Thursday, July 28, 2011

Forward Foot Syndrome

This post is for in2paints (and anyone else who is interested): A moderator for one of the listserves I read posted this last night and I thought it was a really good explanation of forward foot syndrome and how to fix it. Walt's words are in black. You can find some more info about it on Jenny's page.

With all the rest, one additional problem all newbies to trimming face is semantics. Those of us who are used to talking "horse" and "hoof" throw terms around easily, and for the most part we understand each other -- but it takes some time to reach that condition. Some say it's almost like being suddenly dropped into the east end of London where cockney is spoken. Cockney is the nonstandard dialect of English spoken by many of the residents, who understand each other, but to those who haven't been there for long it almost sounds like a foreign language, and it takes some getting used to. Well, talking horse isn't quite like Cockney (though some of our spouses may think so). But I'll grant you that "lowering" heels and "bringing them back" at minimum sounds like a dichotomy. Just stick with it, and "horsespeak" will eventually rub off on you.

Meantime, the two primary dicta of hoof care are "bringing the toe back" and "lowering the heels". These two actions alone go far in assuring proper foot function. They are both "little things", easily accomplished, but are extremely important for proper foot function, and unfortunately, many trimmers fail to do so. I'll try an explanation without graphics -- which can be hard for both of us. As the foot continues to get little or improper trimming, the toe tends to grow long and the heel forward. The heel would actually be growing high, but the forces pulling everything forward also bend the heel tubules and bring the heels forward instead of downward. Other symptoms develop, eventually, like curvy, laid-over bars, and a long, thin, pencil-like frog. This condition is known as Forward Foot Syndrome (FFS).

Let's get to the heel -- too high / too far forward. The easy one is lowering the heels -- that means they've grown too long (but their tubules are still straight, not bent forward -- more on that in a moment). Some trimmers allow long heels in order to induce a certain "way of going" for the horse, for appearance sake while moving, mostly. Problem is, a high heel forces the coffin bone's tip to tilt downward. Coffin bone should be close to ground parallel so that the horse's weight bearing down on the sole is evenly distributed over the broad expanse of the sole. A lowered c.b. tip puts most of the weight-bearing load on the sole under the bone tip. That's got to hurt, it pinches the sole itself, and ironically, it can cause a heel-first landing which we DON'T want in this case -- because it's an attempt by the horse to ease his discomfort in the toe area. So keep the heel height down to a point where when the foot is properly balanced, the c.b. is ground parallel. Where is that point? You'll end up finding it on your own horse, but you gotta start somewhere. There is a lot written
about heel height, and several plausible methods for keeping it just right: I think a good place to start is to trim it down to the point where a healthy frog will touch ground at the same time the heel buttresses do so. If the frog isn't suitable as a reference, you can carefully scrape all the dead sole you can get to out of the Seats of Corn, and trim the heel buttresses to be on the order of maybe 1/4-inch higher than that live sole plane in the Seat.

Now how about bringing the heel back? This is a little more complicated. As FFS develops, the toe grows long, the white line actually starts to stretch around the toe, and the heel is pulled forward. But the heel starts out growing at a downward angle. It keeps on growing if not trimmed or worn, and with FFS, it makes a rather sudden direction of growth change from down to forward. From then on, it continues to grow (tubules get longer), but the direction has become forward. Consider a broom: prepare to sweep, and hold it vertical on the ground as you press downward. Because of the broom's "tubules", let's call them, being vertical and supporting each other, there is good resistance to downward pressure. That's what we want in healthy heel buttresses. Now lean the broom at an angle and continue to press straight down. The broom "tubules" now bend en masse along the ground, and there is little resistance to your pressure. That's what we DON'T want to happen to the heel tubules in an FFS foot.

So what if they do bend forward, you ask? Well, the horse still supports himself on his heels, but because the lowest point on an underslung heel (which takes the horse's weight as he moves) is not on the ends of the tubules where the strength lies (the broom analogy?), but rather somewhere part-way down the tubules, the part that's actually on the ground, where there is no supporting strength. We need to correct the condition, which can take some time. The objective is to get tubule ends in ground contact so they can do their work. Proper trimming of an underslung heel requires shaving off a little at a time -- you'll be taking off what amounts to the side of the buttress -- until you've created enough shorter tubules to begin to take the horse's weight comfortably. You cannot just rasp off all the bent-forward heel tubules.

This heel buttress repair procedure is much more complex and time-consuming than taking back the toe, but both are necessary in an FFS foot. It's a major reason for not allowing FFS to develop in the first place, and all it takes to prevent it is rendering a proper trim. At EVERY trim, take the toes back and trim the heels, even if it's just a very small amount. For maintenance trimming, you can regularly take the toe back with vertical rasp strokes, removing the outer layer between roughly 2:00 to 10:00. Remember, because of the toe angle, you're actually removing very little of outer wall layer tissue. This, together with a rocker will help keep breakover back toward the frog tip, but you're also leaving the inner wall layer intact and at full strength to help support the horse as he moves.

I know that this has been rather heavy. I hope it's clear enough for you. Don't worry too much -- this isn't rocket science, it's mostly just common sense.


Wednesday, July 27, 2011

ZOMG! White things!

The temps have finally fallen below ridiculous here which means I can get back to work. My first order of business was to ride Coriander. I was a bit worried about how it would go since he hasn't been ridden in a week but he was pretty good. My lesson about no unrequested forward appears to be sinking in- we only had to circle twice. We had some interesting transitions though, we're still working on getting a specific lead so I've been trying to incorporate a lot of canter transitions into our rides. I asked for a right lead first and got the left, then I asked for the left and got the right. Either he was feeling contrary or my body control was out of wack. I'm guessing the latter (it's always the human, right?).

After our ride I got Gwen out and fed them dinner, then I hooked her up for some ground driving. I'm really enjoying doing this with her. If she's never comfortable being ridden I could still have a ton of fun with her ground driving. How cool would be it be if she could do all the upper level dressage work on the lines? Pretty darn cool, and she would find it easy. I may just do that anyway...

Back to business- Mark was trimming trees in our normal area so I took her out to the other Christmas tree field, the one she's never been all the way through and finds a little nerve wracking. She was nervous when we walked in (we have to walk in a little alley through a hedge), but she quickly got over her nerves and put her "exploring hat" on. I actually had a hard time turning her around to come back because she wanted to keep going! Love that.

She had a bit of a scare on the way back though:
"ZOMG! There's a WHITE THING on that trailer!"

She did her best "Arabian in a halter class" impression: Arching her neck, snorting, bugging her eyes out of her head, spinning and bending all over the place. If it was a shiny white thing I would have ushered her away from it (because of her sensitive eyes), but this wasn't shiny so we got to play Touch The Goblin instead. Can you step toward it? Yes, click and treat. How about closer? Closer still? Finally she got right next to it and I asked her to target on it. As soon as she did that, the fear was gone and she discovered that there was grass all around it. "What white thing? All I see is green." Love that too.

Here's what I don't love:
Gwen's getting rubs from her fly mask.

She has SUCH sensitive skin that I'm not surprised by this but I wish it weren't happening, we're still right in the middle of bug season and I don't want her to get eye or ear problems from the bugs. I've still got the old style mask that don't have the ear covers that I could put on her, but I don't like how much more difficult that thick, white mesh is to see through than the finer, black mesh on the new ones. For now she's wearing Swat eyeliner until her face heals (the clear Swat, not the pink stuff). She's been very good about letting me put it on but now I'm concerned that the Swat will damage the skin around her eyes.

Ugh, I love summer but I could do without the flies!

Friday, July 22, 2011

If I could turn back time

(Is Cher singing in your head now? Sorry about that)

Due to the heatwave I haven't done anything with the quarters. I hose them off, let them loose to graze, feed them dinner and call it a day. Nothing interesting to say there.

What is interesting is that the hot, humid weather affects my ankle much more than the cold. It aches, and when it aches I sometimes find myself wishing I could go back in time and not try to get on Gwen that day.

But maybe it happened for a reason.

If it weren't for my broken ankle I would not have noticed the BO's ever-increasing hostile attitude toward me my horses when I did, I would not have looked on Craigslist on the exact day that Mark advertised his pasture board, and my horses wouldn't be in the great place they are right now.

Even though that experience is not one that I'd like to live through again, I would not go back in time and erase it. I like where I am right now, I like where the horses are right now, and I wouldn't want to change it.

How about you? Are there any experiences that you initially thought you'd like to go back and change but finally decided you wouldn't?

Sunday, July 17, 2011

When it's too hot to ride...

Go for a walk!
"Are we going over there?"

Coriander  is content to follow his sister

Probably because of all the noms

"How do you like this pose?"

"Hurry up, I want to go this way!"

Gwen got a little sweaty

"He budged!"

Scary, scary jump of death

Not so scary after all

"What jump? All I see is this yummy grass."

"Hey, I know where we are! Let's trot!"

"Thanks for the walk and the noms!"

Thursday, July 14, 2011

You don't know what you don't know

My apologies if this post ends up being kind of boring but I feel like I've got to get this out...

It's come to my attention recently that I haven't been doing this clicker training thing quite right. Well, really I should say that Coriander has told me I'm doing it wrong. In a nutshell- he doesn't get it. Figuring this out has kind of knocked me for a loop. Where did I mess up?

After conducting some research it all boils down to the fact that I didn't really understand what I was doing either. I was incompetent and I didn't even know it. Maybe you've heard of this before- the four stages of competence:
1. Unconscious Incompetence
The individual does not understand or know how to do something and does not necessarily recognize the deficit.

2. Conscious Incompetence
Though the individual does not understand or know how to do something, he or she does recognize the deficit.

3. Conscious Competence
The individual understands or knows how to do something. However, demonstrating the skill or knowledge requires concentration.

4. Unconscious Competence
The individual has had so much practice with a skill that it has become “second nature” and can be performed easily. He or she may be able to teach it to others, depending upon how and when it was learned.
 This recent bombshell has slung me right out of stage 1 blubbering and shivering into stage 2. Now I'm trying to claw my way into stage 3 by learning as much as I possibly can. The funny thing is while I was doing my research I ran into this description of the horse's stages of clicker training from Katie Bartlett's site:  
  1. All You Can Eat Food Bar Stage:  The horse thinks the trainer is a walking food bar.  The horse can be greedy and can be pushy.  He only sees what this food bar can do for him.
  2. Trigger Stage:  The horse makes a connection between the bridge sound and the food.  It might be easy for some folks to think that this stage means the horse has figured out what this training is all about, but I don't think so (yet). Mugging can be just as obnoxious if it isn't stopped, but he is coming to see there is a sequence.  At this point, they may appear to get it, but the horse tends to be inconsistent and easily frustrated. 
  3. Lightbulb Stage:  The horse makes a connection between a behavior causing the bridge (click), which triggers the food vendor to vend.  If the horse is emotionally immature and hasn't bought into the 'process', they may appear to have 'gotten it' but in reality, some personalities may be easily frustrated because they are struggling with: do they want the treat enough to do .   They are coming to see this is their choice and that alone can be a new and unusual state for certain horses.   At this point, some prior understanding of training will help progress the horse to the next stage.  A trainer can *prevent* a horse from moving on to the next stage by increasing pressure instead of waiting for the horse to choose the correct response at this stage because the horse learns that if he doesn't do it, he will be pressured.  In the worst case, the treat can become a bribe instead of a reward.  This is a trainer issue, not a c/t issue.  The only way to progress a horse thru this stage is to keep on keepin’ on with consistent training behavior so that the horse can 'buy in'.
  4. Buy-In Stage:  The horse develops an understanding of “learning” (not just a behavior causes the click but a particular behavior causes a click.  He has developed some level of trust in the trainer - that the trainer will not ask for anything too unreasonable, even if things appear scary.  I think this stage is where many repetitions often occur in order to refine a behavior.  And at this state, the horse is beginning to see that there is an end to the means, in his own way.
  5. Eureka Stage: The horse and trainer develop a dialog of learning where chains of behavior can be built without extensive repetitions because a dialog has been established between the horse and trainer.  At this stage, the horse has finally learned to learn and in this last phase, the actual food motivator can become less important than the dialog and the game.  Some people may not make a distinction between Buy-In and Eureka.
It appears that Coriander's been stuck in stage 2; amazingly, I would put Gwen in stage 3. I think because I've taught her more behaviors than Coriander she's had more of an opportunity to "get it." She also has a much more cooperative personality than her brother does. Not to say that he's not cooperative, he just needs more of a reason for doing things than she does. Consequently he's a great teacher. Love your horses for all their characteristics, folks. You never know what they'll be worth.

Anyway, back to my research. I bought a copy of Karen Pryor's, "Don't Shoot the Dog," and I'm SO happy I did. The title is a bit of a misnomer- this is not a book about dog training, there is some dog training in it but that's not the focus. The point of the book is to explain what operant conditioning and positive reinforcement are and how to use them to train any being with a central nervous system. Including people. Get a copy, you won't be disappointed.

Since I'm still casting my net far and wide to find the best sources of knowledge, I was excited to find this excellent quote from Bob Bailey that Mary just posted on her site, "Animal training: Simple, but not easy," along with the trailer for one of his operant conditioning videos (that video is on its way to me now). Boy is he ever right about that. I can't wait to watch that video.

In the meantime I'm going to continue playing with Coriander, trying to get the light bulb to turn on. First up, advanced targeting. Wish me luck!

Friday, July 8, 2011

Thrush update

It's been a while since I've posted pictures but it's been a while since I felt like their frogs were post-worthy. If you recall I first was alerted to Coriander's ridiculously awful thrush infection last November and I've been treating him for it ever since. At the same time Gwen was also afflicted. We've had some ups and downs and a whole lot more learnin' on my part about foot health, nutrition, and thrush remedies since then.

These photos are from yesterday. Yeah, the trim looks not so great- I've still got a bunch to learn about how to use my tools (I'm going to trimming school in August, YAY!)- but my horses are sound and soundness is more important than looks. You can see that Coriander has still been landing toe first and has been pulling the front of his feet forward. It's been driving me crazy. I'd pull his toe back and he'd just pull it forward again by slamming down toe first. Finally, *finally*, as his frogs have come in he's started to land heel first most of the time.

Coriander's left fore- the clubbed one

Coriander's right fore
If it looks like his heels are high keep in mind that his frogs are still growing in, making it look like his heels are taller than they are. Though I do have an interesting (shameful) story about how I learned why Coriander has a club foot. I had been easing the heels on that club foot down the to same height as the heels on his right fore. Well guess what? When I finally got the heels down to the same height he went lame. I happened to be perusing the internet looking for something else when I found a farrier who talked about assessing the horse's entire body balance for soundness. He specifically mentioned looking at how the knees lined up. I went out and looked at Coriander's knees and - Lo And Behold!- his left knee was a 1/4 inch lower than his right knee. Whoops! I guess his left foot is clubbed because his left leg is shorter. Good to know.

And here are Gwen's feet. Note that she still has a crack down the middle of her frog. Her frogs don't look as good as Coriander's for one reason: He'll let me soak his feet and she won't. For that reason I've had to change my treatment tactics. I got a spray bottle, filled it with a 40:60 oxine to water ratio, and started spraying their frogs with that every day to every other day. I started doing that three weeks ago and can already see improvement. The crack between her heels is starting to fill in nicely. Other interesting things are starting to happen as a result of the spraying too- like the ditch around Coriander's left fore frog. It seems the tip of that frog wasn't healthy so now it's gone. Fascinating.

Gwen's right fore

Gwen's left fore
I want to note that even though her frogs still look thrushy she's sounder than her brother, a true rock cruncher. For a while I didn't understand why until I took a closer look at the back of their feet. Take a look at how much more robust the back of her foot, or the digital cushion, looks compared to Coriander's. I don't know if she got more exercise when she was a baby than he did or if there's a genetic factor going on but the difference is huge. Either way, I've got my fingers crossed that someday the back of his feet will look that robust.

Something else I want to add about thrush:

I trimmed my client horse this week and was dismayed to hear the owner tell me she'd stopped treating his thrush "since it's been dry." Um no. Whether it's wet or dry doesn't really make a difference. If your horse has thrush you need to treat it until it's gone. Period. That might take months but you have to persevere and keep after it despite the environmental conditions. I also told her she needs to get him on a mineral supplement to assist his grass diet. There simply aren't enough minerals in the forage around here to produce healthy hooves. I've come to learn that when it comes to thrush, what goes in the horse's mouth is just as, if not more, important as what you put on their feet.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Persistence pays off

After my last post it probably seemed like I was coming to the end of my rope with Coriander. Fortunately our ride on Friday was fantastic, followed by two more good rides on Sunday and Monday. I'm focusing on transitions and keeping walking to a minimum. We're doing walk/trot transitions, trot/canter transitions, walk/canter transitions, and halt/trot transitions. I even think we'll be working on halt/canter transitions soon.

He seems much happier with this new arrangement. I'm making him use his mind and figure out his balance to answer all sorts of interesting questions. Things like: Can you trot downhill? Can you trot downhill without speeding up? Can you canter downhill? Okay, he can't quite get that one yet but he's almost got trotting downhill without speeding up in the bag. I was worried that these questions would be too difficult for him but he'll never figure them out if I don't bring them up, so I'm bringing them up.

My dressage trainer wanted me to work on turn on the forehand with him so we went into the ring Sunday and did a ton of those. We did trot to a corner, halt, turn on the forehand, trot away. We did walking a square with a turn on the forehand at each corner. We did 180s with turns on the forehand. He was getting so good at it that he figured out how to do a turn on the forehand without halting first. That was pretty cool. Things are looking up with him.

I got back on Gwen Monday- using the bareback pad. As soon as I slid on she jerked her head up (she had been feeling quite mellow) and skittered back a step or two. I waited a second for her to relax before I gave her a treat, then I dismounted. By the time my feet hit the ground she was about 5 feet away from me.  It's obvious that she's still feeling a little traumatized. Still, I hope that experience was positive enough to make a difference.

My husband finished my cavaletti over the weekend! I brought them straight out to the pasture so the horses could get a look at them.

You're supposed to walk through them this way, right?
You gotta love the curiosity of horses, bring out something new and they're all over it like green on grass. These are PVC pipe cavaletti with interchangeable heights of either 6 or 12 inches. Super easy to make once you get the three-way connectors. They are pretty light so they knock over really easy which might not be the best if they learn they can just drag their feet through them. But so far they seem to be picking their feet up. Gwen even trotted over one!

In other news, it appears that MiKael is on the mend! Between her, Kate and everyone else, too many bloggers have getting hurt or ill lately. Let's have a happy and healthy July!

Friday, July 1, 2011

Not just a passenger anymore

My last couple of rides on Coriander have been miserable. Unfortunately I haven't been able to ride him enough lately to establish the new protocol so every time there's a break between rides he reverts back to the old pattern of rushing off whenever he pleases. The pattern where it was okay to ignore me in favor of following his own agenda.

He seems to be particularly bad about it this week, the only reason I can think for it is that, ZOMG, Gwen's in heat. Apparently he feels a pretty strong need to get back and protect his mare. Too bad she's started clinging to Butch when she goes into heat (maybe that's part of it too). Either way, he feels the need to rush off A LOT. We did A LOT of circling in the each direction until he'd stop and give to the rein. Immediately after I released him he'd rush off again. All I wanted was for him to stand still for the count of three, it's amazing how long it took circling in each direction before he'd finally stop moving his feet for that long. Half the time after that I'd ask him to walk on and he'd take off trotting so we had to do it all over again.

Lest you think that maybe I was unconsciously cueing him - I was being very careful about my legs and energy level, trying to broadcast to him very clearly "stand still" by stopping my body and not touching him with my legs at all. I was even trying to avoid thinking anything other than what I wanted right at that moment in case he was picking up my subconscious cues. But honestly, I sincerely doubt he was paying enough attention to me to pick up those tiny cues. I mean, come on, the horse is ignoring my clicks, that's how tuned out he's gotten. Because of that I've put clicker training him on the backburner, he knows full well what the click means he just doesn't care.

All I can say is thank goodness I learned how to use single-rein riding because I couldn't do this without that technique. The beauty of riding with a single rein is that it's really hard for the horse to brace against it, unlike riding with two reins where the horse can use his skeleton to brace against you. Let me tell you, Coriander started out with one hell of a brace, but he got tired, and as he got tired he started to soften- just a little bit- and listen. It wasn't much, but it was a start. Still, I hope he gives this up soon because it's getting really old.

Because I'm having to do this I've had to rethink a lot of my work with him and I feel like I've come to an epiphany, possibly even a paradigm shift. For most of my life I've been content to just go along for the ride, but Coriander is proving that he needs more from me. As my dressage trainer told me, which I unfortunately didn't understand at the time, "you need to ask him for more, he can do it. He wants to do it." I think I get what she was trying to tell me now. He needs me to keep his mind busy, otherwise he's going to find another way to amuse himself, which means I need to change the way I ride. For him I can't be a pleasure rider, I need to have a purpose to give him a purpose. The easiest way I can think to do that is transitions, LOTS of transitions, then we'll add in lateral work. It's time I started getting picky, really picky.

Maybe I'm already on the right track: After I finished working with both of them and was walking down to the bottom pasture to find Gwen's missing flymask I saw him looking at me, I passed him and he walked after me. I stopped and waited for him to stop next to me, which he did, so I clicked and gave him a treat and scratched him in his favorite spot behind his ears. It was the first time all day that he paid attention to me.