Tuesday, May 31, 2011


That was me: Missing In Action. I took last week off from work and sort of avoided the computer for the duration. As a result I'm way behind on keeping up with my fellow bloggers. My apologies, I'll catch up this week.

As for what happened last week: Monday I had my first ride on Scout since my last lesson on him went bad. I apologized to him for how badly that last ride went and promised that it wouldn't happen again. Fortunately he seemed to accept my apology and the lesson went really well. He did try to spook at random things and counterbend all over the place in the beginning, but I asked him to do some jaw flexions and he soon forgot all about his usual shenanigans. It really worked!

On Wednesday I climbed up on Gwen again. She was fine, if a little on edge. We walked down the driveway, she ate a bit of grass, and then we turned around and walked back to the barn. I asked her if she wanted to stop and graze on the way up but she didn't. She got up to the barn and said, "okay, you can get off now." So I did, and gave her a hug for her effort.

On Thursday, Kate G. came out and worked with Coriander and me. I asked her to help me with jaw flexions and teaching him the pose. When I told her what I wanted the pose for, getting him to lift his back and engage his abs, she told me a different tactic would work better. Instead we did some microshaping with him- we focused on watching for a tightening of the pectoral muscles without having the legs move. Most of the time this leads to the horse rocking their weight back, by focusing on the pectorals first you can eventually get the horse to engage the abs and lift the back.

So we stared at his chest for a while, which worked and he seemed to enjoy it, but she wanted to give me a different method to get him to raise his back. She asked him to back into a solid barrier, the wooden section of the fence, and once he was against it she asked him to back again. Since he couldn't go backwards anymore he was forced to tip his pelvis and raise his back. She cautioned me to ask for very little at this point, he's not used to it and could get very sore very quickly.

I think this is really cool, I now have two good methods to help get his back and abs stronger. For those of you reading who don't clicker train, you don't need food treats to do the second method, but it helps ;-)

I really need to get some video to show the jaw flexions, they're kind of hard to describe without seeing it. There's a good article here where you can read more about it, though you might need a membership to see it. Let me know if you really want it and can't click through the link.

The dentist never made her visit Thursday. Between schedule conflicts on her part and me freaking out about getting Gwen next door during the forecasted severe thunderstorm we decided to reschedule for August. Now I've got a few more months to get her used to being next door and I have more time to play with her and the bit.

Phew! I think I'm all caught up now. For anyone who might be wondering about the mysterious hip-shoulder-shoulder exercise I've alluded to before, this came in my email this morning: John Lyons hip-shoulder-shoulder exercise part 1, part 2, and part 3.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

There's a light...

I had the vet out today to give the Quarters their vaccinations and physicals. On a gut feeling I asked her to check Gwen's eyes while she was out.

The good news is Gwen's eyes are fine, BUT she had a very negative initial reaction to the test light. When the vet tried to look in her right eye she LEAPT away. Interesting. The vet said she'd never had a horse do that before. So even though her eyes look perfectly healthy it appears that she's very light sensitive.

This explains a lot. White is very light reflective, if she's light sensitive and a glare came of the Great White Trailer of Death and flashed her in the eye it would have been quite painful- which would explain the bolt and her not wanting to go near it again.

My vet suggested that I take her out with a fly mask on to help cut any glare that might hurt her eyes and I'm going to give that a try. It probably won't help with the Great White Trailer of Death because she's already afraid of it but it might help somewhere else.

In the meantime I'm working on keeping myself calm when she's upset like Racheal suggested. I took the Quarters next door so Gwen could get a look around before they have to go over on Thursday (horse dentist requested stalls and those only exist next door), and she was pretty good about it. There was one moment in particular, though, where I felt her getting anxious about something. I concentrated on keeping myself calm and sort of blank: she looked at me, looked at her brother, saw neither one of us was bothered, sighed and started grazing. It's a start.

Thank you! That was a bit of advice I really needed.

Gwen says thanks too

Sunday, May 22, 2011

One step forward, two steps back

When the clinic ended Monday I was all fired up and ready to go (As Wolfie said I was pumped), I had a plan and I was ready to put it into action!

The last time I hopped on Gwen was on May 10, she had into heat the weekend before so I thought she would be out of it and safe to get on. Not so much. She was a bit spooktastic- I sat through three of them before I decided to get off while I could still do it under my own power and give her a few more days to come down from the hormones. When I pulled her out after the clinic it had been a week since I'd gotten on her and I wanted to take her for a little walk to feel her out before I put my bones up on her.

Good thing I did! Just that morning Mark moved his big, white trailer from below the pasture to above the barn. As soon as Gwen saw it she flipped out, pulled the lead rope out of my hand, and bolted down the driveway. When she stopped running she then commenced rearing every time she stepped on the rope.

Well great, all it takes to unglue my mare is introduce a new, inanimate object into her environment. To top it off, she's now rearing in response to pressure. Excellent.

I followed her, caught her, brought her back in view of the Great White Trailer of Death, and asked her to lower her head. She did, but it was like she said, "fine, I put my head down. Now can I get out of here?" I took her farther away from it and asked her to lower her head again. She sort of responded so I called it a day and put her back in the pasture.

Wednesday I tried to do some CAT work with her and the Great White Trailer of Death but she wasn't having it. She knew that the signal was to lower her head but she was having none of it, she kept throwing tantrums. Fortunately these tantrums weren't "hook a sailfish on the open sea" tantrums, they were more "throw your head up and down in anger" tantrums, I guess I should give her a little credit for that. But I ended up feeling incredibly frustrated with her, and she was quite frustrated with me. I left her that day feeling like I didn't want to see her again for at least a week.

As I drove away I asked myself what the heck was wrong with me. I mean, this is Gwen, her default mode is scared, it's not like I should be surprised by this. Why was I so frustrated?

When I thought about it, I realized I wasn't frustrated, I was disappointed. Actually, I was crushed. She'd been doing so well that I'd allow myself to have dreams of riding her out on a trail or even going to a show someday. Her bolting away from that trailer totally killed those dreams. She wasn't just startled by it, she was terrified. I can't take a horse out on the trail like that. Sure, I could get her used to a certain trail and get her reasonably safe to travel on it, but what if a tree falls down between rides? She'd be out of there in a flash.

I needed to reevaluate, I needed to accept her for the horse she is and not the horse I want her to be. I also needed to get our relationship back on track.

On Thursday I walked into the pasture with a bucket load of treats, the bit, and some tools to teach her the color game. I didn't take her out, I didn't even put her halter on - I just focused on having some fun. That was exactly what I needed to do, at the end of the day we were happy spending time together again.

On Friday I dug out a mat (aka a piece of plywood) and set it down under the barn and then placed a line of cones out to the driveway. I asked her to stand on the mat, reinforced her like crazy for it, and then had her step around the first cone and back to the mat. We worked our way down the line of cones coming back to the mat every time to get reinforced. As we worked down the cones, the Great White Trailer of Death came into view, she'd get a glimpse of it and then we'd turn around and walk to the mat. This worked out well, plus it touched an one of my goals for her- standing on the mat (you reinforce the horse like crazy for standing on the mat and eventually the horse will associate the mat with comfort and well-being, something Gwen needs).

Saturday I continued where I left off on Friday, only this time I moved the mat out from under the barn so it was only 10 feet away from viewing the Great White Trailer of Death. She was much better. PHEW! Progress.

It's possible that the more times she works through her fear of something new in her environment she'll stop being so scared of novelty, but I can't bet on that. What I can bet on is that she's going to be who she is, no matter what.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

May clicker clinic

It's been an interesting time over here and I've been falling behind on posts. First Blogger went down, then my home computer kicked the bucket, and then I went to a clicker training clinic with Alexandra Kurland last weekend. So I've been away a bit, but now I'm back.

I can't quite explain how lucky I feel that I found clicker training which led me to Alex who just happens to come to my backyard three times a year. Last weekend was my third clinic with her and it most definitely won't be my last (someday I may even find a way to get Coriander to one, that would be fun). It's not just that she's such a wealth of information (because she is), it's also the community that you become a part of by going to her clinics, plus it's just plain neat to see how people's horses develop from clinic to clinic.

There was one horse that the owner was trying to help achieve balance and self carriage, through using simple rein mechanics she picked his inside shoulder up and produced some of the most amazing trot I've ever seen in person. There is something to be said for straightness!

There was another horse there that was absolutely lovely on the ground but once his owner got on his back he didn't know how to stop.After spending two days trying to find the stop, Alex helped the owner to discover that the whole issue stemmed from the horse being sticky about disengaging his hips and backing up smoothly. So interesting.

There was an adorable morgan mare that I totally tried to steal and the sweetest arabian mare in existence who really showed her owner that she needed to be aware of what her body was doing.

There was also a giant rescued saddlebred who came to his new owner with aggression and fear issues who showed us all the power of consistent, patient work.

And then there was Kate G., who's been helping me quite a bit, who brought her own horse that drags himself around on the forehand. It was amazing that through simple turning exercises combined with single steps forward and back she was able to get him to rock back, free up his shoulders, and raise the base of his neck.

One of the best things about these clinics is that I always leave them with a plan and an arsenal of new tools. I went into the clinic looking for ways to help Coriander build muscle in his topline and help him be more balanced with better body carriage. With Gwen my goal was to find more techniques to help her become a safe riding horse. I got what I was looking for and more, here's my updated plan for the Quarters:

Plan for Coriander:
  • pose
  • lateral work via Why Would You Leave Me? and 3 Flip 3
  • backing
  • jaw flexions via single rein
  • picking up the shoulder via single rein
Plan for Gwen
  • matwork
  • lateral work via Why Would You Leave Me? and 3 Flip 3
  • pose
  • hip/shoulder/shoulder
  • left and right/ color game
I'm not going to go into detail about what all these things are, those will be the subjects of later posts once I really start integrating the exercises, but I did want to give you a visual on why I'm introducing a pose. Take a gander at the video below:

This mare is posing: Notice that she's raising the base of her neck, engaging her abdominals, raising her back, and tucking her pelvis. This is collection in a nutshell and it was made by free-shaping her posture. I started Coriander with this yesterday  by waving my hand under his nose- thinking that there was something in my hand he arched his neck by raising it at the base and shifted his weight backwards, click/treat. It didn't take long before I could see out of the corner of my eye that he'd started engaging his abs too. That was pretty exciting, it's like pilates for equines. I'll have to see if I can get some video of my guy doing these, it'd be cool to compare the beginning steps with how he'll look in a few months.

I'm very excited and ready to get to work!

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Gwen and the bit

The dentist is scheduled to come by at the end of the month to float the Quarters' teeth. The last time she worked on Gwen she wasn't able to get the speculum in her mouth so she asked me to get Gwen used to a bit. With that in mind, I went out and purchased one of these for her:
full cheek so she couldn't pull it through her mouth, double jointed so it wouldn't stab her palate, and a lozenge in the middle that couldn't be sharp against her tongue in any way. I bought her a headstall, took off the caveson and popped this puppy on it. Then I went in her stall, waited about an hour for her to open her mouth and then put the whole shebang on her head.


She tore around her stall, trying to spit it out and rub it off, pawing in anger. I pulled it off as soon as I figured she wasn't going to calm down about it. I tried again a couple days later with the exact same results, and the added bonus of her starting to become difficult to halter. So I shelved it.

A couple months later I found a different bit through Craiglist and decided to give it a try. It has a solid rubber mouthpiece like this:

only this bit isn't loose ring, it's a weird kind of full cheek. Instead of having little balls at the tips, this one bends out at the tips. She hated this one *slightly* less, but she was still storming around her stall in anger and I was freaking out she'd find a way to hurt herself with those sticky-outy bits on the full cheeks. So I shelved it.

But now it's time for Gwen to revisit the bit. Remembering that she seemed to hate the solid mouth slightly less, this time I bought Happy Mouth's mullen mouth loose ring bit:
BTW- these don't taste like apple, I tried.

and I've completely changed my approach. Knowing how much happier she is when I don't restrain her in any way when introducing new things, I'm just taking the bit and pockets full of treats out to her in the pasture. On the first day I started by holding the bit out and asking her to target it with her nose. Then I touched her on the face and neck with it. She didn't mind that, so I laid it on my hand and clicked her for letting it touch her lips. I left it for the day when she went ahead and picked it up in her lips. She got a click and treat for that plus tons of praise.

The second time I went out, I did just a little bit of targeting with it and then continued where we'd left off before. Very soon into the session she picked the bit up in her teeth. This freaked her out. She raised her head in the air, lips all ascew, mildly panicking because she couldn't figure out how to get it out of her mouth! Finally she tossed her head and sent the bit flying. I admit, I laughed. It was too funny to see how happy she was to figure out how to drop it. I went over, picked it up, and started at the beginning again. She surprised me by quickly progressing back to picking it up in her teeth, where again it took her a moment to figure out how to let go. I decided that doing that twice was good enough for the day, so I gave her a hug and left.

Hindsight being 20/20, I can see that if I hadn't started her with the bit by tying it in her mouth she probably wouldn't have been so upset about it being there, even when she did it herself. But I can't change the past, maybe her being able to gleefully toss the bit across the pasture will help her forgive my mistake.

I hate working on a deadline, but I'm hoping that by the end of the month she'll have decided that it's not so bad to have something in her mouth. Those molars are in need of some attention!

Monday, May 9, 2011

Forward HO!

One of the cool things about where I board is that there's an orchard directly across the road that I'm allowed to ride in. It's mostly an apple orchard but they've got a bunch of different trees growing over there, peaches, cherries, pears...

I think this might be a peach tree

I wanted to try to get some good pictures but Coriander didn't really feel like stopping so most of what I got was taken on the fly or while he was eating.

Coriander: "If we're not moving, I'm eating"

He was feeling quite forward that day and was extraordinarily hot off my leg, itching to run. We came up to this line of trees with a nice grassy lane next to it and I let him go. Yeeha, that was fun! Apparently streaking across the field allowed him to catch up with his brain, because after that he calmed right down. It's amazing what a good gallop can do!

Galloping, HO!
Speaking of forward- we've been having quite an issue with that in the ring. As in we have none. Out on the trail he's electric and powers ahead with purpose, surround him with a fence and he shuts it right down. This is a problem, without forward you've got nothing.

 The fault is mine (obviously), I've never been a very active rider and I've been letting him lollygag around without any rhyme or reason, now that needs to change and I need to get his bum in gear. Naturally, my dressage trainer has been talking whips and crops.

But you know what? There's got to be a better way. So I reached out to the clicker training community and asked for advice. What I got back was so brilliant that I want to post it here for you to read:

I worked on this with one of my mules (Murry). She tended to offer only the
least amount of energy as needed while ridden in the arena. I tried clicking her
for responding to my leg, but I found that didn't really help. I tried carrying
a whip and I would click if she offered an adequate amount of forward energy
with a light touch of the leg, and if not then I would lightly tap with the
whip. That also didn't help that much, especially if I was not carrying the

What worked was clicking Murry for offering her own energy, **in the absence of
the cue**. I asked with leg for her to walk faster than at a crawl. She wasn't
allowed to mosey along. If she slowed down to a Quarter-Horse-Shuffle, I would
ask her to go a little more forward with my leg. Then I would leave her alone
with my leg, and follow passively with my seat (no pushing or swinging or
exaggerating the walk). I didn't click until she offered a little bit of her own
energy. There were glimpses of moments when she offered a little more tempo, a
longer stride, a lift at the base of her neck, or a lift in her shoulders.

It took three rides for her to start offering what I've called a "parade walk."
She lifts her neck and telescopes, her long ears knife back and forth through
the air, and she is moving along with great energy. She loves it because it is
her own idea. Alex says that every behavior you train should have an aspect of
free-shaping to it. Free-shaping is what makes the horse really "own" the
behavior. It has really changed the way she relates to leg cues. When she is
really "on" she will offer passage-y trot departs from a halt, with only a
breath of leg as the cue. It is such a dramatic difference!   

So I've been trying it. I started by clicking him for offering his awesome walk out on the trail, hoping that would help him make the association. Once we got in the ring, I messed up at first by trying to click for too many things. I'd click for good forward, then I'd click for bend, then I'd click for turning on the forehand. It was too much and Coriander was confused, "what exactly are you looking for, human?" So on Saturday I changed my tactics, I clicked for him choosing to go forward on his own and that was it. If he got super pluggy I asked him for a bunch of transitions until he livened up and then I'd find a time to click him for moving out on his own. It worked SO well! We even got a couple of canter strides on both leads for the first time ever!

I'm going to keep this up until he's consistently moving forward on his own inside the ring, then I'll choose specific rides to click for bend, or for contact, or anything else. I think the key will be to only reward for ONE behavior per ride to avoid confusion. I'll let you know how it goes.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Long Toes in Horses: A Pain in the Butt?

I just got a tip about this article from The Horse:http://www.thehorse.com/ViewArticle.aspx?ID=18195&eID=329716.

Your equine athlete's performance hasn't been blue ribbon-worthy as of late. Or maybe your broodmare's gaits are looking a little off kilter. Could long toes on the hind feet be to blame? According to the results of a recent study, the answer in some cases is yes and sometimes the solution can be very simple.

"The hind limb stance in (horses with long toes) is one in which the load-bearing surface of the hoof appears to be too far forward in relation to the coronary band and to the fetlock and cannon bone," said Richard A. Mansmann, VMD, PhD, hon. Dipl. ACVIM, professor emeritus at North Carolina State University's College of Veterinary Medicine, where this study was completed, and owner of the Equine Podiatry and Rehabilitation Practice in Chapel Hill. "These horses tend to 'stand under themselves' with their hind feet, meaning that at rest the foot is placed further forward than normal in relation to the vertical axis of the limb and the main mass of the hind quarter, giving the horse a sickle-hocked appearance."

Armed with that information, the research team set out to determine if long toes could be a cause of gluteal (the muscles that run along the back of a horse's hindquarters on either side of the tail) pain in horses, and if corrective trimming and/or shoeing could correct the problem and eliminate the pain.

Mansmann noted that the term "long toe" is too subjective to use in a research study because of varying opinions on exactly what constitutes long. Thus, the team determined the hooves' breakover distance as an objective measure in the study. They did this by measuring the horizontal distance between the tip of the horse's coffin bone and the dorsal-most point at which the hoof wall or shoe came in contact with the ground, as seen on lateral radiographs. He added that for the average-sized horse, the ideal breakover distance is likely between 0 and 20 mm.

The researchers evaluated 77 client-owned horses that were either examined by a team member in the field or were presented to the private practice from April 2006 to December 2007. The horses were either low- to medium- level performance horses or nonpregnant broodmares of various breeds, ranging in age from 4 to 24 years old. All of the horses had at least one set of lateral radiographs taken of their hind feet and on the same day Mansmann palpated their gluteal muscles.

The team split the horses into two groups: 67 shod horses and 10 barefoot horses.
In the group of shod horses, 50 out of 67 tested positive for pain (i.e., displayed an exaggerated response to palpation that consisted of one or more of the following: buckling of the hind limbs, pinning the ears back, threatening to kick the examiner, or kicking at the examiner) and 17 horses tested negative (did not react to palpation).

The average breakover distance for horses that displayed a positive response to palpation was 24.2 mm, while the average breakover distance for negative horses was 18.8 mm. The researchers noted that "although small, the difference in mean breakover distance between positive and negative horses was statistically significant."

In the group of barefoot nonpregnant broodmares (all housed in the same environment and not being ridden) all 10 displayed positive reactions to palpation. The average breakover distance for this group of horses was 25.6 mm.

To evaluate whether corrective trimming or shoeing could resolve the gluteal pain, the team reduced the breakover distance in all the painful horses' hind limbs and reevaluated the animals:

Only 24 shod horses (of the 50 that had been found painful) were available for a follow-up evaluation four to six weeks after corrective trimming or shoeing; however, all of those horses showed reduced gluteal pain. Twenty of the horses were negative for a reaction to palpation and the remaining four were only mildly positive (the researchers noted that all four of those were negative to palpation after another four to six weeks and a second corrective trim). The new average breakover distance for these horses was 10.9 mm.

All of the barefoot broodmares received follow-up evaluations one week after corrective trimming. Eight of the 10 were negative for reaction to palpation and two were mildly positive. The average breakover distance for these horses after corrective trimming also was 10.9 mm.

"Excessive toe length in the hind feet might be accompanied by pain in the gluteal region," Mansmann wrote in the study. "Shortening the toe can alleviate this pain within days or weeks."

The team added that "in cases where the toe length or gluteal pain was adversely affecting the horse's comfort or function, one could also expect an improvement in the horse's gait and performance after remedial trimming or shoeing."
So how can you tell if your horse's feet are causing him gluteal pain or if they might require evaluation?

Mansmann explained that most horses in need of a hind end evaluation will display behavioral problems including not performing as expected, not being willing to move off the leg, or stopping at jumps. He also noted that these horses might display signs of a sore back. Additionally, "any horse where their hind foot coronet is slanted such that an extended line (following the coronary band line) hits them behind the elbows should be evaluated," he said.

He added that most farriers, with the aid of the veterinarian and hind foot radiographs, can evaluate and adjust the breakover for a particular horse if needed.

The study, "Long Toes in the Hind Feet in the Gluteal Region: An Observational Study of 77 Horses," was published in the December 2010 Journal of Equine Veterinary Science. The abstract is available online.

Click here to read my post about this topic.

Want to see some excessively long hind toes?
I trimmed this horse a few weeks ago, took an inch of excess material off those toes. Horse felt so good he started playing with the owner's dog when I finished. Unfortunately that dog got hit by a car and has been in critical condition since then so the owner hasn't been able to call me back out.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Everyday clicker training

At the last clicker training clinic, Alex said something that really stuck with me, "sometimes I click to say thank you." I realized that I do that too, I think every clicker trainer does. I feel that anytime I c/t my horses for a well-ingrained behavior I'm doing it to say thank you.

When I arrive at the pasture and go out to see my horses, the first thing I do is touch them and c/t. If they are really involved with grazing they'll wait for me to approach them.
Gwen was faking me out- she galloped over to me as soon as I put the camera down.
But typically they approach me. Either way, my horses are never hard to catch.

 If I need to halter them, I'll c/t after I buckle it on. Then I'll reinforce them for walking nicely next to me up to the barn. I prefer to walk shoulder to shoulder with a loose lead and enough room to raise my elbow between the two (or three) of us. I'll usually c/t every 15-20 steps if they're in the correct position, a little extra reinforcement never hurt anybody and I find it helps keep their attention on me.

I don't c/t while I'm grooming them, I tried it a while back and found that it made them fidget, but I will occasionally c/t them while I'm tacking up. I'll c/t Coriander for letting me put the bridle on and I'll c/t Gwen for bridling and for standing still while I cinch up the saddle. Then I walk them over to the mounting block, where I'll c/t them for standing still while I run the stirrups down and check the girth again.

When mounting I very rarely click them for standing still before I get on, but I do click and treat every time I slide into the saddle. With Coriander I wait until I've got my feet in the stirrups to click, but for Gwen I click as soon as I'm upright on her back. I was having issues with Coriander a while back because I was clicking before I got my feet in the stirrups, he'd eat the food and start walking off before I was ready, so now he has to wait. This has worked very well for me, they both stand like stones now.

I also click and treat every time I dismount. My hope is that when I fall off, because it's going to happen, that my horses will be so used to looking for the treat when I hit the ground that they'll immediately turn to me instead of running off into oblivion. With any luck, I won't have to test out this theory anytime soon.

When I'm putting them back in the pasture for the night, each horse has a different routine. Coriander will walk through the gate, wait for me to ask his hips to move over so I can close the gate, and then stand and wait for me to take his halter off- I click and treat him once for this "loop." Gwen is different, she likes to walk in the gate and directly over to the water to grab a drink, I'll wait for her to finish and then I take her halter off and c/t. I think she does this because she knows I'll hold Rocky off so she can drink her fill without getting harassed, so I haven't gotten picky about this behavior.

Rocky tends to throw a bit of a monkey wrench in my training with her issues, sometimes I have to tie her up so I can get my horses in and out of the pasture. She likes to hover over the gate and snaps at my horses if they get too close to her- so they do their best to avoid her. She's an interesting horse, that Rocky, she bites and kicks at my horses all the time but is still terribly attached to them, especially Gwen. She might be the topic of another post someday.

Anyway, back to my horses, because of our end-of-the-day routine I never have to worry about them bolting away from me or pulling other sorts of nastiness when I turn them loose. That's not to say they never gallop off when I let them go but they always wait until I've given them their treat and walked away before they run off.

I feel that continuing to c/t these behaviors that they know well helps to create mutual respect between us. They know what I expect of them and I know what they expect of me. Obviously I'm not teaching them anything because they already know these behaviors, but I really like having a way to say "thank you" that they understand and appreciate.