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.

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