Hoof school

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Last Blog was the cliffhanger that I'd be taking a day-long workshop on hooves in order to better educate myself.

Ok cliffhanger is a little over dramatized 🙂


For any new readers jumping in here I'll do a hoof synopsis:

my weak link at the moment is Khaleesi's feet. They've always seemed sensitive on rocky surfaces (yes- most horses will be sensitive on rocky surfaces, but she is more sensitive than any horse I've had experience with or ridden with). Boots didn't stay on reliably so I moved into shoes. That seemed to improve things then she became sensitive with shoes. We moved to shoes and pads… this seemed to help a while- then this spring the two of us 'turtled' through a rocky ride coming in second to last and picking a snail's pace through everything rocky. I had this feeling it wasn't right. The next ride she actually lost a shoe just a few miles in and I decided to go with my gut.

Start over.

I needed a whole new approach to her feet.

I pulled the shoes first fronts then hinds later in June.

Cranial Sacral Therapist suggested her nutrition was off because her hind gut wasn't functioning- add probiotics so her body can use the nutrition she's getting.

Now at 6 weeks of probiotics her mane and coat are looking healthier and I believe her feet are starting to improve as well.

Meanwhile she's been barefoot and my Scoot Boots seem to be reliable- last weekend they did well through a pretty grueling 26 mile ride.


Keeping her barefoot meant I could constantly work on the toes and not have to grow out a shoeing cycle then cut back all at once. What I needed to see (as my vet had mentioned late winter) was better quality hoof and more directed growth – not long in the toe but more underneath to support her. Like sculpting a bush or tree: it works better if you can do it over time and help train the growth gradually- trimming the hoof can help encourage more new growth as well. There is also more blood getting through to the hoof without shoes and that can't hurt the entire process of rebuilding.

I filed on her feet regularly- small changes- to get a more supportive angle over time.

I also began asking around to see if there were any good barefoot trimmers who could help me.

I got a suggestion from Sherry in WV (endurance rider vet friend) for someone she trusts who does mentoring. She would come and do an education day so I could learn do more myself in between.

Perfect.

It took a little time to work out a date and details but this week I finally held a mini hoof school at the barn!

A member of the AHA (American Hoof Association) education committee and a mentor through the Pacific Hoof Care Practitioners group- she spent 8 hours at the barn the first part classroom style complete with freeze dried bisected hoofs (more than one) and bones to show how the structures and suspensory apparatuses operate.

After a break we went to work and she did a trim on Khaleesi while we talked over what I had been doing, what worked and what still needed to be done. Kelly had mentioned on Sunday- her toes were looking pretty good but her heels needed to be brought back underneath her more.

This was exactly the case. I learned some fixed points to look for to understand the heels better and to know if they are even without just trying to eyeball. Her toes also came back a little more after measuring the hoof looking for 50/50 balance on either side of the line marking the widest part of the hoof with a tool- we marked her hoof up with red sharpie to be able to understand from the outside what was going on the inside.

She thought the shape of her hoof was pretty good especially when trimmed to balance where the widest part of the hoof falls- and her soles were not too flat either. Khaleesi has decent concavity as well. She cleaned out only what was dead taking no live sole, and did some minor sculpting that would distribute the pressure on the parts that are best suited to share the weight load.

Overall she thought her hooves were going to be fine and we went over what I needed to look for and do to maintain them myself.

Then we worked on a barn horse that had some other issues that had evolved over time and learned a lot from her talking through how she helped him with the trim become more comfortable in his whole body.

What I loved seeing the most was when she would make a change and set the hoof down- she'd watch the horse to see how they rebalanced, how they reacted (often sighing or licking and chewing) and then sometimes she'd move to a different hoof to come back and see how something in the soft tissue was able to drop back to level with the other side or even allow the bone structure to adjust a small amount before continuing to work in small degrees on the hoof.

She seemed to be listening to the horse as she went.


Khaleesi looking super relaxed as her feet were worked on.

After those two learning examples I brought in Wild Heart for me to trim with her guidance.

It wasn't exactly a walk in the park, but it was a success and I learned a lot more having to do it myself.

Heart for the most part was willing and patient but I was slow and clumsy with tools. Sometimes she'd jump in and finish something up so it would go quicker and was always patient, kind and supportive while saying: this isn't exactly the best horse to learn these skills on… she won't be so patient with you!

Yep. That I know. But Wild Heart is the horse I have to be able to work on… so I did my best- and the mare did well with the process.

Heart didn't seem to mind this stranger helping out. And the one time she got antsy and began to refuse to cooperate we seemed to simultaneously realize she may need a break and walked her outside.

Yes. She peed.

And returned to the barn calm and relaxed to finish up like a whole new horse.

So is this barefoot direction going to 'work'?

Time will tell.

Neither the trimmer nor I am anti-shoe. Please don't take this post the wrong way. Every horse, handler, rider has a path for many reasons and I have no idea today if I'll ever put shoes on Khaleesi again. I know better than to rule anything out completely!

Right now this is what my horse needs.

I love seeing her feet doing so well right now. So I'll follow it along as the road twists and turns and hopefully learn as much as possible in each step.

Knowledge is never a waste of time and I will do my best to sort out what works from what doesn't.

Building.

Monday, August 14, 2017

I've been asked a few times lately if I'm getting ready for another endurance event.

The answer has been the same since mid-June: Yes! Hopefully in September!

It's a long in-season hiatus especially since I didn't complete the OD so my last 50 was in April.

I don't usually ride in July and then had the trip to settle in Faygo making Ride Between the Rivers impossible. Then the clinic with Dee had to be the same weekend as the Iron Mountain ride… but doesn't everything happen as it should?

Absolutely.

Meanwhile what is going on? Am I riding a lot?

What exactly does one mean by a lot…..

I am at the barn a lot…

I'm building.

Building myself. Building K. Building relationships along with the physical structures. And Wild Heart the mustang mare seems to be at the center of all of it lately.

She has been teaching me how to build.

You know that saying:

We don't always get the horse we want… but we always get the horse we need.

Well I have to believe it with this one.

The horse I wanted and thought I was getting was a mustang mare who would have fantastic feet, ability to take care of herself, a good head on her, already gentled to humans and with some saddle time and a few trail miles. Just needing some more experience and confidence. Ready to hit the trails!

What I ended up with was a mustang mare with fantastic feet, ability to take care of herself, a good head on her, already gentled to humans and with some saddle time and a few trail miles that had a lot of questions and some residual physical issues from past injuries (likely in the wild or in captivity) and wasn't ready to carry any one of us around on her back until she got some answers!

Maybe I could have cowboy'd (is that a word? No offense to the great cowboy horsemen who didn't use violence and force) her into submission. But in my opinion that is how people get hurt.

I am well aware that anyone working with horses will get hurt at some point… I'd like to at least cut back on the likelihood of it being on purpose because my horse is sick of not being understood and decides I'm of no use to her anymore and she'd rather pick a fight than cooperate. Especially at the point when she realizes she's bigger and stronger (and probably in that instance smarter) than me.

I'd prefer to work together so we agree life is better when my brain is the one making decisions when we are together.

So I'm listening. And finally I've begun to actually hear (my equine translations beginning to improve) and they know it now.

And the horses have a lot to say.

It's like being immersed in another language knowing only a handful of words and someone you really need to work with is talking to you in that strange language and your brain hurts trying to figure it out without a translator.

At least that's how my barn time feels sometimes.

Yes. I'm the crazy horse lady now who thinks my horses talk to me.

How do I know it's not my imagination?

Because sometimes I get it right. And it's so obvious then.

Let's talk pee.

Wild Heart is basically good to be tied in the barn. For long periods of time too. For the most part she'll stand quietly and relax. Until she doesn't.

What I've often heard in training advice is basically ignore her – if she paws, gets antsy, impatient. Horses need to learn to stand tied!

She'll learn to stand there all day if I need her to. That's her job. Stand tied quietly as long as I ask.

Then one day my friend Pam is here and she sees the horse go from calm to antsy and asks: do you think she needs to pee?

Are you kidding me? No. I've never considered that. If she has to pee… she'll pee. She's peed in the barn before. We just rinse it away.

While we are talking about it she pees.
I rinse it away and think…. hm.

She is still a little antsy. Seems like maybe that wasn't it?

She pees again. (Within a minute).

Rinse it away…. boy am I feeling like an idiot. She peed a little to try to help me understand and I assumed that was it.

SHE PEES A THIRD TIME.

Ok. I heard you.

Now I have a horse who asks to go out and will poop and pee outside the barn and will ask to go. Not every single time we work inside- but more often than not.

She has not pooped or peed in the barn since that day. And she stands quietly tied for hours if I ask her to.

It's much easier to work on her feet when she's calm and not begging me to go out and pee.

In the past if she was antsy while I was trying to work on her feet I'd have assumed I have a training issue and need to train her to stand quietly.

Go figure. Come to find out I had a language issue and the horse was simply asking if she could go to the bathroom before working on her feet.

This is bigger than urination- because the problem that seems like that problem isn't always actually the problem!

I am not at all saying if your horse doesn't stand quietly when tied it has to pee. I'm actually saying the opposite…. that it could be a million things and the only answer to every training issue with horses is: it depends.

There is no answer or method that will work except understanding of their equine world and their communication. If you get the answer wrong because you didn't understand the question it ends up lose-lose.

So maybe your answer IS the horse needs to learn some patience and to stand quietly tied. Or maybe it's something entirely different. But it's the tiny things we get right or not that will determine the success with that horse.

In Heart's case I know she was saying she needed to pee because that answer worked.

I think back to how nicely this mustang had her feet trimmed by my farrier in months past- he'd worked with her twice.
Then the last time a blow up.

Why?

First answer is always the same: because I failed her. I put her in a situation she should never had been in.

That doesn't mean beat myself up and live there in failure but I need to sort it out because failure is only useful if it's about learning.

It also means I have to now dig myself out of her being resistant in her right front and leaning to care for her feet myself for the time being because I can't allow anyone to work with her who might jeopardize the relationship I've worked so hard to build.

Yes. It's that important.

And my farrier is good. I like him, I appreciate and respect him. I don't blame him. I blame myself for not following my gut that day in better controlling the environment – and very likely for not understanding she may have had to pee and just began with a question that could have been answered with respect to her…

The two things that ruin horses the fastest are ignorance and ego. That day both of those things came into play. It can happen in an instant.

One thing I've learned about having a mustang: there is little room for error. They are sensitive to everything and a change can happen very fast.

Hopefully I can use all that to my advantage. First in learning how to be better myself, and because she can have fast positive change as well… if I get it right.

It's Wild Heart that has insisted I get better. Fast. She has a lot to say and is much less patient.

Khaleesi talks to me and I understand like 10% and she seems to say: for a dumb human you're not so bad and I'll take the 10% and the fact that you're trying and I like you.

Heart talks to me and I understand like 10% and she says: DO YOU NEED ME TO S-P-E-A-K S-L-O-W-E-R? HOW ABOUT LOUDER? HELLLLOOOOO HUMAN…. ARE YOU RETARDED? Maybe if I nip or kick at her she'll wake up?

When you don't have a choice you learn or get hurt. Don't misunderstand me: she is an excellent horse!! This is not bad behavior! And also by listening to her communication and trying to help her I am not putting her in charge or abdicating my leadership role.

My job is to understand as much as I can and then use the information. And they know so much we are wise to ask for their report. I can say 'no' or 'not right now' or 'thank you but I have a better idea'.

Being a good leader does not mean saying: shut up I don't care what you have to say if you don't get in line I'll have to force you to and get frustrated or angry in the process. Then when I have an emotional melt down (anger, frustration, fear…) and yell at you-you'll know to just shut down and obey!!

How is this getting me to 100?

First I am riding my horse. Just not as often.

But second, I have this gut feeling that understanding my horse and leaning her language could be a vital component of a long successful career. If I work together with her and she's willing to carry me that far because we are a true team I will be more successful for longer.

If I learn her language enough for her to tell me when something isn't right early enough for me to adjust and fix it we will be more successful.

You know how so many people say….

If only they could just tell us…..

Imagine they are. Then it becomes…

If only we could understand.

The only way to understand I've found so far is through regular conversations practicing the language and listening and hearing. Assume EVERYTHING horses do is communication. NOTHING IS RANDOM.

But once the box is open. You can't put it back in. You can't unhear what you've heard. You can't unknow what you've learned.

Sometimes I think about how much easier life was when I just went out put on a saddle and rode my horse. I had a nice one. She knew I meant well, loved and cared for her and she put up with me.
She was well trained.

Hopefully now I'm better trained. The horses are my teachers. I have many years to go before I'm fluent. But I have a few words here and there and at least am trying!

Seek… and ye shall find.  

Thursday, July 6, 2017

After a really fascinating day at the barn I’m left reflecting over that gut thing, that voice from somewhere else that has led me to the place I’m in right now. Then I feel grateful because that search that started as a gut feeling those years back that sent me off to find a young feral mare to start – when I didn’t know a thing about starting a horse – and to find a different way to approach it, to approach horses in general…. has been an amazing journey and I know it’s still only the beginning. 


Just to clarify: I still don’t know a thing about starting horses and have barely scratched the surface of the secret equine world but I want it. I want to learn. I want to be better. I’m better than I was and I’m getting deeper glimpses of that world all the time!

The latest leg of the journey involved a visit from a really good cranialsacral practitioner yesterday. We arranged her visit because of Wild Heart’s issues that were not connected to an injury that a vet could pinpoint (nothing broken, swollen, pulled, diseased etc) but after serious amount of firm insistence from myself and my friend Susan only resulted in this fine mare digging in her heels (literally) we needed to dig deeper ourselves. 


Dee Janelle from Simple Equine Teaching came to do a private clinic back in April and we started with her. 

Definitely pain. By that time (April) she had developed an obvious stiffness in her stifle and something going on in the poll. The pain she was dealing with had caused louder and louder communication from her and though I was listening I wasn’t completely certain just what the mare was saying. But she had begun to show disrespect towards me likely because if I couldn’t understand her and continued to insist on things she couldn’t do- I was not going to make a good leader for her to trust. 
I did not go down that path very far without getting help. 

Dee helped start some basic healing process that was amazing to watch (as a science minded skeptic… this laying of hands type stuff seemed unlikely to make a difference. But when you see the changes with your own eyes and if you care about results… you’ll believe too).  

After the clinic I went back to groundwork she could do without pain and allowed her some time to continue to repair and reset – because the body will do that, sometimes it needs a little help when it’s stuck. I took Dee’s advice and called in Sandy (cranialsacral practitioner) to give her a deeper look and give us either a prescription to go forward or the green light to get into saddle work again. 


Sandy is highly regarded in her field. This meant a two month wait to see her- even with the connection from Dee- it was worth it. 

In the end I decided to have her look over all my horses and my aging pup Linus who has been getting stiffer and stiffer with age after even a short easy trail ride. 


One thing I’ve learned that has begun to save me time, money and aggravation: if Dee says it is a good idea, jump on it. I have yet to see her be wrong. I can’t explain exactly, but in a couple years time I’ve seen the evidence: she is not guessing. And she is not going to be wrong. 

I’m not a mindless-follower type. I believe in results. The longer I stay connected to her and her methods- the more my horse life blooms and my animals thrive and things come together. 

When I saw her in April she said to me (paraphrased): She’s a great mare- I really like her.  I’m not happy with her [Khaleesi’s] feet. You have a nutrition problem. Get her shoes off, get her nutrition issue fixed, start by getting off the junk food [commercial processed fillers and grains], you’ll need hoof protection that isn’t nailed on constricting the blood flow into her legs. Her legs will look better too when you get the shoes off. Your saddle is ok, she’s happy with it- but there’s minor atrophy starting behind the withers- talk to Carol about a Balance Saddle so her back can grow stronger. You like riding trails in a halter – I see you in a neck string, that will be better. Let’s just get everything off her face entirely – is that legal in your sport?Next year. 2018. That is your year. You are going to have a fantastic 2018. 


I heard her. I still hear her voice in my head. 

2018. That is your year.

Well I wasn’t quite ready to bail out on 2017 in April. So I made mental notes and thought:

There’s no way I can afford another saddle- especially an expensive one. I spent all that time and finally found what ‘works’ for us…. LA LA LA LALA I DON’T WANR TO HEAR SHE MIGHT DO BETTER WITH ANOTHER SADDLE… 

I can’t pull her shoes off today I have a 55 mile race next weekend and I don’t have a good boot program in place. Plus my vet and farrier keep telling me pads and shoes are giving her the protection she needs to reverse some of the impact damage. Pull the shoes- ugh! Just when I’ve found something that seems to be working ok. I know I’d like to see her able to get out of shoes but I’ve tried that before…. how can it work?

I don’t feed a lot of grains anyway- I can pull off my feeds pretty easily. I’ll start there….

And I did start there. I at least took one thing to start with immediately. 

I pulled all the mares off ration balancers and feeds and went to coolstance and grass only. I add a vitamin/mineral supplement.

Then got to the OD 100 in June and lost a shoe in mile 2. 

2018. That is going to be your year. 

I can’t lie. That’s the first voice I heard when I started having shoe issues. She’s always been right before. 

Pull the shoes as soon as you can and get her nutrition fixed. 

I suppose that gut feeling is partly why I didn’t put that shoe back on and try to finish. Something is not right with those feet. Hasn’t been for a long time. She’s always been right before. 

Interestingly, Jeanne Waldron the legendary endurance vet took a look at K as a favor to Lynne two years ago and said a similar thing: her coat and feet and sensitivity in the lower back tell me she has nutrition issues. Probably worms. Give her a power pack.

I did. Not sure if it helped a little. But I’m still here trying to sort out her feet. 

Enter Sandy Siegrist of Perfect Animal Health. I was intensely curious what she would find with Khaleesi. First I’ve been working on my riding and balance a lot and for a couple years now. Sandy can tell a lot from the horse about how the horse is being ridden and about the rider. 


I’m not at all afraid of what Khaleesi would say! The good bad and the ugly I want to know it all! Especially the ugly- that’s where you learn how to improve.

I was beyond glad to hear that she was in great balance and great shape. Her back looks good but her top line could come up to improve it.

I just picked up a balance saddle.

…. this is what I’m learning about following this path. My reaction to finding a balance saddle was: no way. I can’t afford it. 

Seriously I can’t. 

But I started to do some research- to search. To follow that voice- and within two weeks of being open to the possibility the saddle was here. The exact right size and style available used for a price I could sell my other saddle for and a year interest free to find the right buyer. The saddle I could never imagine would be attainable fell into my lap. 

I’m slowly learning to stop putting up roadblocks and start watching the doors open. 

Wonderful- that’s perfect! That will help. 

So the only problem you have with her (and I like this mare very much!) is her guts aren’t working. Like at all. So no matter what you do for her nutritionally it won’t help because her guts aren’t processing it. 

Ok so now what?

Probiotics. 

Her feet should come around in 45-60 days. Keep them trimmed shorter so her angles are better for good growth. Do you have good boots for her? (Yes i do!!) Then she showed me how to tell if the probiotic is working and when to stop feeding it. By feeling a spot on her side with a lump that will eventually go away.

So I embark on a probiotic program to see if it helps and will keep in touch with Sandy as it goes. 

What creates this issue with the gut health? As we all know a lot of things including stress, pain, heavy workload, herd changes, antibiotics, chemical wormers, vaccinations… and more. I am fairly certain this has been an issue since she came to me. Since the first times I ponied her with Faygo (about 6 months after she came to live with me) she was sensitive in rocky ground. 

I wonder about taking her off the land and starting the important modern horsekeeping necessities such as worming and vaccinations and feeding grain added with the stress of leaving her feral style life and herd and having to get to know a human as her new best buddy. 

Often once the balance is upset it needs help to rebalance. 

Luckily Pam has a big tub of a good probiotic she loaned me before the OD ride and Khaleesi loves it- she’ll lick the powder right out of the bowl with no feed. 

Which brings me to the fascinating concept of free choice and how I’m changing even to free choice minerals now because I’ve been told by too many people that they will if allowed to – balance themselves by taking in what they need if they have the access. 

I won’t put the Forco out free choice but I am intrigued that the horse who won’t try new things: it took me a while to get her to try a carrot… she resisted eating grain feeds when I first got her… she licks the Forco out of the bowl as a powder like it’s candy. Does she know she needs it? Does the wisdom of the horse really go there? I don’t know but I’ve stopped assuming it doesn’t. 

As for the others: I’m also glad to say none of them have serious issues and are overall balanced in body, mind and spirit and in good health. 😊

Faygo had a very long ago head trauma that created uneven growth and development in her head and face. Sandy moved things around – this I don’t understand but I watched it happen- in the structure of her head and eye and even in her mouth. She does this with almost no pressure and no force. However when she was finished she asked me to walk her so she could process the changes and readjust. The mare stumbled like she was slightly drunk at first. After a few minutes she came around but the changes for her were significant. 


It is very likely she will breathe more easily now. She may have suffered harder breathing for many years because of the shift in her face and head from an early injury and though her heaves are always worse in humidity so I don’t believe that will cure the condition it will be interesting to see how much it helps her. I talked over her move to live with my mom with Sandy and she agreed a drier climate will be beneficial and she’ll be working with my mom to come up with herbs or remedies that will help with symptoms as she continues to age. 

As for Wild Heart: she had a shoulder way out and bound up. Sandy said it was like she was T-boned at some point not sure how long back… could have been pasture antics here or in captivity or as far back as her wild days. She wasn’t telling. It caused an issue in her psoas (I think it was that, but I could have the body term wrong) which is what works and drives the hind end and allows that back leg to reach underneath her. All this makes a lot of sense from what we watched ponying and riding her in how she moved and how hills were when she’d have the most trouble. 


Her stifle issue and poll were completely fine during this visit and after the shoulder was reset and released she is good to get under saddle again!

Her prescription is go for a pony ride first and get a nice long trot out so she can see that her body is working properly again and she should be pain free. She may struggle at first until she realizes it’s ok- or she may realize it right away – but she is healthy and ready for work.


As for Linus- he had scarring in his shoulder probably from when he was hit by the car as a pup. She spent a lot of time with him and helped release some of the scar tissue. Sandy has worked on wolves and wolf dogs before and said that they are different than domestic dogs. She didn’t say that Linus had wolf in him, but that she sensed a definite wild dog gene in his bloodline. She said it’s a strong presence. I was not at all surprised. He is also healthy aside from the shoulder injury and said raw apple cider vinegar and turmeric will help him as he’s aging. After his session he went from stiff and slightly limpy from Monday’s ride to moving like himself a few years back. It was lovely to see!

I left the barn feeling reflective and grateful that the path I began seeking a handful of years back- to find better answers and a deeper understanding – not just to be successful with my horse but to be a better person is a path that continues to come to me one footstep at a time. I don’t know where it will lead me, but that isn’t my job to know. 


My job is to seek. And to stay open as the steps present themselves – and to have no fear but instead walk in faith that the next step will be clear as it is meant to be. Then take the step. And enjoy!

Heart: Disrespect 

Monday, May 1, 2017

I haven’t updated Heart’s journey in a while. I have been writing more about Khaleesi as she so far is having a good 3rd season as an endurance horse.

The other side is that I haven’t been sure what exactly to write about. I’d been watching her progress nicely then gradually begin to sort of unravel on the trail and first I needed to understand it myself. 

I chose a mustang mare for varied reasons from talking to others I know who own them: good feet, hearty, ability to take care of herself, big heart, and the belief that I would learn a lot from the process. 

Well I was right on with all of it. And I’m getting quite an education. 


(Big yawn as we work though some early groundwork over the winter)

The big picture that I was trying to make sense of included a horse that always chose the humans over the herd in the field – Wild Heart is not hard to catch (in fact she catches us as Buck would put it) and is willing to leave her herdmates to fly solo with either Susan or I in the barn. 


She has become safe to tie, calm to saddle and tack up, good with picking up her feet for you to work with, Susan had gotten her quiet and still at the stool to mount, she was already started under saddle and no trouble to ride in the arena, been ponied along the trails and she had been willing to lead or follow being ridden on the trail. 

Then one ride she laid down while Susan was riding her. This isn’t the end of the world – Khaleesi has done this in a muddy pool because it feels good. I discourage it but it gives my friends a big laugh as it only happens when I’m not ready for it!

Susan would get back on her and we continued to ride just longer enough that she’d soften again and be willing to continue then we’d turn around. She did this in various ways sometimes trying more often than others and sometimes she would lay down when we got back to the barn yard… but we took it in stride and let her sort it out. 

The approach was not to get overly upset with her for it, but to firmly let her know riding was her job and laying down to roll did not get her out of it. 

The saddle fit is good, her back is fine, and we were only walking and the rides were less than 5 miles. She had been ponied on the same trails without rider to build mental and physical fitness first. None of this seemed unreasonable to getting a horse started. 

Then maybe a month ago or so she stopped at the top of a hill and refused to go.  Susan is a good rider and insisted firmly without fear.  I rode on with Khaleesi to encourage her not to be left behind. Nothing worked. She planted her feet and wouldn’t go on and when asked to move forward she would crow hop, kick, back and circle. 

Always on the lookout for when a nice horse might be asking for help- and not interested that anyone get hurt I suggested seeing if Susan could hand walk her down the hill. She has seemed uncomfortable on hills before- but nothing I could put my finger on. Just building the muscle? Was it that she wasn’t comfortable yet and the dogs were too close with her crowding her space? Was something pinching in her tack?

It took some effort even then but Susan was able to walk her ahead of me down the hill. Her hind seemed slightly stiff maybe? Then not... at the bottom susan got back on and the mare again refused to go. We experimented- I took the lead rope and ponied her… this time she went willingly. Eventually Susan took up the reins again and heading back toward home was just fine. 

The next ride she began refusing right in the front yard. I picked up the lead and she came along without fuss. 

Odd. If she’s in pain, why would she be ok with being led?

Susan took back control and was ok for a short time then still less than a mile from home the mare dug her heels. Spun, kicked at her, hopped, mini bucks, backing- anything but forward. 

Does this have to do with susan? I didn’t think so. Susan had been doing great with the mare. Still I felt that it would be a factor to rule out. 

We traded horses and I got on Heart and asked her to move along. 

No

She did the same to me. I had a little more tolerance for pushing her past the behavior and riding out some of her antics without fear. I held on, melted into the saddle and stayed calm willing to unemotionally insist that she do her job. Can I push her through this?


I wasn’t angry, afraid or frustrated. Mostly curious and trying to figure out what she was saying. 

I got nowhere


This is the point I was certain I needed help. Not that I couldn’t continue to work with the mare but I wasn’t sure what she was saying exactly. If I didn’t understand what she needed I risked destroying her connection to us with the wrong human response. 

I needed the right direction not to ruin this horse. Not to mention keep us from getting hurt. 

In my opinion the thing that makes a good horsewoman is taking the actions of the horse which could mean at least 4 different things (likely more) and accurately assessing if the horse is saying. 

  1. I’m hurting and I can’t go on like this.
  2. I don’t understand what you want and  am going to shut down out of confusion. 
  3. I am afraid and am certain I will die if you force me to do this. 
  4. I am not in the mood to haul a human around the trails and if I can find a way to get out of working I’ll do it. I think I can take you. 

We needed to get this right and she was speaking so loudly at this point I knew it was time; to respond wrong would devastate our future success with her. 

I had an idea. 

I hand walked her forward just ahead on the trail to a clearing and gave Susan my phone. I needed somewhere safe to try one more time and if we ended up in rodeo I didn’t want ditches, trees and obstacles on all sides. 

I mounted and asked her to go then insisted firmly. Same crow hopping, mini bucks, spinning in circles and backing. 

Note: I’m a decent rider but if that horse meant me harm she could have tossed me. She was communicating. She didn’t at that point want to hurt me or Susan. I am certain of that. 


We got the rodeo show on video and I sent it to Dee from Simple Equine Teaching for a consult. Thankfully this was a couple weeks before she’d be here in person. We could begin with whatever she suggested and when she came we would see how it was going and what next. 

Video is limited and wasn’t very close up but Dee gave me some feedback and Susan and I went back into the arena with Heart to back up in the process and simplify. We rode her but without any hands/steering and just asked her to be ok with carrying a rider in a walk- any direction for now is ok!

First step to rule out confusion or mixed signals from her rider. 

She started with some argument but got more comfortable with the task and she did improve in there over time. 


We still weren’t certain we’d gotten to the bottom of it….

The week before Dee came I ponied Heart on a very short walk (no saddle) and all went ok until she tossed her head and communicated major discomfort on the last two significant hills descending home to the barn. My mom and I both felt something was physically off with her we took our time (listened to her) as she navigated down the hill. 

I suggested Susan hand walk her across the street the next day to see if she noticed anything off.  Heart picked a major fight with her to even go up the hills where the two used to hand walk with no trouble at all a couple months back.

Bingo. Something was off. 

But what was still unclear. It wasn’t so obvious to see what exactly wasn’t right… no heat or swelling, her canter was choppy in the pasture but she didn’t seem injured exactly. could it be ulcers? Alignment out (chiropractic work?)

When Dee arrived the following day Susan went to get the mare and as we watched through the barn window the mare’s hind was very stiff just walking in. 

It was fascinating watching Susan and Dee work with Heart. She had some pretty serious energy conflicts in her body. Meridians and axis and poll things awry (a whole language I’m not familiar with) She had issues in her stifle and neck- these things she communicated to them as we watched her move her body as Dee and Susan worked with her.

This whole process I can’t explain, but I can say as Dee showed Susan where to touch the horse with very little pressure we all watched the mare change in front of us- relaxing, moving off then inviting her back to ‘do that again‘, sometimes a tiny jerk and the way she would hold her body then shift was mind blowing. 

That very day she already moved better, and after day two I watched her canter through the pasture with fluid motion where in the weeks leading up she was stiffer and choppy. Night and day. 

No vet. No medication. 

Energy work. Then her following up that work by adjusting herself further. 

But that’s only half of the story. Wild Heart had begun gradually to respond disrespectfully to things she was uncomfortable with. 

I want to be clear here. I have heard most horse-people I know talk about respect and disrespect and now in my personal experience I am going on a limb to say disrespect is pretty rare and the term is grossly overused. 

I’ve seen horses worried, unsure, fearful, confused, questioning- all things some people often lump into ‘disrespectful’ but it is not at all the same. 

When you ask something from a horse, and she doesn’t want to do it, then looks at you and decides she is going to fight instead of flee and she will hurt you if she is able… that is disrespect and it looks very different than confusion, fear or worry. 



Also it isn’t generally the case that a horse ‘is’ disrespectful on the whole. You can have a horse go through all kinds of responses to a request and a few moments of disrespect that turn into either respect or curiosity or vice versa doesn’t make a bad horse. 

The mustang mare can flip pretty rapidly between questions, respect and disrespect and I am getting a quick education on how to get my human responses in line fast to act appropriately.


The other part of what the clinic provided was tools to communicate quickly and effectively when Heart chose to be disrespectful- things that would hopefully keep me safe and change the conversation bringing our relationship back where she was willing and saw us as good leaders paired with some physical healing she needed to do in order to feel better, relax and start to work again. 

One of the common mistakes I’ve seen is  (especially women) when needing to respond with big communication from a horse is to get emotional. I don’t mean they cry or become a hormonal mess- mostly they use anger and frustration. Anger seems to help generate big energy, however it is still an emotion and a horse will never accept an emotional leader. 

Horse leaders respond appropriately to the situation and go back to their cool, relaxed selves eating or drinking or whatever it is they were doing just seconds ago before the offense. It’s that quick. And when they get the situation handled (which is with exactly the volume necessary no more no less) it’s over. They don’t continue to punish or chase or ‘impose more control’. They don’t continue to work the disrespectful horse. They get what they asked for (out of my space, don’t touch my food, etc) and then move on. 

It’s in the moment. The past… 2 seconds ago… is over. 


One thing I’ve noticed is that the situation is defused quickly- not amped up into an emotional frenzy which is the usual response that humans have when they are afraid, angry, or frustrated.

My job when Heart decides to take me on and question if I’m leadership material is to not be fearful (control breathing, be aware of heart rate), calmly (like I have no doubt I can successfully take on a 1200 pound wild animal) but firmly stand my ground and use my tools to communicate that I’m smarter and stronger than she is. 

After all if I can’t keep her from eating grass when she suppose to be working for me, how can I be trusted to keep the mountain lions at bay, or to provide the food she needs, or make the right decisions when we’re out in the woods together. 

More domesticated horses just don’t have the high level survival drive a wild one does so she goes from zero to life or death quicker than the other horses I work with. 

Still I have faith in the mare. She is a good horse full of spirit and heart. She is going to make an excellent partner when she realizes she has a cush life now and doesn’t have to fight anymore- she can get along with her new family and be treated very well. 


But she does have a job. 

It’s a slower process but completely worthwhile and both Susan and I are committed to success and giving the process the time it takes. 

After over a week of regular but short sessions I am seeing improvement. At first her language was loud and aggressive at times, now her disrespectful moments are less intense and more half-hearted. She is healing and I am learning and growing. 

One thing is for certain, learning to work with a horse who chooses disrespect at times does make you better if you get through it effectively. It will make me better with all the horses I work with- and it has shown me what disrespect isn’t. Which has been one of the most valuable parts of this experience for me. 

I still believe that slow IS fast and that once we sort some of these things out she will come right along and be a truly fine horse. 

Heart: the puzzle

Saturday, February 4, 2017

It’s February. 

So far Khaleesi is on track for 50 miles at the Blackwater ride on March 5. We’re picking up miles with at least one 10-15 mile ride per week and she’s stayed sound. Saddle fit is doing great with my old pad and we even have boots that seem to be staying on (knock on something!)


Though we have a tentative goal to get Heart to the Blackwater ride as well Susan and I are just not certain if she will get there or not. 

She is coming along amazingly well however there are a few things we’d like to feel confident about before we load her up:

  1. She’ll ride on the trailer. Yes- I can get her on, but she doesn’t like the confinement of having the divider in and I have not yet closed the door on her in there. 
  2. Susan feels comfortable riding her solo. Susan rides alone in the arena, and hand walks her on the trails solo but the solo ride is still in the works. 
  3. She understands and accepts electric fence confinement.

It’s not impossible these requirements will be met, but it’s not a given- especially the trailer.  

Being a wild mare has advantages- she is amazing in the woods like she’s lived there all her life (she was wild on the range for her first 2 years which is a major plus).

  • Cross the river (check) 
  • drink from a puddle or creek (check) 
  • navigate tricky footing and downed trees (check check) 
  • realize other animals live out here too and you don’t need to worry (check). 

I am amused reading back to an earlier post where I mentioned there were some basics that are good to have in place before trailer loading. Which one had I neglected?

The confined spaces one. 

😏

So here we are. I love to look at these steps like a creative puzzle to solve- how can I get her working toward what I want in a way that doesn’t force or cause her stress: we always keep the relationship as the center. 

It’s a puzzle for me to create a puzzle for her. As Buck would say- you sort of set it up for them and let them do it. 

2-part plan for getting her comfortable on the trailer:

#1 the hay hallway

We created a hay hallway to walk her through in the barn so she can begin to feel closed in but still have an escape route. She’s ok with that so far and we also back out of it without (too much) trouble. Eventually the hay hallway will be taller and closer in and then we will not walk all the way through but close the door and have her be ‘ok’ in the small space. 

#2 Feeding on the trailer 

I’m not into horses working for their food or using treats to train. Doesn’t mean I think no one should but it isn’t generally in line with what I am trying to do. 

That being said I starting looking creatively at how to get her comfortable on the trailer and decided in her case feeding her there might be a multi-prong solution. 

Most importantly food on the trailer has made getting on the trailer ‘her idea’. I will always believe this is best practice if you can find a way. 

Today I didn’t ask her to load at all. I put her food right inside the ‘box’ and she walked up and took a few bites. Then I asked her to back off the ramp and moved the food in a few inches. She was dying to get back up there. 

It was her idea. 

I let her come up and take a few more bites then backed her again. 

Moved the dish a few more inches. 

She came right up but now had to stretch a little more. She still was willing but it wasn’t as easy. 

Back up – once more. 

I put the bowl in the center. This means she really can’t reach it without two feet inside the box. 

I believed this was harder for her to accept but not too much pressure for her to work out. 

Then I got in the trailer and watched. 

It was fascinating to see her WANT to get on the trailer but feel like she wasn’t sure she could handle it. It put me in a different role- one that helped her instead of forcing. 

Now it was a puzzle that she could solve and I watched her work it out. 

Sometimes she came up and ate for about a minute or two. Then she’d back off – I always allowed her to back off but she would step right back to the edge. Her mind was in the trailer. 

At one point she started looking to the outside sides of the trailer – instead of not allowing it I watched her. She was right that the food was ‘right there’ but inside the box. She was sorting out the puzzle. 

No – there wasn’t a way to get the food from either side. 

After some exploration there I helped her out by showing her once again where the food was and she did come back up. 

Heart through the trailer window.

We were done when she finished the bowl.

Half way in was all she really could stand so I’ll take it today. 

She worked out the puzzle and faced her fears which became less important than breakfast each time. And she couldn’t be too stressed out while she was eating which leads to the other positives to this method in her case. 

Eating keeps her head lower while focused on the food bowl- lower head usually means lower adrenaline.  Also if she can eat while on it she can begin to relax and stay longer without realizing  she should panic. 

If I had to load her and force her on to save her life I could do it, but I don’t chose that as the way to get her willingly loading and working together with us. 

It’s amazing to me how quickly force can destroy a human-equine relationship with a lot of damage to repair over a long time. And by force- it depends on the horse to define it… each horse has a different threshold and it doesn’t take what humans consider abuse to be equine force. This is why learning to really read each horse is so important to me. 

I still miss a lot but it’s what makes the difference between success and struggle.


By the way Khaleesi is also being fed on the trailers ‘off’ side right now to make her able to load as easily on the left as the right. 

As for Susan’s solo ride, I am pretty confident that will be soon. Heart is frequently separated from the herd and is basically ok with Susan as her leader. One of these hand walks Susan will just hop on and feel right about it. 

As for the electric pen, there is a small strand in the field right now blocking their favorite corner. Mid month I plan to cross section the field in prep for spring grass and these should at least give her the chance to understand the e-fence. Next will be to set it up in the farm (safe zone) and introduce her as an enclosure and see how she does. Other mustang owners say this wasn’t an issue for them. The horses are so smart they tend to get it quickly and as long as they have food to munch are pretty content to be still and relax. I think we’ll be ok here too. 

On the trail she’s doing great. She’s willing and calm, relaxed and forward. We extend her ride each week and did about 6 miles Wednesday. We’ve been adding some trot intervals so by next month she should have no trouble doing a pretty flat 13 miles at walk-trot with a group of intro riders. 


So really it comes down to the trailer. I can’t know yet how she’ll progress. She tends to be willing and smart and learn quickly but this confinement is worrisome for her which isn’t as simple as being a quick learner.  

We will have to see. It will happen in its time- by the end of the month or not I can’t say!

Scoots 

Monday, January 30, 2017

Back to the details that keep us moving toward 100… which means 50 in just over a month. 

My size 3 scoot boots arrived last week and I believe they fit. They are just tight   enough to be snug but not to cause pressure or rubbing. 


I love the design. They are one piece with  the ‘anklet’ strap so there isn’t anything to come apart- no bottom shell to end up lost on the trail. No Velcro to collect dirt and mud or freeze.

They are the easiest I’ve used to put on and take off. 

I pull them off and drop them in a bucket of water while I untack and they seem to clean themselves – no scrubbing necessary. 

But do they stay on?

So far yes. 


I started with a couple mile waking ride with Susan and Heart and had no trouble.  

Susan and Wild Heart getting on trail and she’s doing great!

Then the stars finally aligned and we did a decent 13 mile ride with various footing, walk-trot-canter in intervals, crossed the Jackson River 3 times, encountered some deep sucking mud and 100% boot success: back and front. On her back feet I still have the renegades and they seem to be working. 

On the renegades I use a few layers of vet wrap to snug the boot in width just a touch and also give it a little grip that helps keep them from twisting in a canter or mud. –Thanks for the tip Lynne!

I heard the peanut gallery (Facebook hoof boot page) called my farrier, and taken matters (per his advice) into my own hands. I have been shortening her toes on all four encouraging her hoof shape to more round than elongated oval and it seems to be helping. 

I have no idea what he will say when he sees her feet 😳 But at the moment at least I can ride and my boots are working!


If the scoot boots continue to work on her fronts I’ll replace the back boots as well but they get expensive so we’re sticking with what we have at the moment as long as we don’t lose one!

This is the first riding since Khaleesi’s mystery lameness. The short walk was to be sure she was ok, then we did the 13 mile harder loop to test it. 


She had seemed fine by the weekend previous so if the ride lamed her again it would at least give me information to work with when my vet comes in February. 

Winter is flask season and K always curious asked to try some of the cinnamon apple whiskey… she insists she’s old enough 🙂

I also am still playing around with my saddle- rough hair puzzle. On the walk ride I didn’t use a pad at all. The Phoenix Rising has a sheepskin bottom and CAN be ridden without a pad. Her back was smooth and even after the walk. 

On the 13 mile I used the pad Phoenix Rising sells to match the saddles that I’d bought way back with my first PR for Faygo.
Day after she was sound and her back was perfect. I didn’t get much sweat out of her (she’s still I incredibly fit- even with the lack of ‘hard’ work this fall and winter) but no rough hairs, no sensitivity after the ride or the next day. Her legs felt tight and cool and she came to the gate to greet me hello which tells me she was also happy. 


I plan to get up to 20 miles or so in the next couple weeks. Thankfully winter agrees with Faygo and for a summer ‘off’ and only getting out once a week she too is doing well and was a good training partner for now. 

We don’t have impressive speed but that is not a concern with K for now- I know she has it in her when she needs it. 

If the weather cooperates I will try to get a ride in with a horse that will inspire her to get her moving. 

Heart: on the road part deux

Sunday, January 15, 2017

This was too good of an update not to post so here’s a brief follow up to the Heart progress blog even though it’s the same day!

Sunday was not as wet and cold as I’d expected so after some house chores (woke up and realized my barn was probably cleaner than my house...) I had some free time so decided to hook up the trailer and make it the day for the trailer. 

That meant it wasn’t: we’ll check it out and see how she reacts.

It was: she’s getting on if I stay here all day and night

I thought about the horse greats… Dorrance… Brannaman… Hunt… I can’t remember who it was that first said it:

To be a good horseman you don’t force horse to do something. No. You make it [whatever you want to get done] the horse’s idea. 

Well I’m not a real horseman. At least not yet… maybe someday. I wasn’t sure I could pull off making it Heart’s idea to get into that little aluminum box on wheels- but if I couldn’t do that my hope at least was to make it happen without force. Without frustration. Without stress. (For either of us).  

To be successful I needed to have no time line, and no expectations about how long she would need to sort the puzzle out.

Checklist to prepare for success:

  1. Be able to lead her well on the ground. Not just so she doesn’t run me over- she knows the dance and performs it well. Her leading skills are excellent. 
  2. Understand when I ask her to move forward either toward me or past me depending on my needs. This is solid but not perfect.
  3. Understand how to back. Yeah. We got that!
  4. Be confident walking on and stepping up and backing off uneven surface. We use the plywood platform in the arena and she easily steps up and backs off without hesitation. Excellent. 
  5. Be ok with confined spaces. She used to be stalled in TN and spent some time in a confined area here at the farm when she first arrived. Check. 
  6. Work on leading through narrow spaces. We didn’t spend much time on this. I’ve heard it’s great prep for trailer loading. 

All in all I believed she had the trust in me and the building block to do this. 

I called Nette and she met me at the barn for moral support (it’s always nice to have a friend), some fresh air, and to work the video!

Before even moving toward the trailer I got us connected and communicating with some groundwork. I led, backed, and asked to move the hind around the fore until I knew I had her attention and we were on the same page. 

I think some who have horses not great at loading might solve their problems with that simple step

Then we headed to the trailer and there was 45 minutes that looked a lot like this:


Basically I wanted to ask her as gently and softly as possible yet in the end it had to ‘get done’. In Brannaman speak: offer the good deal then increase the pressure until I could see the try. 

This is tricky. I think I spent more time than I needed not asking clearly but hanging out with her feet on the ramp making sure she was comfortable and not worried. 

I knew when I added too much pressure because it sent her backward down the ramp. 

I also have been working on waiting on the horse. I believe it’s important you let your horse know she has time to think. I don’t want a reactive horse. I want one who knows I will encourage her to think a problem through if possible. It helps build trust. And the horse knows when you care enough to wait on them. 

I was determined to out-patient my usual self and take as much time as she needed to do it on her timeline. Her comfort zone. It’s a common mistake ask a horse for something – wait a few human moments then decide “ok that’s enough… we don’t have time for this“. 

So I was prepared: When my brain kicked in with ok, this is ridiculous… get on the trailer already!! I was ready to retort no goal oriented impatient self- we can wait longer!

After about half an hour I made the decision to ensure my request was crystal clear – I began to use my lead rope to drive (not to whip her- just a twirl or swing to communicate what I wanted) and added a forward invitation with my body to create almost a rhythmic rocking back and forth next to her. This seemed to break something loose and she began to shift more weight forward. She put on two feet then followed with the rear just behind. 

I’m pleased with the work and after asking her to back off nicely (the second half of the process!) I loaded her 2 more times easy on, easy off. 


Once she’d made it on the next couple times were quick and easy. My guess is she will now load fine. So far once she learns something it seems to stick. 

So she’s really on the road now!