Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Thoughts on barns

This is the only man-made shelter that has been available to my horses since I moved them in July. Has this been a bit of a hassle for me sometimes when it rains or gets dark early, or it rains after it gets dark early (like tonight)? Yes. Enough of a hassle to move them back into stall board?

Oh Hell No!!!

I'm pretty sure my horses are the happiest they've ever been right now. Out in the pasture peace and tranquility flow off them in waves. What's funny is that I never realized how much both of my horses disliked stall life until they weren't in them anymore.

Gwen's distress was obvious. Her panic whenever she was left without a stall buddy was pretty explicit. Less so were her calls to me whenever I arrived at the barn. She knew the sound of my car, if the barn was quiet enough that she could hear it she'd be calling to me before I even got out. If the barn was noisy she'd scream to me as soon as she saw me (the other boarders always knew I was there, she made sure of that). I thought it was endearing, until she moved out to pasture and didn't do it anymore. That made me sad until I really thought about it. Every time she'd call to me in the barn it always had a note of panic in it. I think she was making frantic pleas to me to get her out of there.

Coriander was never as obvious as his sister, he practiced avoidance. For one thing, I'm pretty sure that he didn't stick his head out of his stall if I wasn't there. He'd grab all his hay and pull it into the back of his stall to eat away from the aisle activity. I just took these as signs that he was a little standoffish, but I've found out that he's really not, he's usually the first one to approach me in the pasture. And you should see him now with his pile of hay- he sets up camp in front of it, cocks a leg, and just chews away. He doesn't feel any need to drag his hay around. Not to mention that I'm still battling the horrible thrush he picked up from standing in those stalls.

Would they have had a different experience if it had been a nicer barn run by better people? Who knows. All I know is that tonight, while there was blowing rain all over the place, my horses were not standing under the shelter where it was dry. They were standing out in the open, waiting for me to bring their hay to them, and I was happy to oblige.

Sunday, November 28, 2010


Radal El Wadi 1981-2003

I was on fall break from college, so since I didn't get to ride Dal much anymore I just pulled him out of the pasture, put his bridle on, and headed up the road bareback. We lived on a dirt road in the middle of nowhere, half a mile up the lane there was a section of road where trees completely covered the road like a tunnel. It was a picturesque autumn in upstate NY, the leaves had changed and had started to fall off the trees.From the passage of the few cars that traveled our road, the leaves had been formed into long mounds that bordered the roads.

Dal and I were leisurely strolling up the road when he starting drifting towards the right side of the road. I didn't think much about it and steered him back towards the middle of the road (no traffic remember). He drifted off to the side again and I corrected him again. When he drifted a third time it finally dawned on me that he was doing it on purpose so I let him go.

He went directly into the mound of leaves on the side of the road and started DRAGGING his feet through it. He had a grand time playing in the leaves. I laughed so hard I almost fell off.

I miss that horse.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The kitty litter experiment

Remember how I mentioned a while ago that I might try throwing a bag of kitty litter on Gwen's back to get her used to having more weight up there? Well tonight I gave it a try.
I brought Gwen in under the lights and put the western saddle on her. The first thing I did was stand to her left, grasp the horn of the saddle with my right hand and jump straight up. Interestingly, her head went up at the same rate that I did. Hmm... should have done this last March. Coulda, shoulda, woulda, right? We did that a few more times before I switched sides and did it again. Gwen has made me a believer of the "different side, different horse" mantra, so I always make sure to work both sides before proceeding.

I then went over and grabbed the bag of kitty litter. Apparently it wasn't a bag of litter like I thought it was, instead it was a bomb. At least that's what Gwen told me as she snorted and bugged out her eyes. We spent the next 15 minutes touching the bomb/kitty litter. At first I had to click her for just looking in my direction, but it didn't take long for her to come over on her own and touch the bag with her nose. We did this on both sides and then I raised the back towards her back. I waited until she dropped her head to click her and put the bag down.

Eventually she let me put the bag on the saddle, where I'd wait for her lower her head, then click and take the bag off. I kept going until she didn't even pick her head up when I put the bag in the saddle and then I put the litter away for the night. To finish up, I asked her to move over by pressing the stirrups into her sides. As this work goes on I'll look for her to move her hindquarters over if I press further back and her shoulders if I stay near the girth, but today I just wanted her to move.

Overall I think the kitty litter experiment was pretty successful. Her only response to the weight was to throw her head up, otherwise she didn't move. I don't know how well it will translate for her having me get in the saddle (I weigh 100 pounds more than the kitty litter), but it can't hurt to have her get used to more activity around her back. We'll definitely be doing more of this in the weeks to come.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Four happy horses

Eating hay:
Not having daylight during the week combined with back issues has slowed me down quite a bit. It seems like all I've done since the time change is feed hay and pick poo piles out of the pasture.

I did manage to take Coriander out for a little ride today. He and I both wanted to go for a trail ride something awful but, sadly, it's hunting season out there and, no offense to any hunters reading my blog, too many hunters are idiots for me to risk it. We ended up in the ring next door but we were both feeling pretty meh about it so we didn't really get anything accomplished- until I got off and was walking him back home. The fastest way back is right next to the pasture of a particularly feisty spotted draft horse (Toby) who loves to charge the fence at us when we walk past.Well I didn't see him coming this time, but Coriander did and he almost jumped out of his skin, poor boy. But he didn't jump past the end of the reins, he jumped to my side and stopped. I was very impressed (and thankful, it would have killed my back), he trusts me enough to seek me out when he's scared and he respects the slack in the lead enough to keep it there even when he freaks out. He got a nice, long grazing break outside of the pasture while Toby could only stand there and watch. Served him right for scaring the wits out of my horse.

When I got back I grabbed Gwen, put the western saddle on her and took her for a walk. She's been a lot more relaxed since she's gone out with Rocky and Coriander and we've been able to get a lot further alone now. She was grazing nicely up by Mark's house (about 200 yards from the pasture and out of sight), when Mark's tractor started up. We were both pretty startled by it and Gwen tried to get the hell out of Dodge, but only to the end of the slack in the rope! Two horses in one day, I'm doubly impressed.

Lesson of the day: If you keep slack in the rope for your horses, your horses will keep slack in the rope for you too!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

A little inspiration

I watched a Peter Leone clinic at the stable next door with a bunch of my lesson-mates last weekend. He did three lessons that day, and in the third lesson a teenaged girl and her little pony proceeded to ride the pants off of everybody else at the clinic. Girl and pony were like a well-oiled machine, working in perfect harmony, and that little 12 hand pony was flying over 3' jumps like they weren't even there. They were so impressive together that Peter, a former Olympian, told the girl that if she could ride like that on a horse, her country needs her.

Wow, right? Of course I had to compliment this girl on her pony. The first thing she said was that the pony had been donated to Cornell by her first owners because she was rank under saddle. My jaw just about fell off at that. Looking at this pony now you'd never believe it. Her mom told me that the girl had been riding that pony for 7 years and had been doing most of the training herself. They spend most of their time doing dressage and jump only once a week. Obviously that training schedule is working.

Imagine my surprise when two days later I randomly clicked onto the Ansur Saddle homepage and found that girl and her pony! It seems the pair have been kicking butt and taking names up and down the entire East Coast for the past couple of years. They've medaled at USEF shows, the Devon show, The Four Seasons Horse Show and more - together those two are practically unstoppable.

The page linked to a YouTube video of the two during a competition, take a look:

The girl's name is Rachel Fleszar and her pony is Valley Girl, aka Currie. Keep an eye out for her, because this girl is going places, and it all started with a pony that somebody else gave up on.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Tacking up is so stressful

My husband taped this without telling me, actually he told me he wasn't taping. You can see me halfway through giving him a suspicious glance.

Look at how tense Coriander is, how cold backed and girthy. Obviously being saddled is a huge issue for him...

Sarcasm doesn't always translate very well in type. I thought this video was funny, it demonstrates very clearly Coriander's motto "I'm just here for the food." Seriously, I can do almost anything to this horse if he's got a pile of hay in front of his face. I'm just making the right thing really, stinking easy.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Flare debate

I was perusing through blogs the other day when I came upon this post on Cherry Hill's blog:

Hoof Shape
by Richard Klimesh
© 2010 Richard Klimesh © Copyright Information

The hoof is a plastic structure, that is, stress can cause it to change shape. A hoof is strongest when the entire hoof wall from the coronary band to the ground is straight, without flares. A flare is a concave bend, or dip, in the hoof; a flare at the toe is called a dish.

Flares weaken the hoof wall and can lead to cracks. A dished toe can affect a horse’s movement and long term soundness by causing the toe of the shoe to be too far forward. This makes it more difficult for the hoof to break over and can cause forging (hitting of the front shoes with the hinds) and more serious problems like those caused by Long Toe/Low Heel.

Flares can result from hoof imbalance, poor genes, inadequate nutrition, too much moisture, or most likely, a combination of these factors. Serious flares are easy to see, but early flares are not as obvious. To check if a hoof is developing a flare or dish, lay a pencil against the hoof wall. Space under the center of the pencil indicates a flare or dish.
Most hooves tend to develop flares and dishes to some degree but they can usually be kept in check if a shoer takes the time to “dress” the hoof wall straight with a rasp every time the horse is trimmed. This doesn’t mean the entire wall is indiscriminately rasped – only where a flare or dish is forming. Even neglected feet that have developed wide flares or deep dishes can be improved dramatically with one trimming and gradually retrained with regular care.

In order to control flares, the bottom of the hoof where the flare was located is sometimes sculpted out, or “relieved”, with the rasp so that the hoof at that area bears no weight. This removes the bending forces on that portion of the hoof so new hoof horn grows down straighter. Another approach is to rasp the flares to about half the thickness of the hoof wall and apply a shoe with side clips located at the flares. The clips prevent the hoof from flaring and encourage the hoof wall to grow down straight. 

Huh, that doesn't quite mesh with what I've been researching on causes of flares and how to treat them. Check this out from Marjorie's page (www.barefoothorse.com):

A flare is separation of the hoof wall, away from the coffin bone. Often the wall curves outwards at the bottom like the bell of a trumpet. You can feel even the slightest flare with your hand, and you can generally see a flare by looking at the hoof wall with your eye or camera at ground level, and moving around the foot to see all parts of the wall.
A flare due to laminitis or long-term mechanical stress (shoes or a pulled-forward toe) often is straight in outline, and may be difficult to recognize. The angle of the wall changes abruptly, high up -- sometimes so close to the coronet that you can't see where it changes.
Flare tells us that white line stretching or separation has occurred and the hoof wall is not attached to the coffin bone in that area. Flare and white line separation are the same thing. When you look at the sole of a flared foot, the white line beside the flare is dirty (stretched) or makes a small groove (separated) between the wall and the sole. To say it the other way around, you will find a flare where the white line is dirty or grooved.
When the white line has pulled apart -- like pulling the two sides of Velcro (hook and loop fastener) apart -- the two sides cannot re-attach to each other. A new connection must grow down from the coronet (hairline) -- just as, if you tear part of your fingernail, you have to wait for the fingernail to grow out from the quick.
Most flares occur at the bottom of the wall, where ground contact mechanically starts to pry the wall away from the bone. Occasionally a hind foot that is overgrown in the toe but short in the heel, will form a bulge ("bull-nose") halfway up the toe wall. The white line at the bulge is stretched because the unusual mechanical forces in this shape of a hoof pull the wall away from the bone.

Then there's this from Pete Ramey's page, www.hoofrehab.com:

How to grow them out? Diet is certainly most of it, regardless of the trim method you use. I think it is important to relieve flared areas from active ground pressure with the mustang roll beginning from the ground surface exactly where it would be if there was no flare. Depending on current sole thickness, I try to accomplish this on the first, second or third trim. I do rasp the flares from the lower 1/3 of the outer wall on most set-up trims, but am careful not to thin the walls or lamellar wedge so much that there is a risk of the horse kicking a rock and bruising the dermal laminae. After the setup trim, I rarely do more than lightly dress the outer wall to eliminate superficial fungal cracks. Often I don’t even find a need for that.  

What I find interesting is that while they agree on what a flare is, they don't seem to agree on why they occur or how to deal with them. Right off the bat I need to admit that I've drunk the barefooter's Koolaide, but I can admit that doesn't necessarily mean they are always right. To me the barefooter's explanation of flare and how to deal with it is more in line with the laws of physics and how hooves are designed. So I'm a little confused as to why the traditional farrier doesn't mention anything at all about long hoof walls- unless that's what he's alluding to when mentioning unbalanced hooves. He says he *sometimes* carves out the bottom of the wall  to relieve the pressure, but the first thing the farrier recommends to treat the flare is just to rasp off the outer wall until it's gone. According to the barefoot philosophy this would just disguise the problem and wouldn't do anything at all to fix it. So...
  • if the farrier knows that pressure on the hoof wall is making the flare worse, why doesn't he always advocate shortening the hoof wall? Is it because if you took down the hoof wall low enough to avoid it you wouldn't have enough wall to nail a shoe to? 
  • if the farrier is always "dressing the hoof wall," AKA rasping it thinner and thinner, to get rid of the flare aren't they just taking away the material that's supposed to hold the shoe on? Wouldn't this lead to more pulled shoes because the wall is no longer thick enough to hold the nails?
 I don't mean to bash farriers: making shoes, fitting them to hooves, and nailing them on properly is an art. An art that I couldn't do. I'm just wondering if their trimming philosophy couldn't be tweaked a little.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Oh my aching back!

I haven't been able to ride in over a week because of my back. The combination of walking funny on a broken foot and no gym time has caused the muscles in my back to rebel and they've been cramping like there's no tomorrow. It's been a bummer. I missed the last week of being able to ride in daylight after work and I had to miss this week's lesson, plus I wasn't able to get a video for my new dressage trainer. Yes, I'm feeling sorry for myself right now.

Of course Coriander doesn't mind his vacation, and I have been able to do a bit of ground  work with them. We've been doing a bit of Why Would You Leave Me (that's a video link) to help the quarters learn to bend around circles (Gwen is better than her brother at this, interesting). Then my husband came out with me on Sunday to take Coriander so I could walk Gwen again. We took them up to the top of the fields right next to the woods. Gwen saw her first downed tree and found it to be spooktastic (ow). Fortunately after only a little bit of blowing she realized it wasn't going to kill her. We then came upon her very first water crossing which she leapt over (double ow, she was leading on a loose line but her leap took her to the end of the slack). We'll have to work on those a little more but that will wait until I'm not hurting.

In the meantime I've been working on my back. I tried going to the gym, didn't help, kept going to the gym anyway. I tried taking ibuprofen, helped for a little while but wore off. I tried a hot pack, that helps but I need to have it on continuously, which means I'm running to the microwave every half hour. But after walking Gwen on Sunday and almost not being able to breathe anytime I had to walk quickly, I decided it was time for stronger action.

Time for acupuncture. If you've never tried it and you're not deathly afraid of needles you should give it a go sometime. It doesn't hurt when the needles are tapped in but it can sting a little when they are twisted after that. Once you get past the initial setup you usually get an hour to feel some really funky things happening to your body. I've gotten treatments before for migraines and for my broken ankle and every time I've gone I've felt something different.

Yesterday she put the needles in my back all along the knotted muscles and in my ankles. I felt a tingling in my back and then the familiar feeling of waves running through my body, pushing the pain out. Then something weird happened- my scalp started cramping! That was really weird, but I could feel my back relaxing as my scalp got tighter, and then it passed. When I got up I could feel the difference in my back muscles, it's rather amazing sometimes.

The good news is today I feel much better, not great yet, but closer than I was yesterday morning. Hopefully I'll even be able to ride this week!

Has anyone reading this gotten acupuncture for their horses? I'm wondering if the horses sometime exhibit strange behaviors while they're being treated, indicating that they feel odd sensations like I did.

ps: Here's another photo of us at the show http://jeffreyfootephotography.zenfolio.com/p274034696/e27f0f8c.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Comfort in companionship

Or Gwen surveys the countryside...

I've been thinking for a while that Gwen needs another horse to go along with her once or twice so that she can see that the fields above her pasture are safe but I hadn't quite figured out how to do it. I could pony while I ride Coriander, but I really don't want to be aboard if she were to freak out and cause a wreck. I also don't really want to lead them both together and become the gooey center of a quarter sandwich. The solution is to add another human but they aren't always in good supply.

Last night I got lucky, when I arrived at the pasture Rocky's human (Carly) was taking her out for a ride. She graciously agreed to a leisurely walk so that I could take Gwen along.

My girl started out being a role model for the sometimes crotchety Rocky, she walked out of the pasture with me on a loose lead while Rocky grew roots and didn't want to move (something she does a lot). We walked up the driveway together past the horse eating canoe (snort, blow) and then embarked into parts unknown for my girl. She looked around a little and then looked down and noticed all the ungrazed grass below her feet. She then spent the rest of the trip trying to gorge and walk at the same time. That ended up creating some interesting moments. I didn't fight with her about the grazing since I wanted the experience to be positive and relaxed for her but more than once she got left behind while she was eating. She then felt the need to trot and catch up with Rocky but she was listening and respectful of my space while on a loose lead the whole time. No flip outs!

She even ended up in the lead more than once. When Rocky would see something that bothered her and wouldn't move I'd take Gwen out in front for Rocky to follow. She did get a lot more alert when she was in front but she didn't get upset. We even came upon a person in a tree, Mark was hunting, and it didn't bother her a bit.

It was a great experience and proved to me that if she's feeling confident I can throw almost anything at her and she can take it in stride. The trick is how to get her confident, sometimes it requires a bit of creativity. This is definitely a part of horse training that no one ever talks about: taking your horse for walks. Hey, it works for us!