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: 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 .  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, 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 (  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 ( 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!)

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Small things

  • Pressure vs trust
    •  I ran as fast as I could run straight up to Sunny in the field and he didn't move away. He just lifted his head, pricked his ears and waited for a cookie.  This was a big test of his trust for me.  He is very sensitive to pressure and a year ago was hesitant to be caught at all.  Slowly walking up used be too much pressure and he would leave.  This is a big step. 
  • Bareback vs. Saddle and hip flexors...
    • I am upgrading bareback pads. I sold/shipped my old one out this weekend and don't expect the new Skito bareback pad to arrive for a few weeks. I love riding bareback (w/ pad) at home. It is so much quicker to tack up, I can feel the horse's back movement so much better and I also feel more balanced while riding.  But today I did not have a bareback pad, so on went the saddle.  I removed the stirrups from my saddle to continue my posture/balance practice as I have a bad habit of using the stirrups to brace a little. It wasn't fun :( Riding bareback is fun, but everything was a struggle for me in the saddle.  Sunny was great, he didn't seem bothered or tense, but I couldn't seem to get my balance.  My pelvis kept wanting to arch rather than to stay in 'neutral'.  I checked my saddle adjustment - yes it was good for him (thought I did tweak it an 1/8 of a turn narrower) and the seat was flat/level for me.  I struggled for our entire ride and was glad to be done , didn't even feel like riding Rogan next--- ugh, not how I want it to go! Thankfully I still think it was good for Sunny and he was happy.  My A-HA moment was a little later.  When riding bareback the width of the horse's back pushes my thighs up a into a flexed position, this in turns makes it easy to keep my pelivs neutral. (Try it at home-- when you tuck your knees into the fetal position your back rounds, when you pull your legs behind you your back arches)  I tend to have an arched back and tight ( and continuously stretched and worked on) hip flexors.  The twist (ie narrower seat) of the saddle however allows my legs to fall/drape almost straight down, which is accentuated without stirrups.  When MY legs are straight down MY pelvis wants to arch, thus making me fight to keep it in neutral and hence fight for my usual automatic balance.  So now I can't wait to play with this more next time... will it be easier if I carry my thighs up a little (like I would with stirrups?)  And I will continue to stretch my hip flexors out of the saddle.
  • Saddle tweaking
    • As I was struggling I obviously evaluated my saddle adjustment as a potential cause.  Widening the saddle gives it a more 'banana' shape on Sunny -- if really too wide it will actually rock.  Too narrow and it will bridge.  I continually play with about a 1/4 turn area of adjustment trying to achieve perfect (which obviously changes with his muscling, etc).  I had removed all my saddle packs and cleaned the saddle earlier in the day and had left them off for the ride.  Having the saddle packs off while riding really let me feel the panel contact on his back while mounted.  My saddle has a space in the front of the seat where I can stick my hand in and feel, as well an open gullet in the rear that essentially allows me to feel the panel from all directions.  Initially when adjusted slightly wider I had firm contact for about the middle 12" of saddle under my seat with opening up at the shoulder and loin.  I thought it was a smidge too much pressure for the seat and a smidge too little at the loin, but probably perfect for a free shoulder. So I narrowed it 1/4 turn.  This dramatically evened the pressure along the whole length of the panels but I didn't like the shoulders, they maybe a smidge too snug.  So I turned it back 1/8 turn wider :)  We shall see....   Also interesting was how the lifting of the horse's back really opened up the shoulder area between horse and saddle.  When Sunny was standing with his back neutral/dropped, the saddle was pushing down at the pommel/shoulder area more, but as soon as he lifted his back and therefor the saddle there was suddenly plenty of room for the shoulders. Hmmm, interesting and it all makes sense too!
  • Canter transitions
    • Sunny has a tendency to raise his head abruptly in canter transitions and I mentioned this to my teacher, Theresa.  She said to ask lighter, I am likely asking with too much force thus eliciting reaction in Sunny.  I will mention that at most my ask consisted of a light calf squeeze and a kiss. The challenge is if I ask lighter I don't necessarily get a canter.  At the same time I have been reading Phillipe Karl's book "Art of Riding" and just finished the chapter on lightness to the leg.  So on my next ride when it came time for canter I just lifted my energy and kissed twice and then when I didn't get much response I tapped Sunny's hip with the stick.  That really caught his attention!  I went back to relaxation and once he was relaxed and I lifted my energy, kissed twice and had a much improved transition.  We have since been playing with transitions off energy and they are consistently improving.  We have moments were we can ride in harmony and effortlessly move from walk to a canter without a change in contact, balance, or anything-- one step is a walk and the next is a canter. WOW! ---but now for consistency :)  I am also practicing this concept with all the transitions and they are steadily improving. I can't wait for these moments to become all the time!
  • Hollow Side - the side to which the horse naturally curves (ie left handed or right handed in people). The neck and hips will curve some amount to one side -- this is the hollow and stiffer side.  It is easier for the horse to move this direction and harder for them to bend in the opposite direction (which is why people mistakenly call the harder direction the 'stiff' side -- actually the opposite or hollow side is stiff and less-flexible preventing the horse's body from being able to bend in the other direction)
    • This is really more about Rogan. In the "Art of Riding" Phillipe Karl mentions a correlation between the horse's hollow side and the direction the mane naturally falls.  So I paid attention.  Sunny is slightly hollow/stiff on the right side and thus has a harder time with moving his hips to the left, his mane is to the right.  Sunny doesn't show to much preference with shoulder movement but canters much easier to the right than left and has a harder time moving his haunches to the left.  Rogan is hollow/stiff on his left side which makes bending to the right harder. His mane falls to the left.  Hollow to the left means Rogan naturally carries his head and hips slightly curved to the left and tends to weight his right front leg more than his left.  It is hard for him to curve his body to the right.  We played with this on walk circles today (until it rained suddenly and we both became soaked!!). The easiest exercise was either haunches-in (travers) on a left hand circle or shouder-in on a right hand circle, both exercises allow him to use his preferred side.  The hardest exercises were consistent with the theory and the most difficult for Rogan was counter-shoulder-in on a left circle-- his front end is very stiff and he has to keep right body/neck bend and weight his left front crossing his front legs while walking a circle.  Also consistent with theory is his left lead canter is much more balanced and effortless compared to the right lead where he tends to fall-in.  Right lead canter, by the very posture required to perform it, will naturally help him become more flexible and strong on his stiff left side.  This was very fun to play with and see the difference in the horses, it will be fascinating to see how continuing the simple exercises at the walk changes the flexibility of  Rogan and hopefully it will make him a happier and sounder horse! 

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Update: Not Lame

Sunny had his vet appointment yesterday.  Since Fort Valley he had been confined in a small paddock and received a dose of Equioxx on Friday and Saturday.  By Tuesday he looked great, which unfortunately makes it challenging to diagnose what is going on.   Had this been his initial onset of lameness in that hoof I would not have been so concerned.  However he was lame on the right front on September 15, from a what I had assumed was a mild abscess but it never ruptured and he wasn't 'abcsess lame'.  That history made me very concerned for a mild tendon or suspensory pull as those horses can have mild intermittent lameness, especially with the amount of downhill trotting (and even slow cantering) we have done in the past few months.  The downhill forces at even moderate speeds can really stress the suspensory apparatus.  Also, when I palpated his tendons I found he consistently reacted more to the right front suspensory than the left.

Sunny saw Dr. Davis at Piedmont Equine for his lameness workup and I was very pleased with Dr. Davis's thorough, detailed, and knowledgeable exam. I would be more than happy to use him (hopefully not needed!) in the future.  I chose Piedmont, as my normal vet (Dr. Ann Marie Hancock), didn't have any availability in the near future, and the other recommend endurance vets also didn't have any opening's that worked with my schedule.  I have also been impressed with Piedmont for other veterinary workup's in the past (EPM in Rogan and an injury to my neighbor's horse).  Piedmont is a referral level hospital and they have great lameness evaluation facilities including an asphalt trot-out lane, a soft footing round pen, a firm footing riding/longeing area, and a regular arena.

Sunny was completely sound for his examination.  During flexions he did show a slight positive to flexion of his right hind hock/stifle according to Dr. Davis (it was slight enough that I couldn't really see it!), but completely negative on the other 4 limbs.  The veterinary technician longed Sunny (so I could watch) on the different surfaces, and then I even rode him in the arena -- he was sound the entire time! Dr. Davis explained how to properly palpate the tendons, during my palpation of the suspensory I was likely causing a cutaenous (skin) reaction, not eliciting true pain in the suspensory.  Instead of running my fingers down the ligament continuously I should apply pressure in each location separately.  Sunny certainly didn't react at all to his palpation! (And this is why my horse sees an Equine Vet- while I certainly know the basics, I see small animals all day and don't have the daily practice with horse injury)

I elected to proceed with imaging (xray and ultrasound).  I have big goals and demands for Sunny's future athletic career (would like to try a 100 mile ride and definitely would like to have a decade team horse!). I need to know if Sunny has a problem that could cause reevaluation of my goals, or if he needs a year of rest and rehabilitation.  It is not fair to push a horse that could have a problem -- you could cause a major problem or a lot of pain for your horse unknowingly.  I need to feel confident that my athletic demands are fair to my horse and not causing him pain.  He is my beloved partner, not my ATV!

The technician and I went into the radiology suite and she quickly took the views needed, Sunny was great, obediently standing on the blocks; only pooping out of nerves when another horse left his direct sight.  The xrays looked great- no signs of osteoarthritis in either front hoof or the fetlocks!  The only finding was what appeared to be a flat, 0 degree, angle of the solar plane. To explain, that is comparing the bottom flat surface of the coffin bon/P3 to a flat line. Ideally, while standing the bottom of the coffin bone/P3 (solar plane) would be about 3-5 degrees up from a flat line, this would allow 3 degrees for the bone to sink to level (0 degrees) into the digital cushion during maximum weight bearing.  When the hoof sinks below level (a negative solar plane) the horse is more prone to heel pain and tendon tears.  To fix this problem Sunny needs either higher heels or a lower toe.  His heels were lowered for the recent shoeing (to provide a flat surface for the shoe) so I suspect I just need to let them grow out a little but I will have my wonderful barefoot trimmer, Patrice Sager, evaluate his hoof and let me know for sure what the correct course of action is for this.  The xray also showed the defect the abscess left in his hoof wall (so, yes, it likely was an abscess making him lame in September).  However, after measuring his hoof on the xray and calculating the angles I consistently get between a 2.4 and 2.8 degree positive solar plane, not quite the 3-5 degrees of ideal, but better than 0 degrees!

Image courtesy of 
We then proceeded with an ultrasound of his flexor tendons and suspensory to check for common problems in seen in athletic horses.  I have to say Sunny was a champ for all of this, no sedation required.  He was a little unsure of going into the ultrasound/wash stall area, but trusted me that he wasn't going to fall into a black hole, then stood quietly for the exam (he did receive regular carrots for his exemplary patience).  The ultrasound showed some mild changes in his distal suspensory branches, but it was explained that those minor changes could be from anytime -- once they happen they generally don't heal ultrasonographically, but he should still be lame/ouchy if they were acutely injured.  The only concerning abnormality was at the origin of his proximal suspensory.  Sunny has a slightly abnormal anatomy with a more prominent bony ridge separating the medial (inside) and lateral (outside) of the lobes of proximal than expected.  This was symmetrical in both legs so that tells us it is likely just him; if these changes were just present in 1 leg then injury would be a major concern.  The biggest concern of the entire exam was irregular bone surface (instead of a smooth bone surface) at the origin of the suspensory in both front legs, this indicates some chronic inflammation/changes or stress to the area.  This could be an area of pain or just changes that indicate use and are not an issue.

So the plan is to enjoy Sunny as a light riding pleasure horse through the winter, essentially with easy rides and time off.  This may give any minor injury sustained during the season time to heal and bone to remodel. I will start conditioning him in the late winter/early spring for next season's rides and hope he doesn't have any more lameness.  If he does come up lame again (without an obvious cause) the next step is to get him to the vet while he is still lame and then block (numb) the proximal suspensory.  I am also going to be more aware of stressing his suspensory area and avoid high jumping (LOL), racehorse style-gallops (LOL-- the fastest we have ever gone is about 15 mph!) and for what really affects us - go slower on the downhills.   My favorite theory for the whole episode is that Sunny banged his lower pastern on a rock, causing swelling above the coronet band, which mimicked coffin joint effusion, which explains what the ride vets saw and also would explain the quick resolution. And that means he would be essentially fine. 

So really good news overall!!!

Friday, October 20, 2017

Fort Valley: 17 miles and lame

View from Massanutten Trail (the ridgeline on the first loop)

I should be at Fort Valley base camp finishing dinner after a long but rewarding day of 50 miles. Instead I am writing this back at home, with my visiting out-of-town family.  My parents drove up from Florida to see first hand this crazy sport that their daughter has gotten obsessively involved with!  Unfortunately they got to see first hand ALL the aspects of endurance... (except a completion award!)

Fort Valley prep officially started 10 days ago with a new set of shoes, then light riding the week prior to the ride, with mashes, electrolytes, gastrogard, etc.  Sunny traveled well and was relaxed at camp. We had a great pre-ride and he vetted-in without an issue.  We had a calm start, but going up the initial gravel road I felt something was slightly off so I stopped to make sure he hadn't picked up a rock in his shoe.  All looked good and he evened out so we enjoyed the trail, readily moving out on the forest service roads and taking our time on the rocky climbs.  Sunny ate and drank well on trail and was an absolute dream to ride! However on the downhill forest road headed back into basecamp he felt slightly uneven at the gait and trot and the rider with me confirmed a very slight head nod-- off on the right front, but then on level ground he felt sound again.  At camp he pulsed in quickly, but I asked Dr. Bob Marshall to pay extra attention to the RF on the trot out and he confirmed that he was consistently off on the RF.  The wonderful ride vets had a lull in the horses coming in, so they looked at him a little more in depth and Dr. Julia Wolfe found a moderate amount of coffin joint effusion, mild reactivity to palpation of the proximal suspensory and definite reactivity to the 'foot' acupuncture point on the right side.  His shoeing and hooves still looked great (boy I wish it was just an obvious hoof bruise or muscle cramp!!).  In hindsight I also noticed he kept throwing me to one diagonal when trotting -- of course now I can't remember which one as I make a point to consistently switch.

Spot on the right front that I thought was an abscess coming out the corornet

I am not sure what is going on yet,  but of course all the horrible career ending injury thoughts are going through my head.  Sunny is my decade team, amazing-forever-partner horse- we have another 10-15 years of great rides ahead -- he can't be permanently lame!! The kicker is he was off in the right front on September 15, our first conditioning ride 3 weeks after he completed back-to-back 50's at Iron Mountain (sound).  He had a spot on the coronet band of the hoof that looked like an abscess coming out, but he was only about a 3/5 lame and hoof-tester negative.  I had to go out of town and by the time I got back he was sound and we had 3 good conditioning rides prior to Fort Valley.   Now I am wondering if he had something brewing in the hoof/tendon/joint/etc and now it is rearing it's ugly head.  I sincerely hope it is not low-ringbone :(  Sunny and I can take all the time we need to heal a tendon or even surgically remove a bone chip, but there are not many great options for osteoarthritis of the coffin joint besides management and reducing athletic demands.  Sunny has an appointment for a full lameness workup on Tuesday and hopefully we will have some good answers. Hopefully it is nothing but a minor strain or bruise! On the bright side the timing is convenient for  rest as Fort Valley is the last ride of our season and I am also very glad he is insured with medical coverage!

For now he is enjoying relaxing back in his home field, comfortable with a dose of Equioxx on board.  I will post again when I have answers.. until then I will worry 😊

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Beautiful weather, bareback dressage, Rogan and Sunny

What a beautiful weekend!!

I thoroughly enjoyed not having plans and time to play with both horses all 3 days.  I am always amazed at how consistency really makes for fast progress!  Also, interestingly enough I am working on the same tasks with both horses right now.  The contrast between Rogan and Sunny is educational. Rogan understands all the movements I am asking for (through our previous training) but physically struggles - he is built very downhill and has very low set neck -almost a ewe neck; he is very stiff and heavy in his movement.  He also has some anxiety from my previous attempts to teach him things (thank you Rogan for helping me learn and improve!).  Sunny is much more athletic and fluid, but is still learning what I am asking for and how to do the movements.  The increased fluidity, relaxation, and understanding for both horses over 3 days is wonderful.

I love riding bareback for fine-tuned arena work. I am using a Equi-Pedic saddle pad underneath a Parelli bareback for a little protection for the horse's back and a little grip for me. I can really feel if the back is lifting or if the horse has a little tension or brace that we need to work out; this is much harder for me to feel in the saddle at this point in my learning.  Rogan tends to 'cheat' and visually put his head/neck in a 'frame' but not actually have a relaxed and lifted back. When I ride him bareback I can feel this instantly and then ask him to release his tension and lift.  Rogan isn't very strong yet and can only really lift his back when his neck is around the horizontal position, when he tenses he typically raises his neck so I can gently ask him to lower it down again and then think 'lift' with my body and it works!!  Sunny is getting really strong and seems to vascillate between an excellent lifted back and then a REALLY lifted back during certain movements which is fantastic, but also makes it hard to tell if he is always lifting as I am losing contrast, LOL! It is good to ride multiple horses!

I am starting out both horses with neck stretches in hand and when mounted.  Then with Sunny we are still playing with Spanish Walk, but at this point it is Spanish-Stand, LOL.  He is continuously improving and we get 4 leg lifts in a row consistently under saddle but we are struggling with walking forward between.  I am hopeful more practice and loads of praise will sort this out from Spanish-Stand to Spanish-Walk.  Then I have been warming up with alternating between shoulder-in and haunches-in along the rail both directions; today I added in more half-pass.  I used a barrel as an end-point to the half-pass; both horses quickly figured out the target and aimed themselves to it, half-passing over for a rest and treat at the barrel.  I find horses are much more motivated and offer so much more when you give them a purpose such as 'we are going to that barrel with a cookie' rather than aimlessly repeating a movement along the rail.  Today I also added in walk-pirouettes. Rogan really surprised me, he did several really nice 1/2 - 3/4 pirouettes -- this is where he shines because he understands what I am asking and since I had warmed him up well and his body was loosening he gave me some awesome relaxed and beautiful movements.  Sunny doesn't understand this very well yet and accordingly I have to be very precise in my direction. However, when I do my job and prepare him correctly Sunny will consistently offer really nice 1/2 walk pirouettes.  If I don't prepare him well he will do what just comes easier and step out with his hind end (a coke-bottle turn, rather than a pirouette).  Today we got 3 really nice 1/2 walk pirouettes each direction (yay!!)  What I love about this is both horses are so relaxed and on really light contact -- just enough to communicate, everything is so easy and smooth!  The horses are relaxed, understand the communication, are physically capable and 'it' (the really cool fancy movement) just easily happens!  No more "driving the horse into the bit"-- bleh, never ever again!!!!  Thank you Theresa McManus and the many horses that have helped me learn!

Next, I played with trot/walk (or gait with Sunny) transitions.  Each horse needs a slightly different focus.  Rogan has done a million transitions (and knows his job), but wants to tense his neck and thrust forward (this is my fault too from previous riding/training mistakes). I have to help him relax his neck and lift into the transition. I find this is easier if he does the transition from a shoulder-fore position, it breaks up the bad habit and every day he is getting softer with more of a lift-transition.  He also tends to fall-in on his right shoulder when on the right-rein/direction and starting him in a shoulder-in on the circle helps him stay even on his shoulders when this happens; accordingly he drifts out on left hand circles...  Sunny still will get emotionally nervous about transitions and just needs practice and repetition that they are ok; he still needs his million transitions!  He truly hasn't done a lot of arena/practice transitions, it is very different on the trail where it is very obvious to go/slow.  We just walked, then gaited for about 20 feet, then walked, then gaited, etc. At the beginning he would vacillate between a mild balking and a nervous-go, the balking equaled a light tap with the stick and then nervous-go equaled relaxation and repetition.   Today he really understood and we had forward transitions without nervousness, balking, or the stick!.  Downward transitions are really easy in the arena (ie I think stop), LOL!

I am also adding-in shoulder-in at the trot for Rogan and gait for Sunny.  Both horse's think it is hard (me too!!!), but both horse's were really getting a few good steps by today.  Rogan struggles more going to the right and Sunny to the left.  I think this will really come soon for both, but I find it hard to push both the horse's and myself to the next level (versus stay in our comfort zone).  I have to just keep practicing and praising the wonderful horses for every good step they offer, and then the next session they just offer more -- each step they take increases their mental understanding and physical ability to do another the next day!  And today I was amazed by the improvement in Sunny's gait after practicing this -- he was really moving, while maintaining relaxation and a hugely lifted back, Wow!! And I also learned throughout the weekend of riding that I am dropping my left shoulder as my bra strap falls down on that side-- Now that's a good reminder, LOL! If I remember to keep my hands level in turns, etc (ie "serving tea to the queen") then my bra strap stays up-- imagine that 😉

Finally, we added on the canter. Once again both horses are practicing the exact same thing -- a relaxed upward lift into the canter (pushing off with the outside hind, rather than falling onto this inside front leg). Both horses initially tend to raise their necks and fall forward into the canter. Rogan physically is having trouble cantering so I just ask for a nice lift into the canter, about 2-3 strides then walk.  I am not sure if he is just that stiff, anxious about previous mistakes I made in the canter (ie flying lead change training trying Parelli methods -- that didn't work at all for us!!), or a little footsore too.  Regardless we are taking it slow and building up with all the walk/trot/lateral work, using hoof-boots, and he also has an osteopath visit in a few weeks.  Sunny is doing amazing -- he is just having to figure out that horses can canter in a small arena (instead of a 14 mph hand-gallop on the trail!!) and is offering a delightful back-lifted balanced and relaxed canter.  I also only ask Sunny for a few strides as he is just learning, and when he lifts into the canter and offers a few lovely strides I let him know he has the 'right' answer by stopping and praising.  Not every transition is lovely (of course) but we are making huge improvement.  I CAN'T WAIT until we can flow down the trail alternating between his amazingly smooth gait and this lovely little canter! That is my goal (or one of my goals!).  My next conditioning ride (next week after 3 weeks off from conditioning) will just be a short 7-8 mile loop where we, hopefully, practice maintaining a gait or lovely little canter most of the time.