Thursday, February 21, 2013

On Listening to Horses, and More Fun with the Boys

I had another really nice day with my horses.  This morning, Dawn got the morning off, since I was busy in the early morning when I usually ride her - I try to ride her then when there are few or no horses in the arena, as she can be very aggressive towards the other horses, attempting to kick them if they get anywhere near - and her personal "bubble" is quite large, which makes it hard to ride with others in the small indoor arena.

I did stop by the barn in the late morning to check on her - she was standing grumpily by the fence, not eating hay.  I wondered what was up.  I went out to check on her, and she right away showed me what the problem was - as I approached, she bit the blanket on her left shoulder a couple of times.  I checked it out, fending off her attempts to bite me, and there was indeed a problem.  Her fleece, which was on under her blanket, had slid back and twisted and was too tight across her shoulder.  I put a halter on her and led her to the fence to take the fleece off.  This involved taking off her blanket first, then the fleece.  The neckline of the fleece had left a big ridge along her shoulder, which I rubbed until she told me it felt better.  Then I put her blanket back on - she really didn't need the extra fleece layer today - and let her go, and she happily marched off to eat hay.  Poor girl - glad I was there to make it better.

When I was walking through the indoor, one boarder was there doing some groundwork with her horse.  She said that he had recently started shaking his head and asked if I had any idea what that could be about.  I said I didn't know, but that it could be that he was trying to release a cramp or tightness in his neck somewhere.  I started feeling around on his neck, and sure enough he had a number of very tight, sore places.  I started rubbing and massaging and next thing we knew he was yawning, lolling his tongue, stretching out his neck and body and just enjoying the whole thing.  He had some very sore spots that I had to be careful with.  Then he demanded that I massage his shoulders, ribcage and hip area - he continued to yawn and stretch - he was clearly really enjoying the whole thing.  When he said he'd had enough, he shook out his neck and head and seemed to feel better.  Now my knowledge of equine massage is pretty limited - I just rub and apply pressure where the horse seems to want it - this horse was pretty demonstrative about what he wanted.  It was really fun to see him respond, and it'll be interesting to see if the head shaking improves.

In the afternoon, Red and Pie and I had a good time together.  I was there at bring in time, and got to see the horses carefully and slowly picking their way across the frozen, chopped up ground - not much moving around possible out there.

Red and I had a very fine ride, and after our usual vigorous 15-minute walk warm up.  We had the ring to ourselves for most of our ride.  He was very forward, having lots of pent-up energy.  This time, as we started our faster work, I let him make some decisions about how we would warm up.  His choice was to turn down the center line of the arena, and canter to the end and then come back to trot and then walk before he had to turn - he clearly wanted to warm up on a straight line and I told him that was fine with me.  We did a number of repetitions of this, and he choose to mostly use the left lead, although he did some right lead canter as well.  After a number of lengths, he felt comfortable continuing in trot around the turn.  Today, in contrast to yesterday, he was stiffer tracking left - I expect the soreness in each hock varies from day to day.  He did some really excellent trot and canter work, and I only got one head-shake on the first right lead canter departure.  His trot work at medium trot was very good - lots of drive and power and very good softness - I try to make sure he's using himself correctly and not inverting and falling on the forehand.  His canter work had a lot of elevation and power.  He had more difficulty doing a slower, more collected trot, but by the end of our ride he was more comfortable and able to do it without going "flat" - flatness of gaits can be an indication of hock discomfort - and also did some nice medium trot work stretching down on a longer rein.  I told him what an excellent horse he was, many times.

Pie and I also had an excellent ride under less than ideal conditions.  There were at least 4 other riders at all times, including one young rider on a pony jumping a small figure 8 course, and then doing canter work - in our very small arena, that's a lot of people.  At the end of our ride, someone came in and started lungeing a feisty little mare at one end.  Pie was nervous with all the traffic, but listened well to me and kept right on trucking.  He was very forward as well, and did some very nice trot and canter work.  As he relaxed, we were able to do some loose rein work, and he started to offer some good softness and engagement.  We ended with some slower sitting trot work, where he was able to stay relaxed and soft.  He also was told many times what a good boy he was.

You can't ask for better than that!


  1. Listening to the horse is so important. I expect your Dawn to know that you will listen to her, but I really impressed that another person's horse would also see that you could be communicated with for assistance.

    I am in no way trained in massage, but I have found that using a similar technique to what you described can be very helpful. I also seem to have a good eye for a horse being dominant/disrespectful vs. something else being wrong. I am not sure how you teach these skills, but posts like your certainly help!

  2. I really enjoy reading your blog, thank you for such great information. I can really tell that you care about truly learning what the horse is capable of in a natural way :)

  3. I agree with Emmi and Val--I enjoy your blog AND I try to "listen" to my horse, too. He can be VERY "talkative" and I always learn something from him--and we have informative sessions at the vet when he's doing shots or whatever. I always have questions for him. Sometimes I let my horse win an argument--he seems to think after 10 minutes of walking warmup (on the buckle) that we go immediately to canter--he's a TB, you see, and he's heard that TBs have a much better canter than trot, and his trot is ALWAYS better after his canter. He gets to do what he wants, I get to "ride along," and everyone is happy. And warmed up.

  4. I like how you have learned to listen to your horses and respond to their requests. Dawn was certainly telling you she needed some help with that blanket, and Red was very clear about the warm up. Listening is a lesson most horsemen need to learn.

    Good for Pie working in that much company. It's an important skill for him to learn.

  5. Dawn was definitely trying to tell you that something wasn't quite right. It's so important to listen to our horses and it's rewarding to them and us when communication works. It was nice of you to help the horse out by massaging him. I hope it helps his head shaking. More people need to watch and listen and try to figure out what are horses are trying to tell us.

    Good rides on Red and Pie. I used to dislike riding in the arena with a group of people going in all directions. But it is good for the horses to get used to it. Pie did great.


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