Thursday, September 1, 2011

I salute the light within your eyes

from here

I salute the light within your eyes where the whole universe dwells. For when you are at that center within you and I am at that place within me, we shall be one.
~ Chief Crazy Horse, Oglala Sioux, 1877

from here


Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Training vs Development

This morning I read an interesting piece on standing outside the box, away from the crowd, out from under umbrellas, being different, taking a different approach etc. It's a good piece and worth the read.

I was nodding in agreement, quite merrily, being proselytised to with great delight in self-congratulatory recognition, feeling good about myself until I came upon this: "Using such words as break, train and desensitize can be improved upon..It's easier and more comfortable to resort to those words since they are normal..It is not as comfortable to replace them with start, develop and build confidence."

I agree that breaking horses as a term has agendas where I choose not to go. And I am in two minds about how politically incorrect desensitising is, which I think is embedded in the methods and processes taken, and if bound up with the intent to build confidence in the horse is not so offensive. I found the rejection of the word "train" difficult. I can develop my horse in a number of ways and not train her. And what do we really mean by "develop"? What is the objective? And to, and by, whose criteria is the horse developed? By the horse's? I am pretty sure a horse considers itself already developed, as a horse-entity. So develop makes as much sense as train, and to me, a little less sense.

In order to achieve having our horses do things by cue or request, they need some kind of training. Sure, if you wanna develop them, you can call it that, but frankly, it's training. Training develops a horse to be the kind of animal we want to have around. Developing a horse does (should, otherwise what is being developed and why?) the same thing. So it actually benefits the human directly, and the horse indirectly, because a well trained horse is more pleasurable to have around, and is less likely to be neglected (that's a big assumption I know) and end up prematurely dead in a can of dog food.

It makes me wonder what the issue is for the author of that blog post around the word "train". Since when is train a dirty word? We train our children to go to the toilet, we train ourselves to get up in time to make it to the office at work o'clock. When we train our horses, we are also training ourselves, whether we like it or not; to watch ourselves, how we behave, react, respond, reassess, control ourselves as well as doing the same for our horses. In this regard, training is a two-way street, of dialogue and negotiation.  Developing our horses to me, doesn't contain this dialogue and the capacity for negotiation. Develop is something we do to our horses, a bit like developing a photo in a chemical bath.

So while we "develop" our horses through "games" on the ground, or in-hand sessions between two long reins, or under saddle during school manoeuvres, cattle work, jumping etc, we are also training them, and ourselves, hopefully building trust, and confidence in both horse and human in themselves and each other. Yes, good quality work, that is negotiated and created around the needs and readiness of both horse and human,  in this regard develops the human-horse relationship to one that is more harmonious and safer for both entities. It does so through training the horse to do what we want, when we want, in a manner that is (hopefully) acceptable to both parties. If you want to make what you do sound softer, more acceptable, by calling it developing the horse, then go ahead, but it is what it is: getting the horse to respond in a way that we want, when we want, to a particular cue through a series of discussions we have with horses. I call that training.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

How to make a dressage horse, phase 1

I've been watching the European Dressage Champs this week. Some of the horses competing are a similar age to Maz. They are doing international Grand Prix, she is in the first stages of becoming a riding horse. Currently there are billions of lightyears between the two. But this is how all those GP horses started, albiet some 6-7 years earlier!

I have trained and ridden a lot of young horses, racehorses mainly, arabs, stockhorses, warmbloods, back in the day. I have retrained older horses, either off the track or who have had time off from being under saddle. The difference between these guys and Maz is that they started as youngsters, so the concept of being a riding horse, a horse that works regularly for a few hours, a horse that has a job is instilled. Maz has been sunbaking poolside with cocktails and cute waiters all her life. Now the money has run out of the expense account, and she is expected to do some work. You can imagine the culture shock.

She is 9 weeks in work now, and 8 weeks under "saddle" ( the first week was bareback!) and the last 5 weeks with me. We are still working on accepting the initial saddling up process (without walking off, barging, humping, half rearing, aggressive behaviour). Once the saddle is girthed up, it can be taken off and on without drama multiple times. So she is not what I would call classically girthy, just resistant to the idea in the first instance.

She is sometimes resistant to the first steps under saddle. This I am not worried about. As her strength, suppleness, confidence and understanding grow, this will disappear.

Turning and bending right is an issue. Sometimes she can do it beautifully, if only for a few steps, but more often, it's a battle of mind, body and flexion to get any bend right, and sometimes even a simple turn right is overhwelming. You'll see above where I go to turn right on her and change my mind, take her left to avoid the resistance that is building up, and take her back right again when she softens. No point arguing over something that can be negotiated on for a better outcome later. Ingrain quality at every attempt, and reward and encourage any try.

Often she is very resistance to the very first request for halt under saddle. If I get that blockage, we go forward and I ask again later. Same with backing up. First attempt usually results in humping, head shaking and a big fat no. So again, we try again later until we get a lovely soft rein back, based on intent only.

So while I dream of rhythmic, cadenced 20m trot circles, each day when I ask myself what does Maz need from me today, what support does she need, what does she need help with, what is she struggling with today, my goals are always around softness and calmness in the mind and body, and to finish the session with understanding, acceptance and more confidence from her than she walked into the arena with. If that means she doesn't get ridden that day, to achieve my basic goal, so be it. I think we are slowly getting somewhere. And on those days, like yesterday,  when she snakes her head at me, fronts me up and does beautiful levade in a game of "Who will yield ground first, little puny human",  I remind myself of the upfront, bolshy yearling who captured my imagination nearly 10 years ago, and I tell myself that's why I bought her, and why we are still together.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

"Horses make me happy. You, not so much"


It has been noted, repeatedly,  at my agistment that I am riding Maz in a halter. And I have been questioned on this ie do you ride in a bridle? With a bit? Why not? etcetc. One of the agistees asked Mr Nancypants about Maz and how she is going only yesterday, after seeing me ride in the arena. Again, it came up that Maz is ridden exclusively in a rope halter at the moment. She commented when told no bit, no bridle, "Gee, Maz must be quiet then." The reply was no, she's a bucket of dynamite. I would have replied, nope, that's why I wear a helmet!

But the comments and observations, some with agendas behind them, some with appreciation for what I am doing, indicate various levels of understanding of riding horses, most based on myth. And in my inbox this morning, the lateste Cynthia's Natural Horseworld Blog. And in that blog, an article on this very thing ie riding bitless and people's responses to that.  Exactly what I have been thinking about since I have been riding Maz over the last few weeks. It's worth the read, to save me writing the blog I was going to write (until I read the article!)

So, let's take the comment made yesterday, that Maz must be super quiet to be ridden in a halter. So only quiet horses can be ridden bitless (and then, if so, how do those horses get quiet?), that other horses (ie not quiet) must be ridden in a bit. That a bit controls a horse and confers a level of safety (having ridden racehorses, bolting, bucking and rearing horses, I'll refute that til you are blue in the face listening to me). That riding without a bit is not safe, unless of course you are riding a really quiet horse. And that you can't really train a green horse properly without a bit, and riding in a halter is a beginning phase of education that will be surpassed at some point with the use of a bit.  This flow of logic astounds me, but this heuristic seems to be a quite solid base for the comments I am getting on a regular basis.

I guess it comes down to choice: what kind of relationship do you want as a rider, with your horse? I am well aware of the damage a bit can do, as can a severely used noseband, chain, rope, halter. Brute force might work once if you are lucky, but it's not sustainable. Time spent building trust, respect and solid responses to trained cues is.  Severity is a quick fix but it doesn't address the base cause or issue that elicited the action or response. And severity has repercussions that may not display immediately, but may at some point down the track.

Some people may not want, or have the time to spend developing their relationship with their horse through training.They enjoy riding and just get on with it. That's their thing and they are comfortable with it. And if something bad happens to them out riding, often the horse will be blamed, will be given the responsibility for whatever happened. To me, that's like blaming a five year child for crashing the car.

Safety isn't found in a piece of metal, rubber or leather. It's found in thoughtful training, well timed communication and considered handling of the horse. It's about keeping things within the boundaries of what you and your horse are capable of at this moment now. It's about anticipating potential problems and making decisions to avoid that possible outcome ie thinking ahead, planning and being prepared. It's about being proactive, helping your horse out of trouble, so that they can help you out of trouble. It's about respecting the capacities of your horse, and your own skill sets. It's about knowledge, information and applying that knowledge at the right time, with the right intent. You won't find that in a bit in your horse's mouth.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Slow cooking..

Having a "new horse" to work during late winter is a bit of a reality check. As cyclists, if it's too wet, too dark, too cold, too much of anything, we can hop on an ergo and wack out a few intervals no problem after we get home from work. No rush, no bother, all rather civilised.

Unless you have ready access to an indoor arena, horse riding is truly an outdoors sport. So without cover, or floodlights, there is a mad rush to get from work to the paddock to take advantage of any daylight left to do some work with Maz. Consistency is crucial for starting/retraining a horse. My only excuses now are if it's really raining and the arena surface is not up to being worked on (or the agistment owners have closed the arena), or the sun sets.Unfortunately work does get in the way, and some days the sun set too early for me to ride after doing the preparatory ground work. Dealing with not being able to "achieve" what I had planned for the day has been interesting! You just gotta deal with what you've got at that time, basically.

Luckily, the Union Movement invented something called "weekends"! Maz was getting more and more tense in her work during her first week back home, although performing ok, I was getting less confident getting on her - there was a little time bomb ticking. I realised I had been rushing her, in my attempt to beat nightfall. So it was time to slow it down a notch and change my end goal, from needing to ride her, to achieving calmness and true softness and then retaining it under saddle. I used the weekend to refocus on ground work, as well as then having enough time to ride without stress. It worked a treat.

End of week 1:

Ground work - consolidating stand-next-to-the-mounting-block-and-don't-swing-your-hindquarters-away (and also foot control for float loading)

And then the ride. Despite suddenly coming into season and showing the world, she was calm, responsive and working with me. It was our best ride to date.

Week 2 was a bit of a write-off, thanks to the aforementioned thing called work. No riding, but lots of ground work. Thursday was not a good day under saddle, firstly in girthing up, and secondly in getting on. A bit of a dummy spit by Maz as I got on the first time had me backing off my plans for riding, and just settling for a relaxed horse while I simply mounted. We achieved that, but there were obvious issues with saddle acceptance. This was compounded the next day by a swollen lower foreleg, and finding out Maz had been playing chasey with a new neighbour for two days. Lots of skidding on greasy paddocks equals a sore horse! So I was less worried about Maz's reluctance to take the saddle on Thursday, and was glad to have not pushed it.

All the things we take for granted with a riding horse are trained. Standing still while saddling up, getting on, pace control, stop, go, left, right, leading, dropping the head for haltering, loading onto a float,  tying up, ground tying, not barging, pushing, shoving, walking too fast or too slow, being hosed and scraped down, wearing boots and bandages, waiting when being fed. And these are the basics. But it's time well spent, and it's seriously true: if you don't have it on the ground, you won't have it under saddle.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Second ride

This time under saddle. I'll make an excuse for the collapsed position, and outside leg being off, stating: remember, this is a GREEN horse! :-) The inside hand, well that's just poor use!

Photo once again courtesy of the fabulous Marty Schiel.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

New Beginnings

The day of Moonie's death was actually earmarked as Maz's arrival at Carlos Tabernaberri's for restarting. It was a day of high and mixed emotions, and the last fortnight has been difficult on many levels, the least of which was coming to terms with being temporarily horseless.

On Saturday, Maz and I participated in a clinic Carlos held on his property. Although the mare had only been working with Carlos for two weeks, I felt it was a great opportunity to do some ground work with her, understand Carlos's "techniques" better for when Maz returned home, and to socialise her. This last aspect was important, as her report card to date at Carlos's was "does not play well with others",  and she needs to be comfortable in group situations.

After a week of classic Melbourne winter (grey, wet, windy) Saturday was simply perfect: cold but dry and sunny. I was surprised at how emotional I was to be with Maz again, but under the circumstances, perhaps I shouldn't have. The morning's ground work went without a hitch. Maz had umbrellas, classic plastic bags on sticks, whip cracking, flapping Australian flags, and a quad bike to contend with. She passed with flying colours, although the stockwhip pushed her boundaries somewhat. As expected, her fore and hind yielding was great (she's been doing those tricks for years), but lunging on a 3metre rope was tricky. I caught myself stepping back to create space at the start, rather then making the mare create the space. Lesson learnt!. And trying to get leg yield in hand, first up on the fence, without a stick to touch the hindquarter was difficult as well. The mare didn't get it, and in real life, I would start her on the circle, making her step outwards, then progress to the fence.

photo by Marty Schiel

After groundwork, we progressed to bareback riding. I get a giggle at how many people have not ridden bareback and haltered. I must confess though, my riding skills are very rusty, and when Carlos suggested we go for a ride, I was keen, but quietly shitting myself. Maz is not consolidated in any way with her ridden work, is fussy, and ready to say NOPE! in the flinch of a back muscle. But if Carlos thought she'd be ok, I had to trust him.

Carlos rode her first, and although she propped and flexed her back in a "No thanks", she was obedient and calm.  Then it was my turn, and Carlos led me like a little kid. When he decided it was time to let me loose, I had a minor, silent, inward conniption, but it was now or never. We didn't walk far, only for a few minutes until I felt Maz's back tighten up and it was not untightening. We drew to a halt, I gave her a pat, realised what we had just done, and slide off. It was a pretty awesome moment.

photo by Marty Schiel

After the debacle in Nov/Dec last year, it was great to see Maz pretty chilled out, happy and confident in herself, learning to be riding horse.

photo by Marty Schiel

Monday, June 27, 2011

Vale Moonie

One of the special ones died peacefully in his sleep yesterday morning, in the short hours before dawn. Despite the Cushings, he was well, bright, chirpy and cheeky as usual in the days prior. He went as I had hoped he would: painlessly, without decline, peacefully and dignified as such a horse should. Moonie was a part of my life for 19 years, a good part of my adult life. He taught me much, and even in his death, he is still teaching.

I met Woodbine Moonriver when he was three, at his breeder's property where I agisted my Northern WB mare. He had been returned to Jan and Chiffa High by his then owner, a good friend of Jan's. Their personalities did not meet and Moonie was returned to find a more suitable home. I rode him in the months while Jan decided what to do with him, and she finally put him on the market. I hadn't the money at the time, and held my breath each time a campdrafter or showie came to try him out. None committed, and I kept riding him. Luck was eventually kind, and after a timely little pay out came my way, I bought the black grey with silver mane and tail.

Through Moonie and the Highs, I "met" Ray Hunt, and Tom Dorrance.  My interest in dressage grew, and I had lessons with each clinician Jan brought onto her property, and travelled with her to others. I began to read the Classics and the Greats of dressage, and to put that into practice with Moonie.

Moonie was always tolerant to a point, but was happy to tell me when I was wrong, or not quite right, or unbalanced, or annoying him. Canter aid not to his liking? He'd squeal with delight and pigroot. I found out by accident his potential for piaffe coming home one day from beach riding. He was doing his usual homeward jigjog (which he never grew out of, and was frequently as annoying as hell!) and I asked for more,  but on the spot. Moonie was happy to give it. He thought he was pretty clever!

Moonie was always gracious with those he liked and trusted. He was constantly referred to as a complete gentleman by most he met, from vets and farriers to fellow competitors and parents of patting kids. People often mistook him for an andalusian, or a warmblood from a distance, and refused to believe he was registered full stockhorse. He seemed to radiate bigness in size as well as personality, despite his 14.3 hh stature, particularly when on show. In the dressage ring, he would become larger than life, and double in size and power, channeling his inner stallion More often than not, I was barely in control as he kept telling me "hang on woman, I know what I am doing, more than you do!!"  His showing off led to some amazing offerings in the training arena, where he would frequently blow me away with his cleverness, making one plus one equal not two, but three, and then four. He taught me to trust my horse and to allow space for self expression, as well as negotiation, to the point where I was happy to let him tell me if today was an arena day, or a bush riding day. If you give a horse room to be, and to give, they will.

He was incredibly affectionate and cuddly. It was an in-joke that Moonie loved his food, but he loved attention, and just hanging out with his person,  as much if not more.He was absolutely a people horse. If your horse asks for you to scratch his rump, take the time to do it. I'm glad I did late last week despite being in a bit of a hurry. He caught me that day with the twinkle of his eye;  always the charmer.

One particular incident, that happened only last year, exemplifies for me my relationship with Moonie. He was off colour one evening, and I wasn't comfortable about it. At 10.30 that night, we got up and went out to the agistment to check him. He was exactly where we left him,and obviously not quite right,  a bit colicky. So after a little tummy massage, I began to walk him up and down his paddock. I didn't need a halter, he came with me, with his muzzle by my leg, glued to my hand. We walked like this for some time, up and down in the moonlight. When I left him that night, I knew he was going to be ok, but somehow he left me a little richer for the experience.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Why are YOU responsible??

"No, animals are not people. But people are animals, and we have many things in common. There is no reason to suspect that it is any less painful for a horse to be whacked in the mouth and aggressively spurred than it would be for a human or another mammal. Horses may not be wonderful at planning ahead and understanding abstract thought, but they feel pain and fear like we do, and they suffer when abused."

from here.

And that is why I am personally responsible,  you are personally responsible and every other horse person is personally responsible.

Are you a participant or in the paying audience?

FEIreinergate has been hot on the interwebs these last days, and a blog post has been brewing in my head as a consequence. Lots of lights going off in my head, on so many issues, but the big one that is biting me hard is that of participation and advocacy.

Some pre-reading for you. When you've had a look, come back and read the rest of the blog. Or for those of you who are up to date, or can't be bothered, head directly to GO.

For those not familiar with FEIreinergate, Epona TV filmed a high profile reiner warming his horse up before an event. Warming his horse up in a way that could easily be read as contravening FEI General Rule 142. No action was taken against this person at the time, and they went on to win silver that day. I won't name the person, because for me, it's not about the individual, but about the structure and governance of the sport at a number of levels, and about what is accepted (note: not acceptable) and what is not.

It's been interesting reading articles, responses, commentary on this event, both in terms of the event itself, and of Epona's decision to film and broadcast the action. People have responded by attacking Epona, attacking the individual filmed, attacking each other, criticising the stewards there on the day, and the odd comment on the FEI, the Chief Steward, and The Rules (mainly @carrotsandbute). Mostly it has been individualised, personalised comment. And the main conclusion has been “boohoo; yeah real bad, but nothing I can do about it”.

To that sweet little copout, wash-my-hands-of-responsibility-whilst-maintaining-the-feel-goods, I say bullshit.

As a horse owner, rider, educator, judge, trainer, health care provider person, I have a responsibility for the horses in my immediate care, but I also have a responsibility to take ownership of the sport in which I am involved. I don’t just pay my membership and entry fees, rock up , compete and go home. As a paid up member of my chosen sport, I have a duty and a right to say what is good, what is acceptable and what is not. I am entitled to have a say about how my sport is run, and a say on the welfare of those who participate, particularly those who do not chose but are chosen to participate. I am entitled to have input, to be heard. And in fact, when no one else will, I have an absolute duty to be vocal about the unacceptable, especially when those who are on the receiving end, such as the horse, cannot.

To those who say "yeah that's bad, but pity. What can be done about it? (code for I don't want to do anything about it)" here is a solution. It's quick, dirty, cheap and effective. Trust me, just go ask Cycling Victoria. I am on their hot list of annoying vocal members who effect outcomes.

Get your voice out there: Get pixel to pixel happening and communicate,  via any means you feel comfortable with, and by as many modes as possible. Email your local governing body, and their governing body, and THEIR governing body. Tweet and Facebook and blog so people do find out about the issues, can do their own research and make informed decisions, and spread the word if they feel it needs to be spread.And do it repeatedly. Don't get personal about it, it's not about the person, it's about the horse. We are the only ones who can advocate for the horse. Are you prepared to stand up for your horse, and my horse, and his/her horse?

One mosquito can make a lot of buzzing, and through social networking, can have a much larger impact than the individual realises. I am reading an editorial from an European website via Twitter, here in Melbourne Australia, and am now blogging about it.

It’s not hard. It’s simply having the conviction to do it. 

And a reminder as to what exactly Article 142 is:

It doesn't just apply to dressage!

Article 142 - Abuse of Horses
1. No person may abuse a Horse during an Event or at any other time. “Abuse” means an action or omission which causes or is likely to cause pain or unnecessary discomfort to a Horse, including, but not limited to:
- To whip or beat a Horse excessively;
- To subject a Horse to any kind of electric shock device;
- To use spurs excessively or persistently;
- To jab the Horse in the mouth with the bit or any other device;
- To compete using an exhausted, lame or injured Horse;
- To "rap" a Horse.
- To abnormally sensitise or desensitise any part of a Horse;
- To leave a Horse without adequate food, drink or exercise;
- To use any device or equipment which causes excessive pain to the Horse upon knocking down an obstacle.
2. Any person witnessing an Abuse must report it in the form of a protest (Article 163) without delay. If an Abuse is witnessed during or in direct connection with an Event, it should be reported as a protest (Article 163) to an Official. If the Abuse is witnessed at any other time it should be reported as a protest (Article 163) to the Secretary General for referral to the FEI Tribunal.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Law #9 The Law of Energy

I came across this (via twitter of all things) today: The 10 Irrefutable Laws of Horsemanship as written by a vet who specialises in equine dentristy.

I sent the link to Nancyboi to distract him from his work. He responded with, what does law #9 mean?

It was a good question, because it got me thinking. Law #9 means to me, off the top of my head:

  • energy in, energy out
  • energy goes where you are looking and/or thinking
  • energy can help you, or hinder you, depending on how you manifest it
  • energy does unexpected things
  • control the horse's energy by controlling your own
  • match your energy to your horse's, and your horse's energy will synchronise with yours
  • things don't happen without energy
  • don't be afraid of energy; learn how it feels, and how to direct it (see the second point)
  • there is good energy and bad energy, both in terms of input and output, physically and emotionally
  • you can make choices about energy
  • your energy is your responsibility
  • your horse can also make choices about his energy, but often, it's reactive when there is a human involved
  • your horse's energy is your responsibility when you are with your horse
 There is a lot packed into that one little law!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Playing dress ups

There is something about horse riding gear, both casual and competition, that always gives me a little bit of a buzz.  I'm no fashionista, and well, clothes are clothes. But I love wearing my jods and boots around the place, way way more so than my cycling kit for example.Sure  I enjoy wearing my "special kit" racing the track bike, and in particular my sponsor's kit, but for me, horse riding gear is a little bit something more. Hey, I even happily stride around the local supermarket in my smelly, hair covered riding gear. No way I'd wear my cycling kit at the supermarket! And work clothes - I can't wait to get out my office clothes when I get home. But I can wear my jods all day.  They make me feel special.

At Dressage with the Stars last month, I saw something radical: stretch polyester competition jackets. Quality material, thick, well cut. A little bit like this. In fact, as it turns out, just that exactly! I've not competed for many years, and it was in the days of wool blend, cotton and polyester. Navy pin stripe, or black, with buttons not zips. All very traditional, no colour, boring.

But I see the EA rules have been modified since those days (hmm all of 6 yrs ago!!) so that, basically, any colour goes. Tradition can be warped a little, personalised a little. So I am dreaming of a lavender jacket, with chocolate piping trim, chocolate hat and boots, lavender gloves. Nothing loud, but discrete muted tones. Could be kinda fun :-)

Sunday, March 20, 2011

From shoes to boots in 10 days

I rode Moonie for the first time in two weeks on the weekend, and apparently both of us were grinning from ear to ear during that first ride on Saturday. The easycare boots arrived last week, and the new (secondhand) Barefoot London treeless saddle arrived a week earlier, so with equipment in hand, we were ready to go!

The difference in Moonie's movement was immediate and, well, brilliant! He moved like a young Moonie, not the stiff choppy pony-gaited horse he has been in the last few months. I noticed a difference in his movement immediately his shoes came off. Combine that with a saddle that seems to work for him (I am still dealing with it!! see pics) and I could barely sit his walk, and at the moment, his canter is too big for me to sit while I am adjusting to the saddle. His big trot is back, and I am struggling to sit his powerful working trot. All is one with the world again! I had forgotten how much movement the back and hips have to absorb when riding a horse that is truly using itself.

So, to back track. After his trim we did this:

using Keratex Hoof Soaker stuff.

And then, because he was a little sore, stepping short and not wanting to move much, we did this:

We kept the pads on his fronts only for 36 hours, then a day and a half bare, and then another 36 hours padded. This got him through the first week post trim. After that, he seemed fine. The thrush kill process has been kept up, using Keratex disinfectant. As that has really seemed to knock the worst of the thrush off, I'll swap to copper sulphate & apple cider vinegar every second day until the thrush has left town for good.

Here's a tip with the Easycare Epics: play around with the wiring set up to get the boot snug as. Moonie twists his hinds a little, and his offside hooves are a different shape (and size) to his near side hooves. His first trip around the place with the boots, and the offs were twisting. A bit of a tweak and play around, and they are better. I also opted for some pad inserts when ordering the boots. I think these will also be necessary to stabilise the off side boots. Again, it's just a matter of trial and error.

And a comment on the Barefoot London. It's lovely and soft, but sits on the horse "wide" ie there is a lot of leather/saddle under my leg. You can see how far down my legs the flaps come, and combine that with no twist at all (ie my legs stick out sideways to get around Moonie's barrel), and an 18" seat (that was the payback on getting a good buy on a second hander), I am struggling to find my seat, and place my leg correctly under my hip, let alone use my leg lightly with effect. It will come, but something to be mindful when transitioning from a commercial treed saddle (designed for riders, not horses) to a treeless saddle.

Yesterday's day 2 ride:

How wide can my  hips go?

A little bit sideways

Stretching out

Round on round

Looking like a cowpony, swinging out.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

These boots were made for...

We ordered Moonie's new boots today, with a big THANK YOU to Mike Ware of Easycare Downunder for his advice via email and phone. I have dealt with Easycare Downunder previously, and the support/advice and ease of dealing with them has always been excellent.

Anyway, it will take a few days for the Moonstar's new boots to arrive, so in the interim, to keep his feet happy, which then keeps his gut happy, and his soul happy, his feet had been padded up, using EVA100 rubber and heavy duty duct tape. While he walks around just fine without the pads, once they are on, his movement improves significantly. Even better than when shod (on grass that is). Which goes to show how much we take for granted ie what I was used to in terms of Moonie's regular walk with shoes, was not actually his best walk. His best walk comes unshod, barefoot trimmed, padded.

His treeless saddle arrived on Friday, complete with saddle pads and inserts. It will take some tweaking to get the pads right for his particular needs, but I am confident he will do well with the new set up. I won't ride him until his feet are protected enough to keep him comfortable under saddle. The arena is deep shavings, but I am keen to look after his feet while they grow and transition from shod to bare.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Where Moonie Loses a Shoe - Forever

Yesterday Moonie's shoes came off. And they are not going back on again.

He has been shod for 3/4 of his life (rough estimate) with some time off during non-riding times. Late last year I  was surprised to see (with new barefoot eyes) at how contracted his feet seemed. Not only were the heels contracted, as one would expect, but I am sure they used to be bigger. He'd had a rough year with his feet obviously, with some large cracks the length of the wall, had some very obvious thrush going on, and, well,  they just didn't "look" right. At that stage, he was not mine, so I left it alone, but really really wanted to take his shoes off and let his feet breath.

So now he is mine, I can take his shoes off, and support him through his transition to barefoot. And yesterday was Day 1.

Here are his feet just before the shoes came off, six weeks after being shod for the last time:

Above: Near fore

Above: hinds ready for shoe removal

When his shoes came off, Jade the Trimmer and I got one hell of a shock: a drastically separated white line on all four feet, medially  3-5 o'clock, lowered soles, and LOTS of thrush. As the shoes came off, the rush of thrush odour was strong.

Shoe off, off fore
Trim in process off fore

Solar view OF trimmed. Check out the black bits and the thin walls    
Trimming  offhind

It's interesting to see how much a shoe hides, including correct foot balance, as well as pathologies.

Moonie's initial reaction to the new trim was to really "feel" his feet, and then spring his way back to his paddock as though he had new feet. As predicted, he is very tender today. I'm not surprised, as this is a horse that cannot walk comfortably on gravel when shod. This afternoon, his feet will be soaked in keratex, and foam padding gaffa taped to his sole so he can move comfortably, and keep the blood flowing through his feet. Boots are being ordered as I type.
Apart from improving the overall health of his feet (which ties in with his gut health, Cushings and IR) we are working towards lifting his soles back into a lovely arch, where they should be (and haven't been for well over a decade at least), and growing his heel out properly again. Slowly, with a new treeless saddle, barefoot hooves, herbal support combined with solid weight management, Moonie is turning into a treehugging hipster! Stay tuned for his progress.....

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Another gratuitous photo post

This photo is blurry but I don't care. I love the focus and intent in Moonie's walk. Check out the loop in the line - can't get much lighter than that! Last night we did some pole work, as I have been under the weather and not riding. Time to get the pony's back moving and lifting! One of the effects of Cushings is loss of topline, so I am plan to circumvent that with regular exercise that encourages good use of Moonie's back muscles and his hindquarter. He used to have terrific gaskin development. That has now faded (a bit like my cycling quads at the moment). If they don't get used, they get lost! So he is walked and trotted over pole sequences, logs, 12-18inch jumps, wide planks, caveletti. You can see, he really gets into it.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Prepared for the Apocalypse!

This post is just a gratuitous excuse to put up the above photo of Moonie, taken over the weekend. This is his daily get up ie grazing muzzle and fly mask. By the time it all comes off in the evening, he is more than happy to see me! Both bits of gear are doing their job, keeping his slim and fly free.

The reception at the agistment property to the grazing muzzle has been interesting, mainly consisting of pity bordering on cruelty accusations in the first instance. Now, after nearly two weeks of observing Moonie's management of daily life (ie grazing and drinking) with the muzzle, most people are receptive, but still not willing to embrace a muzzle for their own chronically fat and metabolically challenged horses. Funny how people are prepared to let their horses suffer from obesity whilst denying themselves an opportunity to manage that obesity and its related health issues, deeming it too cruel for their horses. Ironic.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

He's baaaaaaaaaaaaaaaack!

 Moonie is back in Melbourne, happily settled in to a paddock full of grass. He's in good shape at the moment, looking quite trim and healthy, so there is urgency to keep him that way when surrounded by swathes of lushness. I gave him half an hour or so after he got off the truck to have something to eat, and a drink, before trying a grazing muzzle on the poor man. He's never had one on before, and took it all quite well with no fuss or bother. He was processing the concept of being able to attempt to graze when I left him, and he'd had an attempt at drinking ie dipping the end of the muzzle in the water bucket. As I walked away, the look he gave me. If looks could kill!

He'll have another session this afternoon with the muzzle (and overnight he has started to react to the change in pasture already! so it needs to be done) with longer sessions tomorrow and Sunday, ready for the long weekdays with it on. Welcome back Moonie!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Full Moon

The handsome fella above is coming back to me, to stay permanently. I am stoked and excited to have Moonie back, after 6 years away. We are coming full circle, and what was started 19 years ago when I bought Moonie and began a journey of understanding myself and understanding horses, and who we are together, will be returned. Now I can take those 19 years of learning and give them back to a lovely mature soul who will need some TLC in his last decade.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

We haz skywets

While the photo doesn't show it too well, it's raining, still. Heavy sodden rain. And it's very warm and muggy. Melbourne doesn't do muggy. Well it didn't when I moved here from Queensland (which is why I moved here, in part, from Queensland). Talking of Queensland, it's been raining there too. Lots. For weeks and weeks. So much so there is massive, drastic flooding across a great deal of the state. Toowoomba was badly impacted earlier this week, and is pertinent to me, as my mother and sister (and her paint horses) live just out of Toowoomba. Toowoomba is also where my parents met, but that's another story. Fortunately my sister and her horses are safe, just cut off from civilisation, which would probably suit them in some ways!

Closer to home, I've not been rugging Maz in this weather. She is prone to chilling, especially when wet, but when it's consistently over 20 degrees and very high humidity overnight, she'd get wetter under a light waterproof, than without one. Because of the weather, and life, Maz has had little work since the apple bribing episode. But she is happy and content, and was perfectly obliging when I soaked her seedy toed hoof in a big yellow bucket of seedy toe killer after the trimmer had been last night. She continues to surprise me. I expected her to cope for a little while then get bored and cranky but instead, she chilled out, foot in bucket, while I scratched her whither, until it was time up. And then I had to really ask her to lift her leg to remove the bucket from under her. Funny girl. Their understanding never ceases to amaze me.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

A slither of apple

My routine at the moment is come home from work, take a flying leap onto the trainer, whip out ~40km of some kind of effort on the fixie, shower, change, out to the paddock to work and feed the mare. Yesterday I was running a little behind schedule, so decided to work more on acceptance of the bit, when bridling that is!.

I finely sliced some apples, to use as a 'sweetner' in my hand under the bit, to encourage Maz to stop moving her muzzle around (avoiding the bit) and to open her mouth by herself. The  best laid plans....

After catching her, showing her gums to another agistee (that's another story!) I got the bridle, and thought I'd try as per usual first up. She did nothing. As in, no moving of her head to avoid my hand with the bit in it. She didn't open her mouth, but she didn't say "I ain't going near that thing with my mouth either". So I slipped my thumb in her mouth, slide the bit in as she opened up and the deed was simply done. As soon as the headpiece was over her ears, I gave her some apple anyway. And so it went. After five goes, a few with some little head dodges, but more out of tedium than anything else, I took the bridle off for the final time, thrilled with the progress we had made. A few days off, some TLC and chill out time, and a back step with the work load, and Maz's attitude is back on track, and back to being her more pleasant willing self.

Sometimes having too much to do, resulting in cutting back on other things and compromising on what can get done, is a bonus, not a failure.

In other news, I've been checking out heavy duty, snow-proof winter riding gear (boots, gloves etc) while the Aussie dollar is strong, and it's snowing in the northern hemisphere. It's difficult to get very solid, truly cold-proof cold weather gear in Australia (stuf that is Raynauds-proof!), and it's difficult to get cold weather gear at a reasonable price. So I have been shopping online, looking at pictures of amazing looking lined, waterproofed, snowtread boots in snowcovered fields, while it is 35 humid degrees outside. Somehow, it feels just a little ironic...

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

A Matter of Trust

With Maz going so well last week, something had to give and as always with green horses, it's two steps forward and one back.

In some areas Maz continues to improve. I now have a light, responsive leadable horse, but one who is not so thrilled to be "working". I am not sure if it's boredom, being overwhelmed or something else, but the look on her face when I put the bridle on a few days ago said it all. I have started to begin long reining, as well lying across her back. She is coping well with these activities, although I feel she is really not 100% convinced that she is safe/secure. She is definitely standing on the edge of her comfort zone, and when moved into a new venue (ie front most yard on the property rather than the most back paddock) she loses all focus except for potential bogeys (of which there are apparently many). There is no point working a horse whose focus is scattergunned all over the shop!

So I have taken a step back,  to work on consolidating her total trust in me (which will take time of course), rather than pushing the need for her to be under saddle and under my butt! I am also working on total acceptance of having the bit put in her mouth (instead of no! no! no! oh, okay then) and complete acceptance of being girthed. Currently we walk in circles until the girth is secured by some holes. Then we may have a little more circling over 2-3 periods of tightening the girth to a secure point. Once she is "fully" girthed up, I can move the girth holes up and down as I like without her moving. I can remove the roller/saddle and regirth without Maz feeling the need to physically leave. Only on the initial girthing do I get a version of "well, I ain't hanging around for this!". Interestingly, on the 2nd and 3rd girthings last night, she simply glazed over and zoned out, mentally leaving town. That was sad to watch. I find it curious, particularly as the need to walk away is not accompanied by any aggression, adrenalin, high tension etc, just a simple "I don't feel comfortable standing here while this is happening." This followed by a mental shut down (just as dangerous as a physical objection) has me thinking. Again it's a security/trust thing and I need to find a way to resolve this quandary before I take her too much further forward. If I don't,  it's likely to pop back up bigger and brighter, and at a most inconvenient time!

So some lessons, like the one last night, may only be 10 minutes long. Others may be 20 - 30 minutes (but no longer), which includes walking from one end of the property to the other, and back again. I'm not sure what happened to the mare who was confident to check out what's in that otto bin, to one who is becoming insecure and introverted. Obviously there are some memories attached to mouthing and mounting that I need to work through, to help Maz understand she is going to have an ok deal with me, and be rewarded and appreciated for her smallest efforts in helping me help her.