Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Pie at Nine

Today is Pie's birthday - he's 9 - happy birthday to a big, wonderful, guy!

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Getting to Good: How Much is Enough?

I've been trying to put together a post on how much is enough - when to stop and when to keep going.  I think this is one of the most difficult judgment calls in riding, and getting it right can make a big difference to your horse, and to your relationship with your horse.

That said, I'm always a bit uncomfortable writing about stuff like this - I'm not an expert, just an amateur like you.  But I've had some training, and some coaching, and I have a responsibility to my horses to get it as right as I know how, right now (I'm always learning from my horses), and maybe you'll find some of my thinking helpful - who knows?

I've been riding a lot lately - all four horses - and as usual, they've been teaching me some valuable things.

Missy has been doing very well, but she came out a bit frazzled one day last week - I've got her started back on a morning rotation, and this was a change, and it was cold and windy. She did some calling and fidgeting while I was grooming.  So we started our work session with some leading - leading to me is a big "tell" about the horse's mindset - it took a while to get things right, but we bridled up and went to the mounting block.

She's been standing very nicely on a loose rein for mounting for quite a while.  But not that day - she was rushing past the block, having trouble standing when I was getting on and rushing off.  Not what I wanted.

This is a good case to look at how I think about working with my horses.  Here are some thoughts:

1.  These sorts of set backs are common, particularly in early days with a horse, and nothing to worry about - provided you work through them to a good conclusion.  If you leave them hanging or don't address them when they arise, they create all sorts of follow-on issues.

2.  I ignore the behaviors I don't want and keep patiently asking for what I do want.  Sometimes I take a step back - with mounting, this would involve breaking things down to coming up to the block in the correct position, standing at the block, standing while I put my foot in the stirrup, standing while I put weight in the stirrup, and ultimately standing when I get on until I signal to move off.  Lots of positive reinforcement for each step, no negative reinforcement except if a horse runs into or past me - this is a ground safety issue and I'm really clear about my personal space boundaries.  (A lot of "make the wrong thing hard" stuff people do is just bogus, in my opinion - it takes your and your horse's eye off the ball of what you want to do, and it also turns asking the horse to do something it has learned to do - say lungeing or "moving the feet"  - into a punishment instead of satisfying work - why would you want to do that?)

3.  I'm not in a hurry - this is absolutely critical.  This allows me to stay relaxed and focussed, no matter how long it takes or even if we get only get part of the way done that day.  My advice is that if you're getting frustrated, or angry, or impatient, either let that go and clear it out of your mind, or if you can't, stop.  Stop now.  Those emotions have no place in working with the horse - they will adversely affect everything you do and lead to poor results.  Never start work with a horse when you don't have time to finish whatever needs doing - if you're in a hurry, the horse will know and it will impair your work.

4.  Patiently, and repeatedly, ask for exactly - not vaguely, but exactly - what you want.  Horses don't deal in generalities, they deal in specifics, and if you're vague about what you want, you'll get exactly that - something vague and not quite right.  If you're consistent, and clear, you'll get there.

5.  Remember to reward each small increment of try/offer the horse gives you, and shape what you get to the end you want.  Don't stop until you get to a place that's better than where you started.  If you stop with the horse worried/confused/agitated, that's what you'll find the next time you take up your work.  Work until you're done and the softness comes through.

6.  But don't drill.  The difference between getting to done, and drilling, is a hard one to define.  Drilling is repeating a behavior the horse knows how to do, for no purpose except repetition.  Horses get bored by this, and they may even decide they must be doing things wrong (because you keep asking over and over again), and start offering up unwanted behaviors - that can really mess things up.  I stop when the horse does the behavior correctly once - in Missy's case that day, once I got on and she stood, we went on to our regular under saddle work - and then perhaps ask again once to confirm that the horse gets it - that day, when we were done working, I asked Missy to stand for mounting again and she was perfect.  And she's been perfect from the beginning every day since.  What I ended with was what showed up the next ride, and so on . . .

Friday, April 17, 2015

Lily Does a Victory Lap

We have three horses (actually two horses and a pony) retired at Paradigm Farms in Tennessee.  The horses there receive excellent care and attention, while having the benefit of living outdoors 24/7 in herds in large pastures.

One of our retired mares is Lily.  She had to be retired in her teens when she developed heaves - she could no longer compete as a jumper and had absolutely no interest in becoming a trail horse.  Also, she really needed to live outside 24/7, which was hard to manage in our severe winter climate, and since she moved to Tennessee, her heaves have basically disappeared.  She's now somewhere in her 20s, and has developed Cushings/PPID, which is under good control with medication.

She did manage to injure one of her eyes last week, and once the vet saw her (Paradigm uses the University of Tennessee vets) - she had a corneal injury that was already heading towards an abscess, and with her Cushings/PPID impairing her immune system, it was decided that she would do better at the University of Tennessee veterinary hospital for a while, so they could monitor her eye and give her round the clock eye medications.

She did well, and arrived back home at Paradigm after a bit more than a week at the hospital - she's still on meds for a bit.  When she arrived at her herd, they were excited to see her - that's Lily, the grey mare, on the right.  The bay mare on the far left is Maisie, another of our retirees.

Once she was back in the herd, she did a victory lap.  In the last photo, you can see her in the back between the two bay horses.

I'm glad she's back at her Tennessee home, and think she looks pretty good for a horse her age.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015


Some people hate mares, and some love them.  I'd put myself squarely in the "loves mares" camp, which is not to say that I don't love geldings too - my wonderful old horse Noble was a gelding, and of course so are Pie and Red.

But there's something special about a mare . . .

I've been riding quite a bit less for about the last week or so - my right knee has really been bothering me, perhaps due to all the work I've been doing on changing my right leg position - mainly opening my right hip when tracking right.  At my age, if you change your normal body position, even minimally, things hurt until the body adjusts.  My right knee sustained a serious injury when I was in my teens, and it can complain from time to time.  Today it felt pretty good, so I rode a lot.  So far so good . . .

Dawn and I had a lovely early morning ride.  She was relaxed and soft, and we did some very nice canter work.  She's in raging heat, but I wouldn't have known except that she was squealing and peeing in her stall last night (for Missy, no less - go figure) and again for the gelding in the pen nearby when I turned her out.  I give a lot of credit to Mare Magic (or MareBerry - same thing), raspberry leaves, for helping Dawn be more comfortable when she's in heat - it used to be that I couldn't ride her or even pick her back feet when she was in heat.

Missy and I haven't ridden in the morning for a while.  I brought her in, and she was calling and fidgeting and pawing, most un-Missy like.  We saddled up and then did some leading work to be sure her mind was with me - she only screamed once when we were in the arena - all the mares in the pasture came running and calling up to the gate, led by Dawn.  Once she settled down a little bit, we mounted up and had a very nice work session.  It was my 40th ride on her, and she just gets better and better.  Forward at walk and trot is now automatic, and her softness and transitions off my thought improve with each ride.  When I turned her back out, she went over to the gelding in the pen and did a lot of peeing for him - she actually throws her tail over her back - might be a little bit of Arabian in there somewhere.  She did very well for a mare in serious heat whose routine was changed - good Miss mare!

When you know a gelding really well, and spend a lot of time with him, he can become very bonded to you and also very interactive - Red is naturally this way, more mare like in a sense.  Pie was very standoffish when I got him, but is now quite a communicator.  But mares are so naturally expressive - both Dawn and Missy interact with me very directly, deeply and constantly.  The bond with a mare can be very strong, but it's so important to accord them the dignity they deserve - they will trust you but only if you deserve it.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Pie Gets a Fever; Pasture Pics; Dawn's Healed Hairline Skull Fracture

My horses had most of their spring vaccinations on Friday.  Yesterday afternoon, one day later, Pie had a fever.  Pie often, but not always, gets a fever after vaccinations.  His temperature was up to 101.4 (101.5 is an "official" fever, but that's close enough for me), and although he was eating well, he was a little bit depressed.  I gave him a 500-lb. dose of oral Banamine, and several hours later, his temperature was done to 100.0.  I'm not sure why Pie's immune system gets so geared up by vaccinations - could be his two prior cases of EPM as well as Lyme - or it could just be how he is.  He looked good in the pasture this morning, and I'll recheck his temperature again this afternoon.

It was a beautiful spring day, so I went out in the pasture to take some pictures.  All the horses were nibbling the very small sprigs of grass that are coming up.  Their coats are in the semi-fuzzy/scruffy stage - summer coats are coming in and remnants of winter coats are hanging on.





(Missy: "why are you taking pictures of my butt?")

And bonus pictures of Dawn's healed hairline skull fracture - the first picture is from several years ago:

And here's her face today - it was the slight asymmetry that clued me in - she has a slight depression about halfway between her right eye (left of the photo) and the whorl in the center of her forehead.  The vet said that the new ridge running down from there along the side of the nasal bone is calcification from the injury healing.  Fortunately minor, and no ill effects.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Missy's Age?, First Rides Outside and Vet Visit

We had a few days with really nice weather, so Pie, Red, Missy and I got to do some riding outdoors for the first time this year.  Pie and I took a walk down across the mare pasture (no mares in there after bring-in) so he could drink from the water tank - he much prefers tank water to bucket water and will often ask to go out and drink from a tank after we're done with our ride.

Missy and I had a lovely ride in the outdoor arena.  She'd never been out there before, but was as calm and nice as can be, and we even did a little cantering just for fun - that needs more work but we've got more to do on trot yet.  The outdoor is adjacent to the mare pasture and several hundred yards from the barn.

And Red and I rode around a bit in the mare pasture with another boarder (and her very calm horse) - he was a bit nervous.  Afterwards, we went back inside and worked a bit more.  Then Red decided he was interested in trying outside again - the other boarder was still riding around out there - so out we went again and he was much calmer.  Then the next day, Red and I had a great ride in the outdoor arena - I was especially proud of him since he was alone, a long way from the barn and could only see other horses in the distance.

I just got my new ground driving lines - they're wonderful, very long but light and soft.  I tried them out with Pie and he did great in the arena.  Pie and I may try some ground driving on the trails near to home to see how he does with moving objects like joggers, bicycles, people walking dogs, etc. - our local trails are multiuser and very busy.  Red and I may try some ground driving around the big pastures for a start - he's the most reactive of my horses but is also clearly interested in getting out and around.  Missy I'll just try out under saddle on the trail as I expect she'll be fine.  Dawn and I will stay in the arenas and barn pastures - I'm not chancing her on the trails - she's very reactive and can make huge moves - and she's also not good in company and I don't ride on the trails alone anymore.

Today we had our vet visit for the first round of spring shots, and some other things.  All four horses got their Eastern and Western encephalitis plus tetanus, and a separate shot for West Nile.  We'll have another visit in several weeks for rabies.  The boys got cleaned, and really needed it.  Even Red was fairly cooperative and took a bit less sedation than last time.  Missy got her microchip - she was fairly nervous for the vet but well-behaved.  The vet looked at the cyst in Pie's eye and said that we shouldn't need to do anything right now about it but keep watch on it - it looked stable, wasn't distorting his iris and she could see his whole retina past it.  He also has a much smaller cyst on the other eye.

I recently noticed that the shape of the bones in Dawn's face had changed - there was a dent and a small deviation between her right eye and the center of her face.  The vet said that she'd in fact likely incurred a hairline fracture there by hitting her head on something, and the slightly misshapen area was calcification from healing.  The injury is nowhere near her brain, and she's shown no signs of sinus trouble, so it's not a problem. She never showed any wounds or pain in the area.  Dawn's always getting into some sort of trouble . . .

And I asked my vet to estimate Missy's age - we had to have this for the Coggins and I wanted to see where she'd come out.  My dentist said 16/17, my vet/chiro said 15/16.  My regular vet who came today - who says she's not an expert at aging by teeth - said 12/13.  This just goes to show how hard it is to tell a horse's age by its teeth, particularly in the middle years.  We'll never know for sure exactly how old she is, so I'm going with 12, and we'll give her a birthday sometime this spring when she'll be 13.  I'm happy with that, whether it's accurate or not, and I'm sure Missy could care less (so long as there's food!).

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

A Pie Mystery

Pie and I have struggled with tracking right at trot in the arena.  He tends to want to bend to the outside and fall to the inside around the corners.  This tracking-right issue is a long standing problem, and although I've been able to make adjustments to my riding that have helped - keeping my right hip open, keeping my right leg at the girth rather than too far back, making sure I don't inadvertently use left leg, and keeping my eyes up and posture open - it's a constant struggle, almost every time we ride.

And none of my other horses have any problems tracking right.  Dawn used to, but the changes I've made in how I ride have eliminated that issue.

So, even though I almost always know that if something's not right, it's me that's the problem, this time I thought the issue might be with Pie.  To be clear, I'm not blaming him and he's certainly trying his best to do what I ask.  I thought there might be something physical going on.

Those of you who've been reading along for a while may remember that Pie's had EPM - twice (two different infections with two different phenotypes) - as well as Lyme.  He's been treated for all of those things, and each time made a complete recovery, as evidenced by soundness and also blood tests.  But sometimes there are lingering neurological effects, which in Pie's case, if they exist, are very slight - he's very sound and willing to work.

When he had his chiro treatment last week, our vet/chiro remarked that his right hind was slightly less muscled that the left hind, and that the right hind might be just a touch weaker as a result.  That got me thinking.

So today just for fun I tried something completely different, to see what would happen, and if the issue was related to the right hind.  When I'm posting on the correct diagonal, I'm rising and falling with the left front/right hind pair.  This weights this pair of feet slightly more and is supposed to help the horse balance around a turn.  But what if, due to a slight weakness in the right hind, weighing that diagonal was actually slightly impairing Pie's balance, causing him to try to rebalance by falling in?

Easy way to test that - so I posted on the wrong diagonal, rising and falling with the right front/left hind pair as we tracked right.

All of a sudden, things were fine tracking right - no falling in and he seemed much happier.  Hmmm . . .  We'll experiment some more, and see where we get to.