one of her rears on camera but they're certainly impressive.

I also learned that Pie doesn't pull back when tied - I had him tied to the fence in the geldings' pasture while I was putting on his sheet - one of the barn cats (Night, the black cat) was stalking and pouncing in the grass and spooked Pie - he went to the end of the lead but didn't pull back when he reached it - good Pie.  He trotted off when I let him go - all the horses were excited by the change in the weather.

We're supposed to have rain tonight and tomorrow morning, then snow showers tomorrow afternoon and much colder temperatures for Wednesday.  Glad Pie and I got that ride in!

Leg Yields

TB at X has a very nice post on leg yields - how to do them properly and all the things they're good for.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Nothing Special

Nothing special - which means it was a very good day with horses.  The temperatures were in the 40sF today for a change, with sun and some wind, so it was a pretty good day for a ride.  By the time Pie and I went out, the trails had even thawed up a bit, so we did lots and lots of trotting.  We were out for over an hour by ourselves, and he was a very good boy, although he was somewhat high-headed and nervous on the way towards home, but still responsive.  When we got back to the barn, we did some work at the trot in the arena on patterns around the cones - he was more forward that usual which helped.  I'm going to delay doing any softening work with him until the dentist works on his teeth this week.

Then I rode the Dawn mare.  As I was bringing her in, Misty was snorting and running, and Dawn flagged her tail and was prancing too, but still paying attention to where I was - good mare!  I brought Misty in to her stall so she'd stop running - she's obsessed with Dawn - and she was doing quite a creditable piaffe every time we stopped.

I fixed up the Mattes pad with two front shims on each side and tried the dressage saddle - it was better but I need even a bit more shimming in front.  Dawn and I did a brief refresher on standing still on a loose rein at the mounting block - she was pretty full of herself as we hadn't ridden for almost two weeks.  She pretty quickly got to standing still on a loose rein as I mounted.  We did small circles in both directions for a few minutes - she was ready to rock and roll and I didn't want that - and she started to calm down a bit so we were able to do some good pattern work at the walk around the cones in various directions.  She was even relaxing and we were on a fairly long rein with very light contact - I wanted her to stretch down and relax, which she did.  I could have probably done some trot work, but decided to leave it there as she was doing so well.  Sometimes, perhaps, I'm a bit conservative with Dawn - she can be explosive and having her be relaxed and calm is a major objective.

Tomorrow, if I'm lucky, may be another riding day.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Go and Whoa

One of the things I wanted when I was engaged in the great horse search was trying to find a horse with both go and whoa.  It seems that's what I've got, and I'm delighted.  Today Pie and I went on a nice trail ride, despite the fact it was in the upper 20sF with a wind chill in the low 20s.  But the sun was bright, and the wind was less than yesterday, so we took what we had and made the best of it.

Pie and I hadn't been on a ride for almost a week, but he strode out nicely going away from the barn - much less sticky about it than he's been.  He moved out into a nice trot whenever I asked, and immediately slowed to a walk at the slightest lift of a rein (he's still in the sidepull and goes great in it).  We didn't do as much trotting as I'd have liked - the limestone trails are like concrete with the cold temperatures so we did most of our trotting where there was a grassy edge to the trail.  On the way back to the barn, he did want to speed his walk up a bit, but immediately slowed or halted when I asked.

The only thing that gave him much pause was a green plastic trash can that had fallen partway over and was propped up at a 45 degree angle by its lid - now that was alarming.  It was trash day and there were lots of green cans out, including some with lids banging in the wind, but he didn't mind those - just the one at an odd angle.  He really didn't want to go by it and was quite concerned, so I dismounted and stood by him until he decided it was OK, led him by - he was fine with it by then - then remounted from a stump a few feet down the trail.  There were a few startles due to rustlings in the grass, but he calmed down after each one pretty quickly.

Pretty good in my book for a young horse that hadn't been ridden in a week to go out and do a nice ride on a cold and windy day, and give me go and whoa whenever asked!

I also worked with Dawn for a bit in the afternoon - the first time in 11 days - we did some leading and in-hand work, including some turns on the forehand and side passing, and then we did some ground driving at the walk, doing patterns and turns.  She was very forward but well-behaved and I think she appreciated the attention.

Pie Steps Back and Dawn Gets (Another) Pad

I doubt that Pie had ever been hand-fed treats before I got him.  I do feed my horses treats, but I have rules about what they can do when they get a treat, and I use feeding treats as a building block for using clicker training for other things.  I'm certainly no clicker expert and haven't used clicker too much yet, although Dawn and I have made very good use of clicker in helping her deal with scary objects.  A couple of days ago, I discovered that she's quite terrified of the noise made by an aerosol can when you use it.  So we've started using clicker to help her with that.  At the first session, all I did was hold the can out to her and click and treat as she approached it with her nose - she got as far as stretching her neck as long as it would go and just barely touching it with her nose.  That was more than enough for one day, and we'll keep working on it.  The thing I like about clicker is that the horse gets to make a choice and decide how quickly to proceed, which is just the right approach in my mind for dealing with things that are scary.  (If anyone's interested in clicker work, I'd highly recommend Alexandra Kurland's books, particularly The Click That Teaches: A Step-By-Step Guide in Pictures.)

Back to Pie - now that he understands that treats are edible, we're working on his treat-taking manners.  He was clearly one of those horses who was going to turn into a "mugger" if not trained - the type that is pushy about treats and frisks you all over - not what I had in mind.  So now, to get a treat, he has to take a step backwards and wait for me to give it to him.  When he does, I click and treat.  Right now, I'm using a hand signal - just raising my hand, palm out - to signal him to take a step back.  Pretty soon, I don't think the hand signal will be needed any more, as he's a very quick learner and pays close attention. Once this behavior is well-established, we can use clicker for other things - I'm thinking of teaching him to hold up his own hind feet for picking and hoof care - he's one of those horses who puts his whole weight on the foot as you hold it, which I'm not fond of.

In the ongoing search for solutions to Dawn's downhill build and the resulting problems with saddle fit, I bought a Mattes correction pad.  (I was at the saddle shop for other reasons and this pad was just lying out on top of a display where someone had abandoned it - it seemed to be just waiting for me.) This pad has four pockets - two in front and two in back - into which you can insert foam shims as needed.  Dawn will need shimming in front to raise the front of the saddle.  The Mattes pad I got doesn't have fleece at front or back, but is all-purpose so it should work with either my Rodrigo close contact or Kieffer dressage saddle.  Mine came with the shims included (the one I linked to seems to require you to purchase the shims separately).  I'm not a big fan of using padding to fix a saddle that otherwise doesn't fit, particularly as padding can often make the problem worse, but in Dawn's case it may be necessary.  If the weather improves, we may try it out soon.  Here's hoping for a warm up and a drop in the wind!

Friday, November 26, 2010

Winter Chores and Pie Sucks His Tongue

Today was a full face mask, long-underwear kind of day - the windchill was 6F (or -14C), although the sun was shining brightly.  I was working at the barn this morning, so after giving hay I went from stall to stall and put on winter blankets.  I like the new Brookside medium weight turnout blankets that Dawn and Pie have - they fit well and are durable - with one exception: the manufacturer seems to think that rear leg straps sized for a pony, even when in the farthest out position,  will work on a full-size horse.  I've never had this problem with their blankets or sheets before - perhaps it was an assembly error.  Luckily I have lots of rear leg straps on other blankets to swap in, since no horse should have to endure a wedgie all day long, not to mention that the straps would rub and pull the blanket too far back.  Then there was wrestling with a frozen hose - I forgot to put it in the shower in the heated bathroom overnight when I fed last evening.

After turning out the horses, it was time for cleaning Dawn's and Pie's stalls, which I do every day.  We use pelleted wood bedding, which makes the job not too bad, and I enjoy the daily exercise.  Dawn is a slob - there are wet spots and manure strewn everywhere - but I keep her bedding pretty thin - she's happy with that - so the job isn't too bad, at least when she hasn't warmed her hind end on her heated bucket and left a deposit in her water (which she didn't do this morning).  Pie is very neat - he carefully deposits all his manure in one area against the wall of the stall.  There is the problem of the wet spot in the middle because he's a gelding, and since I bed his stall pretty deeply because of his hock sore (not that I'm really sure that's helping) there's some turning over of the bedding to do as the wet goes to the bottom. But one of the nice things when it's very cold is that the poo balls freeze, making them easy to pick out and pick up - they sound like rocks hitting the manure bucket.  I suppose it's amazing what things horse people find to be interesting or nice things!

* * * * * *
I once did a post on how each horse has a personal drinking style.  Pie is a delicate drinker - he sticks his head out and gently dips his chin and then quietly drinks.  Last night while I was in his stall, he did something new - he drank from his bucket and then left a bit of his tongue sticking out of his mouth and proceeded to suck on it for a moment, looking pensive and happy. Just the gentlest sucking noise - I wonder if it is comforting for a horse to do that?  I've never met but one other horse that was a tongue-sucker, and that horse did it a lot and not just when drinking.  I'll have to watch Pie and see if he does it again when drinking or at any other time.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Thankful In Pictures

I am thankful for many things, but especially for horses, for those who have gone on before and those still here with me.  I don't have pictures of the many horses from my early riding days, but here are a couple of pictures of what I'm thankful for.

Promise 1990-2001

Noble (Walla Bars Bonanza) 1980-2010




Dawn (Silent Dawn)

Pie (JTS Speed Glo Cody)

I'm thankful for the ones who are gone, who taught me so much, and for those who are here, where we can treasure them in their beauty and "horseness".

Monday, November 22, 2010

Working With the Wild Mare

Many people had good suggestions for things to do with Dawn, our wild child.  I do want to continue to work with her since it builds her confidence and connection with me.  But with Dawn, I've got to put safety (primarily mine but also hers) first, and that's not always the easiest thing to do.  She's not one of those horses that power down - she's always on her toes and ready to rock and roll - and she's the type that will spin and bolt when alarmed or worked up, not like Pie, whose first impulse is to stop and stare.  And I think she'll always be that way, no matter how much work she gets or what exercises we do - that's just who she is.

First a note on her diet (because diet can often be a source of excess energy).  Not much I can do there - she only gets a vitamin/mineral balancer pellet - no grain - and grass hay.  I am going to increase her magnesium/chromium supplement to 2 ounces a day (she usually gets 1 ounce a day when the grass isn't rich and 2 ounces a day when it is - the primary purpose of this supplement is to help her borderline insulin resistance).  Magnesium oxide often has a calming effect on the nervous system.  (If she were a horse that needed grain due to heavy work, I would use vitamin B-1 as a supplement.)  She also currently gets Mare Magic and U-Gard.

Leading/in-hand.  Dawn did a lot of this work in the arena when I was first working with her, to help her with her ground manners and to help her learn to pay attention to me and focus on me.  We should do more of this, including some more advanced work and some obstacle work.  Leading her on the trail, however, would be another matter.  Dawn is one of those horses who can lose it completely, and when she's gone, she's gone.  Being on the end of the line with a crazed, spinning, bucking horse that's trying to bolt isn't my idea of fun - even my daughter won't lead her on the trail.  I think she wouldn't run me over, but I would have trouble managing her if she got upset, and I'm just not up for that.

Ground driving.  I'm a big fan of ground driving, and have used it with great success to introduce horses to the trail and to new situations.  Maisie and I did a lot of it when she first started trail riding.  It is easier to keep control of a horse that's exploding on the lines than in-hand, but it can still be a pretty scary experience - I had some episodes with Lily when ground driving on the trail that made me ask later "what was I thinking?"  A horse doing levades and caprioles (unintended by me) while ground driving is a little too much excitement for me, and I know Dawn is capable of some pretty fancy moves.  I'm just not up for that either.

Ponying.  This would be a great idea - I've done this too with my horses - Maisie and Norman were both ponied (not at the same time!) off Noble from time to time - except for one problem.  Dawn has what could be politely described as "personal space" issues - she's very dominant - an alpha - and can be extremely aggressive with other horses - biting and kicking would definitely be strong possibilities.  She actually doesn't even like other horses anywhere near her when my daughter takes her on the trail, and has the ability to kick sideways and reach even a horse directly next to her.  If she were showing, she'd be a red-ribbon-in-the-tail girl.

Lungeing.  This is something Dawn and I have done together.  I think we need to do more of this, perhaps with some obstacles to negotiate and also using two reins and doing some more sophisticated in-hand and long-lining/ground-driving exercises.  I could see her enjoying this - just lungeing in circles bores her (me too) and isn't great for her joints.

Getting a saddle.  I'm debating with myself about this.  My daughter never rides with a saddle - she strongly prefers bareback and in fact feels more secure on the horse bareback - good for her!  I've seen her stay on for Dawn moves that resulted in clear airspace between my daughter's butt and Dawn's back, but usually my daughter's pretty well glued on - she just goes with the motion, whatever it is.  So any saddle we get for Dawn will be for me only.  I do need to get one, but if possible I'd like to get one that fits both Dawn and Pie (if that is even possible), but until Pie finishes filling out I don't know what I've got there.  I should probably just bite the bullet and get a saddle made for Dawn (I want a lightweight Black Rhino and the lead time for them is several months, unless I luck into a used one that fits her), since it's probable that what fits her won't fit Pie anyway.

Galloping to get the ya-yas out.  In fact my daughter employs this strategy a lot with Dawn - they do full-out gallops (very fast - Dawn's an ex-racehorse) frequently, and Dawn really enjoys this.  Just not happening with me - Dawn is also perfectly capable of doing big bucks while running flat out; she's that athletic.

Clicker work.  We've done some of this to help Dawn with scary objects, and we both enjoyed it a lot.  I need to expand my horizons here.  I have a good Alexandra Kurland book to use and there's a lot more we can work on.  I'll bet Dawn would even be capable of some interesting liberty work (once I got her to stop tearing around), although I know one trick I'm not teaching her - rearing - she already does this just fine, and frequently, although no longer (thank the powers that be) when ridden.

So there you go - one high-strung, highly reactive and sensitive mare, with a dominant personality, plus one middle-aged lady focussed on self-preservation.  The two of us can work together, and I'm a reasonably capable rider, but keeping safe is my first priority.  Although I do love Dawn - she's one-of-a-kind, full of personality and expressiveness and my daughter's special "soul horse" - I need to accept that there are limits on what I will do with her.  She would have made an outstanding competition horse - say for jumpers or eventing - she's fiery, fiercely competitive and fast and extremely athletic, but that's not where she ended up in her horse life.

Dawn: What To Do With a Wild Mare?

I haven't ridden Dawn in about a week.  For those of you who may be new here, Dawn isn't my horse, she is my younger daughter's horse and my daughter is away at college.  If you're interested in what Dawn is like and what we've been working on together, visit this post.  When I rode Dawn last week, she was hyper-alert, spooky and wanting to go/bolt - not a very safe ride, even in the arena, particularly since I don't have a saddle that fits her and I've been riding bareback.  Dawn's one of those horses who reacts strongly to the weather, and as it gets colder, she gets more, well, "spicy".  She's a fun horse to ride in many ways - extremely responsive and full of forward - you can do a lot with that and we've been having some fun doing that in the arena.

I also think she's wanting to go on the trail - when I jump on she immediately heads that way - and I feel sorry that I can't take her there - she's just got too many fast moves for me - when I was my daughter's age I could stay on for stuff like that but I'm not at all sure I could any more.  My daughter always takes her on the trail, and I think she misses that - she's a smart and curious horse.

I think she may also be somewhat jealous of Pie - his stall is just across the aisle from hers and she can see how much time I spend with him and how I'm constantly riding him away from the barn and down the trail.  She expresses her opinion by being somewhat aloof and occasionally pinning her ears and even threatening to nip (which I quickly make clear isn't OK even if you are crabby).

I'm not entirely sure what to do with Miss Dawn.  Riding her right now doesn't seem like that good an option - perhaps some scary obstacle work with clicker or some lungeing work would do the trick (although she's not very fond of lungeing, she does it extremely well).  I'd like to keep her in work so she stays "connected" to me and doesn't "drift off", if that makes any sense to you.  Hmmm . . . . I'll have to think about that . . .

Sunday, November 21, 2010

More On Hock Sores

I've been doing some more research about hock sores.  I've learned that one thing I've been doing is probably counterproductive - I've been putting various ointments or Vasaline on the sore, but it seems that what is needed is for the wound to form a protective callus and the ointments inhibit that by softening the skin - apparently crusty is the way to go.  I may put a piece of duct tape or a surgical bandage over it to give it a chance to crust over.

I'm also going to put more soaked pellets in his stall today - the deeper bedding will help (although it makes the stall harder to clean) - with our bedding it's the hard, not yet broken down pellets that may be causing the problem.

And I've found an interesting product on-line - this woman apparently was dissatisfied with available products (most of the reviews I've seen for the hock boots that are widely available say that they don't fit well, aren't durable and don't stay on) and designed her own hock boots - these look pretty well-designed and durable to me.  I'm going to try to call her Monday and see if I can get a pair.

In all my years with horses, I've never had one with hock sores - our Lily used to rub the hair off the front of her front pasterns from lying down on the hard ground, but she never got sores.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Frosty Morning RIde

This morning, Pie and I had a wonderful ride.  It's a beautiful day, sunny with a bit of wind.  By the time I got back home, the temperature had risen to 35F but the windchill was still about 30.  It's a beautiful late fall day in our part of the country.  Pie and I were out for over an hour by ourselves, mostly walking but with some spots of trotting away from home.  After Pie "unstuck" on the first loop away from home, he was great, and he relaxed a bit on several occasions, including on the last approach to home - the head came down and his walk was nicely forward but not rushing.  Good Pie!

I've got a number of things to try on the hock sore.  So far the score is hock sore 1 - Dr. Scholl's Bunion Pad 0.  The bunion pad looked good - it had a recessed area in the middle and adhesive around the edge, and nice padding, but I think it was a tad too small and it didn't stay on overnight.  Tonight I have a square bandage that claims to have super-stick adhesive around the edge - we'll see.  I may end up with the hock boots after all, although I'm reluctant to get them as most people seem to find them not well made or fitting.

I did manage to fix the too-short jowl strap on the sidepull.  I took an old leather curb strap I wasn't using and cut off about three inches from the buckle end, then tapered the end and punched holes in the strap.  Voila!  An extender for the jowl strap.  I'm delighted with how responsive Pie is in the sidepull - I barely have to lift a rein and he's right on whatever I'm asking.  He seems to like it, and so do I.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Two Poems

Pie and I went on a nice walking trail ride, accompanied by my husband, who was out on his daily walk.  We went about 1 1/2 miles - it was a mite chilly (wind chills in the 30sF) but I think a good time was had by all.  Then Pie and I worked on our four cones exercise in the arena, and even did a bit of work at the trot.  Good Pie!  Dawn is being neglected at the moment - in this windy cold weather she can be a little too much for this middle-aged lady.  Speaking of age, I realized that if Pie makes it to 30, I'll be over 80 (if I make it that far)! - the second poem below made me think about that.  I hope that he and I will get old together, riding all the way.

And Pie nickered to me this morning - first time - it probably just meant he was hungry but I'll take it just the same.

* * * * * *
I just encountered two wonderful poems from Maxine Kumin's book Where I Live: New and Selected Poems 1990-2010 that I wanted to share.

First, "Praise Be":

Eleven months, two weeks in the womb
and this one sticks a foreleg out
frail as a dowel quivering
in the unfamiliar air and then
the other leg, cocked at the knee
at first, then straightening
and here's the head, a big blind fish
thrashing inside its see-through sack
and for a moment the panting mare
desists, lies still as death.

I tear the caul, look into eyes
as innocent, as skittery
as minnows.  Three heaves, the shoulders pass.
The hips emerge.  Fluid as snakes
the hind legs trail out glistering.
The whole astonished filly, still
attached, draws breath and whinnies
a treble tremolo that leaps
in her mother who nickers a low-key response.

Let them prosper, the dams and their sucklings.
Let nothing inhibit their heedless growing.
Let them raise up on sturdy pasterns
and trot out in light summer rain
onto the long lazy unfenced fields
of heaven.

and then,  a portion of "The Confindantes":

Dorothy Harbison, aetat [aged] 91,
stumps into the barn on her cane and my arm,
invites the filly to nuzzle her face,
her neck and shoulders, her snowdrift hair
and would very likely be standing there
still to be nibbled, never enough
for either of them, so sternly lovestruck
except an impatient middle-aged daughter
waits to carry her mother off.

In Camden, Maine the liveryman
at the end of town, a floridly grand
entrepreneur, sends for Dorothy
whenever he has a prospect at hand.
She is nine or ten.  Given a knee
up she can ride any horse on the place.
If the deal goes through, a 50 cent piece
pops in her pocket, but Dorothy's pride
soars like a dirigible, its ropes untied.

It was all horses then, she says,
combing the filly's mane with her fingers,
soothing and kneading with practiced hands
from throatlatch to sensitve poll to withers.
All horses.  Heavenly.  You understand.

. . .

Leaving, Dorothy Harbison
speaks to the foal in a lilting croon:
I'll never wash again, I swear.
I'll keep the smell of you in my hair.
and stumps our fiercely young on her cane.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

In Memory of Promise

Today is the day, nine years ago, that I lost my wonderful Promise mare.

I will never forget her.  If you'd like to read more about her, please visit this post I did last year, and appreciate your horses each and every day that you have them.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

How to Fit the Sidepull 2 and Pie Persists

It's been a dark, raw November day, with light drizzle on and off and a sharp wind.  The temperature made it to about 45F, but with the wind it felt more like 40.  Not the most pleasant day for a ride, but it's what we had.

Before I got on, our fence contractor arrived and delivered a piece of equipment he needs for his work - Pie got to watch the equipment unchained from the flatbed and driven off - he wasn't too worried about it.  My first job after grooming was was to adjust his sidepull so it fit properly - the video in the previous post was very helpful.  The only trouble I had was that the jowl strap barely fit since his jowls are so deep - I had to punch another hole close to the end of the strap to make it fit.  At some point I may send the sidepull back to the company to have a longer strap fitted.  Here's how it ended up looking (you can compare to the incorrect fit I showed in the first picture in this post):

First we did a very short trail loop - Pie was somewhat sticky away from home and required some slowing down towards home, but he was very good overall although not particularly relaxed - he was very focussed on where the barn was.

Then we went into the arena.  We did a lot of small looped serpentines and small circles - he would keep looking towards the other horses and try to turn that way, but responded and did what I asked.  We did a bit of backing, but didn't do much other softening work since he wasn't very relaxed.  Instead we did a "four cones" exercise that we'd set up before I got on.  I had four cones arranged in a large square.  We walked purposefully - marching is the word that comes to mind - from cone to cone - I tried to think of us being pulled along the line between my eyes and the cone - and then circled tightly around the cone (I went back to his neck-reining since that's what's most familiar to him) and went to another cone and repeated.  Pretty soon his head and neck started to drop a little and he was able to start focussing.  It really ended up quite well - I could have moved up to a trot but decided to stop on the good note we'd reached.  His straight lines were very good and his turns around the cones were small and precise. He's done some barrel work and seemed to find the exercise very soothing, even better than the small circles and serpentines.  He's a horse that needs to feel he's doing a job, I think.

How to Fit the Sidepull

Here's a nice video on how to fit a sidepull - this video is from the Buckeroo Leather site and is the same model sidepull I have (mine also has a throatlatch), so Pie and I will try this out today and see if we can get a better fit.  It pretty much answers my questions about noseband placement and the proper tightness of the jowel and chin straps.  (EvenSong - you were right, it was much too low on his nose.)  I'll take a picture and we can compare to my picture from yesterday.

Poor Pie and Nervous Horses

Poor Pie!  Yesterday morning when attempting to greet a mare in the adjacent pasture, Pie got his nose zapped by the electric tape that tops the four-board fence.  I'm not sure he's ever encountered an electric fence before - he leapt backwards and ran off shaking his head, and was alarmed, snorting and upset for several minutes.  And then in the afternoon, I was taking pictures of him wearing his new sidepull when the flash went off - he was extremely alarmed and bolted backwards - poor boy - too many new scary things in one day.

I didn't get a lot done yesterday; both horses were somewhat worried.  Pie and I did get a bit done, though. The first thing that clued me in to his nervousness was that he tried to move off from the mounting block - back to his friends (he was probably thinking "at least they don't zap or flash bright lights at me") when I was half on.  Pie stands very well for mounting, so this wasn't normal for him - he was very distracted.  We did a tiny trail excursion, not out of sight of the barn, and I got a lot of reluctance and wanting to turn back, and a tiny bit of head shaking, but that was all - he did what I asked but I didn't want to push my luck.

So I took him in the arena and we did a bunch of small circles and serpentines at the walk to help him relax a bit - no trotting today.  He direct reins well.  We did some backing - he does this pretty softly already in the sidepull, and we started doing some softening work at the walk.  I found that he got the idea of this better on the turns than when we were traveling in a straight line. I managed to get a step or two of "giving" at a time, and the lower head position also helped his nervousness.

When we were done, after I untacked I tied him in the arena with a hay bag - some work on being away from his buddies and on patience seemed in order.  He started out by moving around a lot and doing a lot of pawing, but after a while he settled down nicely.

I got Dawn ready with the sidepull - her head from "bit to "bit" across the top is exactly the same as Pie's, so I didn't have to adjust that, although her head's not as deep from face to jowl as his is, so the settings on the jowl strap and chin strap were different - in fact I think the chin strap was too loose.  I'm going to call the manufacturer after checking their web site first for fitting information - I'm curious how tight the chin strap is supposed to be, and with Pie, his cheekbone placement - the end of his cheekbone was running into the cross strap connecting the noseband to the cheekpiece - meant that I had the noseband a bit too low, I think.

I popped on Dawn bareback.  She was hyper-alert and not really "with me".  We did some turns and serpentines on the field behind the barn, which is next to the arena.  Somewhere nearby, there was this awful noise - it sounded like a loud, sick mechanical goose (our barn lady thought it might be someone working on a motorcycle) - it was loud, occasional and very alarming to Dawn (Pie didn't care about it).  At one point she was ready to bolt - all four feet came off the ground and she gave a rapid, hard, shaking of the head from side to side.  She didn't make any forward progress since I asked her to stop, and we did a few more minutes of serpentines before I got off.  Not much good was going to get accomplished there, although I was pleased to stay on and keep her under control with her antics.

Pie's developed a hock sore on one side - the only thing I don't like about our bedding is the little wood pellets are pretty hard before they soften up with moisture - I had to add some extra well-soaked pellets to his stall so the bedding would be softer, and I've had some luck putting ointment on the sore just before I leave the barn to protect it a bit.  I've been looking at hock boots on line, but most of the reviews seem to give them poor ratings for durability and fit.  If anyone out there has had good or bad experiences with hock boots, or other advice on treating/preventing hock sores, please let me know, and be sure to add your comments and thoughts to yesterday's bitless post.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Bitless Options

I've had a number of requests to do a post on bitless options, and the similarities and differences between them.  What I've written here is based on my limited personal experience with these various options, or information I've been able to find out.  Many of you out there have your own experiences with bitless options, and have much more knowledge than I do, so please chime in and give us the benefit of what you know.  Some of these options I've tried personally, and some I just have heard about.  My opinions about the various options are just that, my opinions, and they're based on what's worked or hasn't worked with my horses - your experiences and opinions may differ and please speak up if you disagree with anything I say or may have wrong.

In my mind, I classify bitless options into four categories, based on how they work: direct action on the noseband, compound action on the noseband as well as other parts of the head, leverage action (mechanical hackamores), and bosals.  And then there are different bitless options within each category.  There are also true bridleless options, including the use of a cordero (neck rope or string), but those are beyond the scope of this post.  I'm also not going to talk about "combo" bridles, where a bit is combined with a sidepull (Western) or a mechanical hackamore (a big fad in the jumper ring right now) - I think most of these are really just control devices and many of them are very severe, and anyway they're certainly not bitless.

I might also add that I ride my horses both with bits and bitless, and I think either, if used correctly, can be an effective means of communication between rider and horse.  If the bit is just resting in the mouth, or the bitless headstall on the head, either can be means of having a two-way soft conversation.  And either option can be abused if used incorrectly or with the intent to coerce or punish.  So, without further ado, here are the various bitless options as I understand them.

Direct noseband action

The simplest version of this is a halter with two reins attached to the sides.  The next most simple is a basic sidepull, like the one I got from Buckeroo Leather - here's a picture of what it looks like on Pie:

Note added later - the fit in this picture is incorrect - the noseband is too low - for the correct fit see this post. The action is straightforward - when rein pressure is applied, that pressure is transmitted directly to the noseband.  Since the noseband is very stable - it does not slide, rotate or twist, this bridle has the advantage that it works well for direct rein usage, and therefore I find it also works very well in turns.  It can be used for all the softening work that a bit would be used for.

There are sidepulls with different noseband materials, some of are thinner or harder than the soft leather noseband of my headstall.  Some of these materials, I think, could be harsh in the wrong hands.

There are many variants of this design.  There is an English version that used to be available - I haven't been able to find a picture of it - which is similar - a noseband with rings attached to a normal English headstall - I used to have one but found that it wasn't very sturdily made and the noseband tended to move around too much - it wasn't very stable.

There is also the Enduro bridle - here's a picture (from the maker's - Lodge Ropes - web site), showing how it works - it's basically a modified rope halter with reins:

I've never used one so don't have too much to say about it - it looks like it might be good for endurance riding since it's lightweight.

Compound action on the noseband and other areas of the head

There are a number of variants in this category.  The difference between them and a basic sidepull is that in addition to transmitting pressure to the nose, rein action produces pressure on other areas of the horse's head, typically the under-chin area, or the sides of the face and/or the poll.  There are sidepulls that operate with the ring attached to a chinstrap, so that when rein pressure is applied, the chin strap tightens.

The Dr. Cook's and Nurtural bridles both fall in this category.  Here's a picture of a Dr. Cook's bridle on Maisie:

When pressure is applied to a rein in the Dr. Cooks, this pulls on a strap that passes under the chin and up the other side of the horse's face until it connects with the crown piece. This produces a "hugging" action.  I have used a Dr. Cook's and found the connection with the horse somewhat "muddy" or "fuzzy" - the delicate, soft connection I want wasn't really there and it was hard for me to give precise signals or small precise releases to the horse.  For me, using one rein or turning was a particular issue, and at least one of my horses seemed to find the headstall and its squeezing action confusing and somewhat aggravating.

Here's the Nurtural bridle (from their web site):

I have never used a Nurtural bridle (but I know some of you readers out there do, so speak up), but I understand that the biggest difference from the Dr. Cook's is the X that connects the two straps that pass under the jaw.  I would expect that this stabilizes the bridle - the Dr. Cook's can have a tendency to twist in my experience - and makes the action more direct.

There is also the LG bridle (produced in Europe, I believe) - I've never seen one in action but here's a picture:

It looks to me like this might have a small leverage action, and possibly also some poll effect, depending on the rein placement, and I believe there is also a version with a shank, which would make it closer to a mechanical hackamore.

The Light Rider bitless bridle (there's also a separate noseband that you can attach to a regular headstall) is partly direct action, but it has rings that attach to a separate chin strap - when you pull on the rein the chinstrap tightens.  This one looks like it could have a fairly direct, clear action.  I've never used one, but know people who do and who like it quite a bit.  Here's a picture from their site:

Leverage action (mechanical hackamores)

I think of mechanical hackamores as a bit like curb bits, except that instead of a bit in the mouth there's a noseband - when pressure is applied to the reins, leverage pressure is applied to the noseband and a curb strap/chain under the chin, with the severity determined by the material of the noseband (there are some pretty severe options out there), whether a chain is used under the chin and the length of the shanks.  Many of the longer-shanked ones can be very severe - it just goes to show that the potential for harshness doesn't require a bit.

Here's a picture of one with a medium shank and what appears to be a rope noseband:

I haven't used any of these on my horses, but expect that the action doesn't lend itself to effective one-rein communication or finesse, although it might be just fine for trail riding on a loose rein with a horse that knows how to neck rein.  Has anyone out there had experience doing work requiring precise cues with one of these bridles?


Bosals come in many nose widths, but the basic principle is the same - there is a noseband, usually made of rawhide, which comes around to a large connecting point (the "hanger") at the bottom, where the reins attach.  I have never ridden in a bosal, but would be interested to try one.  Here's a picture of one:

I've seen them described two ways, which seem to me to be somewhat contradictory.  One school seems to think of a bosal as a transitional stage for a young horse before they're ready to be ridden in a snaffle, and perhaps ultimately a curb, bit.  I've heard Mark Rashid say to the contrary that a bosal is better suited to a more educated horse and that then it can be a very soft and refined way to communicate with the horse, with the bosal defining the place within which the horse is being asked to softly keep its nose, thereby determining, through the poll, neck and entire body, the position and softness of the horse.

I also believe that contact - in the sense of a soft, live connection between horse and rider that is the means of communication between them, can occur with a bit or a bitless option, and can also occur with a loose rein with a horse that knows how to soften and carry itself softly.

I'd be very interested in hearing what experiences those of you who have used bosals have had and what situations you use them for.

If there are bitless options I've left out, please speak up and let us know about them and your experiences, good and bad, with them.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Pie Meets the Chiropractor and New Sidepull

This morning Pie had an appointment to meet the chiropractor.  Before she came, we took a short trail ride by ourselves - he was very good although clearly interested in where the barn was.  I didn't get any good pictures of his appointment since I was busy holding him.  He wasn't too sure what she was up to at first - I'm sure he's never had chiropractic before.  When she would "ask" him if something needed doing by touching him, at first he thought she was asking him to do something, such as move in response to pressure.  He began to get the idea after a bit and seemed to enjoy it.

First she checked saddle fit - the Rodrigo close contact saddle fits him quite well for now, especially with a somewhat thicker pad.  She agreed that it probably didn't make sense to order him a Black Rhino saddle until we are sure he's finished growing (I hope!) and has a chance to fill out a bit.  She said he was one of the least messed-up horses physically she'd ever seen - his body is very symmetrical and balanced.  She said he was the only horse she could remember ever working on whose Atlas (first neck vertebra), and hence his poll, was completely fine - I suspect this is because his former owner had never messed with his mouth and rode on a completely loose rein, and his teeth haven't been messed up by bad dentistry.

His left lumbar region needed a bit of work - I suspected this from some slight sensitivity he has when grooming.  His left stifle needed a bit of work, and this was related to some scar tissue from his castration pulling on the inside of the stifle joint - she says he's young enough that she should be able to relax and mostly dissolve that scar tissue over the course of several treatments.  She was able to get a bit done on that today - he objected pretty violently - some kicking - at first, but once he figured out what she was doing, he thought it was a good idea.  His upper neck muscles are a bit tight and short - he tends to travel a bit inverted - and she recommended some carrot stretches downwards.  Also, once we start our softening work, that should gradually be remedied as he learns to relax and stretch his top line and engage his core.  She says that he may or may not need some follow-up work in December depending on what our dentist Mike Fragale has to say at the beginning of the month about the condition of his mouth.

She was very complementary of Pie - his build, feet and legs and his overall soundness and good condition - he had very little that needed working on.  She said for a horse of his age - he's only 4 - that he is remarkably level-headed, sensible and smart - she said he has a good mind, and I would agree!

Two things arrived today - his new certificate of registration showing the transfer of ownership, and my new sidepull from Buckeroo Leather.  I am delighted with the quality of the workmanship and appearance of the sidepull, and the company's responsiveness was also excellent.  I also got a matching set of reins (ties, no Chicago screws or buckles for me).  Here is the sidepull - I got the optional jowl strap to help keep it in place:

Tomorrow, weather permitting, Pie and I will get to try it out - I'm very excited!