Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Establishing a pattern

Since the 13th when I got my nerve back again, I've been trying to get on Gwen at least once every other day. She's doing quite well. I'm doing quite well. Her soft attitude about carrying me around has come back, there's no more giraffe neck when I stand on the mounting block or slide onto her back, and my heart no longer pounds like a frightened bird every time I'm looking down on her. We've got our mojo back.

I'm trying something a bit different this time- I'm setting up a pattern so that she knows exactly what to expect when I'm sitting on her. Initially I slid on, clicked and gave her a treat, slid off. Then I added in a neck flexion in each direction (not to my knee, just to 3 and 9 'o clock). After that I added in a step forward, then two steps forward. Yesterday I added in a hip yield to the right and she was right there, tonight I'll see if I can add one to the left too.

So far I haven't asked her for anything new, just going back over the things she already knows. I think this is good, it gives me a chance to really carve those essential skills into stone and it gives her confidence. Best of all, I think she's actually enjoying it. She marches right over to the mounting block now, ready to go, and when I slide off (which is relatively quickly since it only takes about 3 minutes to go through the pattern) she looks at me like, "is that it?"

"Are you really leaving for the day?"
I think it's best right now to leave her wanting more. I have plans to add the other hip yield then ask her to walk forward and follow her nose in each direction, after we get those I'll ask her to back up. Any other suggestions? Other than picking the poo out of the run-in, I'll be doing that tonight.

Unfortunately (fortunately) her lessons will be on hiatus for a week. The husband and I are going on a little vacation to celebrate our wedding anniversary next week. I'm a little bummed about leaving her when we've been making such progress but it's not often that you get a partially expense paid trip to Hawaii (husband has a work conference there and I'm piggy-backing on it), so it was too good an opportunity to turn down.

Aloha everyone!

Monday, September 19, 2011

The Head and Not the Heart

I recently got a copy (i.e. I begged for a free review copy) of Natalie Keller Reinert's novella, "The Head and Not the Heart." In the spirit of the environment in which it was written, I cranked up The National on my computer and settled in for a little reading.

I felt this story was about self-discovery. The main character, a young adult, is forced to take a long, hard look at her life and decide if what she's doing and where she's at is really what she wants out of her life. Like what happens to so many of us, it takes a complete change in environment to help her find what's really in her heart.

To me, the strength in Natalie's writing is in how well she knows her subject and how accurately she can impart it to the reader. Even if you didn't know Natalie, you could tell from reading this story that she really knows horses, when reading her descriptions of horse handling and riding you feel like you're right there with the character. You feel a kinship because she gets horses the way most of us get horses- deep in our guts, like they are a part of us. Take this excerpt for example:

"I had my forehead pressed against Saltpeter’s skull, the swirling patterns of his white and gray hairs a spiral between his dark eyes, and his forelock parted on either side of my head and tickled my ears, and I could feel his warm, moist breath on my hands, cupped beneath his chin and holding him gently, gently, so that he wouldn’t get claustrophobic, overwhelmed by human affection, and would just share that simple, silent moment with me. Horses only spoke when absolutely necessary, and wild horses would never speak at all; sound would give away their location, and horses only want to be known to their kin. A barn full of confident, foolish young horses was alive and rowdy with whinnies and neighs; a horse alone with a human was often quiet, protecting them both from the outside world."

Nice, right?

Throughout the book it was obvious that Natalie was having a bit of fun with names. The protagonist's name is Alex, her boss and lover's name is Alexander. I'm sure there's some kind of symbolism in there about how Alex originally felt like a cog in the Alexander machine but I'm allergic to symbolism so I won't get into it. She also had an entertaining name for a lecherous old man who takes Alex out to dinner but you'll have to read it to find out. I don't want to give away any more of the book to you.

Overall, I was impressed by this debut novella; I'm definitely looking forward to reading more of her work in the future. You can pick up an electronic copy for Kindles here or you can get a pdf from here. Natalie's blog, Retired Racehorse, can be found on my blog roll.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

How to remove a horseshoe

I think everyone who has a horse should know how to remove a horseshoe. For those of you whose horses are shod you never know when something will happen and you either a.) won't be able to get in touch with your farrier, or b.) your farrier will be too busy to come out when you need them. For those of you whose horses are barefoot, you probably know someone whose horses are shod and will run into the above situations.

You really only need two tools to remove a horseshoe: An old rasp and an old/cheap pair of nippers.

Any trimmer or farrier could supply you with the old rasp (I've got one you could have) and they might have an old pair of nippers they'll give you, otherwise just buy a cheap pair. Cheap nippers are cheap because they don't cut particularly well but that's okay, you don't need them to cut to remove a shoe.

Get the horse on a hard, solid surface like a concrete floor, rubber mat, pavement, or a piece of plywood; plop some hay in front of their face (this will take a while); and grab that rasp. While the horse stands on the foot, use the narrow edge of the rasp to carefully saw off the nail clinches. Hold the rasp parallel to the hoofwall and saw downwards on the clinches one-at-a-time until they are just shiny little squares flush with the hoofwall. Try to take off as little hoofwall as possible. It's very easy to dig a ditch in the hoofwall while you're rasping those clinches so check often to make sure you aren't doing this- if you are then you need to change the angle of your rasp.

Make sure not to position yourself directly in front of your horse's leg. It's very easy to get clocked in the head by a knee if you don't watch what you're doing.

Once all your clinches are off, pick up the leg and carefully place the teeth of the nippers between the shoe and the hoofwall at one heel behind the last nail. Don't cut into the hoofwall! Once you've got the nippers positioned pull the handle down and inwards toward the toe. When you've got it loosened a little switch sides. Keep switching sides until those last nails start popping out of the hoof, then position your nippers in front of those nails and continue on until all the nails have loosened up enough for the shoe to come off.

Voila, you've removed a horseshoe!

What is nice about this method is that you don't have to do any banging on the hoof to get the shoe off. If the horse is laminitic or suffering from an injury, reducing the amount of tools pounding on the foot really makes a difference.

This first video shows a slightly different method. Notice that she just rasps the whole hoofwall to remove the clinches. This works but it kills your rasp and takes off a lot of excess hoofwall. I would also NOT recommend using a claw hammer like she shows unless you absolutely have to. It would be too easy to not get it anchored well, pull too hard, and end up with a claw hammer in your face or your horse. EEK!

This second video is hawking a product, an emergency shoe pulling kit, and shows how to use a tool to pull the nails out one by one. That's fine if your horse doesn't mind the banging, but it's not necessary. I put it up because I enjoyed watching this woman with her nicely manicured nails and shiny tall boots pull a shoe without even using gloves to hold the rasp. She's more hardcore than she looks!

Hopefully you'll be lucky and never have to do this, but in case you do- it doesn't hurt to keep a rasp and nippers on hand!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Back in business

On Thursday I sucked up my courage on got on Gwen again. I slid on, C/T, slid back off onto the mounting block, C/T, three times. She was wonderful and fabulous and only wanted to know which side her treat was going to come from.She didn't even wait until I was settled before her questing little muzzle started sniffing around for food. Just the cutest.

I did wuss out and use the bareback pad instead of the saddle.

I know what you're thinking, "in what world is choosing a bareback pad instead of a saddle wussing out when getting on a nervous mare who's greener than grass?"

Here's the thing, my Ansur- which I love- is kinda tall. I can't just slide into it gracefully, I have to wiggle into it. I can just slide on top of the barepack pad with a minimum of fuss, so until she's rock solid with mounting and dismounting again I want it to be as smooth as possible. I'll probably introduce the saddle when I she's ready to start moving forward and do hip yields again.

I put the old Crosby back on her Saturday and ponied her off Coriander, we did a bit more trotting and cantering this time. Uphill, downhill, and round the hill. I'm trying to get her used to the feel of a saddle over varied terrain and movements. No more bucking when the saddle surprises her!

We trotted downhill and I got a chance to be impressed with Coriander, he's really learned how to regulate himself going downhill which was made clear by Gwen's cluelessness. We started trotting downhill and she just couldn't stop herself from picking up speed until she was passing us. That made Coriander cranky and he shot a hind hoof at her, over which we had to have a conversation. No starting fights when the human's on your back!

After the ride I put the pad on her again and got on a couple more times. She was calm as a cucumber and I was feeling pretty confident. Unfortunately Saturday night the local town shot off some fireworks less than two miles from their pasture, and she's been a mess ever since. Hopefully she'll be back to normal tonight.

If not I'll be standing there shaking my fist at the sky shouting, "why fireworks, why?"

Speaking of bucking, I've been watching a lot of capriole lately, remembering just how heartily she can buck, and thinking that the capriole looks a bit like bucking. I bet she could capriole with the best of them. Future plans...

Friday, September 9, 2011

Hurricane aftermath

Our region got hit pretty hard by Hurricane Lee. We didn't get wind but we got rain, lots and lots of rain. The basement of our rental house flooded but other than that we made it through okay. Unfortunately our neighbors to the Southeast were not so lucky.

Owego and Binghamton are about 45 minutes away from us and are very depressed areas economically. Cleaning this up is going to be a nightmare, I don't know where the money is going to come from.

Between this year's massive flooding in the Northeast, the fires and terrible drought in the Southwest, and the tornadoes of the Southeast (did I miss flooding in the mid-West?), I don't think anyone can deny that the weather we're having just ain't right. Climate change is happening WAY faster than it's supposed to and in my opinion it's time that we start thinking carefully about how this might be caused by our actions. And that's all I'll say about that.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

I have the Ansur!

And it is beautiful!

I received it last Saturday and have been holding off on posting about it so I could give an educated opinion. So far my educated opinion is that I love it. It's very comfortable for me (though it did take a few rides for my legs to get used to being under me instead of in front of me) and best of all Coriander seems to be pretty happy with it. Our mutual communication is clear as a bell in this saddle too, he has been super responsive to my tiniest signals, especially at the halt: I exhale and start to sit and he's already stopping. It's also easier for me to feel my diagonals, something I've always had a hard time with.

We had a lovely experience with it last week when I put the Ansur on him and ponied Gwen with one of the Crosbys. I wanted her to get some more dynamic movement with a saddle on so we did more trotting and  even tried a canter. There I was on Coriander who had a lovely rocking-horse canter on the buckle and Gwen was cantering away right next to us. It was wonderful.

I'll just ignore that he was a bit pitchy last night, though it did give us a chance to work on halt/trot transitions going downhill. If he's going to buck at the canter then by golly he's going to work until he doesn't feel like bucking anymore. Don't feel bad for him, he was mad at me for not going where he wanted and it was a lot cooler than the last time I rode so he was feeling uppity. It was just one more test for the saddle- which stayed in place through it all.

I am having issues with my girth, I can't seem to get it tight enough. It doesn't have any elastic and has lots of loops to keep the flaps down, that makes it a little hard for me to tighten it adequately from the ground and I can't do it at all from the saddle. I've reached down mid-ride and found the girth that was tight when I got on  hanging loosely under his belly. Shockingly the saddle still felt stable with only a little slippage. Still, I've just ordered another girth so that problem should be fixed next week.

Gwen's worn it too, though I haven't gotten on her yet.  I tacked her up with it last night, brought her to the mounting block and asked for neck flexions. Then I leaned over the saddle a bit, slapped it and moved the stirrups around. She was feeling a bit spooky and I was feeling a lot chicken so I didn't swing a leg over. My timeline for that is sometime in the next two weeks, when she's feeling soft and I'm feeling confident it will happen. Or I'll stock up on Valium, whichever comes first.

So far so good, I'm hoping for many years of happiness with this saddle!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The hoof mechanism

Now that you know what the back of the hoof is made of you can understand how the hoof mechanism works. In a nutshell: When the horse weights a foot, that weight pushes down and expands the digital cushion which flattens out the live frog and pushes the lateral cartilages outwards. When the weight is taken off the hoof the live frog springs back to its original shape and the lateral cartilages move back in.

Makes sense, right? Check out Cheryl's collage below for a visual aid.

The hoof mechanism needs certain conditions to work correctly, for instance the foot must be disease free and the shape of the capsule (hoof wall) must allow the hoof to expand and contract. That means no thrush, no imbalance, and no contractions of the hoof wall- any of those will impair the hoof mechanism and will result in negative impacts on the joints.
  • If the digital cushion is too thin then too much pressure is placed on the live frog, it can't absorb all of it and transfers it to the heels, they can't absorb it either so they get crushed. At the same time, the shock that should have been absorbed by the digital cushion gets sent up the leg, creating joint pain all the way up to the back.
  •  If the live frog is weakened by disease it can't flatten and spring back into shape, this causes pain and doesn't adequately push apart the lateral cartilages, this will also put too much pressure on the heels. Again, this will increase the shock sent up the leg. 
 See how this all works together?

You know how they say that each hoof acts as an ancillary heart for the horse? I estimate that it is the hoof mechanism that serves that function. Remember how I said the lateral cartilages are full of blood vessels? The hoof mechanism essentially "pumps" those lateral cartilages, moving the blood up and down the legs.

"But but but," you say, "I thought that was the frog."

Not a chance, the frog doesn't have any blood in it so how could it pump any? Speaking of frogs, here's another bit of info that might blow your mind, it certainly almost caused a mutiny in Oregon: The callused frog, the bit that touches the ground, is not essential to the hoof mechanism. Chew on that for a minute.

Are you leaping around and shouting now? So were we. Cheryl's theory is that the callused frog, the bit that touches the ground, is only there for comfort and protection- it's the live frog that acts as a trampoline supporting the hoof mechanism.

This theory actually gave me quite a bit of relief. You may recall that I had to cut Coriander's frogs off after his awful thrush infection last fall. I was sweating bullets that I was causing him harm by doing so, except that after I did it he was instantly more comfortable. It makes sense now, I treated his live frog and healed it from the thrush and then I took off the uneven pressure created by the nasty remains of the callused frog. Voila! Sound horse, without any frog touching the ground.

Here's another thing that might shock you to read me saying: Shoes don't shut down the hoof mechanism, they only hinder it. There's a good reason why farriers don't put nails close to the heels, they know that they move outward and won't hold the nails. If you have your horses shod ask your farrier to show you the heel wear the next time your shoes are set, you'll probably see marks in the metal from the heels moving in and out.

Does that mean I'm rethinking keeping my horses barefoot? Nope. I still don't like shoes because of the added concussion landing on metal adds to the joints, that they take away the heels natural independent suspension, that they open up the hoof wall to fungus and bacteria via the nail holes, and mostly because they force the horse to stand on their laminae (via the hoof wall). Again, I believe horses should stand on their soles, not the hoof wall.

If this has piqued your interest, Dr. Bowker has an article you might want to read here.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

The back of the hoof

You may or may not have noticed that my previous hoof posts were suspiciously lacking in some pretty important structures. I was aware of their absence, the problem was that I still didn't really understand how they worked. Fortunately I got some insight in Oregon.

Have you ever heard that the hoof should be divided into thirds as shown by the photo below?
Photo from Yvonne and James Welz
 There's a reason for that: The back 2/3 of the hoof absorbs shock.

Since horses weigh quite a bit it makes sense that most of the foot should be devoted to energy dissipation, right? Okay then. Three important structures make up the back of the hoof: the digital cushion, the live (sensitive) frog, and the lateral cartilages.

The Digital Cushion

You could think of the digital cushion as the horse's gel insole, its only function is to absorb shock. When horses are born the digital cushion is simply a mass of fatty tissue, as they grow and move that fatty tissue becomes denser and cartilaginous. This is a good thing: thicker, tougher digital cushions are better able to withstand the pressure of a thousand + pound horse running around on them. Below is a picture of a nice, fat digital cushion- it's the white bit between the red of the coffin bone/corium and the grey of the frog.
Photo from I don't remember where, probably one of Cheryl's
Digital cushions need lots of heel first landings to develop but, sadly, a lot of domestic horses don't get them. Due to containment practices (stalling), shoes, and untreated disease lots of domestic horses suffer from poorly developed digital cushions. You can check your horses' digital cushions like this:
Photo from the Natural Hoof UK
They should resist your fingers when you squeeze, if they're soft and spongy then you've got a problem. The good news is that any horse at any age can develop strong digital cushions given the right conditions. The Rockley Farm blog gives some great examples of that. Whenever they show pictures of their rehab horses' improved heels what you're actually seeing is the development of the digital cushion.

The Live Frog

The live frog sits directly underneath the digital cushion, it is made of a solid, rubbery material that acts like a trampoline and produces the frog callus that we are so used to seeing and fretting about (at least I fret about it). Can you see how it's folded up like an accordion? That allows it to stretch and flatten under the digital cushion as the horse weights the foot, when the foot is unweighted the live frog springs back to its original shape.
Photo from Cheryl Henderson
I included this second photo so you could place what you were looking at in the above picture. Like the digital cushion, the live frog is also susceptible to negative forces, especially thrush. With bad cases of central sulcus thrush the live frog will get eaten away, weakening the structure and thus destroying an essential part of the hoof mechanism (I'll describe the hoof mechanism in another post).

Photo from Cheryl Henderson
The Lateral Cartilage

Raise your hand if you've heard of the lateral cartilages before (as if I could see you). I'm guessing most of you aren't raising your hand. That's too bad because they are quite important, not only are they key factors in the hoof mechanism, but they also contain lots and lots of blood vessels (and one exciting revelation- read on).

Each hoof has two lateral cartilages that are set up as mirror images of each other around the bones and digital cushion. They are located inside of the corium and have multiple attachments: They attach to the hide above the coronet band, the coffin bone, and P2.

Collage and photos by Cheryl Henderson
Here's the exciting revelation: The bars of the hoof grow from the lateral cartilage.

Okay, so maybe that's not as exciting as winning the lottery but it's still an important finding. It means that one side effect of leaving the bars alone and letting them overgrow is that they "jack up" the lateral cartilages which displaces them, squishes them, and basically keeps them from doing their job. Here's a rule of thumb for you: if you have to trim the walls then you will also have to trim the bars. If the horse isn't moving on enough abrasive footing to self-trim the walls then they aren't self-trimming the bars either.

Get it? Got it? Good.