Thursday, May 24, 2012

15 - The buck stops here. Part 3 (Looking for answers)

Being the dedicated horse mom that I am, I decided to fill in some of the gaps in my knowledge, in order to rule out legitimate reasons for my horse's recent rodeo.

Lucky for me, the Equine Affaire was coming to town.  In particular, I was planning to attend a saddle fitting lecture, and, a demo by my current favorite trainer, Stacy Westfall.  I filled in all the gaps with lectures on everything from Western Pleasure to Dressage to Braiding to breed demonstrations.  I was able to attend for two whole days, a Thursday, and a Saturday.  Let me recommend to anyone wanting to go.  Go during the week.  Saturday was a madhouse.  The lines for shopping were long, it was like moving through a herd of sheep getting to places, and, I liked the topics presented on Thursday better too!  Perhaps that was done on purpose, to try to increase attendance during the week.  Apparently attendance on the weekend is not an issue.

My bad ride happened within the week before the Equine Affaire, and, weather and timing, (and perhaps a subliminal lack of determination?) had delayed my next ride.  So, I headed to the Equine Affaire, ready to rule out a poor saddle fit, and, hopefully pick up some tips on handling a bronc, should I need those skills.

The saddle fitting lecture was a bust.  I'm not saying the speaker wasn't accurate in what he was saying.  I don't know enough to be the judge of that.  What I'm saying, is, that he wasn't helpful.  Basically, he said that saddles don't fit horses.  He even claimed that the horse's left shoulder sits slightly forward of the horse's right shoulder.  He said this is why most horses prefer the left lead.  And, since saddles are built symmetrically, they won't fit.  Unless, that is, you buy HIS custom fit, adjustable saddle.  That was of no help to me.  If I win the lottery, I'll buy all new saddles.  Western show saddle, western work saddle, hunt seat saddle.  Right now, I can't justify spending my kid's college savings on new saddles.

Professional Choice did answer some questions about my SMB's as well...finally using them now!
So, I moved on to seek advice from the saddle pad professionals, ProChoice.  I confessed my ignorance, and they tried to give me some basics on knowing if my saddle is fitting.  Their recommendation, which I found helpful, was to take a look at my sweat marks, and make sure they are even and, they showed me where they are supposed to be.  From what I could remember of her recent sweat marks, everything was looking good, so, I settled for just hoping my saddle was fitting her well.  If I win the lottery, I'll buy the custom fit hunt seat AND western saddles.

I think the toughest part about working with animals is that, we can only do so much to learn their language.  Heck, communicating with people effectively is hard enough.  And that is when we speak the SAME language.  Communication is a topic that effects marriages, parent child relationships, employer employee relations, customer relations, and peer relationships.

So, when our animals let us know they are unhappy, annoyed, or uncomfortable, we can only know with a limited amount of certainty WHY they are feeling that way.  The saddle fitter says its a saddle fitting problem, the chiropractor says its a back problem, the trainer says to send the horse to him, its a training problem, and the farrier says it's not HIS problem.  Just kidding, I have a great farrier!  As the horse owner, we need to know a little about everything, so that we don't have to call the vet every week, or the farrier when we need a chiropractor.  And, the more we know, the more we know there is to know.  Or, there are those that think they know it all, when, in fact, they are living by antiquated techniques and old wives tales, aren't really doing the best for the horse.

Problem solving with horses requires a lot of knowledge, and a group of trusted professionals on which you can rely.  And, the overwhelming amount of information for horse people can be both helpful and confusing.  Sometimes it is best just to rely on a professional you trust, because there is too much information.  But, even if you have a trainer you trust, it is like having a doctor you trust.  They are only human, and, although, hopefully experienced, they are not perfect.  So, it is best to have a whole network of people you can rely on, and a good head on your shoulders to piece it all together.

There is often more than one right answer, and more than one road to get there.  I guess in the end, it is like parenting;  Read all you can, consult the professionals, try your best, and trust your gut.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

14 - The buck stops here. Part 2 (Power of the Mare)

I wanted answers as to why my sweet, never before marish, mare, was behaving SO badly.  Let me paint you a picture.  We started at a walk, and having a well broke trot, we went through the motions, with little input from me.  I had spent 98 percent of my time in the saddle on the walk and trot, and, it was evident.  She is pretty solid there.  Now that I had a regular riding routine, I was anxious to work on some canter transitions and collection.  Her transitions on the lunge line were fairly prompt, and, her saddle work had been improving.  So, I put my right leg on, and let her know that we were about to canter.  I kissed, and she lunged into a canter, and within a stride, began to buck.  Not a bunny hop.  Some nice elevation in the front, followed by equal effort in the back.  I pulled up her head, and she threw in another, so I and pulled her in a circle, hard.  She broke down quickly, and stood there, seething.

It didn't take long for me to regret having ridden.  All the signals that she was having a bad day, became crystal clear.  I wanted to get off, and fix the disrespect and bad attitude on the lunge line, but, I was afraid that she would interpret my dismount as a relief from work, and a reward.  So, with the weight of my poor choices on my shoulders, I prepared to move her forward again.

I sat, looking down at ears stiff back, head slightly twisted in annoyance that I would have the nerve to be giving her directions.  A slight bump of my legs caused her tail to swish, but no forward motion resulted.  I wished I had worn and gotten her use to spurs before, because my leg alone wasn't very effective.  Three hard, quick, spurless thumps to reprimand her for her defiance only resulted in head shaking and a bounce of the head and neck that threatened a rear with a slight hop.  I quickly pulled her in a circle, thumping her with my legs, shocked that this was my horse.  Unbelievable.  Never in my life have I seen such a dramatic transformation for the worse.  

After struggling to get her compliance with basic maneuvers such as moving off my leg, I tried to determine whether I actually needed to ask for the canter again today.  She was having a bad day.  Perhaps there was something REALLY wrong with her.  I tried several more times, with the same result.  This was not good.  Now we were establishing a pattern.  A really BAD pattern.  Knowing that I needed to try something new, I trotted her  from the center towards a corner, and, with only a few strides distance remaining, I asked for a canter.  She transitioned, and, with the corner fast approaching, I asked her for a halt, while she was still wondering why on earth I was trying to run her into the fence.  Success.  Not a big success, but, a small win.  Transition with no bucking.  Wow had I lowered my standards.  Before I got on her today, I had envisioned a canter worthy of an open show.

Suddenly my dreams of showing her at the AQHA shows was miles away.  My nice little amateur horse, that would help me to make a name for myself, was a problem horse.  Worthless.  OK, I was thinking the worse.  Feeling like my world had fallen apart.  That happens sometimes.

There had to be a logical explanation for her behavior.  This was the same horse I put my kids on for 'pony' rides.  How could I have trusted them with miss Jekyl and Hyde?

Fearful that there was something wrong with her, I dismounted, lunged her once more to look for soundness issues, and called it a day.  So much for equine therapy to clear my mind, and enjoy some 'me' time after a day of juggling 3 young boys.  The days ahead were consumed by thoughts of my bad ride.

I spent the evening going through the checklist in my mind, of probable causes for her behavior:

1.)  Sore back.  I had groomed her before riding, and she may have been a tiny bit tender on her back, but, I was being hasty and using a hard brush (gently), so, I thought perhaps I just wasn't being gentle enough.  Also, I had used a chiropractor once before with her, with good results.  However, I knew she needed a chiropractor because she was traveling with a slightly hollow back, and quite strung out.  I didn't think that today, she had reason enough to behave the way she did.  If I couldn't find a better explanation, perhaps it would be worth returning to the back, but, I didn't think that was it.

2.)  Teeth.  She had been floated a month before, and I had ridden her since, so this was not a probably cause.

3.)  Lameness.  I watched her on the lunge line, and, when she wasn't misbehaving, she looked very nice. Next.

4.)  Tack.  Neoprene saddle pad, so no place for a burr.  Also, checked the girth.  All was well.  Same saddle as I had been using the weeks prior.  As far as fit, I don't know much, so, worth learning more about this as a potential problem.

5.)  Fresh.  She is normally out 24/7, but she had spent the morning in, because I knew I was going to ride.  Could a half day of stall time turn my mare into a she-devil?  Geesh.

6.) Estrus, diestrus, whatever.  She didn't look like she was going into heat, but, the problems seemed 'mental', or 'hormonal', to me.  But, there were no obvious signs of her being in heat.  If I had to gamble, this was my bet.  I've felt pretty angry, for no apparent reason.  Then, the reason becomes apparent.

 So, I turned to the internet for answers, as this provided the most instantaneous gratification.  I posted my 'problem' on the for a brainstorming session.  No groundbreaking discoveries, except for the potential of using a Magnesium based supplement for 'marish' problems.  I wasn't familiar, and I found this interesting.

The next day, I went to the barn, and caught Dottie winking.  It was just once.  But, I was a relieved that she was showing signs of heat.  Could she really just have been PMSing?  Her attitude was much better too, but, I didn't have time to ride.

I continued my research that night, on my favorite website,  I found an article called "Mare Madness" and it said:

"Some mares appear particularly sensitive to weight or manipulation that might affect the area of the ovaries during the periovulatory period of the cycle."

Back soreness AND bad attitude explained.  I could only hope that my next ride would be as if none of this had happened, and that all of this could be dismissed as a bad day.  I hoped we would pick up where we left off.  I hoped, but feared it wouldn't.

Monday, May 7, 2012

13 - The buck stops here, Part 1 (How it began)

Besides the "Life Lesson" I learned (see post 11) from the ride of my life, I learned plenty of horsey lessons as well.

The first thing, that would have changed the course of the day, would be to have listened to my horse ( and my own advice).  Oddly enough, I handed this advice out to someone who was having a problem riding (and falling off!) her horse on windy days:

"If your horse is giving you signals that he is not paying attention to you, and is nervous, you've got some work to do BEFORE you get on! Use this opportunity to solidify groundwork. Put the horse on the lunge line and work on transitions, walk - trot, walk - canter, canter -trot, and canter - walk. If he is attentive, and no longer spooky, then I might consider getting on the horse, if you feel he is behaving reliably. If not, put in a good groundwork session and call it a day! Life is too short, and there are so many opportunities to train, ride, and connect with your horse, there is no reason to put yourself at risk when you are getting signals that all is not well! Ride safe, and good luck!"

Oh, the irony.  Had I only listened to my own advice.  Dottie wasn't nervous, and she was paying attention to me.  But, she was giving me the equine equivalent of the evil eye.  OK, it wasn't even as subtle as the evil eye.  She was kicking out, and, doing a crazy little hop/buck, as if her tail were stuck in her back legs.  But, she looked super sound, and perhaps even slightly more collected on the line than usual.  I settled for a few buck free transitions, and, hurried forward with my ride.  I ignored a whole lot of disrespect, and pursued my own agenda.  Bad idea.  I won't do that again.

An OLD pic of me, on a student's horse, having a little fun!

12 - Sad news

In case you haven't heard.  Another great horse is gone.  Poor Vaquero.  At least he had Stacy.  My heart goes out to her and her family.  Please pray for them.

Monday, April 30, 2012

11 - Not wanting to learn the lessons we need.

I haven't posted lately, because my confidence was a bit shaken by my sweet, predictable mare.  Looking back, I should have known we were going to have a bad day.  She CLEARLY told me that she wanted nothing to do with riding, work, lunging, her pasture mate, pretty much everything.  I've had those days.  I just didn't know SHE had those days.  I've owned her for some time, and, I guess I've just been REALLY lucky that we've not spent any time together on THOSE days.

So, the long story later.  But, the short of it is, there was bucking.  I've never had a horse with a bucking problem.  I've prided myself with starting horses the 'right' way, so that there IS no bucking problem.  And, I've started a handful of horses, so, I thought I had a pretty good thing going.

Bluebird on the fence.
But, just because I don't cause problems, doesn't mean I shouldn't be prepared to handle them.  And, I only had a few tricks in my bag.  I've ridden through bucks enough times that I had no reason for concern.   "Pull their head up, and push them on", has been sufficient.

The last time I can remember being nervous (the kind of nervous, where you wonder if you are going to fall off, not the kind of nervous where you really want to win the class), was when I was just learning to ride.  I was at a very nice hunter jumper barn called Storybook Farms, in Hudson.  I was probably about 8 years old.  I remember riding a little flea-bitten grey horse named Mouse.  Mouse kept spooking in the one corner of the outdoor ring, because there were chickens wandering around in the leaves and trees by that corner.  Every time we went in that corner, Mouse would spook.  I didn't fall, but I lost my stirrups repeatedly, and nearly came off, almost every time.  I remember being scared.  My instructor kept making me go back, over, and over again.  I did NOT like that riding lesson.  I've fallen off more than a dozen times, but, thankfully, there hasn't been that KNOWING that something bad is about to happen.  All my falls have just happened, unexpectedly, pretty much.  I didn't fall off of Mouse that day, and my sweet mare Dottie, did not buck me off.  But, they both succeeded in giving me the least enjoyable rides of my life.  It's all about the KNOWING that something is going to happen that causes fear.

I've had some time to reflect, and I can now thank my sweet mare for her nasty day; she gave me the opportunity to learn.  To become a better trainer.  I can appreciate that now, but, a week of nervousness and anticipation of what might happen on our next ride, was unfamiliar territory for me.  How else can we become better riders, unless we are challenged by our horses from time to time?  Thank you Dottie.  Let's not do it again, though.  I've learned my lesson.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

10 - Back to the lunge line

My latest way to work my horse, since the weather has gotten warmer, is to lunge my horse during my 2 year old's nap.  I put the baby monitor on the fence post nearest the house, and get to work.  I can hear him when he wakes, and, hurry inside, leaving Dottie to graze in the paddock, if necessary.

I am working on figuring out iMovie (I didn't even know I had it, until just now!), so that I can add a voice over, as to what I'm doing with her.  For now, here is the video, and, yes, I should have corrected her sooner, when she didn't walk (from canter).  She walks so well from canter when I'm riding, I guess I didn't realize she wasn't there yet on the lunge line.  That, and the bouncing lunge line (I was holding the phone/videoing AND lunging at the same time), weren't positives for her training. I should have pushed her back into the canter within a few strides, rather than waiting for a whole revolution.  Ahh well.  She is coming along quite nicely.  Compare THIS canter to the canter video a few posts ago.  I was riding in that video, which was actually an IMPROVEMENT over her canter on the lunge line.  She needed me to hold her together at the time, but, she is learning, and her condition is improving, as evidenced here!

Oh, and the grey filly, Irie, tied to the post in the background, is experiencing her own 'training' session.  She is the sweetest horse, but a nervous nellie.  She doesn't see well, due to the lack of a lens on her eye.  She was born with congenital cataracts, and had the lenses removed to save her sight.  You might see her pawing in the video, but, it is a vast improvement over the whinnying and dancing around she did when I first tied her and lunged Dottie.

I'm making a conscience effort to expose my horses to as much as I can.  Even though I don't have time to ride Irie right now, I figure this is something.  I am amazed at all I did with my horse when I was 14 years old, that my horses haven't seen yet.  But, we are getting there.  Maybe I'll try to get a tarp session on video.  That might be fun...but I'm not sure how I'll hold the phone and handle her.  Maybe my 6 year old can help :-)

I'll update with my edited iMovie version, as soon as I figure it out ;-)  For now, here is my advice for anyone working on transitions on the lunge line, use the horse's natural tendencies to your advantage.  I ask for a walk when she approaches the gate (she naturally slows), and, I don't ask for a downward transition unless she looks relaxed enough that it is likely she will give it to me!  Now, for a horse that balks at the gate, you'll have to do the opposite and speed him up, so he doesn't stop when you don't want him to.  But, we don't have that problem.  At least not right now!

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

9 - I knew that.

As a stay-at-home mother of 3 young boys, I have found it difficult to work in my horse time, over the last 6 years.  But, with a little determination, and, with my boys growing older, I am finally getting back into things.
Irie, my breeding stock Paint.
A little romp.

Ironically, the more time I spend with the horses, the more 'rookie' mistakes I've been making!  It is funny how, if you don't use it, you lose it.  Not just muscles, but, even my knowledge as to what to do, and what not to do, has gotten a little bit rusty since my horses have been on vacation for the last several years.  Feeding my horses, grooming, and holding them for the farrier and vet have done little to keep my skills sharp.

Dottie in front, Irie behind
If you look carefully at the sky, you'll see a rainbow!
For example, I made the mistake of turning out my dominant mare in the paddock before my low on the totem pole mare.  As I was trying to chase Dottie away, and bring in poor little Irie, Dottie nailed Irie.  Poor Irie.  Better her that me though.  So, I took that opportunity to educate my non-horsey husband, WHY you should always turn out the horse that is lowest on the totem pole first.  They will steer clear as you bring out the boss, but a horse on the end of a rope is in a very vulnerable position.  And, when bringing them in, do the opposite, so that you bring the dominant horse in first.  I knew that, I just wasn't thinking.  Of course, I could work with Dottie on backing off, too.  All in due time.

Another "oops" was during my first ride at the indoor, during colder weather,  Dottie had behaved so well, I decided to have a little 'fun', and lunge her over a small (1 foot) jump that was set up in the ring.   I already had a successful ride, and was cooling her off, why would I start something new?  Shame on me.  But seriously, it was so small, she could have walked over it.  I didn't expect her to balk.  She didn't at first, but, she lazily trotted over it the first two times, but on the second time, she wacked it pretty good.  When she did that, I knew that she would either clear it with plenty of room, or, avoid going over it the next time.  Unfortunately, it was the latter.  I would have certainly ended the session differently, had I set out to work with her on jumps.  She was getting worked up and avoiding the jump with all her might.  She had behaved so well, and the weather was so cold, I didn't want her getting so worked up over this.  I dropped one side of the 'jump', and she finally lunged over.  I left it at that.  If she puts up a fight next time I send her over a jump, it's my fault.  But, I'll start that lesson with plenty of time and energy to finish it right.

Another rainbow pic.  And don't worry, I've since fixed the fence.

It's these little mistakes that keep me humble, I suppose.  Everyone makes mistakes, and luckily, there was no permanent damage done with these little mishaps.  But, its a subtle reminder that we always need to be playing our A game, when it comes to horses, so that we, and they, stay safe (and well trained)!

Anyone else care to share their stupid mistakes?  Feel free to leave a comment (and it's OK to link to your blog, if you already wrote a story; I would love to read it!)

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