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Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Tig recap

It's that time!!!!!  My favorite time.....where I look at goals, progress and redefine where we are going :).

First off, I want to recap the lessons learned!  

Tig has taught me that....I'm braver than I think. I cannot reiterate enough that I'm NOT a particular brave or courageous rider. But yet, like Farley did before her - Tig is REALLY good at telling me when she's ready to take the next step.  I don't know if I've gotten better at listening, or if the TKR mares are just really good at talking....but I can't believe how much stuff I've done with Tig over the last 7 rides that if you told me 2 weeks ago (or even 1 week ago...) I would be doing, I would have laughed in your face.  (The very successful night ride tonight comes to mind.....)

Sometimes having a deadline and a quota is a good thing. I tend to take it very slow when it comes to my horses.  Weeks of ground work, driving, with just short occasional rides in the beginning - not necessarily because they need it but because I feel like *I* need it to get to know the new horse!  After all - I'm starting a relationship that is going to last years and we have all the time in the world. I'm not saying this is necessarily a bad thing! I'm riding someone else's horse with the quota of 3x a week riding and a deadline of 3 months to deliver a horse I can be proud of.  Not only have I found myself rising to the challenge of moving along more quickly, I'm  actually enjoying it.

I have clarified my overall goals for Tig. This last week I've managed to pin down exactly what I want at the end of these 3 months.

1. I want Tig to have a strong and appropriate fitness base going into race training this summer that minimizes her risk of injury. As I discussed last week, this means that she's going a little faster and further right now than I would normally ask of a that was looking at strictly endurance as a first career. But for the effort that will be asked of her later this year, it will be appropriate. 

2. I want Tig to have a really good shot at a second career in something she enjoys if she doesn't make it on the race track.  39 rides and 3 months is not much time!  But while we are building fitness, I am focusing on giving her as much breadth as possible in terms of new experiences.  I'm striving to make every ride we do is a little different.  Maybe we do the loop in an opposite direction, or we do it in the dark, or we turn around in a different spot, or we make an extra lap, or we go down new trail, or we do it at a trot......or we do it in a different bit, or I add different saddle backs, or I add a breast collar.  You get the idea. Tig seems to THRIVE under this new philosophy - while she seems to enjoy some routine in her management schedule (like having her feet picked prior to tacking, a brushing down after a ride, a post haltering carrot, a post ride bucket etc.) she seems to REALLY enjoy having variety in her work.

I have defined her upper level of fitness, so have a starting baseline. Tig couldn't have comfortably done a longer or faster ride than the 2.5 hour, 9 mile trail ride we did last Saturday.  Looking at pace chart approximately 70% walk (or stopped), 30% trot (mostly slow, short trots throughout with some longer sustained trotting, of up to a couple of minutes). Canter did not contribute much to overall time/pace.

Without further adieu, let's move onto the plan and revisions.

My progress comments are in pink/purple.  I've crossed out stuff that no longer applies, and added revisions in red. You will continue to see this plan change as we move forward - but revising the plan is an important part of the process so I've included it in the post.

Month 1 (mid January-mid February) goals
- Have a walk, trot, canter under saddle and train any gaping training holes in order to be ready to start physically conditioning at the beginning of month 2. - On track. Gaping training holes identified: canter under saddle, hatred of arena, still occasionally bumps into my space, periods of balkiness that result in not loading/not moving forward over "obstacles" etc.

- Focus on relaxation, calmness, and "neutral" bridle work (light contact, encourage reaching down). Coming along very nicely, on track.

Week 1: low key, low stress. What do you know? Lunging, lead line, arena, trail. Let's get to know each other.  Complete

Week 2: pushing the limits. Not teaching new behaviors or skills, but push what we have so far and see what happens. We did a trail ride at a walk. Now let's do some walk/trot trail stuff. We've been trotting in the arena, what if I ask for a bigger trot? Let's tackle some trails that are a little more technical. Completed everything here PLUS MORE. We cantered under saddle, a couple of days before the plan. But the timing and feel was right so we went for it! 

Week 3 and 4: teach new things and work on known problem areas. Canter under saddle! Trim her feet (she's very defensive about her hinds). Continue to build up trail work until Tig can do 30 min at mostly working trot. Three gaits in the arena or continue to ask for all canters on trail if she continues to be better on the trail.


Month 2 (mid-Feburary to mid-March) goals 
- Work up to 60-90 min walk/trot. Near end of month 2 introduce a small bit of cantering on trail add a little bit of cantering as regular occurrence on rides (arena or trail, ie as for a few transitions). Walk/trot/canter dressage work focusing on straightness, being through, and being solidly on the bit, whether this work is done on the trail or in the arena.


Month 3 (mid-March to mid-April) goals
- Work up to 120 min walk/trot. On shorter rides, increase amount of cantering (but keep the overall amount small. Cantering will mostly be in the arena during dressage schooling). Correct and balanced transitions. Continue to Lateral work. Work in arena enough that she knows expectations and behaves herself.


Monday, January 27, 2014

Tig canters!

Saturday Aurora agreed to babysit me and Tig on an "appropriate mount" and I headed out to Oroville for a meet up.

This ride represented the end of 2 weeks of rides on Tig, and our first "big" trailering out ride.

After loading up gear I had 30 minutes to load Tig.  PLENTY of time.

And…she hopped in on the first try.  YES!!!!!!!!

Unloaded Tig and she immediately started to eat.
And eat. And eat. And not the nervous "grab a bite full and turn around" type eating - nose buried in the feed bag and can't be bothered to post for a picture eating!  Sounds like an endurance horse to me!

We tacked up (including a breast collar AND saddle bags) and hit the trail.

Tig was AMAZING. Early on the ride I managed to actually snap a few "ear pics".

Here's just a sampling of the things me and Tig did together on Saturday

1. passed by people walking their bikes (Tig was an angel)

2. Highway traffic that did not slow down while we were on the shoulder (Tig was a veteran)

3. Several asphalt crossing at intersections. (Tig stood there patiently)

4. Crazy dog pack yapping at us with their (mostly drunk?) owner crashing through the bushes yelling at them. (Tig stared in amusement).

5. Go down a steep bit of section that I was certain I was going to die on, and making plans to bail and just lead down, with Aurora looking on in amusement as Tig tucked her butt and scooted down like a pro. In general Tig is so well balanced going down the trail, I have to continually remind myself that's she's young not to let her trot down hill.  She reminds me of my partner's ride and tie horse who can canter so balanced downhill that if I closed my eyes I'm not sure I would know I was going down hill.

6. Take off a crinkly jacket and tie it around my waist.
Aurora asked me whether I sometimes forget I was riding Tig and treat her like Farley.

The answer is absolutely.  I don't ride a lot of young horses, so my body, seat, and hands are accustomed to doing a set of things to either ask for something, or to correct something.

I don't ride Tig like a baby….I ride her like a horse.

The result is that most of the time she behaves like a horse.

Sometimes when I ask her to stop jigging, or lower her head, or move to the other side of the trail, she DOESN'T respond like a horse - and so I take a moment to be extra patient and explain it, and then we move on.

I think as a result, she responds by mostly behaving like a horse.

This sort of "ask-explain-move on" sort of philosophy is different from the philosophy I was taught and used when I was riding youngsters many years ago. Back then I had a good seat and could read a horse fairly well, but I lacked the "refined" riding communication skills that two years of intensive dressage training, and thousands of miles on a broke horse.

Back then I what could have been described as a "explain-drill-next step" approach.  The horse and I did the same things over and over until they did it near perfect and then we stopped and moved on to the next thing.  Each "obstacle" was trained, practiced, and drilled. Crossing water, mounting, staying in gait until I absolutely cued something else. Crossing poles, side passing, opening gaits.

Nowadays I do very little drill or repetition.  We move down the trail, I ask and she either responds or not. If she doesn't I explain what I want, she then does it correctly and we move on.  No repeating until it's perfect, or to prove a point.  If we ride for long enough, the opportunity for the same lesson will come up again and again I'll ask, and again she'll have the option to respond, or I'll re-explain it.

It's a no drama, no fuss with an emphasis on relaxation and confidence and giving her the opportunity to be an adult at every opportunity.

Aurora pointed out that one reason I might have changed my approach is because the type of horse I was riding fundamentally changed. Back then I was riding stock type geldings.  Now I ride Arab mares.

I think by de-emphasizing "drill" I also de-emphasize making something a "thing". Which, in my experience with smart, opinionated horses, is easy to do. For example, I could easily make crossing water "a thing".

Tig had several opportunities to cross a tiny bit of water crossing the trail.  Headed out from the trailer there were 2 crossings.

At the first crossing I had to use my dressage whip and leg more than I would have liked to urge her across. It took longer than I would have liked. When she finally crossed, it was more "bolt-y" than I would have liked. But she did it.

We moved on down the trail.  That was her reward for finally doing what I asked. We got to move on.  The stress between us immediately diminished and she could focus doing the next thing I asked right.

Let's imagine if I had turned her around and asked her to go back and across and do it "better".

And again

And again

And again…..

In this situation how have I rewarded my horse finally giving into pressure and doing what I asked? Is rewarding the horse by making it repeat the stressful situation over and over more or less likely to result in the horse doing what I want the next time?

Sometimes you can fix an issue by making it a non issue.

I had never thought of myself as an "arab person", but I might very well be one. What a strange thought.

I'm not claiming to know what will work for every horse, or every arab, or every riding situation.  No one "absolute" approach works for everything.  But after working with a dog whose training very much depends on minimizing stress in order to maximize learning, and working with my horses (and others) over the years - I've leaned more and more towards a mostly low-key approach and had a lot of success.


The highlight of the trip was, of course, cantering Tig under saddle for her very first time.

She loves the trail as much as she HATES the arena, and because I feel more comfortable going at speed on the trail, Funder and Aurora encouraged me to introduce Tig to the canter on the trail.

Aurora had in mind a certain hill - good footing and long enough we could get up to a canter but the probability of things getting out of hand were low because it was steep.

Sounded good to me!

I'm not a brave rider, but I can usually tell when a horse is ready to give and have a knack for choosing the right moment for success. On the second half of the loop, headed back the trailer I felt like Tig was ready to canter. So, a little ahead of plan, before we got to the big hill, I asked Aurora to move out in front of me on sections of trail where it was slightly uphill with good visibility (most of the trail we rode on was single or double track) and no rocks.

This was the moment Aurora's mount Scrappy had been chosen for - a sensible Rushcreek who would set a sensible speed and not get on hanky if some excitement behind him ensued!!!!

Scrappy moved out at a rocking horse canter.

I sat the trot, kissed, and bumped Tig with my heels.

I fully expected some small bucks as she coordinated her feet and balance for this new gait, and so when she lurched and gave a slight buck I sat calmly as she worked it out and encourage her with my voice and seat.

And boom!  I had one of the loveliest canters I've ever had the pleasure of sitting.  Uphill, balanced, and gorgeous.

When she dropped to a trot, I gently encouraged her to canter again.

Another few uncoordinated steps and a little buck and there is was again!  Cantering!!!!!

We moved down the trail in the fashion - walking, followed by trot and canter transitions (down and up) where the trail allowed it.

I could tell Tig was having fun - she was totally getting this and she was having FUN. Sit, kiss, bump with my heels and she would transition nicely up to the canter, and then on cue back to the trot. Since the trail naturally lends itself to certain gaits depending on footing and turns, I didn't have to drill a cue - I just matched my body language to what was most efficient and practical for that portion of trail.

Now, with smart horses (and dogs) I've learned there are certain stages of learning I can expect.

At first they are giving me a good try. And as long as I'm fair and patient, they take a lot of joy figuring out what I want. Any apparent "naughtiness" is not intentional - they are just trying to figure it out.

Then, when they get it, I get this sense of pride and joy radiating out from them.  They just seem so PROUD of themselves.

And then…..they usually push the limits. They gave it to me nicely a couple of times but now something in their brain says "that was OK….what about THIS?"

Tig's "THIS" was a full on rodeo bronc buck.

I was sort of expecting this.

Canter is FUN.  Cantering is an awful lot like bucking.  Bucking seems to be a horse's version of even more fun.

So, when out of nowhere my feet were suddenly jammed forward at her shoulder, I saw/sensed hind feet whizzing about at the level of my ears, and she went down for a giant BUCK during a lovely couple of canter strides - I was ready.  I had been maintaining light contact with her mouth, focusing on a deep seat with heels down. So when she bucked, I was able to growl, pulled her back into a trot, and then re-cued the "more obedient" canter. I was quite proud of myself. :). I knew naughtiness would come at some point, and I felt like I had responded in exactly the right way.

Near the end of the ride we came to the giant hill that we were originally going to ask for a canter.  I decided this would be our "fitness test" hill.

I pointed her at it and said "let's go!"

She was game.  She gave it her best shot.  She cantered. She did a couple gallop strides.  She trotted. And finally….she walked.

At the end of the 3 months, I'd love to see her be able to trot up that thing nonstop.

Near the end of the ride about a mile from the trailer Tig decided she was done. She started looking around for grass to nibble (didn't I tell you she is a GREAT endurance prospect) and she started doing what I've learned is her "MO" for being done. Stopping. Balking.

The first time she did this to me was in the arena and she nearly gave me a heart attack, thinking she was tying up.

But nope. I quickly figured out that a mentally or physically done Tig is a Tig that stands quietly being balky.

In some ways a temper tantrum would be easier to deal with.  A quietly standing non-moving horse can be quite the conundrum!

I could tell that Tig was close to being done and fortunately we were very close to the trailer and it was perfect timing - I want her to know that I won't ask too much of her - she doesn't have to protect her self by refusing to come with me. She saw the trailer and picked up a little jog.

When it was time to load her up for the ride home, Tig decided she couldn't possibly be asked to one.more.thing. and stood at the entrance of the trailer, refusing to step in (if "refusing" can be defined as standing there quietly and calmly but not moving forward…..). Aurora helped encourage her from the back and she stepped in.  I got the feeling it was less about getting in the trailer (she knows how to load and isn't nervous about the trailer) and more about her not trusting that I wasn't going to "ask too much". She wanted me to know that she was reaching the end of what she had to give me at that time.


I've learned a lot about this horse in 2 weeks, and -  like I think happens whenever you listen to what an animal is telling you - I learned some things about myself in the process.

But those are topics for the next post!

Friday, January 24, 2014

Post test/ride relaxation

Before taking a test this afternoon that I definitely-probably did not fail, and I rode Farley on a quick trail ride.

Farley either feels REALLY good after chiro, or heard me call her old earlier this week and decided to blow through aids and half halts like a FREIGHT TRAIN.

That about describes it.

Incidentally this is exactly how I feel after most endurance rides.

The cartoon above is from "Dana's Doodles" and she has a ton of cute stuff, including adorable stall cards.  I've always been a fan of fat pony cartoons.  Laurie Pace may paint horses the way I "feel" about them, but fat pony cartoons capture my "life" with horses.

I decided my Friday afternoon could be productively spent looking up horse cartoons that made me laugh. Here are my favorites.

From Dave Elston

Donna Barstow

And then of course there's the one and only Thelwell.  Thelwell was probably the first fat pony cartoons I came across. Here's a few of my favorites.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

48 hours post chiro

Took Farley out today for the first time since the chiro.

Wanna hear what I think so far?

Pictured above and below is the "bump" that's on top of her butt. I couldn't get a whole body shot of her in the fading light with my cell phone camera, but it's definitely still reduced from where it's been lately!!!! (both pics are from today, just slightly different angles).
 I tried to find a recent pic that I had on hand to show how pointy her butt was before and see if I could show the difference, but this one was the only thing I could find (*only thing I could find* = happened to be in my dropbox folder under "camera uploads"at this very moment....)

 It just doesn't show up very well, so you are just gonna have to believe me.

Moving on from the diminished bump.

For the last two weeks I've been having to use an additional saddle pad under my solstice. The clearance has always been closer than ideal (huge withers!) top to bottom but I started seeing/feeling the saddle sort of cocked to one side when I was mounted up - I could feel with my fingers that one side of the pommel of the saddle was closer to the wither than the other side, even though it was centered on her back?  It made me really nervous because I don't want my saddle to touch the wither on the top OR THE SIDES, so I've been using a cushioned "insert" pad on my woolback to elevate the saddle off the wither area more.  This imbalance wasn't caused by anything I could feel - the saddle was on straight, I was balanced. No amount of adjusting or squirming fixed it. It was driving me and my OCD-ness bat sh*t crazy.

Today I tried the saddle with just woolback and.........THE SADDLE SAT STRAIGHT ON HER BACK. Even spacing on both sides of the withers. At rest and while moving.  HALLELUIAH!!!

She also was standing much more square and not camped under. I tried to get pictures both before and after the ride. But most of them looked like this so I gave up:

Admittedly I wasn't trying *that* hard. Bad light, cellphone camera, and anxiety problems from poor stress/life management that I *knew* would go away if I COULD JUST GET ON AND RIDE THE PONEH!!!!!!!  

She still looked around when I tightened the girth (slowly and gently like I always do. *sigh*) so I counted her as still girthy. I guess you can't win them all.

When I picked her hind feet, she still seemed a bit stiff and tense.

So, mixed results.  Some improvement, but some no-changes as well. 

Below: Burning in the evening of orchard prunings and some pulled out trees. Farley was acting 15 going on 5.

 Stepped out on the trail and I noticed that she seemed to move free-er.  But I thought she might just be forward since it's been a couple of days since she's been out. After our normal warm up stretch we started jogging, moving onto a working trot. Shortly after that I was trying to convince her that we did NOT need to do an extended standardbred racing trot *just because*. Umm....15 years going on 5? Where's Tig? I need to do a little relaxing trail riding. 

Anyways. All I can say is WOW. The last time I felt something this dramatic in how she moved was when I got her hocks injected.  Which was in the neighborhood of $350, not $50.

Her hind end was so much more active, engaged, and through. I could feel her little motor in the back going, with the hind legs actually extending behind her in long strong strides.

She didn't brace her neck on the side she normally braces on.  She actually traveled straight.

She still had a preference for which trot diagnol (rise and fall with the right shoulder), but today the diagnols felt so close to the same I had to actually look down to see which one I was on. When I changed diagonals on a straight away there wasn't any adjustment in her gait or step - it was totally smooth from one diagonal to the other. 

Now, you could argue that this is entirely a placebo effect. And it's true that some days she feels more engaged than other days.  HOWEVER, I've put THOUSANDS of miles on this mare.  I know the range of what normal for her she feels like, and she felt DIFFERENT today.  Straighter, more active pushing hind end.  She wasn't lame prior to the chiro appointment - I've actually been really happy how she's been moving the last couple months. But, she's always had a tendancy towards uneven-ness and a preference for a "stronger side" or lead. Her diagonals and canter leads feel different from each other.

As we flew down the trail today at a trot she felt perfectly even and smooth even at higher speeds. Normally because she has/had a stronger diagonal, it wasn't uncommon for her to feel almost a bit gaited, or push off harder on one side as if she's about to break into a canter - but not today.  I wasn't having to hold her together or encourage correctness of gait *at all*.

I was told to evaluate after 4 days for the full effect - so I'll continue to ride and evaluate. What will be very interesting is whether I notice a change back to the "old normal" in a couple of months, and whether another chiro session produces the same results (and if the findings during the chiro appointment are the same or different).

So far my verdict with this horse and this chiro (D* - same one that Aurora over at redheaded endurance uses!) is that it's worth it.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

A run, a ride, a chiro, AND a vet. Oh My!

I'm going to tell you how wonderful my Monday was. All at once, because if I try to write separate posts on all the different aspects of my Monday, I won't get around to writing them.  So here you have it - Monday bliss in one huge multi-subject post :).

BTW - this ended up being a really long post. I started it at like 6pm?  And now it's 10:30p. With a test on Friday and surgery on Monday, this might be the only post you get all week so I hope you savor it! Because as you will see, Monday did not include *studying*.

Even when you love your career, Monday's are not always wonderful. But yesterday was :). 

We will skip the part where I woke up *early and finished the book that kept me up until 2am the previous night. Even though a cup of coffee and a good book is an excellent way to start the day.

*there was a "miscommunication" that resulted in my waking up early. I had told Matt to get me up when he left for his hunting trip so I could get my long run started. That was before I got absorbed in my book until 2am. So when he turned on all the lights and released Tess (best alarm clock EVER) there was no going back to sleep

First on the agenda was a 3 hour run. But then I realized that I didn't have time for a 3 hour run before I needed to meet the chiro for Farley's FIRST CHIRO APPOINTMENT, so I revised it to 2.5 hours.

Which was still longer than my last long run at home (2 hours) which was the whole point. 

Now, the best way for me to mentally get through a long run is to make a very simple rule. No matter how fast or slow I run, I get to turn around at the half way "time" point. So, I got to turn around at 1:15. This rule helps me not run too fast in the beginning (because then I will be *really* far away from home) and it motivates me to run faster on the way home).

I was only 45 minutes into the run when I reached my 60 min turn around point from last time. Worrisome. Because I was like over six miles away from home. Mmmm....if there's one thing I've learned over the last couple of years is that flexibility has done more for me than stauchly following the rules. I was really close to a river access point that I ride too so I made the decision that I would run to that access point and then turn around regardless of time. 

Tess and I made it to the river in 1:07 and spent a couple minutes cooling off.

 And posing for pictures
 And ignoring the fact I really shouldn't be this tired only half way through a run.
Tess had tons more energy than I did. The over 2 hours of running didn't even slow her down the rest of the day. 
Can you believe my little run and ride partner is almost 3? I think Tess is the only one of her litter to go to a home that wasn't "hunting-centered". A lot of the Brittany breeders I talked to during my research were really wanted details on what "job" my Brittany would have, or what lifestyle I planned for her, if it wasn't going to be a hunting home. Now that I have a hunting-bred Brittany I totally understand their hesitation to place a dog in a potential home that might not give a proper job or energy outlet. Fortunately I think my lifestyle and interests makes Tess/Brittanies a really good fit.  Going on long runs with me, hiking, and going out on horseback probably makes her just as happy as if she was hunting.  She gets to run, tear through brush, track game, look at birds, and even go for periodic dips in the river.
One of my favorite parts about taking her running or riding with me is to watch her do the giant figure 8's across the trail in front of me.  It's so methodical and instinctual for her. It isn't something I've ever taught her to do - but it's identical to a pattern that I've seen gun dogs that Matt has hunted with do. She works the field in front of me for as long as we are out without tiring, racing up and down inclines and popping through brush using a combination of her eyes and nose.  It's athletic and beautiful and gives me as much pleasure as watching a well put together horse do it's job well.

Anyways - I digress.

It was a long ways home. Six point five miles to be precise.

Around the two hour mark my midsection abdominals started to cramp BAD.

The last time this happened was at the trail 1/2 marathon at the end of October.

It's not a side stitch cramp.

It's not a breathing problem.

It's not a GI/internal cramping issue.

It's not a hydration/water problem. 

It's not an ab strength/fatigue problem. No lasting soreness post run (or today).

I'm totally fine until the 2 hour mark (both 10 milers I've done I've finished before the 2 hour mark) and then BAM! I can't run without making painful grunting noises. It stops when I walk but immediately starts up again when I run. When I run it hurts so bad I can't stand up straight and can barely catch my breath.

At my half marathon and on this run I thought it might be a pressure reaction from my fuel belt - so this time I actually took it off. No improvement. I loosened it, tightened it, re-positioned it. No change.

After the run I started to put some pieces together.
1. Sudden, extreme, non-resolvable pain in a specific group of muscles.
2. Started to return when I was trotting in saddle. But went away immediately when I walked.
3. Both 2+ hour runs were on warm days and I finished the runs with salt encrusted on my skin.

Are you thinking what I'm thinking?

Electrolytes!  Electrolytes have been the answer in the past when I've had weird cramps or muscle aches that didn't make sense. My calves have felt completely fine (which is where elyte issues have manifested themselves in the past). But, I had salt completely encrusted on my face and skin after the run, so even in the "mild temperatures" - high 70's! - it was unseasonably warm and I should have pretended it was hotter.  I took my capsule 1 per hour (worked out to 2 or 3 caps for this run) but I'm thinking I need to increase the caps to one every 30 min which is their recommendation for "intense sweaty exercise".

So, plan is to double my elyte intake on my next 2+ hour run and see what happens. I won't plan a run longer than 2.5 hours until I get this figured out :).

Anyone else have any ideas?

Moving on. 

A shower...and then it was time for the chiro appointment!

It's been on my list to get a chiro out to see Farley for YEARS. Literally.

I was imaging worst case scenario - after all let's evaluate Farley's history. 

She's a 15 year old horse with a bump on top of her butt, who has never seen a chiro, has over 1000 endurance miles with many 100's, did recognized dressage shows and been worked extensively "on the bit", and had (successful) hock injections (2x) 4 or 5 years ago.

I was noticing a couple of small things -  which usually means there's a couple of "small things" wrong, and NOT a huge major thing wrong (love an honest horse that isn't a drama queen or a stoic)......But what if I was missing something BIG in all our work over the years and my "perception" of her "normal" was completely biased?

Currently, here's the "small things" that I've noticed about Farley that I thought might be chiro related
- sometimes her hind seems "tight" to me when giving and holding rear feet for trimming.
- More often than not she stands underneath herself. Not always, but enough that her "normal" isn't a square stand.
- Persistent one sideness in the saddle.
- Won't give me clean changes at the canter under saddle
- A bit girthy turns out that Farley wasn't actually that out of whack.

A few minor things here and there.

The chiro said that I had done a very good job managing her and that she actually looked really good. Some of the stuff, like tail pulling as she walks forward we do regularly (I'm lazy and like to tail) are actually good for her.  Farley loves rolling - which the chiro said is a way that horses can "adjust" themselves. She pushed on the bump on the top of her butt. Cracked/popped her spine in the middle of her back. Both femoral joints popped. One vertebra in her neck was out and was put back in. Left side of her rib cage.

I used to be much more skeptical of chiro and acupuncture for horses and whether they did any good. But now I've seen enough positive results over the years to make it worth trying on my own horse. I'm not someone that blindly continues to pay for changes I can't readily see. I've done/fed various things over the years - some very expensive - for as long as a year and concluded that I didn't see any real difference. And discontinued them. At the end of the day I have to see results.

So far, I'm impressed, just from Farley's reaction during the session.  Farley isn't a lovey-dovey horse. She's not overly impressed with grooming efforts.  She also isn't a big "chewer and licker". During the session Farley would move away under manipulation, something would pop, and she would come back for more. She was doing weird stuff with her head and neck and stretching. Her posture and how she was standing changed visibly during the session - standing more square with her hind feet further behind her. She sought out more physical touch (NOT like this horse).

Afterwards I turned her out in the arena loose so I could ride Tig and she moved away more smoothly. She extended her hind legs and hocks behind her more.   Tomorrow (Wednesday) I'll be hopping on to see what sort of differences I feel in the saddle. I've ridden this horse for enough miles, I'm hoping I'll be able to feel if something is different. But for now, even if I don't feel a drastic difference in the saddle, her posture change and the fact she liked it would make it worth doing again. I'll keep you posted!!!!!

I had just enough time between the chiro and vet appointment to ride Tig.  

I know you guys must be absolutely sick of hearing it....but Tig was perfect again.  I rode her on the trail once again, and once again she was an absolute dream. I'm keep pinching myself and waiting for the other shoe to drop.  I'm thinking that tomorrow or Thursday when we return to the arena she'll probably be less happy and return to being a greenie beanie.... 

We did a longer ride on yet more new trail, walk/trot. She gave me a solid working trot with no fuss. There was still one or 2 good spooks thrown in there - but she's so honest and not mean about it that it's just a matter of sitting calmly, and reorienting her and asking her to move on. Which she does.  Anything that she spooked at last time didn't spook her this time.  Going down the trail she's relaxed - she isn't "looking for" something to spook at. Once we get past something, she moves on mentally and relaxes again. Light bridle contact, low calm head, in front of my leg. A DREAM. Forty min with probably ~35% trot. Finally got just a touch of sweat underneath my saddle (helps that she has a long winter coat and it was sunny and in the seventies!) which was a first.

This ride marks the beginning of week 2.  As a reminder....week 2 is focused on "pushing the limits of current knowledge". I'm not introducing anything new - just testing out where we stand now that we've gotten to know each other. For example:  I hadn't trotted her on the trail - so yesterday we trotted and went out for a little longer. I have an arena ride scheduled in the next couple of days, and on Saturday we will trailer out and do a longer more technical trail ride with a friend.

Up until this point I thought my preference was an older horse with some issues, rather than a green youngster.

Every horse has something to teach, and so far the lesson I'm learning with Tig, is that sometimes a greenie that has only be handled by experienced riders is the better bet. 

Tig is definitely a green four-year old horse. She's reactive, she spooks, she's unsure about weird stuff on the trail, I can knock her off balance with my seat, and our first windy ride is going to be interesting. Sometimes she forgets about my personal space.

But, she doesn't jig or rush home.  She doesn't buck or rear. She doesn't pull back. She stands while being mounted. She doesn't shy away from the saddle or the pad. She bridles without a fuss. She's catchable.

I'm finding out that perhaps I'd rather *teach and reinforce correct behaviors than fix wrong ones? I'm finding a lot of joy and peace shaping a youngster who's honest but green. I compare this to the feeling of frustration and irritation when a more broke horse is deliberately trying to "get away" with something worked in the past and now I'm trying to convince them that it's never going to work again.

*I'm talking about "middle of the road horses here! Like riding a sensible but green youngster versus trying to fix a bridling problem in a horse ear twitched improperly one too many times, or trying fix pulling back when tied etc. I'm NOT talking about the borderline crazy youngster that keeps exploding or the 12 year old ADHD bucking monster. Neither of those are on my docket. Life is too short.
Of course, I think that either way (green or broke) the personality match between horse and rider is critical - along with a match of ability between horse and rider, whether that is measured in pure "green-ness" or "acquired flaws".

As I was bringing Tig home....the vet pulled in!

Welcome to the last event of the day!  Vet appointment! 

I had 2 big things on the agenda for Farley.

1. Check for sand

2. Check teeth and float if necessary.

Farley is boarded near a river on a property with LOTS of sand. The sand makes the footing great in the summer.  However, it also means an increased chance of sand build up in the gut.

I had listened for sand in Farley's gut, but hadn't been able to hear anything.  Negative findings are always harder to believe than positive one so I really wanted someone else to back up my finding. Farley *has* had sand before and I've fed the physillium product and it took care of it back in August 2010.  But now after living for almost 2 years in a sandy paddock and *mostly* fed off the ground or on rubber mats.....I really wanted to know how she was doing. 

Verdict - SAND FREE. :). Can't tell you how happy this makes me. It means she's probably not prone to accumulating sand based on how she's being managed right now - and it doesn't get more sandy than where she lives I feel SO MUCH better about the possibility of a sand colic and my decision to not regularly feed physillium etc.

Second order of the visit was the evaluate her teeth.

Farley has a "smile mouth".

It's a wear pattern on the teeth in front (incisors - the ones you can see) where the side ones wear more than ones directly in front.....

This website here has some GREAT definitions and is where I got the images for this part of the post. I encourage you to check it out. My vet said that the more you learn about horse teeth and the more horse mouths you look in, the more you realize that no horse has a "perfect" mouth. Teeth are second only to feet on the list of "most interesting things about a horse" 

Here's a picture from the site above that describes smile mouth.

Obviously there are degrees of malocclusion and Farley's isn't as obvious in the drawing. This can occur because of an overbite (parrot mouth) but in Farley's case, it's more likely from an abnormal chewing pattern because of some unevenness in her jaw.

The important thing to realize about horse mouths, is that if there's something funky going on in front, it's going to cause something funky in the back! 

And that's exactly the case with Farley.

The abnormal chewing pattern that is causing a smile mouth causes her molars to develop a "wave".

This is in addition to many of the "points" that commonly develop on horse's teeth that require floating periodically. [go to that linked website to see a drawing of the points! It's sorta cool :)]

The good news is that caught early enough in a horse's life, dental abnormalities like the wave can be recognized, fixed, managed, AND not affect the horse's longevity.  

When I was growing up, if a horse wasn't at least 10 the vet wouldn't bother checking teeth. And then after that only recommend floats if he could feel obvious points. The problem is that waiting until the horse is 10, 12, or 15 is it can be too late. There's only a certain amount of tooth to last the horse into old age - hopefully into their thirties or beyond! A wave and other dental issues uses up some teeth faster - teeth that can't be replaced. A bad wave or other malocclusion has to be corrected over time - you can't take it all off at once. The horse has to be able to eat and chew when you are done with the dental procedure. 

Geriatric horses are a special passion of mine - and if there's two things you need to pay attention to NOW to give your horse the best shot at a high quality of life into their thirties, it's feet and teeth.

"But wait", you tell me. "My horse has a more 'normal' mouth - no wave or anything. Just some random points and I ride bitless anyways. So how does this apply to me?"

The issue is that having points on the teeth alters the plane and how the teeth can slide across each other. In class we were shows a REALLY cool 3-D animation of what it looks like when a horse chews - not just the side to side but the forward and back. I've spent an HOUR looking for something similar and haven't found ANYTHING. So I give up for now. So trust me on this that the horse teeth need to be able to do a full, complete, normal cycle in order for growth and wear to balance.

Even if you ride bitless, or never put anything in the horse's mouth, or if *all* your horse produces are points with no other abnormalities - that chewing cycle is going to change a little bit. Which is going to alter how the teeth wear a little bit. Which will make the malocclusion just a little bit worse and the points are going to be a little bit worse. Which is going to alter the chewing cycle a little more. And the teeth wear is going to alter a little bit more. Do you see where I'm going with this? And yes, contrary to some of the internet stuff I see, even if you only give your horse pasture and forage and no grain, they can *still* develop sharp points. Even at what level their feed is placed can affect the chewing cycle - the lower jaw natural moves forward and back as the head lifts and lowers!

Problems such as a wave cannot be seen or felt unless you sedate and put an oral speculum on the horse.  I had been surprised by how bad Minx's teeth were the first time we decided to have her floated - her molars needed floating much worse than was evident by the points in front and how the incisors looked. So, when I got Farley I had her sedated and had a full oral exam done.  It took ~2 years to fully correct the wave.  After getting it corrected, I had her floated at a more "normal" interval of every 1 1/2 to 2 years.  This time I waited THREE years. Not so big a deal in a horse that has a more normal wear pattern. Potentially a big deal in this case.

I was a little nervous.

My new vet was a little nervous. 

It was obvious from her incisors that it time to float - but they weren't horrible.....

But remember that because of the horse's chewing cycle - any funkiness in one spot affects the whole mouth! Funkiness in front likely equals funkiness in back.

What were her molars going to look like?

Got her sedated and the speculum in and.....there was some wave but not bad at all!  Moderate points in front and back, and a wave that was totally manageable and correctable.


And now I know - On Farley I can keep an eye on those incisors and probably trust them to tell me when it's time to float!

BTW - another really good dental resource I found while poking around was this one:  It has a really nice "eruption" chart and notes on aging a horse by their teeth. I'm going to be printing out their little "eruption chart" and keeping it with me for clinics - most succinct one I've seen so far!

Sunday, January 19, 2014

The Tig plan and why blogging is better than studying

A three day weekend is a great chance to study.

A three day weekend is a great chance to catch up on blogging!

Blogging is more effective than studying anyways.

I can't tell you guys how much the questions you ask me and the topics I write about here (usually because one of you has told me you want to hear my opinion on a topic) SAVE me in vet school.

I'm learning a very simple fact about myself - it is impossible for me to learn anything unless I have some sort of previous experience to plug it into.

The questions YOU ask give me that "prior experience" context that makes me care about topics that I wouldn't care about otherwise.

- My aunt got a piglet with an injured leg.  Later on we had a conversation about castrating
 and pig vaccination.  A week later when I visited a swine facility, I was able to learn and retain information by applying it in my mind to my aunt's pigs.

- I've been over horse coat color genetics a million times but it wasn't until I was forced to look it up during a conversation I was having with 2 friends to justify why Merrylegs would/wouldn't be grey that it actually "stuck".  The very next week I had a test on genetics that I didn't study or do the required reading for (it was review material from 2 years ago so theoretically I should have already known it)....and I aced it because there were a TON of horse color questions on it.

- Recently I had an class almost entirely devoted to dehorning goats and I took careful notes, since recently a member of the community told me a horrifying story of a mature goat dehorning "incident" involving a vet who perhaps hadn't realized the difference between a goat and a cow dehorning.

- I had only a superficial knowledge of acid/base balance (ie enough to pass on a multiple choice test) prior to doing a series of posts on it this summer.

- Another friend needed to know the difference between the teeth of a 4 year old horse and a 6 or 8 year old horse.

- Another friend wanting to know whether continuing NSAID therapy after joint injections was really necessary.

- What the heck a "vascular accident" is when in reference to colic surgery complications.

- What the most likely cause of some derm lesions in mid winter on a chestnut horse.

- The most current theory of the pathophysiology of recurrent equine uveitis and the appropriate treatment.

At some point in the last 2 1/2 years I've been taught all of this - but without a context to practice it in, I obviously didn't do a very good job retaining it. But looking it up for a friend is just enough to make it "stick" the second time around.

So please, don't feel like you are bugging me if you have a question.  If I don't know the answer it forces me to go back to my notes, do additional research if necessary. It's the only way I'm actually learning this information....

Anyway.  Where were we?  Ah yes, catching up on unfinished blogger business.

This week was such a whirl wind I never got a chance to post Tig plan!

Tig is staying with me for 3 months. I have goals for each month and weekly plans mapped for the first month.  I'm posting the whole kaboodle here and I'll re-evaluate every 1-2 weeks and add weekly plans for subsequent months as we go along.

The most often asked question I get, and that I see asked on various public forums is "how do I start conditioning for endurance?". 

Think of these "Tig posts" as the answer to that question.

What I am doing with Tig is *very similar* to what I would do in the first 3-4 months with any young "generic" endurance prospect.  Building on the work below for an additional 3 months would give me an LD-type distance in a total of ~6 months. 

Month 1 (mid January-mid February) goals
- Have a walk, trot, canter under saddle and train any gaping training holes in order to be ready to start physically conditioning at the beginning of month 2.
- Focus on relaxation, calmness, and "neutral" bridle work (light contact, encourage reaching down).

Week 1: low key, low stress. What do you know? Lunging, lead line, arena, trail. Let's get to know eachother.

Week 2: pushing the limits. Not teaching new behaviors or skills, but push what we have so far and see what happens. We did a trail ride at a walk. Now let's do some walk/trot trail stuff. We've been trotting in the arena, what if I ask for a bigger trot? Let's tackle some trails that are a little more technical.

Week 3 and 4: teach new things and work on known problem areas. Canter under saddle! Trim her feet (she's very defensive about her hinds). Continue to build up trail work until Tig can do 30 min at mostly working trot. Three gaits in the arena.


Month 2 (mid-Feburary to mid-March) goals 
- Work up to 60-90 min walk/trot. Near end of month 2 introduce a small bit of cantering on trail. Walk/trot/canter dressage work focusing on straightness, being through, and being solidly on the bit.


Month 3 (mid-March to mid-April) goals
- Work up to 120 min walk/trot. On shorter rides, increase amount of cantering (but keep the overall amount small. Cantering will mostly be in the arena during dressage schooling). Correct and balanced transitions. Continue to Lateral work.


It's important to note that when I say "30 min walk/trot" or "120 min walk/trot" I'm not saying that EVERY ride will be that long.  In month one she should be able to comfortably do 30 min a couple times a week, building up to month 3 where we might do 2-3 rides during the entire month that will be the full 120 min.  Some ride will be 20 min or less - Dressage/arena rides tend to be much shorter because they are much more intensive both physically and mentally.  

Tig will only be ridden 3x a week - you don't have to ride a horse 5x a week or more in order to put a good base of fitness. Plenty of rest both mentally and physically is an important part of any program at any level. 

Other important questions you might have: 

What am I starting with? 
- Tig has been lightly ridden for about 4 months, and then had a month off.  She's never cantered under saddle.

What would you do differently if this was your horse? 
- Since Tig is only 4, I would plan on doing her first LD the spring of 5 year old year. AERC rules indicate that a horse must be 48 months in order to do an LD, but since my preference is to move up distances as quickly as the horse allows, I feel it's better to do that first LD as a 5 year old and have the option to move up to 50's if I need to immediately. That would give me ~14 months to prepare her for an LD effort. Right now Tig is being prepared for a race effort in the summer, but if she was doing endurance, there would be no point in having her peak so soon, so I would take my time. 

  • I would probably spend 2-3 months lightly riding riding her (1-2 a week walk/trot  up to 30 min) and teaching the canter under saddle and taking her lots of places.

  • Then I would spend another month doing much of the same except incorporating more ponying and lead line runs and increasing the riding.

  • 2 months doing the "month 2" described above

  • another 2 months building to the "month 3" described here, except less emphasis on cantering.  Cantering will continue to be a very small part of our conditioning with most cantering being saved for dressage schooling in the arena.

This brings us to a similar point that Tig will reach before she goes back to the breeder mid-April.

  • The last 4 months would be focused on building long rides to 3-4 hours (no more than 1 per every 4-8 weeks), camping, riding in groups, etc.

She seems so young. What are you doing to maximize the chances she will have a long and productive career? 
- Cantering will play a very small part in our overall riding.  I think it's important to teach - I want her to know that there is another "gear" there - but we won't be using it extensively.
- Minimize sharp turns at speeds above a walk, and keep the schooling circles large.
- Keep conditioning speeds under 10mph.  She has a BIG trot like Farley.  Farley is comfortable trotting 12-14mph and trotting at slower speeds in inefficient and frustering for her. As a result we tend to do a lot of walking to offset the trotting. If Tig ends up having the same issue with trot speed  I'll let her travel slightly over that 10 mph speed as long as it's a comfortable working stride and not an extended "beast" of a trot.
- No trotting downhills.
- Pay careful attention to footing - not too soft, not too hard
- When in doubt give an extra day or week off. 

Tig Week 1 - Part 1

I had expected a young horse to teach me some humility...I just hadn't expected it to happen so soon.

I had a choice.  Keep quiet, pretend everything went perfectly since in the end everything was okay, OR in the spirit of my dedication to blogging and telling the whole story, share the story in the middle that is behind the cheery Tig updates you've been getting.

I decided my loyalty to my readers and dedication to honestly share my horsey life overrode my embarrassment that K* might read this. (Although in hindsight, now that the week is over and it's obvious this was a small blip - if even that - in working with Tig, I can laugh at myself. But at the time I was RACKED with insecurity and doubt of whether I had really screwed up).

Thus today you'll finally figure out why I've been going on and on about how sensible and well-minded she is.

Week 1 was all about getting to know Tig and to get Tig to buy into the idea that I was *her person*.

In my opinion the first week in a new home is critical for the horse - the horse is already stressed from being in a new environment with new people and new feed. Here's my chance to show the new prospect that *I* am the center of calm and order. So, my priorities for week 1 weren't about "training". They were to establish guidelines, routines, and above all keep stress low. The plan was to keep everything low key and work within her comfort zone and figure out what does she know, where are the glaring holes, and what motivates her.

Which is why, in this first week on an evening that represents ride #1, I'm horrified as I watch the cute little grey thing bucking so hard on the lunge line the pad under the saddle goes flying out from underneath the saddle.

But I get ahead of myself.

I'm under contract to ride Tig 3x per week. At least once a week on the trail. Monday I hauled her in. Tuesday I fed her carrots and haltered her. Wednesday I was feeling the pressure to get the first ride done and accounted for.

I know the importance of checking and double checking the tack with a young horse - because often you don't get second chances if something goes wrong - so I wanted to make sure there was a minimum of equipment. So, I was smart and stripped everything off my saddle that wasn't essential for the arena - saddle bags, breast collar, etc. But left my caged stirrups on - which I didn't think anything of. They aren't much bulkier than a lot of western stirrups.

After stripping the saddle, I had to find a bridle that fit (she has a TINY head), switch out bits (which I invariably put on backwards and twisted the first time), and make a million other minor changes. And of course, being a young horse who has pushy's not like she was standing there quietly and cooperatively for the mind numbing task of switch-this-piece-of-tack-out-for-a-smaller-one.

By the time we were tacked and ready to go it was dark and much later than I wanted it to be. This process was taking FOREVER. If this had been my personal horse, I would have called it a day and thanked the heavens that the next time I went out I wouldn't have to play the the fit-the-tack game.

But, I don't have the luxury of time with Tig. And besides my own laziness and pending dinner there was no reason to not move forward.

After making sure the girth was tight we headed out to the arena on a lunge to see what I had.

What I had was a horse that apparently had never been lunged in a saddle with stirrups that were hanging (instead of being slid up).

Now, when I used to break 2 year olds, the first time they were saddled we tied up the stirrups to make sure they wouldn't hit the horse in the sides. No reason to add to the excitement. However, at some point before mounting we would untie them and allow them to swing around as the horse trotted and cantered around as part of the saddle desensitization.

Tig gave a little buck and I saw that my trail stirrups were goosing her on her sides.

"No problem", I thought. Surely in the 4 months that Tig has been ridden someone has lunged her with stirrups down.

Maybe so maybe not...…

Now she was really bucking and I saw that the light weight stirrups were swinging back and goosing her in the flanks with every buck.

This was the perfect example "escalation".

About the time i decided this had gone on long enough and I was going to fix the stirrups so they didn't hang and count this as "something to work on", to my horror I saw the saddle pad under the saddle shoot out from underneath the saddle and land on the ground.

The saddle, now loose because of lack of pad, immediately starts to slip down her side.

I felt like an IDIOT. Of COURSE I should have switched out the darned stirrups to begin with.  Stupid stupid stupid. I know better.

Let's reiterate the situation.

1. I have a young horse
2. At our first session together
3. in a lighted arena after dark (her first time in a lighted arena?)
4. Who is madly bucking on the end of the lungeline
5. With a saddle that is halfway down her off side

I walked towards her and asked her to whoa in a soft voice.

She did.

I asked her to stand.

She did

I unbuckled the girth on the near side and realized it was so far over I couldn't pull it back to my side, but I couldn't let it go and have if drop on the ground either.

She continued to stand calmly.

I spotted one of my biothane bracelets that I had buckeled to a front D-ring. A Handle.

I grabbed it and pulled the saddle towards me.

She continued to stand quietly.

I reassessed the situation.

1. This would make a really good blog story, if I could ever get up the courage to tell it knowing that the breeder who had entrusted her to me might read it.
2. Had I just set her back months in her training? Would she let me retack her up? How the HELL had I gotten myself into this situation? Why had I ever thought I wanted a baby? Obviousy this was a huge mistake.
3. On the other hand.....she hadn't freaked….

I asked her trot on the lunge, now naked, and she did so without drama. Past the pad on the ground and the saddle on the ground without a second look.


I was tired. I was stressed. But if I didn't get on her it didn't count as a ride.

So I jerked my trail stirrups off and managed to dig up a pair of more traditional iron+leathers. Because exactly what I wanted was yet MORE tack adjustments. I did a quick visual look at the length and then I tacked her up again. She didn't even flinch. Good good good. Maybe I hadn't broken her on our first session after all.

So I took her back to the arena and I mounted up.

She stood perfectly and walked forward when asked.

I breathed a HUGE sigh of relief.

We just walked that first session. Which was quite enough for both of us.

I learned some very important things in that first session.

1. Even though Tig could be pushy and fussy, when the sh*t hits the fan she trusts humans.

2. If she didn't kill me that night, it was probable we were going to be OK.

3. She doesn't hold grudges and once the scary thing is past she gets back down to business.

4. I still "have it". I'm not a brave rider.  I take personal safety really seriously.  But when it counts I can be calm, think on my feet, and deal with it. It's been so long since I've worked with young horse I sorta wondered whether or not I was still a capable. In some ways having this sort of thing happen on the first session was stressful, hard, and nerve-wracking.  But on the other hand, it gave me confidence in myself and Tig - I don't have to be perfect for her, I just have to be good enough. Which is enormously reassuring.

I care very deeply that I am doing "right" by horses that come into my care, so most of my self doubt comes from "can I give this horse what they need" and not necessarily "can I handle and ride them successfully". Having to be "perfect" for a horse is very stressful so my biggest concern with Tig in the beginning was that she was going to need "perfection".

Turns out she isn't the type that needs perfection - she needs a job and a partner. Both of which I can give her in the next 3 months.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Tig goes on a trail ride

This was Tig's third ride.

Wednesday I learned that Tig really wants a job (and that she has an awesome, sensible mind - a story I will tell at a later time....)

Thursday I learned that Tig really smart. (probably too smart for her own good).

Today I learned that Tig is really brave.

This morning Tig and I hit the trail. She's given me some mixed results in the arena. Nothing too naughty, but nothing too wonderful either. Feels sort of green and lost and a bit frusterated. Part of the arrangement is that Tig gets a trail ride every week, so off we went.

Immediately there was improvement. She was focused, interested, and willing. As we made a lap around the orchard there were men and vehicles working the field (replanting an orchard) and she did me proud. Gave me a couple of big spooks, but mostly marched along playing young horse looky-loo. She was forward and confident and for the first time I felt like I had her buy-in for the day's agenda. Even as a very young horse, she had no problems confidently going down an unknown trail, going away from home. I tried a new section of trail that didn't work out and I had to turn back, and she gave me ZERO problems going back the way we came, and when we turned away from home to finish the loop instead of continuing home, she didnt' even hesitate.

After the ride I felt a subtle shift in Tig's attention/attitude towards me. It was like she was looking at me with new respect or interest - here is a person that is going to make my life interesting and this might be fun - is what she seemed to be saying.

I think she's sick of being lunged. I think she's totally bored of the arena. I think I've just found the way to Tig's heart we are going to get along just fine!

Friday, January 17, 2014

In which I edit a meme to make it more satisfactory

Who likes this meme?

Don't be bashful!  Raise your hand! 

Do you believe this? Would you actually repeat this to someone?

I've seen this meme go around a couple of times. And each time I see it I do my best to ignore it. It absolutely pushes my buttons and makes my blood pressure rise to unhealthy levels.

Now, in general I'm not a fan of meme's, and if you want to facebook me as your friend - I can guarantee you I won't fill up your newsfeed with a bunch of them.

But most meme's are innocent fun, and worth a laugh.

This meme frustrates me because I think it perpetuates a stereotype among horse people that I think is detrimental - that one should not give up on a difficult horse because you will learn so much and earn the dubious non-existant-award of "better horseman". 

Here's the problem with difficult horses.  Most of the time I see the following three scenerios in regards to the "difficult horse".

1. An already "good horseman" "fixes" the difficult horse and makes it better and it becomes a horse that is less difficult.

2. A newbie or "not yet a horseman" gets the difficult horse and they are both unhappy - and the newbie often is NOT having fun and has to work through frusteration, fear, and guilt.

3. The difficult horse kills or severely injuries either the experienced person or the newbie.

Maybe my definition of "difficult" is different from the meme's definition of difficult.

So....Let's change the word difficult to "flawed". 

That's better!  I think we can agree that most horses are flawed?

Farley is basically good, but she didn't just give me a canter on a platter - I had to learn how to really ask.  And Minx - she was a b*tch to bridle when I got her and I had to learn to deal with a horse that had been severely ear twitched. Goldie was the first mare I ever bonded too and I learned how to catch a horse that didn't want to be caught on 40 acres.

I'm not thankful for difficult horses that made me scared to ride when I was a beginner.  But I'm thankful for basically good horses that had flaws that taught me to ride without trying to kill me at the same time.

You know the best thing about flawed horses?  They are everywhere. Which means every single horse that you or I are likely to own is going to teach us a lesson and make us a better horseman. No need to hang onto a horse that makes you scared or is going to seriously injure you just because "by working through their issues" you can be a "better horseman" - I guarantee you that if you get rid of that horse and get another one that is perhaps more suitable to your ability or personality, there will be flaws in the new horse that will still help make you a "better horseman".

(Of course, if you find you have the same "unsolvable" and "deal-breaker" issues with multiple horses, it's time for some self reflection - are you drawn to a certain type of "bad boy horse" and perhaps need someone to intervene in your horse choice and help you find a more suitable mount?  Or do you need professional help like riding lessons?)

My biggest pet peeve is watching a relatively new rider get into a situation where they are "over-horsed" and they are scared, and nervous, and reactive, and defensive.....and yet the only advice they are being given is that they should work through their issues because "they will learn so much". This situation was especially prevalent at boarding stables.  Guess what.  A horse that makes them feel comfortable and safe will ALSO teach them horsemanship lessons (because every horse has their quirks and flaws) but will ALSO introduce them to the JOY of riding - something that I struggled to find in my riding for a very long time.  Longer than I should have. 

Are you happy with my revised meme?

I'm not.

Let's take the first statement
I disagree.

We've already stated that most horses are flawed.

Are there horses that are not?

I would argue that the closest thing we have to the "perfect horse" is the schoolmaster.

Have you ever ridden a schoolmaster?

I have. 

I learned more about horsemanship riding dressage on a schoolmaster for 3 months, than I did in 12 months of learning and training dressage on Farley. 

I had to push the buttons exactly right on the schoolmaster - and if I managed to coordinate my seat/hands/legs/pelvis/hips/keeps/balance ALL AT THE SAME TIME to ask for a specific movement.....he gave it to me. If I didn't push the right button, he didn't. He was PERFECTLY willing to do WHATEVER I said, I just had to ask.  He had no "issues" I had to work through.  I didn't have to "make" him do anything.  He literally was ready to do my bidding as long as I could enunciate my request. 

Those months on that schoolmaster were invaluable to my riding and I was able to ride at a MUCH higher level much faster than if I was having to work through a flawed horse.  Instead of wondering whether it was *me* or them, or if I was pushing the right button and they weren't responding, or whether the "feeling" of the movement was correct or not or if they were "cheating" .....I only had to worry about *me*.

It's been extremely easy for me to transfer that knowledge I gained on the schoolmaster to the normal "flawed" horse.  I've learned to "push the button" and I know what the response to the "button" should feel like.....and since my body and cues are in the right place to allow and help the movement I can help guide a "naive" horse through the cue. 

I could not have achieved this level of "horsemanship" as efficiently without the help of the schoolmaster.

That's better.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Why Yes, I did ride Tig today

Seems like I always get to the end of the day and never find the energy to write the posts that have been writing themselves in my head all day.  So instead of rambling analysis, today is another quick update.

Ride #2 on Tig was today! 

Walk/trot today in the arena.

This is what I've figured out about Tig. Tig really wants a job. She wants to know what the expectations of the job are. And then she wants to be allowed to do that job brilliantly. 

Some horses are people pleasers. This is not Tig. Her world does not revolve around pleasing me.

Others just want to be left alone. This isn't Tig either - she's eager to come out and play.

Others have their own agenda. I don't necessarily feel like Tig has her own agenda.  She's perfectly willing to learn my agenda, as long as it is clearly and fairly explained

It's so much fun to figure out what motivates and animal.  Almost as much fun as figuring out how to use that motivation to achieve things together.

I have a three day weekend coming up and I SO look forward to sharing with you some of the Tig stories so far - because if you know me than you know that there is ALWAYS a good story and lessons to be learned! And these simple little updates are more like facts and outcomes rather than what happened in the middle, which is the entire point of life right?

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Quick update

Just want to reassure everyone that I'm alive and well. I have a CRAZY schedule lately.  School has been awesome - lots of field trips and the four person class is just as great as I thought it would be. It's just been really intense since Monday.

Tig has settled well and I climbed on her for the first time tonight.  Felt the pressure to get that first ride on the books since the clock is ticking on the week and I have 3 rides to get in (and of course I was crazy excited to see exactly what I've got).

After a MILLION tack adjustments and swaps I *finally* was able to climb on near the end of our session.  The final consensus? REALLY green.....but a REALLY good mind.

We are still feeling each other out and getting to know each other, but even through the challenges of today (after dark, I suspect her first time in a lighted area, a major tack snafu early on in the session, was moved today to her permanent pen) I felt good about swinging my leg over, which I can't say of a lot of 3 year olds going on 4 that haven't been ridden in ~1 month.

I have so many thoughts and emotions flooding through my brain and just not enough brain juice to spit them out coherently on paper, so I'm headed to bed.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Bringing New Ears Home!


Now, let’s not get confused.  If you are just joining me here on the blog, or if you have missed some of the latest posts, it will be well worth your while to catch up on the last week.

Tig is NOT my horse.

However Tig IS a TKR horse, 2010 model, who is coming home with me today.

*My* horse is a DIFFERENT TKR horse, 2012 model.  We shall call her Merrylegs for now. Merrylegs will join us mid April.

Tig arrived TODAY.

I realized last night that Tig is the *first* horse that I’ve brought home since starting the blog. (There’s life before blogging, and life after blogging).

I’ve brought a total of 4 horses home over the years and what’s funny is how every single time it was different.  I distinctly remember with Minx the heavy sense of RESPONSIBILITY as I trailered her home. I was an adult, 2.5 hours away from the nearest person I knew, and I was solely responsible for this animal and her health and wellbeing.  I couldn’t believe I was being allowed to do this - just take this horse home?  How did *they* (the collective they) know I wouldn't’ kill it, or injure it, or do something stupid?  (I’m sure it’s a similar feeling that first time mothers feel when they take their infant home).

Looking back, I was well prepared for my first “owned” horse. There’s a lot to be said about NOT owning horses while you are “figuring horses out”. I already knew how to ride, how to handle horses on the ground, what they looked like when they were sick, and how to drive a trailer. I knew my forages, my vaccines, and the basics of horse management. But I still felt a scary sense of “the buck stops here” - there wasn’t necessarily a life net to catch her and me if I failed. I *had* to be there for her.

I don’t remember much about bringing Farley home.  I think I was in shock that I had just bought a horse. I hadn’t been looking that long, and I hadn’t been thinking and dreaming about her “being the one”. There wasn’t any anticipation.  Just trying to figure out the logistics of how to bring her home the next day, which was the day before Thanksgiving.  I took her up to my aunts for Thanksgiving because I had already planned a trip there with my other horse and I remember musing about what I should name her as I rode along.

This time, even though I know this isn’t mine to keep I am CRAZY excited. (The person whose dropping her off with me is ~1 1/2 late, so I’m writing this in the truck as I wait). Anticipation lets my imagination go wild. Now I know why people enjoy breeding - you have ELEVEN MONTHS to anticipate and guess and predict. :).

It reminds me of those gift exchanges where you can either unwrap something or steal something already unwrapped. My sister and I commented at a recent such event as the “lure of the unknown”. The chances of getting something better in the wrapped pile that is substantially better than the thing that is already unwrapped that you sorta want is almost nil. But it’s so hard not to go up to the table and take your chances with the unknown. It’s a game of anticipation.

I have to admit that if I was looking for a mare to BUY, Tig wouldn’t be it.  Nothing I’ve heard about her puts her in my “soul mate” category.  Oh sure, we will get through this 3 months just fine - but I’m as excited right now as if I was bringing home my own new 100 mile partner. Anticipation. It keeps us young. (I'm posting/editing this after I got home and I have to admit that she's actually much sweeter than I was led to believe and reminds me a lot of a young yes, I think these 3 months will be much more fun than I thought!)

I know that there are some readers here that won’t agree with what I’m doing - riding a 3 year old (will be 4 sometime this year) arab on a regular basis to leg her up for the track this summer.

There’s a lot to consider when deciding for how/when a young horse should be started. My views were much more black and white before I started vet school. Now, it’s much more “grey” and I think that’s appropriate. Usually any extreme in the horse world is not in the horse’s best interest, and the issue of when to swing a leg over and when to start actual conditioning is not an exception. 

I wouldn’t be doing this if I thought it was morally wrong and I was condemning Tig to a future career of unsoundness. My three times a week rides will be throughtful and I hope I have a chance to share with you some of the research and new knowledge I have gained over the last couple of years and how it has changed my mind. 

No need to go into in depth right’s almost time for Tig to get here!

[I’ve scattered pics throughout the post for your viewing pleasure :) I’m SUPER impressed with her brain and attitude so far. Not a big spooker or bolter and handled some rather scary stuff like a pro. But I have a serious excitement/stress/dehydration headache, so we’ll save that for the next post]