Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Laid up

Longitudinal split in Sonny's deep digital flexor tendon (looks like a cracked egg)
This year has continued to be challenging since moving to Canada, I have realized how hard change is for me.  Even moving-forward positive change is still hard.  I think other people with different personality types thrive on excitement and new possibilities. I too love possibilities, but apparently only when my home-base and routine is stable.  I have always delt with a bit of anxiety issues combined with a strong drive for performance and perfection (can be a challenging combination!)  I didn't take the time to transition through a huge move and life change, instead continued to move forward at my normal intense life-pace, with goals of 50 mile rides, camping, etc, etc-- well now life has set me back.  While the setback is frustrating and I wish it didn't happen in this way, I think it is a blessing in disguise.  My anxiety issues were skyrocketing and leading into difficulty focusing on even the smallest tasks and also into small bouts of depression (it is really bad when you want to stay huddled on the couch watching Heartland rather than visiting your pony! Much less trying to get things like work and groceries done!).  Now life has forced me to slow down and change my goals for the year; I am taking the time I need to re-group and it is amazing how good it feels.  If I could go back in time, I would have allowed  more 'me time' for change instead of jumping in 100% right away after moving -- hopefully no more big moves, but next time I will know.  Right now it is beautiful weather, I am enjoying loving on Sonny and walking through the woods, life is good!  Now onto Sonny and some explanation.

Effusion (swelling) in the deep digital flexor tendon sheath

Sonny was sound and doing well after his bout of foot-soreness. We had 2 really nice rides where he felt great, he had gained weight and were getting back to ourselves.  Then he was turned out with a new group of horses while getting on spring grass.  There was a mare in heat that he was trying to 'steal' from the herd, but things seemed to going ok overall.  He was enjoying cantering in the big grassy field!  Then the next evening when I went to check on the horses and bring them in off grass, Sonny was very stiff and obviously lame on the right front at the walk. He looked quite miserable overall.  His windpuffs were up in all 4 legs and he had heat and swelling at the right front fetlock. Also a good kick mark on his chest.  I do not know if he got kicked in the leg by another horse or just injured himself running and being silly.  I made some calls, got a referral from our local equine vet, and had an ultrasound scheduled for the next week.

Fetlock swelling, note the loss of the 'hour-glass' shape compared to the left fetlock

In the meantime I had to figure out how to manage stall-rest, twice daily bute, and cold-hosing.  The barn that I was boarding at could not accommodate more intensive care (only basic outdoor board available and do-it-yourself extras).  I could not drive 1 hr round trip twice daily to provide the care Sonny needed plus trying to work and live (and deal with stress/anxiety).  Our local equine vet referred me to a nearby barn that would be glad to provide full lay-up care. Sonny was moved that morning to Maple Crescent Farm, www.maplecrescentfarm.com   Boris had a stall ready and then set-up an outdoor 'horspital' pen so Sonny be on stall rest and still be outside and see the other horses rather than cooped up inside 24-7.  He cold-hosed the leg every morning and I did the evening session after work. He tried different bute flavors to find the type Sonny preferred (strawberry liquid), he knew how much hay he ate, how much (clean!) water he drank, and that Sonny enjoys drinking out of the hose too!  He was more than happy to feed my pre-made baggies so Sonny received the amount and type of feed/vitamins/minerals that I prefer - no issue with having to feed the barn feed, etc.  My stress level decreased 200% knowing that Sonny was being taken care of like I would take care of him at home. I didn't even realize how much subconscious stress I had been having about his care -- now I could just focus on his injury!



I was again amazed at the friendliness and openness of horse-people and Canadians when setting up the ultrasound.  Dr. Bruce Watt (http://uxbridgeequine.com), a board certified equine surgeon, was recommended for the exam and he practiced about 1 1/2 hours away, but farm call only.  He would make trips out (for a mileage fee) but I wanted to get Sonny in ASAP.  I had met wonderful Parelli instructors while re-homing Rogan, that lived in the Uxbridge area of Dr. Watt's practice.  While their facility did not have the setup needed, they put me in contact with a local friend.  This complete and wonderful stranger, opened up her barn for Sonny, even waking up early for our 7:30 am arrival.  She had the perfect setup, a quite and relaxed barn, with doors that shut (for the darkness needed for ultrasound) and electricty.

First, we did a lameness exam. One week after the injury, with bute and stall-rest, Sonny was already much better. He was sound at the trot in a straight line and left circles, but was slightly off on the RF on tight right hand circles, and a little worse on pavement versus the arena footing. Flexion didn't make much difference, maybe a little ouchy on both front but nothing significant.  Then we moved inside for the ultrasound. Again let me say how much I love Sonny and how much he impresses me!  He stood inside, in a strange place, by himself (no other horses), in the darkness, with machines, cold ultrasound goop, cords and strangers touching him without flinching. He relaxed, cocked a hip, and rested for the whole exam.
NOT Sonny!!! Example of a typical 'core-lesion' tendon injury

The good news was there was not a core lesion or an increase in size in any of his tendons.  Typical tendon tears have a big black hole on the ultrasound and the injured tendon is swollen and bigger than on the other leg. These take 8-12 months to rehabilitate and the tendon will never been as strong as pre-injury.  Sonny, of course, had an unusual and uncommon finding.  He had a longitudinal or saggital split only visible in 1 view just at the fetlock, above the sesamoid bones. It didn't extend up and down the tendon, and while small and difficult to spot, was consistently visible on the injured leg and not on his healthy left front leg.  What does this mean?? Well, we really don't know..

Sonny's injury again, for comparison

Ultrasound video showing the split - looks like a cracked egg

What we do know is it is a relatively small injury that is already responding to standard treatment. The plan is to continue small paddock rest (poor Sonny) so he doesn't have a momentary good gallop and re-injure or completely tear it.  We have to strengthen it slowly prior to releasing him from horsey-jail, so it can support his kicks and giggles or mare-stealing activities. We are walking for 30 minutes under saddle several times/week for the month of June, slowly increasing about 5 minutes every week.  Then in July we re-evaluate for any lameness and if all looks good will start adding 5 minutes of gait/trot per week.  He also gets as much hand-grazing and love as I can give him.  The walking is enjoyable for both of us and gives me time to re-visit basics (such as whoa, LOL) and play with fun ground work and obstacles.  We are both enjoying Sonny's new home, the other boarders are very relaxed and friendly, we seem to have a lot in common with a focus on improving horsemanship, clicker training, well-fitting saddles, and hitting the trails.  It is still on the 11,000 acre forest, so I can hit the trails straight from the barn.  It is also about 5 minutes closer to home (20 min versus 25 minutes, which makes a bigger difference than one would think) and has farm fresh eggs for sale!  So while we may be out of the endurance game this season, we are enjoying life!

Happy Sonny enjoying the grass!

Saturday, May 12, 2018

To 'get to the ride' is to win...Or Foot-sore, skinny, over-conditioned?

Sometimes I tell myself the true test of endurance is making it to the ride, to start is to win!  This has been a challenging spring for Sonny and myself.  I planned my conditioning carefully, averaging between 20-35 miles per week with 1-2 easy arena sessions to work on ground work or dressage- I was trying to do the minimum to leg him up for the spring rides.  I used Renegade hoof boots for all of our road riding and all but 2 rides on soft footing.  Sonny was moved to a new herd and he had trouble adapting.  Sonny had a high fecal egg count (worms!) [he was negative on the recheck fecal after de-worming]. We had an ice storm.  He lost weight despite me driving to the barn everyday to feed him and free choice round bales.  He was easily a 4/9 with ribs visible (no good!) -- not going to a ride like that!!

He then went lame on our last big conditioning ride, 3 weeks before our 1st 50 of the spring, a plan of 12 miles, lunch-break and repeat the 12 miles. During the first loop he was amazing, flying up and down hills at a smooth canter! But when going out for the 2nd loop he was off on the right front.  Back at the barn he was hoof tester positive on all of his toes.  Even though he had been wearing hoof boots his toes were soooo worn down. I should have noticed sooner!  I do know that he has never been hoof tester positive previously (I checked before purchasing him and he had a full lameness exam this fall) and he tends to have absolutely amazing gravel crunching feet.  In hindsight I think he had too many stresses (cold temperatures, new herd that he didn't fit in with, spring conditioning, heavy worm burden) and he lost weight and I don't think he quite had his normal hoof growth. I think he also had extra hoof wear walking on all the ice this spring/winter.

So, new plan.. lame and skinny horse, 3 weeks to my first 50 of the season, which I have paid for and really want to go to if possible, but only if I can have a healthy and happy horse! Rest, food, and more rest!


Sonny working on gaining weight. You can also still see his clipping from Fort Valley last October!

1. Sonny was moved back 'solitary confinement' for anti-social behavior.  He was very worried and anxious about keeping all the other horses away from his new best friend. So much so he didn't eat as much as he could.  He would attack the other horses if they came between him and his friend, which was very problematic when other boarders wanted to take their horses in/out.  Moving him to his own area (where he could still see and be near all the other horses) was a blessing in disguise (I typically prefer the horses to be out with other horses).  He seemed much more happy/relaxed and I could leave him with a full bowl of food and alfalfa, rather than just feed him what he could eat during my lunch break from work.  So on 1/3 - 1/2 bale of alfalfa + free choice round bale + 8 lbs of high fat/high-fibre (Fibre O Plus) feed daily, he has gained a good amount of weight in the past 2 weeks!  You can no longer see ribs, but I would still be happier with another 50 + lbs on him.  I would give him a 4.5/9, hopefully with another week of full meals he will be up to a 5/9 by ride time!

2. I put shoes on him (meaning I myself, put my 4th set of shoes ever on a horse!).  I used aluminum Kerckhaert Triumphs. I can shape the aluminum without having to learn how to work hot metal or buy a bunch of very expensive equipment.  His toes were so worn that the shoes didn't even contact the toe from 11 o'clock to 1 o'clock if you imagine a clock face on the hoof.  In a way this was also good, it eliminated all further pressure from the sore and bruised areas.  The bad news was I quicked him too.  This is part of the learning curve of learning to nail on shoes.... He has upright medial (inside) quarters on his hind feet which is very common.  This tends to pull the nail in deeper. I did not compensate enough with my technique and he flinched during nailing. I pulled the nail out immediately and he did have a small amount of blood.  The long-term prognosis for a nail quicked horse is excellent. The short-term prognosis is very questionable, they tend to abscess... so with a ride in 3 weeks this wasn't a good place to be. I spent the next 7 days soaking his hooves (in lieu of actually eating lunch -- oh wait I did shovel food in while driving to/from the barn!).  Either luck was on my side or the soaking helped, but he never became sore from the nail prick (yay!)  While not yet perfect, I was pretty happy overall with how the shoes turned out too (other than the nail prick!)!  Every couple of days I re-hoof tested and as of now he is hoof tester negative with 1 week until the ride. He is also trotting sound, yay!!!
Front Hooves
Hind Hooves (I find shoeing the hind feet a bit trickier than the front!)

Hoof Soaking. Sonny loves his spa treatments and didn't move a muscle during daily soaking (Wow!)

Now, with 1 week until the ride I have to balance weight gain, letting his hooves continue to heal, but also making sure he is loose and limber.  He did tie-up at Old Dominion last year; I am leary of over-feeding and under exercising prior to a ride as that is a great recipe for a repeat tie-up.  I am going to try taking him for a 30 min - 1 hr walk under saddle tomorrow to start things out.  Then repeat on Tuesday and Thursday. Maybe add in a few minutes of trotting/moving-out on Thursday to make sure all feels good. Then our pre-ride on Saturday and 50 miles on Sunday!  He also had an absolutely wonderful massage today (thank you Chrystal!!!!).  He absolutely loved it, I have never seen so many yawns, floppy ears, stretching, and so on -- he would probably love having a spa day all the time!  But for now, the tight muscles from his sore hoof are loosened up and he feels much better in his poll/neck too.  He should be ready to go next week, but we are pushing things a bit closer than I would like. Fingers crossed!

***Edit  -- Thank you for the information, Nancy! I actually need to add a bit more trotting in this week (5-5-5 - 5 min walk + 5 min trot + 5 min fast trot) to help prevent tying up rather than just walking. Every day is best, rather than every other day.  Wanted to share so others with this problem have the correct information***

Enjoying spring grass today!

UPDATE: He was still slightly inconsistent today while riding at the trot - I could feel him pushing me off the right diagonal :(   No head bob, but not quite right... so no ride for me this weekend. Next time!!

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Prepping for a 50, liberty, and new herd mates

Playing at liberty today

Conditioning has been going well. We are averaging about 20- 35 miles/week for the last few weeks. He has worn holes in the toes of his Renegades and a new set is already on its way.  Assuming he settles and fattens up, I am planning on riding Aprilfest barefoot with boots available if needed.  We also found some cross-country jumps in lovely fields with rolling hills and had a bit of extra fun yesterday! I have been riding out with Chrystal and she has been meeting us on the road between her place and Sonny's barn, so I haven't been particularly working on our 'tether' recently.  However yesterday I was early and she was running late, so Sonny and I rode all the way down the road, past the horse-eating cows, to meet her and all was well.  So with repetition and time our tether to the barn is sufficiently stretched :)

In-between conditioning (and work, and head-colds for me) I have been playing with a little more liberty/on-line play (as I have been too tired to actually ride!).  This is going really well and Sonny is becoming very connected to me.  We haven't played a whole lot online, so the obedience is lacking as we don't have our body- language communication together enough yet for things like downward transitions or changes of directions.  But, connection, is the point of our liberty game and it is amazing!! We are even getting canter circles both directions with him eagerly drawing back into me.  I found it very interesting in the indoor the other day (after putting him with the new herd). He was very connected, but I kept losing the connection during canter circles to the right -- he stayed along the long-wall of the arena rather than turning to circle around me, but would re-connect when coming back around and each time after a few circles he would manage to leave the wall and circle around me and I would immediately draw him in for a reward break.  However, after a few tries it wasn't changing; I then had the lightbulb moment! I was facing with my back to the long-wall and that was the long-wall where he could see his new herd.  With my back turned he lost connection to me and started to re-connect to his herd (or at least I think that was what was happening).  I turned around, faced the herd and long-wall and with that small change we kept the connection and had beautiful liberty circles again.  I love learning from my horses!  I also love that when drawn in, Sonny chooses to 'snuggle' with me. He is the first horse that has done this for me -- at liberty he comes and he lowers his head and neck and places me right behind his head, at his neck.  I lightly massage his ears and poll and neck and he becomes so relaxed and happy, he will move his head so I get the 'right' spot- it is heavenly 💗

Rogan moved to a wonderful new home on Tuesday; he will be a much loved and pampered partner! And he is < 1 hr away so I can visit frequently -- we may trail ride together this summer too!  I re-homed him because he basically has been in early retirement for about 3 years (since I started endurance) and now that I am paying board and he had lost his job as 'companion' horse it didn't make much sense to hang on to him if I could find the right home.  He didn't have to go anywhere but I felt very guilty not having time for him when he clearly wanted attention -- while it was a hard decision I think this is a win-win for all involved. Congratulations on a new best friend Deborah!!

Rogan and Deborah

Unfortunately, Rogan leaving has made the last week a bit hard on Sonny.  While I hauled Rogan, Sonny stayed in his paddock by himself (still near and in-sight of other horses), but paced and whinnied on/off for several hours and I don't think he ate or drank very much.  We had tried to put an older mare with him, but they couldn't have cared less about each other.  So that afternoon I introduced him to the herd of 11 other geldings (plus the older mare). I had been feeding him in the adjacent pen for the past week or so, so he had met of the herd over the fence already.  Introducing him was uneventful.  Some squeals and posturing, but no bites or kicks; after about 1-2 hours he was eating at the round bale with the others and I went home.  After I left, an owner had the audacity (LOL) to remove their personal horse out of the herd for riding, and that horse may have had the potential to be Sonny's new best friend (I don't even think they had sniffed noses yet!).  Sonny had a meltdown -- must have been the final straw for his poor introvert brain.  He galloped the paddock (apparently very fast) and when squeezed between another horse, mud, and the round bale feeder, he chose to go over the side of the round bale feeder. Thankfully he cleared it successfully and didn't hurt himself physically with the whole ordeal.  He seemed to settle in over the next few days, but now he has become infatuated with a QH in the adjacent pen. To the point he is aggressively defending his new love from all 11 other horses (who don't actually care about the QH, but occasionally need to go where the QH happens to be standing -- like to the gate or near the water, etc).  He is even blocking the most dominant horses of the herd.  I am concerned he is not actually leaving the QH even long enough to eat.  On the bright side, at least he isn't getting beaten up by the other horses.  Hopefully time will sort this situation out, between all of this stress, the cold weather, and conditioning, he is down in weight to about 4/9 and I am trying my best to fatten him up. If he doesn't settle and loses more weight I will be missing our first ride of the season :(   There are always more rides, and keeping him healthy and happy is a priority.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Stretching the tether, approach and retreat

Yeserday's ride, almost 9k to go 1k in distance...

With recent weeks of warm weather I thought I would be spending most of my riding hours conditioning for the 80 k (50 mile) ride at AprilFest, April 29.  This started out fairly well, we did a few 16 k (10 mile) road rides with friends.  On an aside, the forest trails are still too icy to ride, except at a walk on a good day, so for conditioning we are left with the sandy edges of the country roads for a few more weeks.  However, I soon discovered that Sonny has a strong invisible tether to his new barn and Rogan.  This was never an issue before because I always trailered out for conditioning rides and he was great by himself and with others in the woods.  Leaving from home, leaving Rogan who is continually neighing for him to come home, and heading out to face parts unknown filled with dogs, cows, houses, other horses is now terrifying.  All is good if Sonny is with another horse that will get eaten first while Sonny runs away, but if Sonny is the sole prey he is going to make sure he is not going to get eaten by that cow!!  So we have changed our plans and hopefully will still get enough riding in for the 80k (50 mile) in April, but if not we will just adjust. 

If Sonny truly felt confident in me as his leader and partner, that I would protect and keep him safe we wouldn't have a challenge.  So we have to build that partnership and make it stronger.  Plagiarizing from Jaime McArdle and paraphrasing -- I have to accept where I am at today and be the best horseman I am today, while at the same time learning to be a better horseman for tomorrow.  That is hard, I would like to be the better horseman NOW, lol.  I  started this particular journey several months ago, using the winter downtime to re-focus on ground work and harmony between Sonny and myself; that is going very well.  For the particular challenge of leaving the barn by ourselves I am using the tried and true strategy of approach and retreat.  Each day and ride Sonny has confidence/comfort-level threshholds at some undefined distance from the barn and Rogan.  In other words, he has a safety-bubble that he feels good in and can relax and when we reach the edge of the bubble he starts to exhibit anxiety; if I go too far past the edge of the bubble his 'lizard brain' takes over, he edges towards a fulminate panic attack and I feel unsafe.   His thresholds can change from day to day, ie on windy days with lots of activity his bubble may be smaller initially. 

Back to the actual ride strategy. I try to initially get connection with a small amount of groundwork prior to riding. Right now I am playing with yielding his shoulders (he had a pretty sticky right shoulder!), trot circles, and the beginnings of line driving.  The goal is harmony and connection, not a number of laps or perfect transition, etc.  For example, initially he may trot an 'egg' rather than a circle, looking to the outside towards Rogan; when he connects (which is quicker each session) his circle gets smaller and round, his head lowers, and he stays bent around and focused on me -- it is actually a lovely, engaged, balanced trot.  When connected there is no pressure on the line, we are practicing for liberty.

After we connect on the ground we are ready to ride.  I start with walking up the driveway, ideally on a loose-rein with a relaxed head/neck.  At the end of the driveway I turn around and walk back to the barn, and then repeat the loop going a little further each time.  I judge how far to go based on Sonny.  Yesterday he was quite spicy, it took a lot of approach and retreat to obtain relaxation just leaving and returning to the barn yard. There were many thresholds -- a black dog that could have been a horse-eating bear, a mare guarding her herd, birds flying out of stored round-bales, snow and ice creaking, and the infamous yearling calves playing.  However, after 1 1/2 hours we made safely from the barn to the start of the trails "the rail-trail", taking almost 9k to go a 1k distance, but we returned to the barn on a completely loose rein, head down and back swinging with relaxation. 

Today, it was much quicker. Our first main threshold was almost 1/2 way to the 'rail-trail' or over 50% further than yesterday.  Sonny was so comfortable I even started to use the 1/2 way point as the 'retreat' area which enabled him to spend more time at the edge of his bubble (squeezed between a creaking snow-bank and facing the carnivorous calves).  Once we made it to the 'rail-trail' turn, the tether seemed to snap and he was ok to move on (at least in that direction, continuing straight past the calves might be a different challenge for another day!).  We motored down the rail-trail to a yummy field of dried dead grass which he enjoyed on for a few minutes before we turned around and headed home, on a loose rein and mostly relaxed.  My plan is continue this when I ride out by myself and if he is confident and relaxed we will head out for some conditioning, but when we reach a threshold we will play with approach/retreat, until we can move out again as partners.  (and hopefully I will get in some rides with friends so we don't loose all our physical conditioning while working on the mental conditioning!)
Today's ride, almost 2x as far in the same amount of time! The hard part is stretching the tether enough to get to the initial right hand turn onto the 'rail-trail'

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Arrival and new digs! - Move to Canada Stage 2

Arrival! It was almost dark and my phone camera is not working well.

We returned to pick up the horses from Wind Hill Farm as soon as the U-haul was unloaded and returned.  We also hurried a little bit to as another weather front was coming in the next day.  While moving our household goods we got to experience sitting on the 401 for 2 hours with the U-Haul due to multiple crashes during ice-snow road conditions. Once we started moving again I even saw a truck that was a little too eager to get moving fish-tail through all the lanes of the highway and end-up in a snowbank on the side (he was ok, but I am sure glad I was behind him and not beside!) I did not want to drive the horses in those conditions so we made sure it was a safe day for hauling!

All went smooth, we picked the horses up at Wind Hill a little before lunch then headed to the border.  Customs examined our coggins tests and healthy certificates fairly quickly (thankfully), but apparently horses are excluded from the tax-free list of goods for new immigrants. This meant we unexpectedly owed about $400 in taxes, based on declared value of the horses, to import the horses.  Good thing both horses are relatively low $$ value horses! (especially compared to fancy show or race horses!).  After that small surprise, we continued on the way and arrived at Cayuse Creek Ranch in about 3 hrs. Check out Sonny and Rogan's new home: https://www.gannydistancerides.com/ owned by Bob Coleman and Michelle Bignell, both accomplished endurance riders.  Cayuse Creek is adjacent to the 11,00 acre Ganaraska Forest, with 400 miles of trails (no more hauling out for conditioning!!!).  It also has a new indoor arena with clear plexi-glass in the side walls which lets loads of wonderful natural light inside!  The indoor is absolutely necessary for winter riding as the outside footing is generally to icy to safely ride this time of year.

The horses live outside, where they are happiest, with run-in sheds and round bales available 24-7.  Rogan and Sonny are currently in their own paddock for initial quarantine and the winter.  Once spring comes the gate is opened and they have access to grassy fields. There are stalls available for temporary use (feeding, medical needs, etc) and each boarder takes care of their own feeding as desired. I like this arrangement as I tend to be particular (LOL!) and can modify/arrange my feeding as I see fit!

Sonny laying down in the wonderful sand! (and please excuse my poorly functioning camera! The blinding white is all the lovely natural light coming through the clear arena walls!)

Both horses are quite settled in by now, though it has taken Sonny a little longer to get used to the indoor arena and activity of a boarding barn. Rogan has plenty of experience through many years of heading to training clinics in similar situations. Our riding/ground-work has essentially focused on relaxation and relationship to help Sonny become comfortable in the indoor -- it makes lots of noises, especially when the wind blows or the snow slips off the roof!  He is doing great and while each session may not start relaxed, they all end with lots of blowing out, licking/chewing, and yawning. It is also good to have both private and shared time in the arena.  The private time really lets me focus on my horse and getting him focused on me by ourselves (with the challenge of Rogan continually neighing from his paddock).  This simulates working on the trail by ourselves, or leaving a buddy horse at ride-camp!  Shared time is great and challenging too. Sonny is very social and concerned about what the other horse is doing-- on the trail or in the arena.  I think the shared arena will end up being a great simulation for focusing on me rather than the other horse on the trail.  When sharing the arena the horses continually pass and leap frog each other, another horse may be cantering when you are walking, and vice versa.  Essentially each horse has to focus on their activity and not fret over everyone else.  The may seem very basic for horses that have lots of arena time (like group lessons, etc) but is very new to Sonny!  Each time he relaxes, and in each new situation, he is coming to trust me more and I can see our partnership growing.

Rogan laying down

The other absolutely fantastic part of having a real arena is SAND!! I have always wanted my horses to lay down on que, but have never been able to achieve it.   A horse has to offer a behavior in order for you to shape it and relate it to a que (unless you want to use ropes or something else which is not my approach).  In West Virginia, I had shale, firm stone dust, and a little grass -- nothing consistently desirable to lay down and roll in!  Now the horses live in a icy-snowy paddock and I take them into an amazing sandbox, they love it!  Both horses have figured out to ask questions and watch me closely, so when I 'pawed', they pawed and quickly got a treat.  After they pawed they thought it might be fun to roll! When they layed down to roll they got the mother-load of carrots 😊 That stuck! - especially for Rogan.  He more than knows that treats are related to a behavior he offered (ie he will pick things up and hand them to you all the time, in exchange for a cookie).  I did remember to dig out the clicker (which they also have previously learned, click = desired behavior = cookie).  The clicker helps me pinpoint the exact behavior I am rewarding, so it helps the horses figure out the puzzle a little easier.  Rogan is starting to really understand, but he tries to see how little he can do and still get a cookie, so he will paw and look at me or bend his legs as if laying down then look at me. It is very cute, but while I initially rewarded the small tries, I now stand patiently and just watch him and eventually he fully lays down.  Sonny is also understanding, but first I have to ensure is relaxed, either through connecting groundwork or having Rogan nearby.  The downside to all this is all my equipment now is covered in fine arena sand, definitely will have to wash my pads and girth before an endurance ride!

I am enjoying the slow, bonding time that arena play allows, but am also looking forward to checking out all the trails this spring!  I am hopeful that my improving connection with Sonny will carry over to training rides and competition too!

Friday, January 19, 2018

Move to Canada - stage 1

Lunch break at Blue Ridge Travel Plaza in NY

Life has been busy and it took a while to get the computer set-up so this is written a little after the fact.  Also my cell phone camera is basically trashed so the pictures are lacking too.  But the whole family (horses, cats, and ourselves) has successfully landed in Ontario, Canada. The plan was to move the horses to a short-term boarding facility while we moved ourselves, then return and pick up the horses.  That is basically what happened and we got very lucky with the weather, our pre-arranged travel days were all mostly between storms. 

Prior to the trip I started both horses on preventative doses of Gastrogard and made sure they had salty mashes the day before (just like we were going to a ride!).  We headed north from West Virginia with the horses and took about a 1 hr lunch stop 1/2 way through the trip (about 4 hrs).  We had pre-picked places that looked safe to unload the horses for a bit, and ended up choosing the Blue Ridge Travel Plaza http://blueridgetravelplaza.com/ .  It worked fine, the ground was little icy (especially after Sonny knocked the water tub over!) but no problems.  We arrived at the short-term boarding facility in Pulaski NY late that evening (around 8 pm).  The owners were very welcoming and helped us get the horses settled in.  However, the facility was not was I expecting, the owner's had said the horses would be outside as much as possible, but apparently we had very different definitions of "as much as possible". Essentially Rogan and Sonny were going to be turned out into a round-pen sized indoor arena for 2-3 hrs each day while the stalls were cleaned.  Not ok!!  The stalls were also very small, I would guess about 10' x 7' -- I don't think Rogan could stand fully in the width of the stall. I was worried about Rogan casting himself as he is a fairly big horse.  The stalls also didn't have heated water, which was very concerning as both my horses are used to a Nelson heated waterer keeping the water about 50F; the owner gave fresh water 2x daily (which rapidly froze as the low was about -26 F) and Rogan and Sonny just aren't accustomed to that routine.  The other big red flag was all the other horses in the barn had non-breakaway, including rope-style, halters on all the time.  Another big safety no-no!  The horse's also seemed a bit wound, not happy and relaxed (probably from excess energy being stalled all the time!). And the barn was very crowded, old, with hay, and electric wires -- it seemed like a huge fire hazard too.  I was pretty concerned about a fairly high risk of impaction colic for my horses with so many big changes at one time (significantly decreased movement + loads of hay + plus cold water only given 2x daily). On the positive the owner was very knowledge about horses and very thorough - if he had a different facility I would trust him to take care of my boys!  We stayed overnight and then the next morning I made a call to the other nearby facility on horsemotel.com, Wind Hill Farm.

Rogan and Sonny relaxed in the stalls at Wind Hill Farm

Row of newly built stalls at Wind Hill Farm
Randy at Wind Hill Farm was very welcoming and re-arranged his schedule so he could accommodate us last minute.  We headed north for about another 1.5 hours and arrived at his farm, just south of the border, near Thousands Islands NY.  On arrival we unloaded the horses into adjacent, new, 12' x 12' matted stalls with heated water and wall slots so the horses could see each other and feel comfortable.  Both horses immediately cocked a hind leg and relaxed (well Rogan had to pee in the fresh shavings first!).  For the week layover, the horses had use of the whole indoor arena as a run-in shed with access to 5 acres of snowy pasture (alternating outside time with Randy's personal horses).  We blanketed them (as the high temperatures were forecast to be well below 0F for the next few days -- and the low Sat morning was -26 F!  I felt very comfortable leaving my horses in Randy's care at Wind Hill Farm! Then we headed back south as fast as possible as another front was blowing in and we didn't want to be on 1-81 in a snowstorm.  We didn't quite beat the snow, but we did safely make it home late that evening to start the next phase of them -- ourselves, the cats, and all the stuff!
Indoor arena -- i.e. Best Run-In Shed EVER!!!

Outside of the barn/arena (and the dangling fencing strand is Christmas lights, not barb wire!)

Parking the trailer for temporary storage into a snowbank

Friday, December 15, 2017

Bit vs Bitless and moving plans

Practicing for Canada with our Arctic Riding Skirt!

In the midst of moving preparations I am trying to ride frequently.  We are moving to Ontario at the beginning of the year.  The horses will go up first and stay at a layover boarding facility in upstate NY near the border for about a week while we move and 'land' as Canadian permanent residents. Then we will pick them up and take them to their new home at Cayuse Creek Ranch (www.gannydistancerides.com).  The process of moving the horses isn't too bad. They have to have a negative coggins within 6 months and international health certificates within 30 days of import. The complicated part is that the health certificates have to be endorsed by a Federal Veterinarian then over-nighted back to me.  I am intending to start Gastrogard a few days prior to transport and during the layover to help prevent any ulcers developing during a stressful time.  They will have grass/alfalfa mix and hydration hay in front of them during travel. We are also planning to stop about 1/2-way to the layover facility in NY and hopefully unload the horses for about 30 min to rest/eat/drink/etc while we have picnic lunch.  The trip to NY should take 8-9 hrs depending on how many stops or how slow we go. This will be my first time hauling my horses for such a long distance (5-6 hrs is about the most I have taken them). Also as part of the move, my horse trailer is off being serviced to make sure everything is good-to-go for the trip (wheel bearings packed/grease, all lights working, emergency brake battery charged, etc) and it is getting washed (wow!!) and I will be going home with some color-matched touch-up spray paint to clean up all those dings the horses have left over the years. It will seem like new!

Since my horse trailer is in the shop I have been riding at home. Jamie and her blog (https://greento100.com) have re-inspired me to focus on my relationship a little more and it has been great.  Rogan trotted to me in the field yesterday and today Sonny left Rogan (who was flat out asleep) and came in to me as well (awesome!!!!). I have also been returning to some online ground play with Sonny such as stick-to-me and obstacles.  It is fun to have more 'time' with the horses than when focused on conditioning.  There is only some much 'time' in life and when doing endurance it is a balance between relationship, dressage, and conditioning (at least for me!).  During the 'off' season the balance definitely returns to relationship and dressage (though I try to maintain some balance year-round, going for trail rides in the winter and arena time in the summer).

Over the past few months I have been introducing the bit to Sonny. He has never worn a bit before. I introduced it slowly, teaching him to reach toward it initially. When he bumped it with his nose/mouth I gave him a treat. He progressed very quickly to reaching to the bit and taking it in his mouth (and receiving a treat). I would just take it on/off several times and be done.  As the days got darker I added in teaching him,  first "Cession de Machoire" (mobilising the tongue and lower jaw in response to slight lifting of the bit in the mouth). This quickly progressed to "Demi-arret" and "Descente de main" which involves the upwards action of the hand with the slightest backward action, causing the horse to rebalance by lifting his head/neck and lightening the contact, this is followed by a release stretching the head/neck forwards and down (see Philippe Karl's books).  We then added lateral flexion to this next (rebalance by lifting the head/neck, mobilize the jaw and bend to the left/right, followed by a release stretching forwards and down).  I will try to get a video of this so it is easier to understand, much harder to explain in words than in a video! I left it at that for a quite a while as I didn't really have any desire or need to ride with a bit.  Lately however I have noticed that there are times Sonny is just a little tense and I didn't have really good communication to help him release his jaw (ie he clenches his jaw when tense and when he mobilises his jaw it tends to cause relaxation).   The bitless bridle certainly allows him move his jaw, but I couldn't communicate when I specifically would like him to do so.  So I decided to try riding with the bit as it is the only tool I have found that can directly influence the mouth.  And just FYI, the bit I am using is a Myler D-ring comfort snaffle because that is the bit I already own :)
**EDIT** HERE IS A VIDEO:  (and to clarify, the eventual goal is to slightly touch a rein while riding and have Sonny rebalance and telescope his neck forward to the contact)

I spent the first ride going very slowly and only working on teaching what the bit means, no new stuff, nothing fast, only walking.  I asked for the "Descente de main" while mounted at a standstill.  Then at a walk. Just taking contact, asking for a lift of the head/neck and mobilisation of the jaw, then taking the bit and stretching forward and down.  When the horse understands softly taking the bit forward it helps prevent over-flexion and anxiety about mouth pressure -- I am trying to teach the horse what the bit means and how to respond to pressure -- no pointless pulling!  Sonny got this really well and I think he has never been so relaxed while ridden, every time he stretched forward and down he wanted to keep it and continue to walk completely relaxed and on the buckle.  When the cats rustled in the bushes and he tensed in alarm, I just lightly and persistently asked for a jaw mobilisation and stretch down.  Each time he responded and regained relaxation quicker.  I repeated this for the next ride and started to add in some gait and more lateral work that he knows well. Again we had excellent relaxation and softness. I was able to ask him release small amounts of tension in his jaw during lateral work that I had been unable to affect when bitless.  For some reason with Sonny and myself, I just couldn't get the same response with the Ultimate Bitless Bridle as I am getting with the bit. Today, I basically went back to our regular riding routine, frequently asking for him to mobilise his jaw, stretch, and relax. I love how happy and relaxed he is!  For me the bit is all about communication and relaxation. I would never want to use (abuse) it in a situation where I had to pull on his tender mouth for control, that would completely undo the relaxation and softness that Sonny thinks the bit means.  So I will reserve the bit for situations where I do not anticipate any anxiety or control issues, and continue using the Ultimate Bitless Bridle or S-Hack for trail rides where we are just moving along, not focused on refined movement, and where he may get anxious about following other horses, etc. I also like the bitless for the trail for ease of eating/drinking too! I would use bitless if I ever start jumping him too, as I don't trust my hands not to catch him in the mouth!  I also think that once he really has a pattern of relaxation and understanding of how to use his body with a rider well developed that he will transition to a neck rope exceptionally well (excited about this!)