Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Gotta love a smart pony!

Today was saddling up day with Maz. Yesterday I girthed her up with the lunging roller and she was fine. She should have been fine with the saddle as well, but I wasn't convinced and took precautions. Despite the precautions, she reacted dramatically and turned into a loose bucking bronco for several minutes. But while she was in the midst of mild panic dealing with this thing on her back, she managed to keep her brain switched on enough to get herself out of some potentially sticky, risky spots. She looked where she put her feet, where her body was in space, and was quick-thinking and smart enough to solve a couple of dicey problems mid-flight.

While I was totally not impressed that she was reacting as she was, I was thrilled to see her work through the tight spots she put herself in, without more panic or too much difficulty for that matter. Smart pony!

Later, after we had finished with the groundwork, post bronc episode, we went for a walk to some tarps and an Otto bin. She checked out the rattling tarps but wasn't fully convinced. She then let me check out the bin to see if it was safe, and once she was happy I wasn't going to get sucked in, she walked straight up and stuck her nose in to see what I was looking at. I was stoked. She was working with me of her own volition, and showing me trust. Not bad for a horse that had been fighting a pain memory 20 minutes earlier and not convinced when I started to work with her once the tanty had stopped. Smart pony!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Looking good



Christmas eve, and the neighbouring alpaca (I assume it was one of those, and not a llama!) came over to see what the new brown thing was in the paddock next door. The same could be said for Maz!

To see her move out well, with her signature slinkyness is fantastic: no lameness, no hobbling, no soreness, no unevenness. After four weeks, she is back to her normal, easy self to handle. I have moved her down the back of the property, as she was very lonely on her own at the front. For some reason, all the horses are currently in back paddocks. So now she is beside her front paddock buddy, and is very relaxed and content.

I'll be working with her more intensely this week, while I am off work. So long as it stops raining!

Saddle fit

Apologies for the blurriness of the photo, but you get the idea. I've been meaning to post this photo since I took it mid last week. This white patch (and it's matching sibling on the nearside) were not there last weekend. Maz had her showerproofs on for a few days early last week, because, well it was raining! Come Wednesday when the rugs came off, this pair of beauties were in full white glory.

To say I was stunned (and a bit shocked) is an understatement. They are evidence of muscle damage caused by a saddle: the trainer's saddle. I know this because 1) she has not been ridden in any other saddle in the last 4 yrs and 2) these two patches correspond to two areas of swelling and tissue damage Maz had when I pulled the pin on the trainer. What I find remarkable is that the trainer told me he had only ridden the mare three times (although that's not what told other people, in front of me!).

The other point of interest in the location of these patches is what lies underneath. Not just muscle and muscle junctures (lat dorsi, traps etc) but also acupressure points and nerve pathways. We take for granted the body of our horses because they are so large, and seemingly strong, powerful and resilient. They are not. I love these white patches as much as I loathe them (for the pain that Maz has obviously endured) because they demonstrate so clearly how quickly and easily muscle damage can occur in such an athletic animal; and because they also demonstrate how complex, intricate and fragile the whither area is (amongst others).

My hope now is that the white hair is temporary, and with good massage, exercise and feed, the hairs will shed and be replaced by healthy dark brown hair that should be there.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Rehab Day 14

Fri Dec 17

I've had a few days off working with Maz, thanks to a nasty side effect of some missing bugs! Wednesday was Maz's monthly pedicure with our favourite barefoot trimmer. I figured that was enough "handling" for the day, and as it turned out, the trimmer was able to finally cut away a manky section of old abscess decay that had finally grown down from coronet to toe level. This left Maz a little tender on that hoof, and a bit "hoofless" across all four legs, so there was no point in doing anything with her beyond her trim on Wednesday.

Yesterday afternoon, I had the energy to give Maz a light massage (nothing intensive or overly probing), working on a few problem areas. She is still very protective of her neck, although I am able to work along her neckline to her crest now, which is a great breakthrough. She is improving in all areas, and her muscles in general no longer feel hard and flat (apart from those in her neck!).

I also checked out the fit of my dressage saddle on her, something I have been avoiding. I love my stubben and don't really want to replace it. But as it was fitted to Moonie, all 14.3 1/2 hands of him, I really didn't expect it to fit Maz. So when I put it on her (she was wary, but allowing, waiting for the cinching up and pain I expect) I was stoked to find it fits her quite well. Through the shoulders its a lovely fit, with a good angle, width and height. There is no bridging and the channel seems adequately wide enough (another concern). So the verdict is that it is worthwhile getting the master saddler out to fit it to her properly, rather than ditching the whole thing and taking the hit buying another saddle.

Whilst I was fitting things to her, I also had another go with bridling. This time she was more compliant, in that we didn't have absolute "no way!" tanties, just a persistent "I don't want to", to which I persistently responded with "yes, please". Lots of nice negotiation and rewards for each movement towards me, and once the hunk of metal ( a comfy PZ bit) was in her mouth, she was happy for the headpiece to go on. The issue is not headshyness, it's having the bit in her mouth. I've made plans for a bitless version of her current bridle, as Plan B if Plan A (bitted) is too challenging for Maz at the moment.

Once the bit was in, I tested her responsiveness to bit pressure (ie how well the #@%^ trainer had actually mouthed her) using my forefinger hooked on the ring. Interestingly, in typical "baby" fashion, she would yield slowly but decisively if I requested it to the side I was on. If I requested to the other side (ie the side I wasn't on) the response was very slow in coming, and very limited ie she wasn't fully "understanding" the request. So that would be a fail on part of the trainer and the mouthing he apparently did, considering her capacity prior,  and being told she had no mouth by the trainer, and need a lot of work (which I knew was bollocks to begin with). The bottom line is that I need to do some refresher mouthing of her myself, so that I absolutely know what she knows. Being a smart mare, it won't take much work.


Post massage, coming back down to the ground (where are my legs??). Even after grounding her to complete the massage, she takes a few minutes to come back into herself. Note the position of her legs, compared to 2 weeks ago ie one at each corner, where they should be (and the resting hind,chilling out). Apparently this morning she has her feet back on the ends of her legs! Proprioception returns after a trim, and massage.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Rehab Day 10

Monday 13 Dec

Today I decided to revisit leading (thanks Carlos). Leading is a basic concept and a basic requirement of horse handling. Maz leads fine, but has been a bit bargey and forward, heavy and only just in control on the line since coming home. Unusually so. So there are obviously issues that need addressing.

In the round yard, she was tense, stressed, as I expected. She was tense beforehand, being groomed at the tie up rail. I expected this as well, but also expected her to settle. She didn't. I am dealing with a brand new horse, one apparently that has little human handling in her 10 years of life with me. Uhuh..

I spent 20minutes working with her, getting her to lead quietly, head at my shoulder, responsive to my length of stride, my body movements. Normally she settles quickly and tunes in. Instead she was like a radio that wouldn't quite catch the station clearly. There was a fair bit of static that was hard work to get through. In fact there were a couple of major tanties, which was disappointing, but we dealt with them calmly and safely, as I pushed her flailing front hooves away from me. Working from the offside was challenging for her, but also captured her attention more, as she tried to work out what the hell I was doing there. I felt clumsy and awkward, but we did better work in the end on the "wrong" side. I was pleasantly surprised however, at her lightness off my shifts in the rope to halt, back, flex left and right, move her hindquarters left and right. It's somewhat ironic that her main issue is going forward ie we have too much forward. Ironic, because you want that much forward in dressage, but with control, of course. Currently control is a fine line tripwire on a trigger(un)happy horse.

It was interesting to watch (and confirm) her lack of confidence, and consequent confusion and fear from that lack of self belief and confidence. We have some work to do. I have some thinking to work through, some observations to record and note, and need to create well defined, safe opportunities for the mare to get that confidence and trust back before I can do anything else. If she can't/won't lead safely, then there is not much else she will do in a calm, relaxed and safe manner until she can lead lightly, rather than attempt to take control all the time.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

2 Week review




This is the end result of two weeks' rest, specific feeding, massage, care. While Maz has a way to go yet to strengthen her back and hindquarter soft tissue, retrain her proprioception, and her head space, the difference already is excellent. I put these two photos up to remind myself of how far we have already progressed in such a short time.

The in-hand work yesterday (Day 1) was not without issues:


  That would be a no.

 Followed by a yes

 And more yes.



We had barging, pushing, leaning, some definite no’s and many many I don’t want to’s, and some make me’s. Mostly this was lack of confidence, a lot of insecurity and fear. This will be the bulk of the rehab work with Maz now. Interestingly, now that she is feeling physically better, I am getting some attitudinal issues. I went to bridle her before (and again after) her work, to get the fit of the new bit right. I’ve never had a problem bridling her before. Now I do, with a definite, adamant no. It will take some work to sort that out, but I have plenty of time and will chip away at it, through a holistic approach ie the work in hand, massage, reinforcing manners on the ground all come together to build confidence and trust. At the moment, she doesn’t trust the bridle and what it means. I don’t blame her.

Saturday with Carlos


This weekend was another focussing on the way of the pony. Saturday I went to a Carlos Tabernaberri clinic, held just around the corner. I have skimmed Carlos’s book, read a few of his articles, looked at his website.  People I know rave about the man. Well, he is kinda good looking, so I assumed there is a bit of physicality attached to his growing guru status. Certainly his stated philosophies, and what he says he does are not new. Ray Hunt, Tom Dorrance, Arthur Kottas,  Kyra Kyrkland,e ven Franz Mairinger spring to mind when I read/hear his words. So I was expecting a bit of a show, with some quality horsehandling attached to it.

When I actually met the man, I was pleasantly surprised by a quiet, polite, interested, genuine human who remembered my two companions from other interactions, and remembered my name throughout the whole day. His hands-on work with horses is excellent, and he is obviously a talented, skilled and thoughtful horseman. He had a few digs at the Parelli type approaches, but backed up all his criticisms by showing alternate methods with horses that belonged to the clinic attendees ie not his own, not ones that had been “prepared earlier”. In fact, one horse in particular was very bullying towards his owner, yet Carlos was able to demonstrate that a quiet but assertive approach would overcome this horse’s persistent striving for seniority in the status stakes. I hope Carlos has another clinic just around the corner early next year. I think Maz would benefit greatly from the experience, as an outing, for the socialisation aspect, and for a bit of a “challenge” to her ego and confidence.

Rehab Day 9

Sunday Dec 12

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Rehab Day 7

Friday Dec 10

The power of massage and other bodywork modalities, and the intent to heal, never ceases to amaze me. Maz is progressing well, and as I have mentioned before, old swellings and bruisings are fading, with new areas popping up as her body releases and realigns, recentres itself.

Overall last night's massage went well, with some very intensive work in her offhind. She had been fidgety and inattentive when I started the massage, but by the time I was working on her back, she had stopped and was tuned in to the work I was doing. As I started to along the length of the longissimus the mare began to move with me, working to help me get into the muscle. For me, it was confirming: I was doing good work in a way that worked for her. When I moved to the hindquarter, she let me work right into the sore areas, showing me where she wanted the work done.

Yet, by the time I reached the hindquarters on the other side, she'd well and truly had enough and I did minimal work compared to the other side. Fortunately I remember to swap which side I start on each time I massage her, for this reason: Maz won't tolerate more than 35 minutes of work at the moment. It means I have to focus on those areas that need work and slowly stretch out to those areas that should have work but time/attention won't permit. Her neck continues to be problematic, in that she does have work that needs doing in her neck, but she is very defensive and protective of these areas. I do wonder what has happened to make her so, when she so readily lets me in to her hindquarters. Perhaps it's just easier to kick me with a hind leg when I go too far, than bite or strike me with a front leg when doing the neck? Anyway, each time I can progress a little further with the neck work. Last night I was able to finger fan the crest line, and do a modified squeeze and lift in some areas - a huge improvement on a few weeks ago when you could not even touch her crest.

I expected Maz to be stiff, tetchy and have taken a step backward today with the work I did yesterday, but the report back from this morning's feed is that she is moving very well, smoothly, but irritable in her attitude.  I moved a lot of energy through her system last night, and challenged a few areas, so it will take a few days for her to process it.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Rehab Day 6

Thursday Dec 9

This morning she was parked at the gate again, and had troubles reversing and moving away from the gate. Once she was away from the gate and moving, she was fine. Parking and moving after parking, plus reversing will be a barometer for Maz's progress. Her attitude is high, and it's great to see her personality shining once more.

If the weather holds out, she'll be getting a massage this afternoon. I have scar tissue to work on,  and muscle fibres to stretch, blood flow to get pumping and healing soft tissue.

Rehab Day 5

Wed Dec 8


Maz is improving daily. While she is still stiff and very slow to move after standing for a period of time, when she gets going and walks into it, she is more fluid than she was. She is starting to perk up in her attitude and personality as well, throwing empty feed bins around for a bit of a joke. Apparently she was playing with the visiting roos this morning!

As of today, she is getting an oil blend in her feed, only in very small quantities at this stage.

The Horse | Video - Back Problems and Therapeutic Options

The Horse | Video - Back Problems and Therapeutic Options

Methods for determining sites of muscular-skeletal causes of lameness and poor performance. Worth the watch.

The Horse | Video - Polysaccharide Storage Myopathy

The Horse | Video - Polysaccharide Storage Myopathy

An interesting genetic discussion of PSSM. Blame the great war horses of the medieval knights!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Background image

Just a quick word on the background image for this blog. The three redheads are some beautiful Irish Sporthorses (I think one may be full draught??) bred by a buddy of mine in Gippsland. She kindly let me use the image, so you'll be seeing it on my business cards and business website sometime in 2011. Thanks X!!!!

Day 4 rehab

Tuesday Dec 7

This morning she was parked at the gate, and didn’t move as I went in and out of the paddock. This was a concern, as it meant she was not inclined to move, which meant when she did, it was going to be ugly. It certainly wasn’t pretty, as she had stiffened up standing there and had to back up to clear space for her front end to move around. She finally made it, slowly and painfully. My immediate thought was: time to call the vet.

Interestingly, while she has appetite for the chaff and herb mix, she is not eating her hay, having picked out all the rye from the rye clover mix, leaving the clover behind (and a bit of rye for that matter). Have changed to pasture hay. She walked over, sniffed it, looked at me as if to say “You gotta be kidding” and wandered off. She makes me smile.

In the evening she was moving well, with lots of swing through the back, although her strides were uneven behind and stepping short near hind as per usual. She even trotted and looked sound at the trot. Her right hock has lost some heat (as well as the mud poultice! multiple reapplications required). The haematoma on her nearside withers (cranio-dorsal aspect of thoracic trapezius) has gone!!! Now the real cause of the haematoma is apparent – a muscle tear you can put your fingertip into, similar to the one on her nearside hindquarter. The swellings over her longus-gluteal junction on both sides have also diminished. Two days after massage: one happy owner! Planning another massage for Thursday if the weather is kind; we have heavy rains forecast from Wednesday to Friday.

Yes, that IS two kangaroos biffoing on in the background

Day 3 rehab

Monday Dec 6

Mobile, but short stepping behind, moving cautiously and taking it slowly and settling into the paddock. She looks tired, very tired. Her right hock has swollen and is marginally hotter than the left, so applying mud poultice. The defurred bits are now small open wounds – did she hit herself with her opposite foot getting up? Her proprioception is wacky at the moment, and there are moments were she seems to lose sense of where her feet are, so it’s quite likely. I wondered how both hocks were debarked in the first place.

A paddock buddy sms me later in the evening to say she has seen Maz trotting, and she looked well, no sign of lameness, but stepped up short transitioning into walk. It was heartening to hear.

Feed the same.

Day 2 rehab

Day 2 Sunday Dec 5

AM : When I finally got to her paddock, she was lying down, but she got up readily and came over to the gate to meet me. I had no issue putting on her halter (a problem at the trainer’s apparently) with her dropping her nose as per usual to take the halter. She took the probiotic over the tongue after realising I wasn’t going to put a bit in her mouth. I hand fed her the mineral supplement pellets, which she gobbled down keenly (return of interest in food!) and ate much more of her morning feed than she had the day before. Her coat was glowing, and her posture was more relaxed, although she was still standing well under herself front and back.

PM: Again came up to the gate to greet us. She’d had a roll and was looking happy, but tired and sore. She was happy to be haltered, and willing to hang in the paddock shelter entrance to be massaged. The massage was mainly effleurage, sweating, compressions, some flat hand rotations, limited cross–fibre and insertion-origin work, and appropriately-placed finger fanning. Some areas of her body showed improvement, others will take longer, and with the improvement in some areas, new spots cropped up from underneath the superficial muscles. Some of these appeared under my hand as the superficial muscles relaxed and gave way. She has some deeply bedded damage in her muscles. Although the flat hand assessment showed more obvious tightness and issues on the left side, she is much much more sore on the offside, even “biting” my elbow at one point to let me know. As I massaged, her posture began to change, and her stance opened out on the side I was working on. After the massage, while she didn’t move out well initially with shortness and uneveness behind, her posture was improved and more open and balanced with more swing through her back. And her coat looked fantastic with a sleek shine and deep inner glow that had been absent while she was away.

Feed: AM oaten and lucerne chaff soaked, copra soaked, mineral and vit supplement, chamomile tea and slippery elm, probiotic.

PM oaten and lucerne chaff soaked, mineral and vit supplement, chamomile tea and slippery elm, probiotic (She almost sucked the probiotic out of the syringe!), rye clover hay dry I biscuit.

Day 1 rehab


 Day 1 Saturday Dec 4

Home after an emotional tussle with loading on the float (her emotions, not mine). She travelled well, and was calling hello as she offloaded from the float. A quick hose down, and into the paddock with a late morning feed. A few hours later, we checked her again and gave her soaked hay (which she picked through but didn’t eat much of. Soaking wet hay is novel to her, so not surprised). Her morning feed was only 2/3rds eaten, and she was hanging around the water trough, sipping frequently, or walking as though relieving stiffness or pain, and returning after each “lap” to the water trough. Evening feed and she was looking much more de-stressed, and happy to hang out with the humans.

Back Story Part 3

 at trainer's 29/11/10

During the time she was at the trainers, she was confined to a small yard, had a dramatic increase in activity, and was worked heavily, and had her diet changed without regard to her previous diet. This diet change included incorporation of steam rolled barley, which the mare was fussy about, fortunately. In her 10 years, she has never eaten “whole” grain, with her only exposure to grain being through Mitavite extruded grain products ie highly processed. Her forage was oaten based, chaff and very small quantities of hay. Lucerne was fed irregularly as chaff.

In the week before Maz came home, my web browsing led me back to EPSM, a topic I had come across (and dismissed) while researching Cushings and metabolic syndromes. But after reading a few case studies and personal reports, a few lightbulbs and connecting dots did their thing for me. Odd, abnormal (for Maz) things that Maz was doing like foot stomping, kicking out, shifting weight, holding up legs like a puppy with a thorn in its paw and yet being reluctant to pick up her feet when asked, odd choppy gait, and some weird proprioception, plus the pattern of weight loss, a change in her posture and way of standing at rest.

Once I got her home, the change in her stress levels was dramatic. Within a few hours, the tension and strain had disappeared from her face, and her skin. However, she was doing a few more strange things, like hanging around the water trough A LOT, lots of sipping water, fussing through her food with no appetite. Something else was going on, as well as the possibility of EPSM. My guts were saying ulcer; her not me.

So, with a week of obsessing about Maz’s rehab, and thoughts of an ulcer to add into the mix, I made a plan of attack:

1. Change of environment: the move back home means a change of enclosure to a larger paddock with some green pick, and proximity to her friends
2. Change of diet: a modified return to her previous diet of no grain, but now soaking chaff and hay, an increase (slowly slowly) in fat content, including reintroducing copra, which she eats regularly, and adding a vit/mineral supplement.
3. A probiotic to rehabilitate her gut after the drama of the previous 4 weeks. I had decided on this approach before suspecting a gastric ulcer. Gut health is the basis of whole body health, it’s not rocket science!
4. Addition of chamomile and slippery elm in case of ulcer, and no harm done if no ulcer is present.
5. Regular massage
6. Physical rehab after 2 weeks recovery from the trainer ie pole work, hill work in hand, long reining on straight lines, stretching and flexing in hand around trees, barrels etc. to help the muscles and other soft tissue to heal and remodel with minimal scar tissue, and in a functionally ready and appropriate way.

Back Story Part 2


I sent my mare Maz off to the trainers a little over four weeks ago, to be restarted after a prolonged hiatus under saddle. The trainer seemed competent, and his facilities suitable with safe arena, round yard, paddocks and day yards, stable block, wash area.

I visited her at the end of Week 1, and while she seemed anxious, tense and unsettled, I wasn’t overly worried, as I put it down to being in an unfamiliar environment, and having to deal with other ways of being handled, including spending periods of time being tied up, and housed for periods of time in the day yard.

At the end of Week 2, she was as tense, anxious and stressed as at the end of Week1. She was very unsettled, very nervous of the round yard and being moved from the “safety” of the day yard. The day yard, it turned out, was her permanent abode. There was no green pick available, limited feed and hay, no room to roll, and she was standing in mud 24/7. Not ideal under normal circumstances, and not ideal for working sore muscles ie tantamount outdoors stabling.

I massaged her as the end of Week 2, and some serious muscular issues were manifesting, including intermittent shifting weight lameness, which were not consistent with the training and handling she was reportedly getting from the trainer.

Late Week 3 and the mare’s condition had deteriorated. She was incredibly sore, stiff, reluctant to move, had lost a dramatic amount of weight, particularly along her topline and hindquarters. She had bad diarrhoea, she had obvious muscle damage. She was unhappy at being touched, let alone massaged. She was switching off mentally and physically was unwell.

Monday Week 4 and the mare had declined further since Saturday. She was severely greyhound gutted and tucked up, her skin was taut and dry, her face was strained, her posture was stiff and braced. She looked appalling.

My EMT mentor visited Maz that Monday with me, and confirmed what I had felt during my massage time with the mare in the weeks prior. I called her in, as I was very confused by what I was feeling under hand, as it did not match what the trainer was telling me. It was time to call a stop to the whole process, and bring the mare home. By this stage she was too unwell to bring home, with the 45 min float trip being too stressful on the mare physically, plus her inability to walk backwards meant she’d be able to get on the float but wouldn’t be able to get off! So after some very specific Bowen treatment, she was moved (finally) from the day yard to a paddock, rested for the week she remained at the trainers, and provided with supporting herbs. By the time I went to pick her 5 days later, there was a noticeable change in her: she was more relaxed than she had been, and less irregular in her movement, although she had a long way to go. On a scale of 0-10, with 0 being her condition on the final Monday and 10 being her normal self, she was about a 6, just. But she was on her way home.

Back Story Part 1

This blog has been on my mind for a while, but not for the reason that it now is. As an Equine Naturopathy student, I have been thinking of blogging my journey, my finds etc. I hadn't intended blogging about my own horse's personal journey, but here it is. It encompasses many issues that are dear to me, that I am learning about in a new light and within a different paradigm, and her journey will take some time, and needs documenting for my own records. So I am sharing it, because that's what you do in the 21st century!