Sunday, January 30, 2011

Coriander gallops and Gwen ponies up

But not on the same ride, I wanted to clarify that right at the start. I'm not that crazy... close, but not quite.

Coriander's been telling me that he's ready to go for a gallop and this week I finally felt like we might be able to do it, it wasn't awful cold and there was enough snow that I figured we probably wouldn't have an ice problem. I took him out to our favorite spot (long, flat and straight- without holes) and let him go.

I've never felt him traveling so effortlessly before, he was literally gliding over the ground and it really did feel like flying. Unfortunately we hit a patch of ice, not enough to cause a wreck but enough for us to simultaneously decide to slow down. In hindsight it occurs to me that I've never before cantered/galloped him when his feet weren't bothering him. He picked up thrush at the old barn and we never cantered there. This is the first time he's been sound since the move; it's incredible what a difference pain-free feet make- and they've still got a long way to go!

Left fore today

Right fore today
Remember how I said I wanted to wait and pony Gwen when the footing was better? Well she's been stuffing herself out of the gate when I get her brother (naughty) so I told her if she's going to do that she has to do some work. I hauled out the western saddle and threw it up on Coriander's back, grabbed a long lead for Gwen's halter and away we went.

Almost immediately I found a pretty disastrous bit of pilot error. I don't know what it is about western saddles, but I'm a complete idiot with them. I thought I had cinched the girth up tight before I got on, but when I reached down to check it was loose! Uber crud. I then found a huge, gaping hole in Coriander's training when he refused to stand still for me to tighten it up. Not too fun when I've got one hand to tighten the girth and one hand to hold Gwen (this is where a ground person would have helped a lot, unfortunately ground persons are unavailable 99% of the time). I ended up dismounting to tighten the girth and then had to mount again from the ground. Learning opportunities, right?

After that though, it was smooth sailing. There's a nice, short loop in the back fields, about 3/4 mile long where I took her for her first trip. She's been there before, we went the exact same way when we walked out with Rocky so I figured it'd be a good place to start. Both horses did really well! Coriander made a few nasty faces at her when she tried to get ahead of us a few times but that was it. Gwen's brain stayed firmly inside her skull the whole time, and even better than that, I think she enjoyed it. We even flushed a group of deer and nothing bad happened. Both horses stopped to look but nobody spooked! There were treats all around for that one.

Overall, ponying was a success; we will definitely be doing it again. Now if I could only figure out that western saddle once and for all we'd be all set...

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

It's downright balmy outside

It seems pretty depressing when 32F makes me feel like I'm visiting the tropics, but it's been a cold month. The warm temps we've had recently, combined with the longer days (I get to see my horses in the daylight during the week now!) made it so I could finally do something with my horses besides throw hay at them.

Tuesday night I decided to pull Gwen out and go for a walk. My expectations weren't high, it's been a while since we've gone out and I figured she'd regressed a little. She had, but not nearly as much as I'd expected. She did start out by rushing off ahead of me so we had to a bit of head lowering first, but after that she did pretty well.

Tonight I rode! All I can say is that Coriander's feet must be feeling better because he was rarin' to go. He distinctly asked me if he could gallop at one point, something he hasn't done in a while. Unfortunately I don't feel comfortable enough on the bareback pad to do that so I had to tell him no, but it made me feel good that he wanted to. If it's still nice on Friday I'll put a saddle on him and go for that gallop.

Here's a question for the masses: I'm debating ponying Gwen off of Coriander once the snow and ice clears. I know I said before that I was a little concerned about her causing a wreck but I've been second-guessing myself lately. I want her to see me mount and see her brother's (non) reaction to it, and I want her to get used to seeing and hearing me up there before I try throwing a leg over her again. Not to mention she'd be getting more exposure to the outside world with company she feels comfortable with.

I think with the western saddle and Coriander's new-found fearlessness of the local flora and fauna that we'd be alright. I wouldn't even think about it if he were still as spooky as he used to be. Plus Gwen was really good both times she went on a walk with Rocky and her brother. Good enough that I feel she probably wouldn't cause a wreck.

Any thoughts? Talk me out of this if you think I'm a crazy person.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Thoughts on horsemanship

"Only recently have we begun to understand that animals really do have intelligence. Gradually, new perceptions of animals are coming to the fore. Newsweek Magazine in a May 1988 cover story entitled "How Smart Are Animals?" reported that:

'Creatures as different as pigeons and primates are dazzling scientists with their capacity for thought. Comparative psychologists have gone from wondering whether apes can comprehend symbols to detailing the ways in which they acquire and use them. Others scientists are documenting similar abilities in sea mammals. Still others are finding that birds can form abstract concepts. The news isn't just that animals can master many of the tasks experimenters design for them, however. There's a growing sense that many creatures - from free ranging monkeys to domestic dogs - know things on their own that are as interesting as anything we can teach them.'

Recognizing that horses are individual personalities with individual mental and emotional responses to the world opens us to a new way of perceiving animal intelligence and therefore of influencing behavior. For instance, knowing whether a horse is a slow or a fast learner allows the trainer to choose the most appropriate teaching method. Not only does an intelligent horse need less repetition than a duller one, too much repetition often bores the clever horse, and he will think up ways of 'amusing' himself (sometimes by resistance) that his trainer will probably not find equally entertaining.

Understanding our horses doesn't mean we become 'permissive' or that we don't use firmness and discipline when required. It means rather that we open the door to cooperation rather than confrontation, an attitude that leads to successful performance so much more quickly, easily and joyfully than does domination through fear or submission. Such a humane viewpoint often has the unexpected side effect of enriching our whole lives."

"Getting in TTouch" by Linda Tellington-Jones

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Apparently I'm stylin'

Carol over at Dressage Training Journal has kindly recognized me for being stylish. This is terribly ironic, if you were to meet me I think the first thing you'd notice is that I'm not really stylish at all. I want to be, but for one thing accessorizing completely escapes me, the best I can do is sometimes find a snazzy scarf to dress up an otherwise boring outfit and that's only on rare occasions. Anyway, onwards and forwards.

Seven things you don't know about me (related to style):
  • My favorite clothing designer, hands down, was Alexander McQueen. The man was an artist. His tailoring was impeccable and his imagination knew no bounds. I was among those who were stunned at the news of his suicide, such a tragic loss. Here's a very small selection of his genius, love it or hate it there's no denying his gift:

  •  On the other hand, I detest Gucci. It looks like over-priced hoochie-wear to me.
  • I have a modest collection of vintage clothing from the 50's, and my favorite pieces are the coats I found on Ebay. One of them is a cashmere blend that is too luscious for words. It's rather boring to look at, it's basically just a black coat, but the hand is divine. I think I paid about $20 for it, too. Amazing.
  • I own ridiculous quantities of shoes. Seriously. I could wear a different pair of boots everyday for two weeks. Not to mention the number of flats and heels I have. Yet in the past two weeks I've only worn 4 different pairs of footwear. I need to branch out.
  • I will not pay money for clothing made of acrylic. It's a horrible, cheap material, and just a plain waste of my cash. I don't shop in Old Navy because of that, practically everything they make has acrylic in it.
  • The majority of my riding breeches are blue and green and are knee patch only. I have one pair of white, full seat breeches and I hate them- they make me feel like I'm wearing diapers.
  • Getting positive again: my favorite hat is one that I knitted from alpaca yarn. Alpaca is really warm, really light, and really soft and makes for wonderful winter hats. This one has ear flaps that I can tie under my chin, very handy on cold, windy days!
 Okay, time for the next bit, 15 blogs I find interesting. This is difficult, how to mention those that may not have been mentioned before? My perennial must reads include Wolfie at What Was I Thinking...?, Kate at A Year with Horses, Arlene at Grey Horse Matters, Mikael and her Mania, Molly at Golden the Pony Girl, Mary at Stale Cheerios, Natalie at wherever her blog is now and Andrea at Eventing-A-GoGo. But I want to give a shout out to the blogs I've found more recently:

  1. Jessie at Rose Valley Ranch
  2. Mrs Mom at Oh HorseFeathers
  3. Denali's Mom at  Green n Green = Black n Blue 
  4. Juliette at honeysuckle faire 
  5. Kristen at sweet horse's breath 
  6. An Image of Grace
  7. Bookends Farm 
  8. Equine Insanity 
  9. Mare at Simply Horse-Crazy 
  10. Calm, Forward, Straight 
  11. Sarah at Miles On Miles 
  12.  Sydney at Bitless horse: Science VS tradition 
  13. Lucy at Barefoot Horse Blog 
  14. Capture The Light Equine  
  15. Story at All Gear No Skill  
 Whew, there ya go, happy reading!

    Sunday, January 16, 2011

    Smartie pants

    A natural windbreak. I've been avoiding blanketing as much as possible but the Quarter's are uncomfortable when there's negative windchill. Bonus shot of the barn next door.

    Mmm, licorice
    Coriander is pretty darn smart, sometimes too smart. He likes to try to be one step ahead of me but that creates an issue when he doesn't know which way I'm going to go. I've been acting too predictably lately and he's been taking advantage of me.

    I mentioned before that he's decided he doesn't need to have the halter put on just to go back into the pasture, this created an issue last Monday when I wanted to ride. I brought him out and put the saddle on no problem, when I went to put his bridle on he spun and headed for the gate. Okay, he thought it was time to go back out, no biggie. Instead of opening the gate I went to put his bridle on again; this time he ran away from me down the fence line. Hmmm. I waited by the gate until he came back and then tried to put the bridle on again; he ran off again. Now I was getting grumpy. This time I followed him, threw the reins around his neck and put that darn bridle on (for heaven's sake horse, it doesn't even have a bit).

    After that misadventure I was figuring we'd have a crummy ride, especially since I was taking him next door to ride in the indoor. When we got there and found 5 other horses already inside I had definite feelings of trepidation. He proved that I need to think better of him. It was definitely a mental training ride instead of a physical one, but aside from some balking, some bending away from scary stuff, and one head toss he was quite good.

    At one point in time everyone else in the indoor decided to take their horses over some little crossrails. Coriander's eyes pretty much bugged out of his head when he saw that. It occurred to me that he's never seen horses jumping before, so we stood around for a bit and just watched.

    The most interesting part of the ride happened when I decided it was time to go home. We were in the back of the arena and I decided to walk him towards the door to dismount. I left him on a loose rein and let him decide which route to take, his route was straight towards a crossrail. I started feeling a little smug at this point, figuring he'd get up to the crossrail and then be at a loss figuring out how to go around it. What actually happened was that he walked up to the crossrail and then stepped over it without even a stutter step. I wonder if he saw the other horses going over them and wanted to prove that he could do it too? Maybe he just wanted to see what all the fuss was about. Smartie pants.

    Later in the week I decided we needed to have a leading tune up and work on his ducking away from the halter trick. The main issue we're having is that he is rushing off ahead of me and I need to show him that running off like that isn't in his best interests. I took him for a short walk up the driveway and then stopped, he kept going. When he stopped I clicked and put the treat where I wanted him to be- a few feet behind where he ended up. I then waited for him to figure out that he needed to back up to get his reward. We did this a few more times until the point came when I stopped and he backed up to be next to me before I clicked. That was the turning point. The very next time I stopped he was right there with me. Rushing problem solved... for now.

    Thursday, January 13, 2011

    DIY trimming

    I figure it might be helpful to explain why I took over care of the Quarters' hooves, I can explain it in two words: frustration and necessity. The last time I paid a farrier to trim their hooves it cost me $140, $70 to the farrier for the trim and $70 to the vet for Gwen's sedation; only to find, one week later, that their hooves looked like this:

    A large chip out of Coriander's wall, note the underrun heels and long toe

    All of Gwen's hooves were self trimming
    Not to mention that when I picked their feet up they looked like this:

    It might have been kismet, but at the this time I met Marjorie (Barefoot for Soundness). I told her how the farrier had said Coriander would need shoes if I ever wanted to trail ride but that I really didn't want to have to do that. She explained to me about how barefoot trims are different from pasture trims and assured me that with the correct care, he wouldn't need shoes for trail riding. I went home that night and read through her entire website and decided then and there I needed a new hoofcare provider. That proved to be a fruitless search, good barefoot trimmers are few and far between, and out of desperation I ended up taking the rasp into my own hands.

    I started out VERY conservatively, taking a swipe here and there. I didn't touch the bar or frog at all in the beginning, that was WAY too scary. I also embarked on an educational voyage to learn as much as possible about healthy hoof mechanisms. Fortunately I am blessed with excellent reading comprehension and logic skills (I was a straight A student for a reason), so it wasn't long before I had a basic comprehension of hooves. I might sound cocky right now but I am well aware that I have a TON more to learn, as our recent battle with thrush proves.

    The result is that my horses are now fantastic about their feet, I just park them in front of a pile of hay and then go about my business, no tying necessary. For the record, horses have no problem picking their feet up when their heads are down on the ground eating. Gwen did knock me on my butt once, she had a knot on her cannon bone from a kick and objected very strongly when I pressed on it. I growled at her for that, but recognized that it was a pain reaction and avoided that spot on her leg from then on.

    I admit I have drunk the barefooter's lemonade. I am now a firm believer that horses are healthier when left barefoot. But I understand that not all horses should be barefoot depending on their circumstances. You have to make a special kind of commitment when you decide to keep a riding horse barefoot. You have to make an effort to educate yourself about the trimming, nutrition, and lifestyle changes you will need to make to keep your horse happy. Some people simply can't, or won't, commit themselves to it.

    If you are thinking of going barefoot and are considering doing the trimming yourself I have some advice: (Disclaimer: remember that I'm not a professional and I still have a long way to go myself)

    1.  Take a really honest self appraisal: Trimming is hard work, are you physically up to it? It can also be scary, do you have the guts for it? Are you willing to immerse yourself in the constant education you'll need to make sure you don't screw up?
    2. Take pictures of your horse's hooves and compare them to healthy hooves you find online. Learn what underrun heels look like, what flares are, and how to spot a long toe.
    3. Find a good consultant before you pick up the rasp and share your before photos with them (I use Jenny at All Natural Horse Care), this way you can develop a plan before you touch the hooves and can get an informed reaction to your work.
    4. Take your time: When you first start trimming you'll get tired fast. Plan to trim only two hooves at a time and take frequent breaks. Your horse will appreciate this more than you know, I think a lot of hard to shoe horses would be a lot better about it if the farrier would just put their foot down more often.
    5. Avoid the farrier hold: My horses would immediately start fighting as soon as I tucked their hoof between my knees. I don't know if it's the feeling of confinement or what, but they really hate it. What I've found works best is to get down on one knee, this way I can use a knee as a hoof stand or for leverage and can still get out of the way fairly quickly if I need to.
    6. Hold the hinds lower to the ground. Many horses, mares especially, are uncomfortable holding their hind legs really high.
    7. Quarter relief, quarter relief, quarter relief. Learn it, live it.
    8. Buy some hoof boots, you will need them at some point in time.
    9. Buy high quality tools, they make one heck of a difference. I bought the trimming package from The Horse's Hoof and haven't regretted it for one second.
    10. Most importantly, if you find yourself getting upset at your horse STOP. Go grab a beverage and come back later when you've cooled off. Horses don't get better about their feet when you get in fights with them about it.
    For further education:

    Tuesday, January 11, 2011

    Thrush recovery: 2 months

    Left fore

    Right fore

    This is how Coriander's frogs looked last Sunday. They are coming along, slowly filling in from the crack between his heels. The overactive heel and bar growth are finally slowing down now, still high, but I can tell that change is afoot (he he).

    I've ended up going in about once a week to cut off more and more of that old, diseased frog. You can see the difference in color between the old stuff and the new healthy growth underneath in his left fore (click on the photos to enlarge them). I'll need to go back this weekend and cut off more dead frog and also take those bars back, but I trimmed Gwen first on Sunday so I was a little tired when I got to him. Look at how nice and thick his walls are growing in though, and how nicely shaped his toes have become. He's going to have a darn nice foot once his frog is complete. I wish his feet would grow a little faster but it is winter, after all. I'm guessing that it will take another two months before he has full, robust frogs, but he seems sound enough under saddle now for light work (walk, trot only).

    Stay tuned: I've been taking photos once a week that I'll be posting once the process is complete. That might make me the sole source on the web for documenting frog growth. This is how world domination starts, folks.

    Sunday, January 9, 2011

    Friday, January 7, 2011

    Horse agility

    You know I want to do this with Gwen, it's like this was made for her. If only the Horse Agility Club had a following in the States...

    In other news, Coriander's frogs continue to grow and Gwen's scratches are starting to clear up. I've been using a combination of Banixx and No Thrush to treat it (which I think ends up being pretty similar to the remedy that Kate suggested: Desenex powder and Equyss spray) and the scabs have been slowly going away on their own and the cracking behind her fetlocks is closing up. Poor girl with such sensitive skin, no one else in the pasture is having this issue.

    Saturday, January 1, 2011


    I got a bareback pad for Christmas. I love it! It makes me feel like I'm cheating at riding bareback because it makes it so easy to stay centered and balanced (no slip and slide). I used it for a couple trail rides right after I got it and then decided to try it, and see how Coriander's feet felt, in the indoor next door.

    With the pad I feel just as stable at the walk as I do with a saddle, so I decided to try out the trot. Easy peasy, too easy really. I forgot that he's not ready to carry me at a sitting trot. (His feet seem to be doing better though. He still doesn't have much frog but the deep crack is filled in and that's made him a lot more comfortable. He was much more forward in the arena than he's been in a long time.)

    When I went out the next day, prepared to ride, he told me no. He came up to me to receive his treat and then walked away from me as soon as he got it in his mouth. He never does that. I followed him and he continued to walk away from me. Huh. What's going on with this horse?

    I figured he might be sore, so I walked up to him again, this time he let me approach, and I ran my fingers down his back. You probably guessed it by now: his back dropped when I touched it. Ugh, that made me feel pretty rotten. Needless to say he didn't get ridden that day. I popped the saddle on Gwen and took her for a walk and did some mounting block work instead.

    The next day I went back out, hoping that Coriander's back would feel better and we could go for a trail ride. As soon as he let me approach and halter him I knew we were good. We then went out and had a great ride, full of water crossings he didn't balk at, deer jumping around that he didn't bat an eye at, and wet snow that he carefully negotiated. He even offered up a nice, impulsive trot that I thoroughly enjoyed- while posting.

    I learned my lesson, no more trotting with the bareback pad until I know his back is ready for it; and listen, really listen, when my horses do something that they've never done before.

    PS: Coriander has also started doing something that I think is absolutely hysterical. I don't tie my horses when I'm working with them right outside of the pasture (Too trusting, I know, but it's a long way from the road and they won't voluntarily leave the herd.). They park themselves on the chaff pile and are content to stand there and eat while I do what I do, often without a halter. Which means sometimes I have to put the halter on to take him back into the pasture, only now when he sees me pick up the halter he just walks over to the gate and waits for me to open it for him. He says he don't need no stinking halter!