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Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Watch and Learn....

As I mentioned after the Comstock ride report, Farley sometimes trots out funny. And by “funny”, I mean “looks lame”. [10/21/10 update: A better word to use here is "uneven". It's very subtle. Tevis is the only ride I've gotten a request to re-trot out because of it (at Robinson) - it's a tougher vet out than most rides, especially in the first half of the ride. Most other vets that catch it give me a B on gait and tell me to watch it. ]

I know there are “ways” to get your slightly unsound horse through a vet check. I’m not interested and that’s not what I’m talking about. Farley is not unsound. After 3 years of inconsistent trot outs (good and bad), a couple of "re"-trot outs (Tevis this year when I had to trot out THREE times at Robinson), vet evaluations, and observations – my vet and I have come to the conclusion that the whole problem is a lack of forward and straightness.

The theory is - when she’s trotting very very very slow and looking for an excuse to walk during trot outs, she’s pushing off stronger with her strong diagonal (LF, RH), and weaker with the weaker diagonal (RF, LH), making her look uneven.

Just like I’m learning in dressage, FORWARD FIRST, then straightness (and then when she’s traveling straight, than the unevenness disappears).

One diagonal is stronger than the other, which is especially evident at certain speeds at a trot – such as very slow (looking for an excuse to walk) or very fast (asking to canter). She also doesn’t travel straight (likes to be bent to the left) which is probably also related to the relative strength of the diagonals (Dressage is helping this BTW…).

Most of you have mentioned here, that most endurance vets, if they see the same horse over and over, get used to a particular horse’s quirks. That’s certainly true, but I don’t think letting her trot out in such a way she looks lame, especially when it’s from a lack of response on her part when I say FORWARD, is a good idea. For the most part, this mare is easy going and gives her rider the benefit of the doubt. However, there are a few quirks that if I let her get away with them, quickly translate to a naughty pony. The lack of forward when asked and standing on command are two issues I cannot ignore, or they quickly blow up to bigger problems. Another consideration is this: it’s important to me to get a consistent trot out so that when there IS a problem, the vet can actually see it and the trot out “picture” isn’t complicated by this behavior.

A normal/good trot out for Farley is her nose at my shoulder at a medium pace, on a loose line. This is the trot out I get at the vet in before rides, and usually at the end of rides.

A not-forward/irritated trot-out is Farley following behind me, almost but not quite pulling back on the lead, going just fast enough that it IS a trot. She’s not openly defying me, but there’s definitely resistance and reluctance to play the game. This is when she looks uneven. This is the trot out I get during the vet holds when she’s totally chillin’ at the hold before going back out (which I totally get, but it’s still annoying).

If I’m asked to trot out again and I FOCUS on the trot out and insist that she trots out at a reasonable speed, it disappears, and more than one vet has shrugged and said “I could have sworn that she was 3-legged lame….”.

At Tevis, someone was videoing my trot outs at Robinson and caught this behavior on video. The vet made me trot out three times. What was interesting was how the trot out LOOKED versus how it FELT when I was trotting her out. In all three trot outs, she LOOKS forward and “springy”. There’s no visible difference between her first and third trot outs besides the disappearance of the unevenness, even though, the FEEL of the trot outs between #1 and #3 was drastically different. By the third time we trotted out, I was much more focused on the trot out, and Farley got the idea that we WERE GOING TO CONTINUE this until she put a bit of effort into it…and it was close to an ideal trot out.

What I learned about trot outs
Who would have known there was so much to something so simple! Watching a video of what the vet sees was very enlightening. I made what felt like HUGE changes in the trot out, but visually the only difference was a disappearance of the unevenness. No wonder the vets are skeptical when I try to explain what’s happening!

1. It’s very important to trot the horse out at the “ideal” speed for that horse. Too fast or too slow can make it look off, even when it’s not.

2. I need to be more focused during trot outs. I tend to be very relaxed and nonchalant about it, which only feeds the problem. I don’t have to worry about HR and CRI on this horse so it’s OK if

3. I insist she comes out of her vet-ride-hold lethargy long enough to give a decent trot.

4. Practice makes perfect. After every ride, I’ve started trotting Farley out 2-3 times. With a dressage whip. And when I say “Ready *kiss* TROT” I expect a trot. A trot where her shoulder is even with mine, on a loose lead.

5. I may need to “pre-trot” her out before a vet check trot out so she is reminded what I expect from her

Hopefully with these changes she will give me less stress attacks during a ride. And just maybe, I’ll show for BC one day. Currently I don’t even consider it because her trot outs are unpredictable and until she has the trot out “skill” it’s not worth it.

Her lack of forward still surprises me. In dressage, I must reinforce getting in front of my leg often. It’s one thing I haven’t liked about her since the very beginning, but it’s also what makes her a decent beginner horse, and probably why I’ve never come off of her. She’ll stop or slow down if she feels the rider become unbalanced and I can’t think of one instance in the 3 or 4 years I’ve owned her that she’s bolted (although she got a bit “quick” the first time I fired a pistol off her!). She’s generally very laid back. She’s very strong during rides, but she’s also a completely different horse at rides (I was told her sire was very similar – very laidback, but turned it “on” during races). When not at a ride, she takes time to “rev” up. If I give her a couple of days off, she likes to gradually go back to work. If I stop in the middle of an arena session and we were cantering, when I start the session back up, she’s happier if I walk/trot before going back to cantering. During endurance rides, she likes to walk for the first 5 minutes out of a check. Then, spontaneously she will start trotting and I know she’s ready to go back to work


  1. Interesting...and, of course, now that you've stated in public that you've "never come off of her", you have completely jinxed yourself, so BE CAREFUL!!!

  2. Have you had a full lameness exam done on your mare? The reason I ask is because my 12 yr old was looking off to me (and only me) for over 2 yrs. My trainer couldn't see it, all the vets who vetted him sound in the multi-days couldn't see it, but I would see in when I would work him in the round pen at a slow trot, then he'd work out of it quickly, so out of sight, out of mind. At a faster trot he'd blow thru any sign of it and I think that's why it was ignored. Fast forward to Tevis, he was pulled 3 days before the race because he finally was head-bobbing lame. 2 wks after the race, my vet diagnosed him with a suspensory ligament tear and he was confined to a small area. 8 weeks later, his front looked better (and quickly ~ not consistent with the diagnosis) but his rear looked horrible. With some light work, he looked fine but I made an appt. with UC Davis. 2 vets & 1 10 yr student and 4 hours later, they diagnosed him with juvenile arthritis in his hind hocks, one being much more severe than the other. Finally in a hind flexion test, we saw him off. Up to this point, he was so sound looking, I kept telling the vets he'd easily pass a vet check at a ride. Having heard this news and that he's not a good candidate for endurance, he was thrown out onto our 25 acres and is a happy, sound-looking horsey. (And let me tell you I have CRIED.) I won't consider Tevis with him next year. My personal feeling is if your mare is showing issues with moving out, it might not be a lack of training to trot out correctly, or attitude, she might have something else going on and it's too subtle to recognize. The hind leg issue was not where anyone was looking because Ali'i looked unsound in the front. Prior to Tevis I had a chiropractor work on him and he said he looked quite wonderful except for his sacrum was out a little. Apparently he's been compensating with the hind hock and it was showing up there, and also with front suspensory pain. I don't think animals really screw with us as much as we think. I think they try really hard to please us and try to compensate pain that shows up in poor behavior. This has been my experience with the horses and my dogs.
    Take care!

  3. Hey diane! Looks like your comment came through afterall! I'm glad because you bring up some points that although I didn't specifically go through all of my thought processes in this post, I did consider.

    As I said in my e-mail I really appreciate you sharing your story - For 3 years I've looked for a cause, taken her to vets, had lameness exams done, and monitored everything I know how to very carefully. My final conclusion is that as mare, (even a very good mare) she has opinions of what we should be doing, and I've been tolerant of it since she's so good everywhere else....for examplewe can be going down the trail happy as a clam on a loose rein, just trucking along....and I can dismount (at a trot) and ask her to continue in hand and she isn't very enthusiastic.....or I can take her into the arena and ty to work on a loose rein....and she's not really enthusiastic - but take her on the trail and she totally perks up and says "lets go!"

    So unfortunately - unless she gets actually lame enough to show that there IS a problem, I have to just assume that it's a behavior problem because of her preferences.

  4. Wanted to add.....I've been making a point to watch trot outs more and I've cometo the conclusion that a good trot out comes from training a horse. Just like you train it to have other skills - walk, trot, canter on command - a good trot out (impulsion, straight, obedient) is a SKILL that I need to teach.

    I never really taught Farley how to trot out. I jogged with her and as long as she hung out behind me and didn't annoy her, than I was happy - now I'm seeing that the endurance trot out is different than just jogging along with the horse.

  5. AareneX - you are right, I've totally jinxed myself. Now I get to worry about her REALLY going lame and me falling off in the process!

  6. AareneX - you are right, I've totally jinxed myself. Now I get to worry about her REALLY going lame and me falling off in the process!


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