Saturday, July 31, 2010


Before I get to the point of this post, here are some pictures I promised of the quarters new herdmates.

Here's Butch, he's a sweetheart. Butch spends most of the day standing under the barn avoiding the bugs. Butch is a working draft so I think that's why his tail is cropped.

This is Rocky, the alpha. She hasn't quite decided yet whether or not to allow the quarters into her herd. She's getting closer though, she's been less avid about chasing them off for the last two days. She and I are on the outs right now because she took a chunk out of my baby girl's leg. That and she's pushy, we've had some discussions about that.

Okay, on to the point of my post. I rode Coriander today for the first time since the move. The very first thing I ended up asking him to do was walk down a hill. Coriander had never been ridden on a hill before and he didn't know how to do it, so he balked. I asked him to walk forward and what I got was an awkward, rushy, inverted walk that tried to turn into a trot down the hill. I was immediately reminded of one of the lessons we learned while trailer training: Coriander has issues with his hind end, hills might be a way I can help him with that.

I asked him to walk around the pasture a few times to warm up and then confronted him again with going down the hill. He was very uncomfortable with it, he asked me a couple times if he could just walk across the hill because that would be so much easier. Nope, I said, you need to learn how to do this so we might as well start now. I very specifically asked for halts after every few steps going up and down the hill and he very quickly learned that the only way he could stop was by pulling his hind legs under himself. He didn't quite get the concept that he also needs to use his hind end when moving, but we'll work on that tomorrow after he's had some time to think about it.

I'm sure that my regular readers know this already, but hills and how you ride them are very important. How many times have you seen someone riding a horse down a hill where the horse has their nose in the air, their back hollow, and their hind legs stringing along behind them? This is not the frame you want to ride a horse in. Not only does it allow physics to pull your horse down the hill like a snowball, with no steering and no brakes, but it's physically harmful for them. Plus you can't always see what is at the bottom of that hill, you don't want to race into it blindly.

The best way to ride a horse down a hill, especially a steep one, is slowly in a collected frame with the hind legs well under them. You have to teach them how to do this because a horse under it's own influence with a rider on it's back is going to take the easy way out and invert. Start on a gentle slope, like I am with Coriander, and asks for lots of halts while going forward at an easy walk. Do the same going up hills. The horse will figure it out and be much better for it. Remember to pay close attention to your body position while you do this. Don't lean too far forward or back, the last thing you want to do is pull your horse off balance.

Here's a little story so you know that I've made mistakes too. When I was about 12, I rode in a competitive trail ride with my stepfather. We came upon a very steep hill and the riders in front of us let their horses gallop up it. Without thinking I let my horse do that too. Boy did I ever get chewed out for that! He had seen a horse get a pretty devastating tendon injury from galloping up a steep incline that led to him being euthanized. I've never let a horse gallop up a steep hill since.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

One year ago today...

Two untrained, skinny quarter horses stepped off a trailer and into my life, kicking off my graduate level education in horsemanship and training.

I thought that after being partners with the World's Greatest Arabian for 18 years I knew a little something about horses. The quarters proceeded to tell me I didn't know jack. It's been an incredible year: We've had some breakthroughs, we've had some disasters, but we made it through them and we're all better for it.

The most important thing I've learned in the past year is that with compassion, patience, and a healthy respect for the horse's own thoughts and feelings you can accomplish things no one ever thought you could. Never compromise your values because you think others might scoff, and always trust your gut. That mass of intestines knows a lot more than we give it credit for.

So here's to my quarters, thank you for a wonderful year. May we have many, many more together.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Pasture, pasture, and more pasture

See those brown dots over the hill there? That's the quarters enjoying their new home.

Check this out:
See that treeline in the distance? That's where their pasture ends. Yeah, it's horse nirvana. I wish the fence was a little less sketchy but I'm keeping my fingers crossed that won't be an issue.

Yesterday the fabulous Kate G. came over and spent a couple hours with me getting the quarters used to the trailer. Gwen was an absolute super star, she actually ended up being my lead horse since Coriander wouldn't get on the trailer alone. I'm so impressed with her.

I learned two interesting things yesterday. First, Coriander has issues with his hind end, he was really concerned backing down that ramp and couldn't quite figure out what to do with his hind feet. Now I know where we need to go next with his ground work. Second, if you aren't laughing while you're trailer training you aren't doing it right. Seeing my horses stretch as far as they possibly could to touch the target, all the way to their lips, was just too funny. Silly quarters!

The guy who owns the trailer sent over one of his employees to haul them out this morning. Fortunately he was young and impressionable so he didn't have any problem with me running the show. I think I blew his mind with the targeting, "You're going to get your horses on the trailer with that?" Yup, watch this kid. They didn't load quite as quickly as I was hoping, it took about 20 minutes instead of 10, but they stayed calm and I think that kid learned a few things.

Following that trailer was incredibly nerve wracking. Every time they'd stop at a light and I saw the trailer start to rock I'd find myself saying, "please don't flip out, please don't flip out." It was rough. But they made it, albeit a little sweaty and nervous. Nobody was hurt and they actually backed off the trailer pretty calmly when they arrived. All in all I call that a success.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Targeting FTW!!!

6:45 p.m.- Trailer arrives

7:05 p.m.- Gwen is all the way on the trailer

7:30 p.m.- Coriander has his front feet in the trailer, he's been a little more difficult so I put him in his stall to think on it

7:35 p.m.- Gwen is all the way on the trailer for the second time

7:40 p.m.- Coriander is all the way on the trailer

7:45 p.m.- Both horses are out on pasture for the night

Targeting and premium treats got both horses on the trailer in under an hour. Oh yeah.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Well that didn't work

The trailer arrived this morning to take the quarters to their new home. Coriander got on after about 10 minutes of coercion, then we tried to get Gwen on. She walked up to the trailer, stuck her nose in, sniffed around, and refused to step forward any further. She took long enough that Coriander decided he needed to throw the biggest fit in Fitsville and I was forced to get him off. After that he wouldn't even stick his nose back in. We kept trying to get Gwen on but she rebelled from the pressure and started rearing.

At that point we gave up. It was either do that or someone would get hurt. But all was not lost. The awesome guy who came to move them, who lives next door to where they're going, is bringing over a trailer and leaving it at the barn for a few days so I can do some intensive trailer loading practice. How great is that? There really are some truly fantastic people in the world.

So the horses aren't currently living it up in their new home yet, but at least I can work with them and make it so getting on a trailer isn't a traumatizing experience. Good news is, as soon as they are walking on and off the trailer I can have them moved the next day. I'm hoping it won't take longer than a week.

I'm planning on grabbing a cold beverage and some floor to just wait them out, clicking and treating when they make forward progress. I'll probably throw some hay into the mix and let them eat off the back of the trailer for a while. Any other suggestions?

Monkeywrench Addendum: Just found out the horses have to be out Wednesday because that's when the new occupants are arriving. No pressure.

Saturday, July 24, 2010


I used to not be very interested in hooves. I didn't know what the parts of the hoof were, how it worked, or even how an optimal hoof looked. I was a kid and my Stepdad was a farrier. I didn't have to worry about that stuff.

Then I got the quarters. Two horses that had lived on Florida sand their whole lives and barely, if ever, got their feet touched. For the first time ever, I was in charge of their foot care and I had a whole lot to learn.

Initially I opted against shoes for the sake of simplicity. Coriander didn't need them as he was only being ridden in a sand ring; and Gwen was terrified of having her feet handled. Other than that, I didn't really think about it much.

But after their trim in May, when Gwen's feet started self trimming and Coriander's feet starting developing holes one week after the farrier visited, I decided it was time to learn about hooves. After months of research I have decided to join the barefoot movement. My horses have never had shoes on and I'm going to try to keep it that way. It's healthier for their feet, it's better for their locomotion, and it's easier on my wallet and nerves (I don't even want to imagine what Gwen would be like getting shoes on).

There's an issue though- my horses feet are crap. Below I've put their front feet against an optimal wild horse hoof for comparison. Coriander is on the top, Gwen's are on the bottom (note that both quarters left fores are clubbed) (Oh yeah, and they need a trim. I'll get on that after they move). They look plain odd.
  • They both have very thin walls, contracted heels and overactive bar growth. Gwen's aren't as bad- due to less stall confinement during the formative years?
  • Their frogs are buried in the hoof because their heels are too long, they can't possibly function the way they should. 
  • Coriander's feet are longer than they are wide. 
  • Coriander's white line is stretched all the way around both feet, allowing lots of room for rocks to get in.
  • Gwen's flare to the outside something awful. 
  • Fortunately for Gwen, she has enough sole to protect her internal structures, Coriander is not so lucky.
Oy, there's a lot of work to be done here. I'm going to post regular updates on the state of their feet from now on. Mostly for my own benefit, but maybe it will help someone else too. Hopefully we'll be able to see their feet progress to healthy models of hoof perfection over time. In the meantime, Coriander has a pair of Easyboot Gloves coming in the mail.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

My $0.02

A lot of talk has been going around on horse blogs in the past few days about Chris Irwin's response to the Parelli/Catwalk video. Most of the comments I've been reading are, "who is this guy?"

There are three experts/clinicians that I respect: Alexandra Kurland, Mark Rashid, and Chris Irwin. I first found Chris Irwin last summer before the quarters arrived. What I learned from him proved to be invaluable once I found out what I would be dealing with in them. Coriander was downright disdainful of humans and Gwen was completely wild, it took 10 minutes to halter her and she had developed a nasty habit of rearing when going in and out of her stall. Through Chris's videos on equine body language I learned how to call out Coriander on his rudeness and gain a little respect. When it came to Gwen's rearing issue, I used a dressage whip held over my head to show her I could rear higher and longer than she could, proving that I was worthy of her respect. It worked, she only reared 2 or 3 more times before she gave it up forever, all without any sort of physical altercation. Chris also points out that humans need to be aware of their core and its effect on horses, e.g. if you point your bellybutton straight at a horse's head they see that as being rude and confrontational. Again, I was able to use that information to get Gwen to relax when I was in the stall with her by never "attacking" her head with my core.This information is in his "Barn Manners" videos.

I was so impressed by his insights into riding that I bought his "Riding the Wave" video. One of the techniques he explains are how leg aids should be used in conjunction with the swing of the barrel to facilitate turns without knocking the horse off balance. I used this method for the first time during a lesson and my instructor remarked that the horse must have been feeling really good that day because she'd never seen his stride that big. That was proof enough to me that it worked. I've continued to use his riding techniques to train Coriander under saddle and I'm happy to report that they've worked very well with him. I could easily ride him without a bridle because he responds so well to the leg and seat aids and I attribute most of that to the advice I got from Chris Irwin.

If you want to see previews of Chris Irwin's videos here's a link. (Disclaimer: When watching these last summer the site gave my computer a virus. It was fixed pretty quickly by Malwarebytes, but I wanted to make you aware of it just in case.)

Monday, July 19, 2010

A change would do you good

I'm moving the quarters. I was going to wait until we had a home but that doesn't look like it's going to happen very soon (dealing with family farmers isn't easy) and I am completely fed up with their current barn. If all works out well with the trailer they'll be in their new home on Sunday.

I might have been providence. On the day I decided to look on Craiglist I found a brand new ad for pasture board: big pasture, large run-in, automatic waterer, and acres of trails to ride on. Sounded good enough to check out so I went out to look Saturday.  The pasture was nice and big with the bottom of a large barn serving as the run-in. Oh and it's mowed, he was actually getting ready to mow the pasture right before I showed up (unlike where they are now where the pasture has yet to be mown this YEAR. Yeah, moving is past due.) The fence is a little sketchy, it's all high tensile wire, but the guy seems really easygoing and I bet he'd let me put up some hot tape if I asked. Funny thing is, he knows my husband and his family quite well. It's such a small world.

There are already two horses living in the pasture. An alpha AQHA mare and a belgian gelding. Hopefully Coriander and the mare won't have any spats, he tends to be a little dominant in the pasture. I think he'll back down pretty quickly when presented with an actual alpha. Gwen gets along with everyone so I'm not worried about that.

I'm taking a big risk with Gwen in this new situation. I have high hopes that she will do well in a herd setting and let go of her extreme separation issues since she won't be left alone anymore. But I am very worried that she won't and she'll get too attached and freak out if the other horses are taken out of the pasture. Some risks are worth it though, and a change is definitely needed.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Good news everybody!

The vets have deemed it not to be laminitis.


He didn't show any reaction to the hoof testers and he actually trotted out sound. The vets thought that he might have a bruise that was just too deep in the foot to show anything when rapping on his hoof (or mystery lameness, they weren't quite sure). His soles are really flimsy so they figured it wouldn't be too difficult for that to happen. It seems I really do need to look into hoof boots (and plan how to set up the pasture to harden up those hooves when we move).

They did think the hay situation was a little suspect and that he should go easy on it for a while. I did get the go ahead to start riding again. So I'll see if he can handle a little walk tomorrow.

I am SO relieved right now. Drinks are on me!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The verdict is in


After going over his feet, poking and prodding, tapping and trotting, no real source of his pain could be found. His right fore does have some "banging" in the digital pulse though, after I knew where to look I could feel it. That really only leaves laminitis as the possible culprit.

We think we know what might be causing it, his lameness correlates with the delivery of freshly mown hay. It might just be too rich for him. I'm getting him cut back to half rations to see if he starts feeling any better.

Please do the trick, please do the trick, please do the trick

Unhappiness is a lame horse

Coriander is still lame. Even worse he's been lame at the walk. There's heat at the coronet band of his right fore. I tried to check his digital pulse but I'm not sure I got the right spot, I found a vein behind his fetlock and didn't feel any "banging" on either leg. So that might be a good sign or that might just show that I didn't really know what I was doing.

I soaked his right fore in Epsom salt for almost 10 minutes last night. I managed to get him to stand in a tub using clicks and treats and a flake of hay. Everything was good until he noticed the neighbor's horses grazing in the distance, then the phone rang in the barn while a car was pulling out of the driveway. All those forces converged into creating the biggest spook I have ever seen from that horse. When it was over I was covered in salt water, he was covered in salt water, and my tub was irreparably broken. So almost 10 minutes was all we could manage. He did seem a little better this morning though.

Hopefully my ex-farrier stepdad will have time to come look at him tonight for me, then I'll have a cause for Coriander's soreness before the end of the day. Otherwise the vets are going to make some more money off of me.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Gwen's good day

I've been slowly teaching Gwen to longe/lunge/lounge (however you want to spell it). I started with just her lead rope and a dressage whip and clicked and reinforced her for walking out around me. At first I clicked her for just a few steps, then a half circle, and finally for walking all the way around me. I concentrated on keeping her comfortable and calm most of all and I'm pretty proud of how relaxed she's been.

Today I upped the ante a bit and using an actual longe line and whip I started out asking her for one or two circles around me. She did great, she wasn't flustered by the whip and she kept a nice distance between us. I even asked her for a few steps of trot! I clicked her as soon as she started trotting and pretty quickly she learned to step up at just the word. That was exciting.

Even more exciting: Gwen wore the western saddle today! She was a little tense when I first put it on her back and the pad slipped back. I was worried she'd blow up if I tried to mess with it so I let it be. I clicked her for each little step and she stood like a rock for it. After I cinched the girth she was a little uncertain. At first she tried to back up to get away from it but finally responded to my urging to come forward. A few steps and a handful of treats later she was walking forward calmly.

Again, I know very little about western saddles, if you notice that the saddle isn't in the right place please let me know. I'm pretty sure the pad is too far back but is the saddle too far back too? What do you think, is the pad too big?

I like this next picture though, any picture that shows her neck relaxed while she's wearing a saddle is very reassuring to me.
Sadly Coriander is still lame, poor boy. I hate rocks now.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Weekend update

It's been a scorcher out there! Here's proof, this picture was taken Thursday afternoon as I was driving through town:
You may have to click the picture to enlarge it but, yes, it says 100 degrees.

It's been too hot to work the horses. Last week my daily schedule was get up, bring the horses in. Go to work. Come back from work. Grab a horse, hose it off and stand in front of the fan. Repeat with the other horse. Put the horses out for the night. Go to bed.

Nothing was interesting enough to post about. I did manage to get Coriander out for a short lunge to check his lameness status. He seemed okay on the lunge line so I got on him Saturday morning. Nope, still lame. After that, I got off and started a large-scale excavation operation. Fortunately I think I found the problem. Three itsy pieces of gravel came out of the white line area at his toe. I feel awful that I missed that for so long. Unfortunately for him, after living on sand for nine years and having inadequate hoof care his feet aren't in great shape. His white line isn't tight at all and tons of dirt and crud get packed in there. I'm hoping that with the regular care he's getting now his feet will shape up, but it will take a while. Anyway, I think I got the culprits because he took off galloping around the pasture last night for the first time in a week. I'll ride him today and find out for sure.

In other not-so-great news, Gwen did something to her face. Friday morning I brought them in from the pasture and her nose was horribly swollen. It wasn't hot and there wasn't any blood, so that was good. I imagine she just knocked her face on something and gave herself an awful goose egg. It's slowly coming down, thank goodness. Can you see it?
Here's another picture just for fun. This is Gwen standing next to the fence she jumped. Who knew my little 15h quarter horse could jump like that?

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

It's spontaneous combustion hot out there

My poor quarters are sweating their butts off. This might be the week when they finally learn to enjoy the hose.

Here's a picture I promised. This is the new western blanket on Gwen's back. Is it too big? I'm afraid that in my ignorance of western tack I didn't order her the right size. It looks enormous on her. (Yes she's all wet, I had hosed her off a little earlier.) I do love the color on her though.

Here's a bit of good news on the riding front: I can post again! But here's some bad news: Yesterday Coriander felt lame while he was trotting :(

I checked his feet and noticed that he *might* have a sore spot in his right fore. I'm going to check his feet again tonight and lunge him to see how he looks. I'm hoping it was just the footing in the ring. It's been so dry that the sand has gotten really soft and deep. I've been having a hard time walking in there with my ankle so I can completely understand if that's what is making him off. Fingers crossed...

Friday, July 2, 2010

Klimke and Ahlerich - 1984

Apparently today is video day. Here are three more that I kept meaning to post but never got around to...

Sylvia Loch "On the Bit"