Thursday, June 30, 2011

Sitting With Pie

This morning, I took a plastic chair up to Pie's paddock and put it in the shade of his shed.  I sat there for a long while, reading a book, while he ate his hay - he did stop for a moment and come over to investigate what I was doing but went right back to the important business of eating.  It was very pleasant just to sit there with him, and later in the afternoon, he got his grooming which he seemed to enjoy.

Today was a day of ups and downs.  I overdid the exercise a bit yesterday, so today I took it easy and mostly rested - when I overdo I get a bit of a headache and also get very tired - I'm sure these are aftereffects of the concussion.  By the end of the day I felt much better. But I was able to go without my arm sling for almost the whole day with very little problem - the arm won't move without pain in certain directions but is otherwise pretty usable, and the ribs are giving me little trouble at this point, so I was able to drive the car and do some errands.

So daily ups and downs, but every day is a bit better.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Being Prepared

None of us expects to be suddenly seriously injured, mentally impaired or even deceased due to accident or illness, but my recent accident and hospitalization brought home to me how important it is for all of us, no matter our age or health, to be prepared in advance in case something happens to us.  A family coping with injury, illness or death should not have to also cope with lack of preparation.  I know it's hard to think about these things - all of us would like to think nothing of this kind will happen to us - but it's important to get it done, ahead of time.

Here are some questions for you to consider:

Do you have a will?  It doesn't have to be complicated or expensive, but getting a simple will prepared, as well as a letter of direction for the gifting of special personal items, will often save your family expense and time as well as make sure your wishes are honored - if you don't have a will, state law will specify who gets your assets and it may not be the people you intended.  If you have a will, and your circumstances have changed - divorce for example - be sure to have your will changed.  A will also can specify who would be the guardian of your minor children in the event of your death, if you are a single parent, or in the event of the death of both spouses if you are married.

Do you have a durable power of attorney that will allow a trusted person to administer your financial assets in case of your incapacity?

Do you have a health care proxy, advance directive for health care and permission for family members/trusted persons to have access to your medical information?  A health care proxy permits the named person to make decisions about your medical care if you are incapacitated.  An advance directive specifies what sorts of medical care you are and are not comfortable with under certain circumstances, including life support - this should certainly also be clearly discussed in advance with your family so they understand your intentions.

If you are the person in your family who handles financial matters and files, would your survivors be able to quickly take up the reins if you weren't there?  This means that not only do they know where things are, and that the materials are in good order, but that they understand about these matters and are able to take over for you if needed - there are many horror stories about surviving spouses who had little knowledge of financial matters.

Do you have a plan for what would happen to your horses and other animals if you were deceased or permanently incapacitated?  Maybe you trust your family to carry out your intentions properly, but being clear about what you want is a good idea.  If you need extra assurance about the care of a special animal, in some states it's possible to set up a trust in advance for the animal's care, with specific directions.

If you are in charge of the care, physical or financial, of an elderly or disabled relative, are there alternative arrangements set up in case you suddenly disappear from the scene?

And finally, not about paperwork or legal matters - if you were to die tomorrow, would there be serious unfinished business that should have gotten done - this can be anything from cleaning out the basement to an apology for harsh words spoken yesterday to reconciling with a former friend or a relative.  Think about it - you never know when your time will be up.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

A Great Post on "Allowing"

Jane at the Literary Horse has just done a wonderful post that talks about some of the same things I was thinking about in my post about "allowing".  Go read it if you haven't already, and be sure to view the video in the link - there are some very interesting thoughts that have applications across disciplines, as well as an amazing horse in action.

Monday, June 27, 2011

A Tail and a (Short) Walk

Tonight it was Pie's turn for a grooming.  Today I got out the ShowSheen and did a proper job on his mane and tail, which hadn't been done for over two weeks.  It's easy to forget how nice it is to have two properly working arms until you don't.  I held his tail in my left hand, using my sling as a brace to take the weight of  the pulling, and combed with my right hand (very lucky I didn't break my right collarbone as I'm right handed).  Pie has a very thick, beautiful tail with many lovely shades of chestnut, and it was fun to get it all smooth and silky, although it took a while.  Then I put on his halter (one-handed) and took him for a very short walk around one part of the community garden - about 100 yards or so.  He seemed to enjoy it - he hasn't been anywhere but the barn and his paddock since I was injured - and we stopped to look at things from time to time.  After saying hi to Dawn and Drift, I made my way home, somewhat tired but happy.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Walking and Grooming

Not much to report.  More walking, more leg and good arm exercises.  The walking was better today - I did a few short outings and didn't have to stop as often and didn't have to use the walking stick for reassurance.  The proprioception isn't 100% yet but it's getting better - maybe it's at 90% now.  I did nap a bit - probably a mix of fatigue and still recovering from the head injury. Tomorrow another doctor's appointment - the trauma doctor, who will have opinions about my ribs and breathing and the status of my recovery from the concussion.  Then Tuesday the cardiologist to check out the pacemaker.

Today it was Drift's turn to be groomed.  He was very well-behaved for haltering - I did it myself and used both hands and he nicely dropped his head.  He seemed to enjoy the grooming.  Dawn and he both had a tail tick, which they were grateful to have removed, and Pie enjoyed his tail scratching session.

Not very exciting, but it feels pretty good to me.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Honest Mistakes

It's two weeks since my accident and I've been gradually starting to do a (very little) amount of exercise - my biggest issue right now is physical weakness and loss of muscle tone and fitness.  I'm taking (very short) walks up and down in front of my house, using a nice tall walking stick just for safety because of the muscle weakness.  I've also started doing a few partial squats, some one-armed push ups off the wall with my good arm and also some standing on a stair step and straightening and bending one leg at a time.  And of course there's a bit of light grooming - I can still only do one horse a day but that's better than no horse. In everything I do, I try to focus on deep, even breathing, even though that still hurts.

* * * * * *
I've been reading an interesting book - it's called The Perfect Wrong Note: Learning to Trust Your Musical Self, by William Westney (highly recommended for any musician or music teacher).  It's nominally about how more effectively and enjoyably to learn to practice and perform music - I'm an amateur musician myself - but there's a lot in it that can be applied to horsemanship as well, I think: horsemanship is a complex mental/physical task that has a lot in common with making music.

The first thing the book does is distinguish between two types of mistakes - honest mistakes and careless mistakes.  A careless mistake is one made with inattentiveness and which is ignored or rationalized/explained away and no learning results from it.  An honest mistake is very different:
Honest mistakes are not only natural, they are immensely useful. . .  they show use with immediate, elegant clarity where we are right now and what we need to do next. . . Sometimes we have to fully experience what's wrong in order to understand and integrate what's right, and honest mistakes are the only way to do that. [read it on the Kindle so no page references for quotes]
The honest-mistake approach isn't so easy to accept for most adults . . . we're driven too much by our emotional need to control events and avoid embarrassment.
I know I often make mistakes when I work with horses - this can include asking the horse to do something in a way that is unclear, inconsistent or ineffective - I ask for A and the result is the horse does B.  A mistake that's allowed to be a careless mistake - where the importance of the mistake is suppressed or ignored due to hurry, inattentiveness, shame, fear of failure, external pressures (trainers or observers, for example) or rationalization is unfinished business and will undoubtedly reoccur.  We often, I think, focus on the destination we want - accuracy, control and refinement - but these are the destination, not the starting place, which is fully experiencing and trying to understand our honest mistakes.
Be detached. . . . Don't take the outcomes personally.  This isn't about our egos, it's about gathering objective evidence.  Observe in detail, not in general terms. . . . Find out what the mistake is telling you today, and let every mistake be a juicy, revealing one.
To accept responsibility, to achieve and maintain total self-honesty, requires mental energy, focus, and - above all - a kind of courage.
This is why attention is so critical - the book discusses the concept of "tracking", which involves performing an action - say asking for a left lead canter depart - and attempting to feel precisely in our body what we are doing and where areas of tension may be, and feel in our horse's body the response, and then understand what is happening as the mistake occurs.  This will usually require us to make a change in what we are doing with our body, energy level or focus to change the result, but we can't make that change unless we fully understand what isn't going right, without judgment.

Some other thoughts from/ideas that emerged from reading the book:

  • The idea is to get to a place where we can let the outcome we want happen instead of making it happen.
  • The idea of breaking things down into smaller pieces is very important, since it allows you to clearly understand what goes into a particular movement or action by the horse and you together, and therefore allows you to break down your asks and guidance into clear, manageable bits.
  • Taking breaks allows for mental and physical relaxation - for both horse and rider.
  • Removal of conflict/tension and unimpeded flow of energy will change the quality of the physical actions.
  • When something you try works out, make a note of how that feels inside - not just the muscular actions.  To repeat successfully, stop relentlessly trying to produce the correct outcome and instead focus on how the moment feels.

In conclusion: don't preempt the feedback you get from an honest mistake - if you ask for A and the horse does B, listen to and feel what the horse is telling you - the "mistake" has value precisely in the information you can get from it.  Don't let those mistakes get away - they're valuable.  Be honest, open and unafraid of what you may learn as you make honest mistakes in working with your horse.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

I Groomed a Horse!

It's 12 days since my injuries, and every day is a little bit better.  I haven't had to use any of the heavy-duty narcotics for pain for several days now - Advil is pretty much doing the trick.  I've started taking some short walks - it's amazing how much strength you lose after lying in bed for days.  Today I went to the orthopedic doctor, and he confirmed no surgery will be necessary on my collarbone - unlike the usual horse-related collarbone injury where the rider sticks an arm out to try to break a fall, breaking the collarbone in the middle, my injury is an impact fracture at the end of the collarbone where it joins the shoulder.  The x-rays show it's healing well, and it doesn't seem as though I have any serious soft tissue injuries, and at worst I'll have a little bump on the bone to remind me.  The doctor also said I no longer have to wear the sling 24/7 and I can start using my arm some now, being careful not to lift anything except light objects and not to raise it too far (can't do that anyway because of the pacemaker until the cardiac doctor sees me next week) nor to push if it hurts.  This should help with the muscle cramping I've started having in my neck and the back of my shoulder from having my arm fixed in one position.  I'll have to wait at least a couple more weeks before I can do real exercises, but this feels like progress.  The ribs don't hurt as badly any more either - except if I sneeze or cough which I'm trying to avoid.

So - big news - I did some grooming today!  Just one horse, and not my usual thorough job, and only using one hand, but still - it felt great!  Pie was my first victim - he was very dirty and I can't say he looks a lot better but it was a step in the right direction.  And Dawn and Drift got visited and I checked Dawn's tail for ticks and removed (yet another) one, for which she was grateful. I can't pick feet yet - that takes two hands and I'd have to be able to fully use my left hand to hold the foot - but our wonderful p.m. barn lady is taking care of that for the moment.  Next week I see the cardiac and trauma doctors, but so far so good!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Lessons From the Clinic: On Allowing

If you look over at the right side of this blog, there is a sidebar called "Steps On the Journey".  There are a series of posts there that are my thoughts over time about my horsemanship journey, and where I think I need to go next - what are the challenges, or rather opportunities, that I see ahead to make my horsemanship - my ability to be an effective partner and leader for my horses - take the next step.  This is the next post in that series, and was sparked by the Mark Rashid clinic I rode in during May - there is another sidebar over there with the posts about the 2011 clinic, where I rode both Dawn and Drift.

The first post in the Steps on the Journey series has some history of how I got to where I am now with horses.  The next couple of posts are about the development of feel, attention and awareness - both of myself and my body and of the horse's thoughts and body.  Then there are some posts on what I think of as the "virtues" I need to develop and bring to the horse - the most recent post is called "Developing the Virtues: Me" and is a good summary of what I continue to work on in myself to bring better horsemanship to my horses.

My time and riding at the clinic brought another concept fully to my attention.  It's been there all along, but in bits and pieces and never as a unified concept - the concept of "allowing" and how that matters to my horsemanship.  The two things I really took away from the clinic are: first, how important it is to be able to allow the horse to move - directing and channeling the energy rather than just controlling it or bottling it up; and second, how important it is when teaching a horse a to focus on getting one thing right at a time and not expect everything to be there at once - as one thing comes right then another element can be added and then another - you can't get it all done at once and it's okay to allow the horse to be imperfect.

Here are a couple of examples of what I mean.  When I was working with Dawn, and we were starting our work on leg yield, Mark had me only work on "sideways", completely ignoring things like head position and speed (both of which weren't what I wanted) - he said if she needed to mess with her head position or speed to get the concept of sideways figured out, that was fine.  And in fact as we worked, once she got the concept of sideways, the other things fell into place pretty much on their own without my having to do anything else.  The message of this for me was that sometimes you lose something you already have (head position) while the horse is learning a new skill but that it's still there and will likely come right back - but only if you don't fuss at the horse and try to work on too many things at once.  Once the pieces are there, then you can refine things, but not before - otherwise the horse becomes frustrated with too many demands and can't understand what you're trying say as the message becomes muddied.

Second example, also involving Dawn:  When we were working on our cantering, I had to allow her to move forward and not hang on her out of concern about what she might do at the canter (buck, bolt, etc. - by the way, she's never done any of these things with me under saddle, ever, but she used to do them a lot in the past so they're always in the back of my mind) - she can't canter properly if I don't allow her to do so, and the less movement I allow the more likely it is that problems will arrive.  We're still not quite ready for this one - I need to do a lot more trotting with her first, allowing her to move and freeing her to give her best trot - collected, medium or extended - until our mutual trust (you won't hang on my mouth and I won't bolt or buck) isn't an issue for either one of us and we can canter together.

Third example, involving Drift.  He's basically pretty green, and needs a lot more practice just moving with a rider at trot and canter before we can work on refining anything else other than basic softening and pace regulation - he isn't ready for anything else until basic balance and rhythm are in place.  I just need to allow him to move at those gaits and begin to figure things out, again without a lot of fussing or attempts to fine tune by me - he's not ready for that yet - I have to allow him the time and space to figure things out without a lot of micromanaging by me.

These concepts lead directly to what I mean by "allowing".

Allowing with my body.  It's been a real revelation to me how many times we actively interfere with our horse's ability to do what we want - we pull, creating braces, we brace with our bodies, including our seats, blocking motion.  For our horses to do the things we ask, they must be able to move.  Guidance and direction are important of course, but the trick is to learn to do these without holding, constraining or blocking.  We need to do the exercise "with" and "in" the horse, not "to" or "on" the horse.  When working on leg yield with Dawn, I was "with" her by thinking "leg yield" in my own body as if I were on my feet, then allowing her feet to be my feet. This is a very different feel than pushing or pulling on the horse to ask it to move over.  Think of it as creating mental and physical openings for the horse to move into - this creates boundaries and guidance without any pushing or pulling.

Allowing with my mind.  This is a corollary of allowing with the body.  If I'm not allowing with my mind, I can't allow with my body and all those braces and blockings come back into the picture.  With a horse like Dawn, developing mutual trust over time is very important - we've come a long way on that road but have a ways further to travel together - lots of trotting in our future before cantering will happen easily and naturally.  This is where human anxiety and fear can get in the way - which are essentially anticipations of what might happen rather than fully being present with the horse in the moment.  This isn't at all to say that you should just go out and do something with your horse that one or both of you aren't prepared to do, either because of skill level, incomplete preparation or circumstances.  I think of it more as, whatever you are doing, be there, fully present and mentally give your horse the space to do what you're asking.

Allowing the horse to try.  This is also a mental thing that flows over into the physical.  If I ask a horse to do something that the horse hasn't yet learned to do well - like Dawn with leg yield - I have to give the horse the space and time to try.  Some of these tries won't be what I want - like Dawn rushing or sticking her head up - but the best course of action is almost always to keep the ask clear and simple, ignore the unwanted behaviors and reward the primary behavior you want to shape what the horse is doing.  And in Dawn's case - she's already got a good bit of training and knows what I want on pace regulation and head position - as soon as she was able to figure out that I wanted sideways, the other things came right back without my having to do anything more.  It's our job to make the horse's job as easy as possible by making sure the ask - particularly if we're asking for something new or the next link in a chain of skills - as clear as possible.  I think our horses often justifiably become frustrated with us because our asks aren't clear or consistent and we complicate the picture too much by fussing at too many details at once.  Dawn, as usual, is a great teacher for me - she is super sensitive and tries very hard and shows her frustrations openly when I confuse her or ask for too much at once.

Allowing time.  I'm fortunate that I have no deadlines - I don't show and I don't train horses for other people.  Sometimes time and hours in the saddle are the best solution - as in the case of Dawn's and my mutual trust and Drift's developing his trot and canter.  I have high expectations for my horses, but the joy and fun are in the journey and the slow but steady progress on the way.  This also involves allowing for bad days or periods like now when I can't ride - in the long-term scheme of things, these don't matter, and I also find that if the horse has clearly understood what you wanted and you've properly rewarded it, the training pretty much sticks even over layoff periods.  It's also important to allow the horse time to figure things out while you're working - all I have to do is keep asking, as clearly, consistently and calmly as possible, and reward the tries, however small, to shape the horse's responses in the right direction.  Sometimes taking time is the best way to a destination - for example, with Drift, if I were to rush his trot and canter work, I'd likely end up with a poorer quality trot and canter and a less stable foundation to build on.  Once his trot and canter are rhythmic and balanced, we can do anything, but not before that, and it's going to take the time it takes.

Allowing "not perfect".  This is a hard one for me - I have an image in my mind of where I want the horse to be, mentally and physically, but sometimes allowing the horse to not be perfect - Dawn's head position and pace when learning leg yield, or Drift's need to figure out his rhythm and balance at the trot and canter - is the road to success.  I started out, back at the beginning of my journey, being a very "controlling" rider, and that certainly worked up to a point.  I've since learned that being "with" the horse, and guiding and directing the horse - giving the horse leadership the horse can trust and rely on - while allowing the horse to fully participate and try while knowing that they won't be shut down mentally or physically by me - can be much more powerful and can lead to true softness and partnership.

I hope some of this makes sense to you - it's where I need to go next with my horsemanship.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Drift Checks Me Out

I made it to the barn very briefly yesterday to say hi to my horses while they were in their stalls having dinner.  Pie was Pie - very sweet and friendly.  He apparently got a bit warm and had been brought in a bit early - the heat index made it up to the upper 80sF - and his back seemed a bit tight to me, but he was eating and didn't seem uncomfortable.  Dawn was Dawn - she's in heat (again) and was happy to take my treats but somewhat, shall we say, distracted.  Drift was very friendly.  And then he did something very interesting.  I have lots of cuts and abrasions - on my face, my left knee and my right hand, to name some.  Drift very carefully sniffed me all over, paying particular attention to my exposed cuts and scrapes and my left shoulder area, where the worst injuries are, and my face and neck.  And then he tried to clean the abrasions on my right hand by licking them - I didn't let him do that as the skin is still very raw and I need to minimize the risk of infection.  He had clearly assessed the situation and was trying to help - he's a very sweet boy!

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Beautiful Lil

I haven't been able to take any pictures of the horses since I can't use my left arm right now - I hope some of those restrictions can gradually be eased as things heal up, but for now, here's a photo of Lily taken by Melissa down at Paradigm Farms - Lily did always have a beautiful head and face, and I've always loved the white under her chin and the end of her big blaze (it's under the gray) showing on her white nose:

Pretty girl!  It's hard to believe that she's about 21 years old.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Why I Wear a Helmet

When I ride, I always wear a helmet - it's automatic.  I'll often wear a helmet when doing groundwork with a horse, or even when doing leading work if the horse has issues, and certainly every time I load a horse in a trailer.  When I was growing up and learning to ride, I never wore a helmet, and really only started wearing one when I started jumping.

A helmet won't always save your life or prevent injury in the case of an accident involving horses, but your chances with a helmet are much better than without one.  This lesson was reinforced yesterday for me when I stopped briefly at the barn to say hi to my horses, and I picked up and took home the helmet I was wearing when I had my accident last Saturday.  I'm actually glad I didn't see the helmet before now, because it's a scary sight.  The foam lining on the left side is compressed, there is a large crack running from the side up towards the crown on the inside - almost 4 inches long - as well as several smaller cracks, and there are holes punched in the outside - including one right through the hard plastic shell - by pieces of gravel, and a big dent on the left side to the rear.

Here are some pictures.  Here is the left outside - you can see the gravel holes in the shell towards the center and at the left bottom and the light area in the top left area is the large dent:

And here's the largest crack - there are others - it runs down from the edge past the rivet towards the center:

Seeing the helmet made me realize what a good idea it is for all horsemen and women, no matter the discipline, to wear an approved helmet - it could save your life or prevent other serious injuries - it certainly did in my case.  Those cracks in the helmet could have been cracks in my skull.  Don't make excuses - "people don't wear them", "I don't fall off", "I'm not jumping", "I feel like an idiot", "the helmet messes up my hair", "it's hot and uncomfortable", "I'm just jumping on for a minute", "my horse is bombproof" - just wear a helmet.  It could save your brain or your life.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Good Things Come

Sometimes things like my accident, and the discovery (and straightening out) of the underlying medical problem, present opportunities as well as challenges.  And sometimes they way they unfold is fortunate as well.

The accident itself was fortunate.  I was riding Pie, who is the calmest and least easily disturbed of my three horses.  I expect he'll have no problem picking up work again when I'm ready - he's not likely to have any residual fear/worry issues, I think, as he's a pretty confident horse.  That might not have been the case with either Dawn or Drift.  I fell very close to the barn, where people were around and help could easily get to me.  Apparently I also called my husband on my cell phone, although I have no memory of this - I always carry it when I ride and always will. I was wearing a helmet - I always wear a helmet and this certainly reinforces that practice.  My old helmet (a Troxel) has been saved - with gravel embedded in it - and I'll be exchanging it soon for a new one.  The trauma surgeon happened to be in my hospital room when my heart displayed its abnormality, and although my heart managed to straighten itself out on its own, there would have been help right there if needed.  I received excellent medical care at the hospital.  Although I've still got injuries to recover from and that'll take some time, as far as I'm concerned things worked out pretty well.  About 15 years ago a man I worked for who was the same age I am now, and quite athletic, went to his doctor complaining of some fatigue and just not feeling right.  His doctor sent him home wearing a heart recording monitor and told him to come back in 24 hours.  He died in his sleep that night of the same sort of arrhythmia that I have.  I feel very fortunate.

My accident has also proved what a wonderful community I live in - I've had numerous phone calls, e-mails and visits from friends and acquaintances.  We're getting a home-cooked meal delivered this evening and the offer of several more over the next several weeks, which will reduce the burden on my husband.  Every one at the barn has pitched in to help out.  And a large number of you out there in the blog community have been wonderful with your comments of support and caring - a big thanks to all of you.

I won't be able to ride for quite a while, which will challenge me to come up with some new and different things to do with my horses on the ground.  Once I'm sufficiently healed to be able to do some more physical activity, Dawn and I can continue some of the in-hand and obstacle/scary object work we've already worked on.  Pie and I can go on walks together - he seems to enjoy this.  Drift seems like the sort of horse that might enjoy learning some games, like rolling the ball, picking up and delivering objects like cones and anything else I can think of.  I have a book around here somewhere, or did, on teaching your horse tricks - any suggestions are also welcome.

And for quite a while, the two activities I'd been spending a large part of my days and weeks on - my horse work and playing my recorders - won't be possible (can't play a wind instrument without both arms and with broken ribs), I'll have the chance to look at some of my back burner projects and take up some of those again or for the first time.  Although I'll miss the riding, this period of time could be interesting and fun in a different way.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Missing In Action and a (Not Fun) Visit to the Hospital

I've been gone for a few days, as some of you may have noticed.  On Saturday morning, while riding Pie on the trail close by the barn, I did a face plant off of him and ended up in the hospital.  In addition to my various injuries from the fall - a bad concussion (thank you, riding helmet, for sparing me from worse), a collarbone with a crushed outer end, several cracked ribs and numerous ugly abrasions, in the EKG monitoring process it was discovered that I have a significant heart rhythm abnormality that comes and goes.  This explains the fall - Pie didn't do anything and I had no reason to fall off - I just passed out from the momentary heart rhythm abnormality and fell off.

So to the ICU I went and the next morning got a pacemaker implanted.  I just got home this afternoon, and all is well.  The pacemaker will prevent any future black outs, and the other injuries are healing.  No riding for me for a while, and it'll be several weeks before I can do much in the way of horse care because of the collarbone injury.  I'm just thankful it happened the way it did - I could have been driving when it happened or my heart might not have restarted after momentarily stopping.  Now that the rhythm problem is under control, everything else can heal up in normal course.

I'm hoping to stop by the barn this afternoon to pat my horses on the nose so they don't think I've disappeared permanently from their lives.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Fred Leaves Us

Drift and I had an exceptionally fine ride today.  It was chilly, windy and misty, and for a while Charisma was lungeing in the ring, and he worked well while she was there and then she left, but he kept working right through it all despite his mare obsession.  We did walk and trot, and halt and back, and lots of other transitions, including back to trot, and he did them all perfectly - not a single trot-a-lope or balk/spin.  I was delighted with him.  After our ride, I led him up the trail a few feet towards the goat pen - he did one big spook (not coming anywhere close to me) and then looked embarrassed and stared at the goat for a while before we led back to the barn.

Pie and I also had a really nice short trail ride today.  Later he had a visit from our wonderful chiropractor, and got a clean bill of health - no digital pulses, nice cool feet and no serious muscle problems.  We're going to put him on a trace mineral supplement, starting out with a small amount and working up to free choice, to help him with his poor tolerance of heat and humidity.

Poor Fred was euthanized today - he was 25 and had struggled with degenerative desmitis in his hind pasterns - his pasterns were almost horizontal, and recently he developed pain in his front left foot, which put extra pressure on his hind legs.  He could barely stand or walk, and would rest in his stall with his butt leaning against the wall - he was clearly very uncomfortable.  He'd had a few days where, with lots of bute and Banamine, he was able to walk out to a small paddock to graze, but it was time.  His owner came out to see him on his way, and his passing was easy - the vet helped her lay him down in a gentle manner.  She'd known him since he was 8, and he was a very sweet horse.  He got a nice day grazing out in a small paddock and lots of treats and love to see him on his way.  I think helping our horses with their passings is one of the greatest gifts we can give them.  Here's a few pictures of sweet Fred (he's on the right in the first two pictures - that's Fritz next to him:

And her other horse, Fritz, who is over 20, is now on stall rest - he's had a swollen knee, which may be due to a kick injury.  He's been getting around well, but rest is best to heal the injury - he's had a 30-day tranquilizer so he'll deal well with the stall rest.  She'll be taking it week by week to see how much stall rest with hand walking he can tolerate.

Our equine - and cat and dog and other pet companions - test our compassion and our kindness by asking us to help them with their ends.  It's a great honor and burden at the same time.  Please send kind thoughts to Fred's and Fritz's owner on this difficult day.

Dawn at 14

Today is Dawn's 14th birthday!  She's been part of our equine family for almost ten years - she was an OTTB and we got her when she was 4.  She was a tiny thing when we got her - about 14.3 - and grew two more inches - she's now about 15.1.  When we got her, she was a clumsy and ungainly thing - she had to wear bell boots on her front feet 24/7 so she didn't step on herself, and now she is graceful and athletic.

Dawn's personality is her own - she's by turns sweet and fierce (she's our mare alpha) - she'll rest her head on your shoulder for a hug but then try to bite you if you do something she doesn't like.  She's amazingly sensitive and athletic and a real challenge to ride with care and finesse.  She is my younger daughter's soul horse, but my daughter is now living and working and going to school in New York City, so Dawn and I are now together.  She's been a real challenge to me, but she's a delight as well.  Here are some of my favorite photos in honor of her birthday.

Curious, as always:

I love this picture - she's in mid bite and there's a grass stem sticking out of her mouth:

From one of our first work sessions together the year before last:

Her incredible athleticism from the winter before last:

Sweetly sleeping in the hay:

From our work last fall:

Her "alert" expression:

Last winter - one foot on the ground and a snow mustache:

The black velvet nose:

Happy birthday to a wonderful and much-loved mare!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Two By 8:30

It's supposed to be another scorcher today with a heat index near 100F.  But it was pretty nice this morning - almost 80F with a good breeze.  The horses had been outside all night, so I brought my three in to eat their breakfasts and then rode Dawn and Drift.  (Pie's feet seem to feel fine now, but tomorrow's supposed to be much cooler and we're supposed to get some rain tonight which will soften up the hard trails, so that'll be a good day to restart our work program.)

Dawn was pretty relaxed, and we had a nice work session - lots of trotting, much of it on a loose rein for her to stretch down, and including lots of shortening and lengthening of stride and some leg yield.  She's really working well, and I'm planning a lot more lateral work - leg yield working towards half pass, shoulder in, haunches and in and renvers/haunches out - she's ready for this work.

Drift was up next.  I was very pleased with his work session - the trot-a-lope has pretty much disappeared as his trot has improved, and there were only two very brief attempts to balk/spin, which I instantly dealt with and which were over with in a few seconds.  We did lots and lots of transitions - I was checking to see if the balking would come back - it tends to show up after we walk or stand for a while and then ask for trot.  We did walk/trot/walk, we did halt/trot, we did stand around for a while then trot, we did back to immediate trot, we walked for a while on a loose rein and then trotted - and the balking didn't come back even once - it may be gone for good since he's probably figured out it doesn't get him anything.  He was very responsive to my aids for forward.  There was some bracing in the downwards transitions but that got better since I waited for him to soften in each case.  By the end of our session, his trot was "bright" - forward, relaxed and rhythmical, and he was carrying himself with softness.

There was still a nice breeze when I was done, so the horses went back out for a bit - they'll be coming in early to be under their fans before the morning is over.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Hot, Hot, Hot

Today it got to 95F with a heat index near 100, and tomorrow is supposed to be the same, with intense sun.  I turned the horses out this morning shortly after 4 a.m. - the mosquitos were fierce - and mine came in at around 10 a.m.  At lunchtime, Pie was unhappy - eyes closed, pawing, not sweating much but just miserable.  He's got a fan, but it's small and mounted high and doesn't move much air.  I immediately hosed him off with cold water, and ran out to the hardware store to get him an additional box fan - it was the last one in the store.  He seemed to really appreciate it and perked right up and started eating hay.  Late this afternoon I took him up to his paddock to drink - he doesn't like to drink in his stall - and he had a huge drink - 32 swallows - yes, I counted.  I picked stalls and groomed all three horses - and got 6 ticks off various parts of Dawn - she seems to be a tick magnet.  Drift enjoyed being in the barn aisle and talking to all the mares, who were nickering back at him - I wish they wouldn't encourage his dreams of studliness.

The horses will be fed later this evening, and then at around 9 p.m. they'll be turned out, and Charisma and Pie will go out to their paddocks with hay.  Then Jill, Scout's owner, will bring in and feed at about 8 a.m. and the horses will go back into their stalls for most of the day.  After tomorrow, the weather's supposed to really cool off - I can't wait and I expect the horses will be happy too, although they're good about just dealing with whatever comes up - we could all learn from them.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Drift Tries a Trick

The heat index is up to 94F this afternoon, and it's supposed to hit almost 100 tomorrow and into the 90s again Wednesday.  I've been turning my horses out extra early and bringing them in at lunchtime - our pastures have no shade whatsoever.  Pie gets very hot in his dry lot - he does have a shed but the ground is hard and bare and probably makes it even hotter than the pastures.  Pie also is still adapting to the heat and humidity, and he's also not fit right now which means his heat tolerance is lower.  He lets me know - he comes to his gate and asks to come in.

Any riding that gets done happens in the early morning.  When I brought Pie in to tack up, he seemed the slightest bit sore - not striding out as well as I'd like, so I gave him one gram of bute and the day off.  I think he might have found the hard rocky trails yesterday a bit too much for his feet - he got trimmed last week, and although we left his frogs and soles pretty much alone, the ground is like concrete - we've gone from torrential rain and cold to no rain and extreme heat just like that.

Dawn and I had a nice, very forward trotting ride.  She was enjoying the morning cool and was full of energy.  She did some nice shortening/lengthening of trot and some spiral in/out work, and her stretching down was pretty good too.

By the time Drift and I started work, it was beginning to warm up.  He was very good leading in and on cross ties - not a single scream, although he'd been screaming to Dawn from time to time while I was working her.  His initial trot work was quite good - his trot is starting to open up and relax and he rarely thought about cantering.  Then we did some canter work - it was really nice.  We started on the right lead, and although it took him a few tries to get the correct lead, once he was on it he cantered very nicely - his breathing was good almost from the beginning - regular and deep - and as a result there was very little head throwing or leaping and the canter is starting to be more rhythmical.  His right lead has always been the harder one for him, so this was excellent progress.  The left lead was easier, and we did some work using more of the ring.

We rested for a bit, and then I asked him to do some more trot work.  At that point he tried a trick that he hasn't tried with me before.  Although he's generally quite willing and cooperative now that he's accepting my leadership, I believe he also has learned some behaviors from his interactions with his prior owners and handlers - he's learned that if he does x then his handler does y - he's trained his handlers or they by their reactions to his asks have trained him to do those behaviors.  He's a pretty smart little horse and he was pretty used to doing just what he wanted when I got him.  This was the origin of his bad ground manners and his poor loading and his poor foot handling - he'd learned that if he barged or didn't load or wouldn't pick up his feet he could do what he wanted and he hadn't been taught what he should do instead.

We've mostly worked through the ground issues and the loading - there are rough edges but things are pretty good.  His bracing on the bit is pretty much gone and he rarely attempts to go where he wants when I'm riding - he started out trying to go to the arena gate.  He's much more able to work for extended periods of time - at the beginning he would get petulant if you asked him to keep working - his tail would swish and you could mentally hear him stamping his foot.

Today he apparently decided that it was hot and he was tired and wanted to be done.  When I asked for a walk/trot transition, he balked and attempted to veer around towards the gate.  I used my hand on my leg as a secondary cue and when that didn't produce an immediate response, I took the tail of my reins and whacked him (not very hard) on the shoulder.  After a couple of repeats, he trotted off again.  Now I should add that sometimes balking can be the result of pain, fear or badly fitting tack - I don't believe any of those were the case with him - he just decided to be done and used a technique he'd been "trained" to do in the past.  The other reason I think it was a learned behavior is that the bracing came back at the same time - he was reverting to his old way of going and the bracing was part of that.  Very shortly after that, we were back to doing very nice soft walk/trot transitions, and we did a whole set of those in both directions, as well as some nice trotting, before we were done.  Although some of his behaviors can seem dramatic, and were perhaps intimidating to his prior handlers/riders, it usually doesn't take much to talk him out of them - "oh, well, I guess I can trot if you really want me to" - if I'm just persistent and focus on what I do want him to do and reward him for doing it.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Breathing at the Canter

Today was a three-horse day.  Pie went on a trail ride this morning - it was already getting warm and humid and he got very hot and winded, so I got off and led him part of the way home.  He seems very sensitive to the heat, so I have to be careful to work him early on hot days when it's still cool, and to be sure to bring him in out of his dry lot paddock - it gets hot due to the bare ground - and put him under a fan on the hottest days.  Dawn and I had a nice ride, too - I think I need to remove one shim from the front of the Mattes pad now that the saddle's been reflocked.  Dawn and I did some nice shortening and lengthening of stride at the trot, and some good stretching down work.

Drift and I have been working on his canter - the reflocked saddle fits him just about perfectly.  After we did a good bit of trot work - he was able to trot steadily with almost no attempts to leap into canter - we did some canter work.  My job at this point is to have him canter on the correct lead, and to help him maintain the canter with light but supportive legs and light contact but without hanging on him - I'm not ready to ask him for softening - and to steer.  I want to do as little as possible and make sure I stay centered and balance and out of his way - and I need to keep breathing myself.  Other than that, I need him to just move and learn how to carry himself - and I want him to start breathing properly.

I first learned about the importance of breathing at the canter at the Mark Rashid clinic in 2009.  Horse #8 at the clinic was very worried and it showed up in his inability to breathe correctly at the canter - here's the post about that - take the time to read it if you can - it's pretty interesting.  At the clinic this year - see my clinic posts on the sidebar - Drift was also holding his breath, particularly at the canter, and we did some work on that.  He was both holding his breath for several strides, and also not breathing deeply - this showed up as irregularity in the canter - leaping and bounding and odd gestures with his head - and he also would become fatigued quickly from not having sufficient oxygen.  We've been continuing the work at home, and he's making a lot of progress.  His left lead canter is easier for him, and when we canter in that direction, his breathing becomes rhythmical and fairly deep pretty quickly - the horse should exhale noticeably and deeply on each canter stride with the effort - the exhale is at the moment of suspension when all four feet are off the ground.   For the horse to have sufficient oxygen, the exhale needs to happen every stride, and needs to be deep enough to allow the lungs to empty to take in sufficient air with the inhale.  The right lead is still a work in progress - today I noticed that he wasn't breathing out but on every second or third stride, so we kept working until he was breathing every stride, although we still need a deeper exhale - but he's making very good progress, and the more progress he makes, the calmer and more responsive he gets and the better he's able to carry himself.

These little things make all the difference.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Drift and Fritz Make a Deal

Before Drift came, Fritz was the alpha of the gelding herd, and he likes mares too, although not to quite the same degree as Drift.  The moment Drift arrived, Fritz was immediately displaced as the alpha, and has been mostly spending his time with Fred.  Drift usually hangs out in his pasture near the mares in their pasture, and pretty much ignores the other geldings, except that he runs them off if they come between him and the mares.  He's happy out in the pasture by himself, so long as the mares are out in their pasture.

This morning I heard a number of squeal/bellows from the gelding pasture and went to look.  I found Drift in the "mare corner" - it's the corner of the geldings' pasture that is closest to the mares when they come up to their front pasture - but there was Fritz, too.  Drift and Fritz were standing very close together - mere inches apart, nose to tail, and clearly benefitting from mutual tail swishing to clear off the flies.  It seems that Fritz came up and proposed an accommodation, and Drift agreed.  It got very hot today, with a heat index well above 90F, so I brought my three in to put them in their stalls under the fans, hosing them off with cold water first and using a sweat scraper to remove excess water.  Dawn's used to this and appreciated the rinse off.  Drift is gradually getting used to the spraying, but is still a bit unsure about it.  Pie - it was his first time to be sprayed - was alarmed at first but quickly figured out that it didn't feel too bad.  Poor guy - he really seems to suffer in the heat (he's getting electrolytes daily now) and was sweated up and breathing hard, and I had to remove a green-headed fly that he couldn't reach from his sheath.

My saddle was reflocked on schedule - I picked it up this afternoon - it looks and feels great and tomorrow we'll see how it sits on the three horses - it's supposed to be cooler tomorrow and it should be a good day to ride.

Friday, June 3, 2011

The Coats of Summer

All my horses are in their fine summer coats.  I've had a number of bay horses, but never a chestnut in my entire history, and now I have two, and I'm enjoying their colors.  Today my horses were in paddocks while I was picking stalls - they've been coming in before mid-afternoon to miss the richest grass - and I took the opportunity to take some pictures.

Here's my one bay (other than my retired Maisie) - Dawn - in her summer red coat.  In the winter she gets much darker, and when she sheds in the spring a lot of the shed hair is black.  She also has very subtle dapples on her rump that don't show up in pictures.  I love her "high black" stockings.

Her hindquarters are starting to muscle up nicely.

Pie has a full brother - I've met him - whose name is Copper, and Pie is exactly the same color:

Both his mane and tail are a rich, dark red, with some lighter highlights, and his tail is unusually thick and full:

He's starting to get back some of the muscling in his hindquarters that he lost while he was taking time off:

Drift is an even deeper red:

His mane is a wonderful mix of red, flaxen and white:

But his tail is a solid dark red, and is very long:

His body has a bit of roaning:

Drift's hindquarters aren't fully muscled up yet - note the hollow below the hips - all our trot and canter work should help that fill in:

Oh, and he's a camera hog, too:

One of things I love about being around horses is just looking at them and their beauty, every day.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Drift Is a Star

My day started with an early morning trail ride on Pie - we were out for about an hour and a half, and added some bigger hills to our ride to help build up his hindquarters again.  He did very well, walking out well and enjoying himself.  As we came back to the barn, he had to cope with some workmen removing siding from a house right next to the trail - very loud creaks, crashes and bangs - he was worried but we were able to ride by OK.

After all our wet and muddy weather, Pie has developed scratches (again - he had it when I got him last fall) on his white leg.  I noticed some cracked, slightly bloody places on the back of his pastern just above the heel a few days ago.  I'm treating it conservatively - no rough scrubbing or irritating substances like Betadine - I just gently wash it off with wet paper towels, using gentle dish soap, rinse and dry it, and put on some Desenex powder - the first day I used some Nolvasan antibiotic ointment.  If he's going out where conditions are wet, I cover the area with Vaseline as a water barrier.  It's not looking too bad and if things don't get wet again soon we may be OK.  I currently have 12 horse feet/legs to take care of, and this is the only white one (thank heavens!).

The farrier came today, and in preparation I've been working with Drift's feet every chance I get (those of you who've been reading may remember that he was terrible for the farrier last time) - I usually end up picking his feet and doing hoof handling about four times a day.  After every foot, before I set it down, I click and then put the foot down and feed him a treat.  He's gotten pretty reliably good about his feet, even the backs, which is a huge improvement from when I got him - he was terrible - he would slam down his fronts and cow kick (or attempt to real kick) with the backs.

Also in preparation for the farrier, I gave Drift a good workout this morning, figuring he'd likely be a bit more cooperative and relaxed if he were somewhat tired.  I think it was our best ride so far.  He was cooperative on cross ties and for mounting, despite the wind and chill, and his walk work was excellent from the start.  We did some shortening and lengthening of stride at the walk, and some walk/halt/walk transitions and some backing - it was all good.  So off we went in trot - my main objective with him is for him to spend a lot of time trotting, and also cantering, until he begins to find his own rhythm and proper forward at the trot, and his balance and rhythm at the canter.  He's still very green and this is the most important thing for him at this point.  He was able to trot (mostly) without trying to spring into the canter, and the longer we worked the more the quality of his trot improved.  We took a break, and then we did some cantering, in both directions.  He easily took his leads, and every time we work his canter is a bit better - more regular (less leaping and bounding or using his head to rebalance) and his breathing is also much more rhythmical and deep, particularly to the left - the right lead is still somewhat rougher.  We work on a big circle, and my job is just to stay quiet and keep him moving at the canter with a light contact - softening work will come later once he's better able to carry himself.  At the end of our canter work, we did some canter/trot transitions - his default downwards transition from the canter is to collapse into a halt - he was able to do the canter/trot transitions nicely once he understood what I wanted.  And then we did a bit more trot work, including some pretty nice trot/walk/trot transitions.  I was delighted - he's come a long way already.

Then after Pie had his trim - his feet look very good after his minor laminitis attack - he does have a very small event line, particularly on the right hind, and Dawn was reshod in front and had her hinds trimmed, it was Drift's turn.  I asked my farrier to try to anticipate if he was likely to try to put a foot down, and put the foot down himself before Drift tried to take it away.  Drift seemed pretty calm - it helped that Dawn was eating hay in her stall right next to him (she's not in heat which would have been distracting).  I stood at his head - he was on cross ties and didn't fidget or move, which was a huge improvement from last time.  As the farrier worked on each foot, I fed Drift treats and praised him whenever his foot was up.  When the farrier put his foot down to take breaks - he only had to take a couple - the treats stopped.  My objective was for him to think a visit by the farrier was a very good thing, and to associate the treats and praise with his feet being held and worked on.  It all went very smoothly - even better than I might have hoped - Drift was a star!

Tomorrow my saddle goes in for reflocking, so all three horses will get a few days off after all their recent good work.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Drift and I Work It Out

It was a beautiful day - 70sF with sun and some wind - and all three horses had good rides.  Pie and I went on the trail this morning for over an hour, and we added some hills to our ride.  He motored along just beautifully and even went over stones without apparent discomfort.  If he's feeling good tomorrow, we'll add a bit of trotting, probably in the arena, which is softer than the trails.  Our local school was having a bicycle day - huge groups of kids on bikes - and I dismounted a couple of times so Pie could watch the procession go by - he used to be afraid of bikes (none of those on the ranch, I guess) but is pretty much good with them now, but I wanted to put safety first with all those kids around.  Then we remounted and went on.

In the afternoon, Drift and Pie both got rides.  Drift was very distracted - Dawn was in her stall, there were other horses in turnout, the wind was blowing.  We did a little leading work, and although he was compliant, he wasn't entirely "with" me, if you know what I mean.  I got on and rode a bit at the walk, but he was very tense and struggling to pay attention.  I got off and we went back to some serious leading work, with very strict boundaries and lots of turns and backing out of my space.  We also did fairly long periods of just standing around work, particularly as horses came in and then left on trail rides.  Finally, he began to focus and relax, and I got on again.  We ended up having a very productive work session, with lots of trotting.  When he started to get tired, the canter tried to show up again, but I was able to get him to resume trotting again.  Then we did some intentional canter work in both directions - he took both leads easily but the canter is still pretty rough and "leapy" - just green horse stuff.  His left lead canter smoothed out some by the time we were done, and he was breathing every stride.  The right lead is still rougher, but we did a good bit of work and his breathing was pretty good.  Then we did some more trot work in both directions - he was able to do this without trying to canter, which was very good.  I was delighted that we got where we needed to be, although it took time - our total work time was about an hour and a half.

Then I took Dawn out for a spin.  It was another really good ride, with lots of stretching down - she was nice and relaxed and very soft and responsive.

Another good day with horses - I can't have too many of those.

Best Ride Ever on Dawn

May worked out OK, despite the weird weather - lots of cold, wind and rain.  I managed 45 rides on the three horses, which wasn't bad at all considering the weather, Pie being out of action for almost two weeks and days off for Dawn and Drift before and after the clinic.

Yesterday was a busy day, not just with the saddle fitter.  I had both a.m. and p.m. feeding and turnout/bring in duty, and I managed to ride all three horses.  Pie and I had a nice 40 minute trail ride, and he did fine despite the heat and humidity.  Drift and I also had an excellent work session with lots of trotting.

And I had my best ride ever on Dawn.  She was forward, but relaxed.  Her softening at the walk and trot was consistent.  Her transitions were flawless - walk/trot, trot/walk and trot/halt - all I had to do was think the new rhythm in my mind, exhale and she just flowed into the new gait, maintaining her softness.  She did some lovely stretching down work at both the walk and trot.  When she momentarily became distracted by something outside the arena, she came right back to me and continued working.  Her shortening and lengthening of stride at the walk and trot were effortless.  And the leg yields were amazing - all I had to do was think about walking forward with my own legs as we trotted in a straight line and then change the thought to stepping to the side with my own feet - no leg or rein aids needed - and she floated over "with" me without any change of rhythm or softness.  It was just glorious - I couldn't be happier with how well she's working.

And today's a beautiful day, sunny with a high of about 80F and low humidity.  I expect there'll be some riding . . .