Saturday, December 01, 2012

If it's not one thing, it's three. Thing #3

Thing #3.  Kaswyn.

Kaswyn hasn't been right for the last few months.  I wrote about his last visit to Doc on Phil Boot Camp 2012 - Days 11 & 12.  After that visit Kaswyn still wasn't right.  So about two weeks ago I took him back to Doc.  After flex testing and lunging, Doc said (like I've heard him and other vets say a lot) "He's just not that lame."

I know he doesn't look lame while he's there, but trust me, he hurts at home.  I told Doc this and asked if we could block the foot and he said "Well, since he's not that lame we won't see a difference, but I know something that can."  

He hooked Kaswyn up to this lameness analyzer.  They put probes on his two front feet, the top of his head, and the top of his rump.  Then we lunged him, and the probes sent out signals to a laptop computer being held nearby.  When the data was collected the software spit out a diagnosis.  

The first diagnosis was lameness left front, and slight lameness right hind, which was probably just due to the lameness in front.  

Then we blocked the foot, and lunged him to gather more data.  This time showed much less lameness left front.  

I asked if it could be his knee, and Doc said he didn't think so.  He said what he wanted to try was injecting anti-inflammatories into the nerve endings because he thought they might be bothering him.  He said give him a day off and then resume work as usual.  The injection should have lasted 3-5 days.  

Two days later, Kaswyn was off again.  I called Doc and he said Dr. B. needed to come out and see Kaswyn at the farm.  Doc thought that just having Kaswyn brought out to the clinic was probably getting Kaswyn pumped with adrenaline and messing with the results.  

So I moved my horses to the new farm, waited 10 days, then had Dr. B. out to the barn.  His plan was to inject the ankle joint with carbocaine (removing all pain from the ankle joint itself but leaving feeling in the foot), and when that didn't work, nerve block the foot, and then when Kaswyn went sound, suggest an MRI. 

Well Kaswyn didn't agree with this plan.  He was nice and lame for the flex-tests and the lunging. He went sound after the ankle injection.  


So Dr. B. wanted more x-rays of the foot and ankle.  Luckily, I just happened to have the CD the clinic gave me of the 12 shots of the foot they did 6 weeks ago, so he only needed one shot of the foot.  

The foot showed nothing that should be making Kaswyn as lame as he was.  The ankle, however, showed significant remodeling of the cannon bone and the pastern bone where they meet to form the fetlock joint.  This is what Dr. B thinks is causing the lameness.  It's not an injury, but a degenerative disease.  

Ok, great. So now what?  

Dr. B has had experience with this before.  In fact, he was part of a study for a drug that is seeking FDA approval for just this sort of disease.  He has used it with great results in the past.  To show me an example, he pulled up x-rays of a horse he treated with the same issue.  First he put the "before" pictures up right next to Kaswyn's x-ray.  I could see how they were very similar.  Then he pulled up the "after" shots.  Not only did the x-ray look almost normal, but he told me it had been six months since treatment and the horse was still sound and going strong.  And this horse is in heavy dressage training.  He used this drug in combination with shock wave therapy and the horse has done very well.  Not only that, but this drug has been shown to help horses with navicular.  Whoa.  

He thinks he can turn this around for Kaswyn, and actually reverse the damage.  But first, he wants to come out one more time in about two weeks and inject the ankle again, just to be sure that he's correct in this diagnosis.  If he is, then it's not something that time off is going to fix.  But this drug will.  

So then it will be up to me to decide.  Retire him and do nothing?  Or use this drug alone?  Or use the drug with shock wave therapy?  Dr. B has had very good success with the combination of the two, but he thinks it will work with just the drug.  

I know many people would love to see me just retire this horse.  Just let him be out in the pasture.  But you could see today, after the ankle injection, that Kaswyn was walking much better.  Not only htat but he became much more chipper and he seemed even a little cheeky.  Like his regular Kaswyn self. So that tells me that just walking around in the pasture would cause him pain.  And I just can't deal with that.  Not if I have it in my power to make him not hurt.  

In about two weeks Dr. B will be back again.  I'll think about what my decision will be until then.  I'll think about it A LOT.  

Thursday, November 29, 2012

If it's not one thing, it's three. Thing #2.

Thing #2 - Craig's job.  

Craig is a copywriter in advertising, and he loves his job.  He always has.  Even when he has switched companies, the underlying thing is he loves the job.  And he's good at it too, which is a total bonus.  

So recently he got the opportunity to be the Creative Director at an ad agency.  

Dude, that's huge, if you don't know.  

He took that job, which is GREAT, but.... (isn't there always a but?)

Due to his new schedule he would be unable to pick up the girls from after school care any more.  Which meant my three evenings a week at the barn would have to change.  

I have said this time and time again: I would not be able to do what I do with horses if it wasn't for Craig.  His support and the hard work that he does for this family is the reason I can ride.  Without that, it's impossible.  

So, the first thought was that I needed to move my horses.  My current barn did not offer 7 day a week turnout and stall cleaning.  That is now necessary.  I'll never know with my work when I'll have to stay too late to be able to go to the barn and still get the girls, so I needed to find a place that I could afford that would be able to do stalls and turnout every day.  

Now I know a lot of people don't think it's a huge deal if their horses don't get out every day, or don't get their stalls cleaned on Sunday, but it's a big deal to me.  And with as much stress as I'm under at work these days, I really needed to be sure that I didn't have to worry about my boys.  I know I'm uptight about that kind of thing, and I realized that I needed to reduce the stress in my life.  

I was able to find a great place to board, right down the street from my trainer's barn.  Win - win!  I've actually boarded there before so I know the owner.  I trust that even if I can't be there for a few days that they will get out and have clean stalls.  Huge relief for me.  Yes, it's more expensive, but the peace of mind is worth it.  

On the days that I do go ride, I'll either take the girls with me (not the best option) or I have arranged for our babysitter to pick up the girls and bring them home every now and then.  She is completely trustworthy, so no worries there.  And it gives me a few rides where I don't have to worry about what the girls are getting into.  

So the boys have a new place to live, and they seem to have settled in nicely.  Phil isn't nearly as afraid of the indoor arena as I thought he'd be, and Kaswyn seemed like he remembered the place.  

Speaking of Kaswyn... he's Thing #3.  

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

If it's not one thing, it's three. Thing #1.

Well, hi!

Yes, it's been awhile.  To say my life has been a little nuts is an understatement.

It's time to catch you up! Basically three things have been going on with me - My job, my husband's job, and Kaswyn.

Let's start with my job.

We used to have seven people running three labs.  Through every way possible, we have lost employees.  The usual basic stuff like being fired and quitting, but we also had a gal leave after only two months, and another guy was asked to leave when we found out that he didn't meet all the criteria needed to perform the job (something that human resources should have picked up on and never offered him the job in the first place.).  Then another gal went on maternity leave.

So we were left with three of us to run three labs.  It's been freakin crazytown.

I've been putting in some 10 hour days, working more weekends than usual, and just trying to keep us afloat.  We've hired two new people (but it takes a long time to train them), and the just-had-a-baby gal will be back at the beginning of February, but right now it's very busy.

I've still been able to ride, but sometimes I just don't have the energy to do it.  Especially on the weekends that I work after working all week.  That gets tough.  But I love my job, and it's all going to be ok.  Eventually.  Right now I tend to get a little exhausted, and Craig is putting in double Daddy duty.

Speaking of Craig, his job is Thing #2.

To be continued...

Sunday, October 14, 2012

2012 NODA Schooling Show Championships

The NODA (Northern Ohio Dressage Association) Schooling Show Championships was this weekend. Saturday was an open show, and Sunday was the Championship. You could only ride on Sunday if you qualified, which meant you needed to have two scores from two different judges above a certain percent (I’m not even sure what percent it is) at one of the NODA schooling shows. Phil and I qualified, and so did Debbie and Kaswyn. Unfortunately, Kaswyn is not 100% so he didn’t get to go.

Phil went though, and we arrived Friday afternoon to school. I had two rides on Saturday – the first one inside and the second one outside. Phil had been to schooling shows inside before, but he had never schooled or shown in that particular outside arena. 

My first attempt to school him was to just hop on and ride. Well, he was far too anxious for that. I was able to ride him, but it was super tense and ugly. So I had to put him on a lunge line and try to get him to relax. I was able to use some of the things my trainer taught me at boot camp (yes I KNOW I need to write that up) and help him relax a bit. Then I got back on and tried to school. It still wasn’t pretty, but we schooled the test. 

 It was getting dark by the time we went inside to school in there. Phil was a bit tired and much more relaxed so that went just fine. I put him to bed and headed home myself. I was pooped! 

 Saturday morning did not set a good tone for the show. First thing, I got my period. GREAT, THANKS. Then I got a call from a show friend “Hi, I just wanted to let you know that Phil’s face is bleeding.” FANTASTIC. I had a bridle rack hung over his stall, and in the process of flipping his grain bucket around while eating (which he always does) he gouged his face. Luckily for me my friends cleaned it up, and I stopped and got the Aluspray on the way to the show. Good thing he’s grey. My friend said “It looks like you glued a nickel to his forehead” cause the Aluspray is so shiny. Ah well.

I decided to lunge him again, and walk him around the arenas at lunch time. Then was out first test inside – Training Level Test 2. It went really well!


 We ended up with a 66.964% and a first place! There was a tie, but I guess our collectives were better. Second test was outside - Training Level Test 3. The judges stand was a horse trailer. Yes, Phil had seen it the night before, but he was still super nervous about the whole thing. Plus the wind was blowing and there were cars pulling in and out. Not the best situation but we managed to get through it. 64.400% and 3rd place.


 We were both tired by Sunday, the Championship. I had one ride, inside – Training Level Test 3. I lunged again, walked him around the arena at lunch, and then we were ready. He gave me such a nice test!


 Then we waited for the awards. Here is the video. I’ve never been to one of these awards so I didn’t know how they would go. We didn’t know who had won when we came into the arena. Here’s the video.


I’m so super proud of my boy! He has come so far, and is still really trying. It’s fantastic. I’m so very lucky he found me when I wasn’t even looking.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Skipping over

This post will not contain an update on Phil being at Boot Camp.  Again, I'm crazy busy.  It's coming, just not right now.  

Right NOW what is happening is I'm getting ready for a schooling show.  More exactly, the schooling show Championship is this weekend (starts today, in fact!).  Saturday is an open show, and Sunday is the Championship.  Both Kaswyn and Debbie, and Phil and I qualified for the Championship, but Kaswyn is not going.  I need to update on that as well... Soon.  

Anyhow, I'm going to live post on my Facebook page during the show this weekend.  Friend me if you want to see the posts!

See some of you at the show!  

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

So far bahind...

I'm so far behind it's not even funny. 

Work has completely imploded.  We went from 7 staff members down to 4 within one week.  It's been absolutely crazy!  Any free time I've had, which has not really been a lot, I've spent resting. 

I have notes about Phil for the last two weeks jotted down on my phone or in short, fast emails I've sent to myself at work.  I'll get it all updated when I get a chance.  Right now I'm working this weekend so I know time is going to be tight.  I still have footage from two lessons that I haven't even transferred off of my camera.  And I have another lesson on Friday and I know I'm bringing my camera. 

So I'll get stuff down as soon as I can.  Stay tuned.  Lots of good stuff coming. 

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Phil Boot Camp 2012 - Day 13

Day 13 was a ride on my own day. And unfortunately, Phil is often very bad to ride when he's had time off. And he stayed true to form and was kind of a jerk.

All I wanted to do was to do an easy ride where we worked on some of the stuff from our last lesson. Just a few headless snowmen, ten meter circles, and some beginning shoulder-ins. But instead it was a big fight just to get him to be steady on the bit at all. He was snarky, disagreeable, and overly sensitive. Once when I asked for the canter, he kicked out at my leg and bucked into the canter. I was shocked and hollered at him "NO!". He kinda freaked out about that and I had to spend a few minutes to get him to calm down again. I think he got the idea that kicking out and bucking at my leg was a bad idea.

Towards the end, my jaw was set, I was riding my ass off, and all I kept telling him was "Just do two trot circles in each direction that are good. JUST TWO. We both want to be done so COME ON, WORK WITH ME HERE!" He really pushed my patience, but I was able to hold it together.

Until I got him back in the barn and he would not get in the wash rack. I totally snapped. I was super pissed at him for being such a mule about the washrack, and I lost my temper. I'm not proud of it. but I hollered at him, jerked him backwards, and forced him to back into the wash rack. He had just pushed me past my point of tolerance. Usually I can keep my cool through most things, but my button? He pushed it.

I'm embarrassed about my actions, and of course in about 5 minutes I felt sorry for my behavior. But I'm not perfect, and I try my best. Sometimes it just is not good enough.

Day 14 was an actual lesson. I have video. It was pretty good, but difficult.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Phil Boot Camp 2012 - Days 11 & 12

I decided not to take my lesson on Day 11.

I thought it would be more fun to have my car break down as I was driving to work. This left me with no transportation to get me to the barn on that day at all. Of course this really bummed me out but there just wasn't anything I could do about it. I was able to get a loaner car later that evening, so I had transportation for Kaswyn's vet visit the next day.

Here's how the visit went. Kaswyn flex tested slightly positive on the left front. But that was all. Doc said he hadn't seen him this sound in years. But I said that I knew he was in pain, and Doc didn't dispute that.

We got x-rays of the foot, and compared the same shots with x-rays from 2010. This revealed four important findings.

#1 The navicular disease had progressed past the point of the neuorectomy, so that pain and swelling of that foot was now being felt by Kaswyn, causing him to favor that foot and not put as much weight on it.

#2 By using the computer measuring system on the x-rays, we were able to clearly see that the angle of Kaswyn's coffin bone had rotated 3 degrees down.

#3 His heels were narrower by 8 mm.

#4 The dish in his foot was more pronounced.

To rule out deep digital flexor tendon involvement, he ultrasounded the tendon. He said it was totally normal.

Doc thinks it went this way - the disease progressed, causing pain the the foot. Kaswyn began favoring the foot, which caused him to bear less weight on it. This caused decreased circulation, and resulted in the narrower heels, pronounced hoof dishing, and rotated coffin bone.

The solution? Better anti inflammatory management and slow change in shoeing. Kaswyn is now on Previcox, the canine pill form of Equioxx, which works just as well, is cheaper than the horse paste version, and is much easier on the stomach than bute. He is also on EquiThrive, a powdered neutraceutical that uses natural products that possess anti inflammatory powers.

Kaswyn is much better traveling to the right, so Doc said to work him to the right on his regular schedule for a week. Then work him a bit to the left and see how he is. If he's better, slowly introduce some left direction work. If he's still bad to the left, stop the left work and go back to the right work only for another week.

Overall the prognosis is good. If we can get him to start using that foot again we should be able to change the angle back and get the heels widened again.

Because of the vet visit I didn't have time to ride Phil. I guess that would have to wait for Thursday. I was going to have a lesson, but decided that since I hadn't ridden Phil in 3 days that I should ride on my own. My trainer couldn't fit me in anyway.

Tough few days, but we got through it.

Phil Boot Camp 2012 - Days 9 & 10

Day 9 was a Sunday, and I had the whole arena to myself. It was delightful! We worked on 10 meter circles, Headless Snowman, and the "scary two point big strided canter on a long rein" exercise. I skipped the trot lengthenings, and to cool down we did the shoulder-in exercise at a walk. It was great because I could take my time and use the mirrors to see if I had his body positioned correctly. An easy and productive day.

Day 10 - a much deserved day off, for both of us! Because Day 11 is a lesson.

Now, a bit about Kaswyn...

He just hasn't been right, even with time off. He was also tripping more than usual, so I had my blacksmith change his shoeing to make him more comfortable and trip less. He rounded the toes off, and it seemed to help a lot with the stumbling. But it didn't fix the fact that Kaswyn looked uncomfortable on that left front again, even with with my custom pastern wrap and time off.

So on Wednesday he goes to have a visit with Doc G. I just want him to be comfortable, and Debbie says she's okay if she can't ride him anymore. Even though I think Kaswyn has some sort of injury again, I don't think Debbie had anything to do with this. I think it was Phil.

The barn manager told me about 6 weeks ago that she noticed that Phil was chasing Kaswyn around the pasture sometimes. This completely sounds like something that Phil would do, so immediately we found a new turnout buddy for Kaswyn - Merlin. This has worked out very well. I turned them both out together a number of times and kept a close watch on them. No chasing, no running. Good boy, Merlin.

Unfortunately I think the damage may have already been done. So now we'll see what we have to do to get Kaswyn pain free. I know that Phil probably just wanted to play, but when Kaswyn is out he just wants to eat and roll in the mud.

Saturday, September 08, 2012

Phil Boot Camp 2012 - Days 7 & 8

After such a hard lesson on Day 6, I decided to lunge Phil on Day 7. It was a 15 minute, very easy lunge with no side reins. I know some people call this "junk lunging" and think that it should never be done, as it teaches the horse nothing if you don't use side-reins or long lines or something. While I agree that the horse (who already knows how to lunge and is broke to ride) doesn't really learn anything when you do this, I don't think it's a bad thing to have an easy day. So that's what we did.

Day 8 was another lesson. It ended up being a great lesson, and I have video!

We started out just asking for a nice trot. Phil was very good about it, so we went to schooling 10 meter circles down the long side. That's on the video. There were some times when he needed more leg, or a different positioning, but overall it was really good.

Then we did what my trainer calls the Headless Snowman, also on the video. She calls it that because it consists of two circles next to each other, one large, one small, kind of like the bottom two snowballs of a snowman. First we cantered a 20 meter circle to the left, then at the top of the circle, across the center line, we did a trot transition and immediately turned right onto a 10 meter trot circle. It's meant to help the horse be able to stay round, on the bit and relaxed while being able to make transition and change the bend. It's a lot to ask but it's a good exercise. And like my trainer says, if you don't teach this stuff now, when are you going to?

It was interesting. Going from the left canter to the right trot, Phil did a better down transition. But for the up transition back to canter he wanted to poke his neck out and know jump through. It was the opposite the other direction - the down transition wasn't very good, but the up transition to canter was great.

Then onto schooling the beginnings of shoulder-in, again on video. It felt really awkward, but it's just the beginning. I was able to make some progress, and Phil was getting the idea of positioning his body in a new and different way.

Next it was Phil's favorite thing. Trot lengthenings! Yes, they are on the video too. I'll be honest, the ones from this lesson weren't as great as the "That was a 9." lesson, but they were pretty good. I find it easier to feel him come through his back and regulate the tempo if I'm sitting the lengthenings, but my trainer wanted me to post. I think Phil likes it when it sit better too. I'm sure they will improve over the next month.

So here is the video!

Yes we have a long way to go but I like where we are going so far!

Phil Boot Camp 2012 - Days 5 & 6

On Day 5 Phil saw the pony chiropractor, and on Day 6 we had a lesson. It was a pretty rough lesson compared to the last one that ended on such a high note.

We walked to warm up, and then went to the trot. Phil was being super fussy about going to the bit, and was not making a connection. He'd either suck back behind my leg, or leap forward and run. My trainer wanted him to come over his back, relax, and stretch into my hand. She had me put him on a long rein, go up into two point position, and ask him for a long canter stride. Her idea was that getting off of his back would allow him to relax the back and come up under the saddle, the long rein would encourage him to stretch down, and the longer stride would let him stretch his whole body in a big relaxing stride.

Well, Phil thought that wasn’t a great idea. At first he was a little okay with it, but after a few minutes he got a little freaked out by having me lean forward with my butt out of the saddle. I knew what his anxiety was all about. During his previous training, two point position at the canter, plus asking for a long stride forward meant "hand gallop", which also meant "If you're not FLYING around this arena, you're in trouble." And "in trouble" meant whipping and spurring, and that's when Phil would check out. So after a few times around the arena I had to stop him, because he reverted back into panic mode.

Once I got him walking , I explained to my trainer what the situation was, and why I had to stop him. We had a talk about how we were going to accomplish the goal of the exercise without freaking Phil out. Phil needed to learn that my lifting my seat off the saddle doesn't mean anything bad, and that I should be able to push him on a long rein at the canter without having him freak out. Once he can accept this he can come over his back and relax. This will be very helpful in the future when he’s fussy, or distracted at a show, or just tight and not really wanting to work.

So we did the same exercise, on a 20 meter circle, and worked at it just a little at a time. Phil was pretty upset, but we just kept at it in very calming way. I went to slowly raising and lowering my seat on and off of the saddle, and built up to a bigger canter, then back down. By the end of the lesson he was doing what we wanted - long rein, up in the back, and big relaxed stride.

I’m not saying it was easy, or pretty in any way. When we were done, there wasn't a spot in either one of us that wasn't soaked with sweat.

Although it was hard for us, it was a great lesson in many ways. My trainer and I were able to identify a problem, work through it, and reach the point where she wanted us to be. And in the end we got good work done.

There was no video from that lesson, but I'm working on the video and write up for the next lesson. It was great!

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Phil Boot Camp 2012 - Day 4

Yesterday we had our first lesson at boot camp. In the three days before I had been working on getting Phil’s neck longer and lower, and getting him in front of my leg by letting him go and pushing him into my hand.

We started on the 20 meter circle, just working on the trot. My trainer said she liked his neck longer, but it needed to be rounder and not so straight. When I asked Phil for a rounder neck, he would fuss with the contact. So she had me push him but also slow him down my slowing my posting. She said he didn’t have a well established working trot – that he kept speeding up or slowing down, and was fussy in the contact. So there would be a lot of adjusting by me until he was able to be more consistent.

Around this time, Mr. K came to watch and visit with my trainer. He has a farm across the street, and has been in the dressage business for years. Although he presents a prickly exterior, he’s really a nice guy. He’s not overly expressive, but he knows his stuff.

My trainer asked me to keep him on the 20 meter circle and give him a 10 meter circle bend. In this way we could get the bend through the body like on a 10 meter circle but he would still feel like he had the freedom of a 20 meter circle. Then we did some serpentines, but four loops in stead of three, all the time working on bend and consistency of contact.

Then we went to the 10 meter circles down the long side. She had be fit four or five circles in instead of three, since Phil is so compact. She said that he was losing impulsion on the circle as we were approaching the wall again, so she had me put him in shoulder-fore for the last third or so of the circle. That really helped him to keep the shoulders in a bit and not feel like he had to immediately go straight when the wall was coming.

Next she asked for a slight lengthening. Not a medium, or extended, just a lengthening. We headed across the diagonal and I asked for just a little. Phil responded nicely, and gave me just a bit of lengthening. Then, of course, he knew what we were doing and got himself all excited. He started rushing so my trainer had me do trot-walk-trot transitions on a few 20 meter circles to get him to realize that he’s got to slow his thinking and listen.

Then we did another lengthening. It was more than the last one because Phil was into it. My trainer liked it, but again, we had to do a couple of 20 meter circle with trot-walk-trot transitions. Then my trainer said “Okay, one more, but I want you to own this one. Own that trot.”

So as I sent Phil across the diagonal, I asked for a big one. And he went ALL IN. He sat and pushed into my hand, all the way across the diagonal. I felt the lift of his back, glorious suspension, and a much longer stride without running. It was fabulous.

After the corner my trainer said “Ummm… walk, just walk. I don’t even know what to say.”

Mr. K, who hadn’t said a word, said “I know what you say. You say get off and you’re done.”

“Yes, I think you should be done. That was just amazing. It gave me goose bumps and my eyes are tearing up.” My trainer added.

I got all choked up and said “Isn’t this horse wonderful??!!”

My trainer said “Yes he is. That was so nice, I can’t even tell you. It was a better lengthening than many very nice horses in this area can do.”

Mr. K said “That was a 9. Easily any judge around here would give it a 9. Very nice.”

My trainer said “Yep, I’d give that a nine. He didn’t run, and he’s one of the few Arabs that I’ve seen that doesn’t get wide behind when they try to do that. Well done.”

Of course, I’m over the moon about it. We have another lesson on Thursday. I’ll try and get video.

And here’s the thing. While that was a SUPER lengthening, it’s not as big as he can go. Cause I’ve felt him go bigger, and it’s fantastic.

Monday, September 03, 2012

Phil Boot Camp 2012 - Days 1-3

Day 1 – Getting there

I was all set to go. Tack was in my car, help was coming to move hay, and a very nice friend was on her way to trailer Phil to my trainer’s barn. I’ve written before about how Phil has a trailer fear, and we’ve worked on it since I bought him. Before I got him he was used to riding in a slant load trailer with no ramp. All the shows I’ve taken him to have been in a slant load step-up trailer. Unfortunately, neither person who had hauled him before was available to help me. I found another volunteer, which was really nice of her and fantastic.

Unfortunately, her trailer was a straight load with a ramp.

Still, I thought we could make this work. With her and Debbie’s help, we started trying to get Phil in the trailer. He got on the ramp a few times, once with all four feet, but after an hour of trying he just wasn’t making any progress. Instead he was getting more agitated and nervous. We weren’t whipping him or being overly aggressive with him, but at that point we all decided we needed to try something different. So we did something that I really didn’t want to do, but that we all figured would work.

We put Kaswyn on the trailer first. Kaswyn had never been in this trailer, but he gets so excited to go anywhere he’ll usually jump right on any trailer. He got half-way on, then stopped for a second so I backed him off. Then I threw the lead line over his neck and said “Kaswyn! Get in the trailer!” He got right on.

Kaswyn kept still and chilled in the trailer, and kept nickering encouragement to Phil. After that it took about five minutes to get Phil on the trailer. It was great! The not so great part was having to take Kaswyn back off the trailer and leave him behind. I felt so bad, because Kaswyn loves going places SO much. It was a complete mind game on Kaswyn, and my friend even offered to take him there and back again, but it would have been really out of her way since she is literally around the corner from my trainer’s barn.

So sadly, Kaswyn went back to his stall. Then we started rolling, with me following directly behind the trailer. We only had ten minutes to drive to my trainer’s barn, and it was warm, so we left the upper doors on the back of the trailer open. Even before we pulled out of the driveway, I could see Phil. He completely bent his head around until he was looking right at me in my car. So I stuck my head out the window and yelled “You’re ok Phil! GOOD BOY!!”, then he turned back around.

This is how it went for the whole drive. He’d flick his ears back, then turn around and look at me, and I’d holler encouragement to him, so he’d turn back around. At one point we turned left at a stoplight and there was a restaurant on the corner. There was a man out there weedwhacking the landscaping, and I yelled “YOU’RE A GOOD BOY PHIL!! GOOD BOY!!” just as we passed him and the guy looked up at me like “What? Huh?” I didn’t even care. It was more important to me that my boy knew I was back there for him and that he wasn’t alone.

We got to my trainer’s barn and unloaded horse and tack without incident. I had to bring both my girls with me, so I set them up in the very nice lounge/observation room to watch movies and eat lunch while I rode Phil. Then I tacked that boy up and headed to the indoor arena.

The arena at my trainer’s barn is super nice. It’s longer than the one at the other barn, but the most important improvement was the footing. Oh, and the mirrors. It’s been so long since I was at a barn that had mirrors I had forgotten how helpful they can be.

First I hand walked Phil around the arena so that he could see everything and get used to the noises and smells in the arena. Then I hopped on and we walked some more, just casual and walking. Once we started to trot, I stayed down at the end that had the mirrors so I could assess the situation. I realized I wasn’t riding Phil properly at ALL.

The main thing was that I was holding him back too much. Our trot circles looked like he wasn’t going anywhere and he was totally behind my leg. I figured out that I had gotten too used to being cautious about riding him in the other barn’s arena. The footing, the hay wagon in the arena, people turning horses out and having to walk through the arena, people feeding and watering horses in the arena, all made me want to have an extreme amount of control at all times so that I could be sure that I could stop or turn or whatever I needed to do. I wasn’t really riding Phil. I was just sitting on him and steering around.

So I really started riding. I pushed him into a big trot. Not a fast trot, or a lengthened trot, but a bigger, more powerful, pushing trot. And it was good. He was so concentrated on working as hard as I asked him that there was minimal spooking or fooling around with his head. The contact was really pretty good, and from what I could see in the mirrors he was pushing nicely.

Then, since I was alone, it was quiet, and I had plenty of room, I added a basic exercise that my trainer likes. At the trot, we made three 10 – 15 meter circles evenly spaced down the long sides. It really helped him to bend and push around the circles. We did that both directions a few times, then we did the same thing at the canter after a walk break. Then a little counter canter, and one or two lengthened trots across the diagonal.

Phil was fantastic. No panicking, no taking off, no disobedience. Just really nice work.

And the girls were so good and didn’t pester me (or anyone else), that we stopped and got Slurpees on the way home. Everybody wins!

Days 2 & 3

Over the next two days it went pretty much the same way. I used the same pattern for each of our workouts, and Phil really brought it to the plate. He was fantastic. And he seems like he is settling in at the new barn really well. He’s been going out in a round pen that has some grass on one side, and isn’t causing any trouble so far. He seems happy, and I love that.

Tomorrow is our first lesson. The plan is to have three lessons a week for the whole month. I am SO excited!

Saturday, September 01, 2012

August Schooling show

Finally, I'm getting around to wrapping up this show!

The main thing that was making me nervous about this show was that we didn't have stalls, and our ride times were about four hours apart. That meant that Kaswyn or Phil had to stand tied to the side or stand inside the trailer for hours at a time. I wasn't terribly worried about Kaswyn, but truthfully I hadn't shown him out of the trailer for years and years, so I wasn't totally sure how he'd react. And Phil... well I know that Phil is not a fan of trailers, so I was really concerned about how he would handle the day.

But I figured it would all work out somehow, so off we went!

Debbie was first with Kaswyn in Intro C. For some reason she was super nervous, and Kaswyn was really feeling it. He was very tense and she was having a bit of a problem getting him to focus and calm down. I kept telling her "Your body is telling him that something is wrong, and that he needs to be on alert! You really have got to relax and calm down." She did her best, but the test wasn't pretty. Even with the tension, they ended up with a 61% and a second place.

Both Debbie and Kaswyn were better in the second test, but still there was tension and inattention on Kaswyn's part. 54.167% and a fourth place for that one.

It's so hard with Kaswyn. Yes, he's very trained, and he knows what he's doing. But he gets so overly excited and over stimulated at shows. And if you're not used to dealing with him when he's like that it can be very hard, and not very fun to ride. I'm not even sure I could have gotten a good ride out of him that day. He just gets all ADD and Tiggers out, and there's not much that can be done except steer him around and get through it.

I think things will be much better for the Championship show in October. We'll have stalls, we'll be there overnight, and I think that kind of situation really settles Kaswyn. He doesn't seem to get his show pants on right with the one-day shows.

Now, onto Phil. He was actually really good for me in his first test. It's very evident by looking at the video that I'm getting his neck too short. It's so hard when I'm mostly riding alone and I don't have mirrors, and I don't get regular lessons. However, looking at the positive I was able to adjust him during the test - meaning that I could ask for more or less trot or canter, and I got it. Of course there was some tension, and connection issues, but mostly I'm really pleased that he was adjustable. We scored a 66.875%, but were 5th, and last in the class. Still, I was happy.

The second test.... well I saw trouble coming before we even started. Phil doesn't like trailers when he has to get into them. He also doesn't like then when they drive by. The banging just sends him into a panic. Our trailer was parked in the field with all the other trailers, and every time a trailer would leave and drive past, Phil would get extremely upset. There wasn't much I could do about it, since trailers driving through pastures tend to make a lot of noise.

Right as I was riding around the ring for our second test, I saw two horses being loaded into a stock trailer. I KNEW that they'd be pulling out during my test. And driving right by the show ring. And there wasn't a damn thing I could do about it. I think you can see where they started to pull out, and where Phil heard the banging. It went really downhill from there. It could have been a LOT worse, since he didn't completely check out, but it was kinda ugly. We ended up with a 62.5% and a 3rd out of four. The judge said that I was patient and supportive, but that the horse needed to be more harmonious with me. But she noted that the talent was there, and that the mistakes were costly. I agree. And the neck was too short again, but I had a lot to deal with in that test!

The photographer for the show,, managed to get this one nice picture of Phil before his test.

Photo credit

As for the trailer worries? Well it turned out just fine. We ended up rotating Phil and Kaswyn in and out of the trailer, while the other horse we brought with us stayed tied to one side of the trailer. She hung out under the awning and it all worked out just fine. Still, I'd rather have stalls. I think it's better for Kaswyn. Amazingly, I don't think Phil really cared, unless a trailer drove by.

Overall I'm really happy with the way Phil handled himself at the show. He stood in or tied to the trailer without getting into trouble, he let me adjust his stride and energy in the first test, and he didn't completely check out and bolt out of control in the second test when he was genuinely frightened. I think this is all progress. We are getting there, slowly but surely.

One thing I'm really excited for is that I'm taking Phil to my trainer's barn for boot camp in September. She will certainly fix my issues with getting his neck too short. And hopefully a few other things. I hope I can get some video to document our improvement!

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Wrap It Up, Part 2

Part 1

I certainly had a unique leg wrapping issue on my hands. How was I going to solve this? I searched a few online tack stores, but I wasn't happy with the pastern wraps that they had. I was concerned that they would slide around, or get too tight, or just not work out somehow. No, I needed a variation on what I know would work - a quick standing wrap, and a separate pastern wrap.

I checked out Schneider's, since it's close to the barn, and they had these little numbers -

Dura-Tech Rapid-Wrap No Bow Bandages. Here's the link -

They're bascially a no-bow wrap and a standing bandage all in one piece. At $29 I didn't think I could go wrong. I got the longest ones, the 16" so that I could be sure that they would go down far enough over the pastern.

And they worked GREAT. The inside of the wrap is very soft, thick cotton, and the outside is canvas that shavings won't stick to. All of the Velcro straps have elastic on them, so they can be put on nice and snug and they don't slide around. And it's super easy to do, so anyone can put them back on in less than a minute. Part One of my problem solved!

Now to simplify and improve the pastern wrapping issue. For the first few days I used narrow strips cut from thick heavy cotton bandage material as my pastern wrap. This worked well, but it got dirty and full of shavings very quickly. So I started to think - what if I covered the cotton strip with fabric and put velcro on it? That way it wouldn't get shavings stuck to it, and I could take it home and wash it.

This is what I came up with -

I took a strip of cotton batting -

and covered it in heavy duty cotton, and sewed seams through it so the cotton would stay in place, and it would bend around the leg without bunching up. Then I added velcro on it like a polo wrap would have for easy fastening.

Then I wrapped it just around the pastern like this -

and then put the Dura-Tech Rapid-Wrap No Bow Bandage on top of it, making sure it was snug enough to keep the pastern wrap in place.

Believe it or not, it worked very well. So well, in fact, that I made another pastern wrap and bought another set of the standing wraps so I can always have a clean pair. It keeps the swelling out of that pastern, but it's gentle enough not to bind tightly. Now it's easy to wrap Kaswyn every time he goes out or gets worked. Just wrap the pastern, then wrap the whole leg. The other leg doesn't have a pastern wrap, but thankfully the standing wrap stays in place just fine.

After a week in the wraps, Kaswyn's pastern was virtually free of inflammation. Even the scar, which was hard, ugly, and raised, got smaller, softer, and stopped getting crusty. I can't explain why this happened; all I know is that the wrapping has made an improvement, so I'm going to keep it up.

I think this looks great compared to what is was -

If Kaswyn's happy, then I'm happy.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

So much for wisdom

For years, dentists have been telling me to get my wisdom teeth pulled out. I kept saying that they didn't bother me, they were poking up through the gums and looked like regular teeth, so why should I bother?

Well, they weren't poking up through the gums enough, and the part of the tooth still covered by gums got some decay on it. In one tooth. Now, keep in mind that I've never had a cavity in a permanant tooth before, and I'm not very good with dental work to begin with. So when the dentist said "Look, we can fill it but it's just a losing battle. Once you start filling them, you tend to keep having to fill them. Best just to take them out." Fine, then lets do all four at once and get it over with. Easy peasy.

Now, I'm 44. If I were 18 this would be no big deal. But the oral surgeon said that this would be painful, there would be swelling, and my recovery would take a week. Codswallop, I said. No way would it take a week. This is where I was wrong, people.

I now present to you, my wisdom tooth experience. In pictures.

Here I am, Friday morning, very nervous, on the way to the oral surgeon. Thanks to the Ativan they gave me to take two hours before, I actually made it to the office without a complete anxiety attack.

They let me breathe some laughing gas, and the IV was in before I knew it. Then they pumped me full of Versed so I didn't care that they were poking my mouth full of needles. Then they pulled my teeth out. I was awake, but I didn't really care that I could feel them doing stuff. It didn't hurt, but I would feel them digging around in there. I didn't scream or nothin'. Versed makes me a great patient. :)

Here I am immediately after I woke up. Thumbs up, baby!

Then, on the way home. Don't I look GREAT?

Here I am with ice packs, trying to minimize the swelling (not very successfully...)

And here is the swelling and bruising.

Lastly, here are the teeth. The one on the left was a real bugger, and they had to bust it up into three pieces to get it out. That side of my mouth is the most swollen and hurty.

Needless to say I'm still recovering. I'm having issues with the antibiotics and pain meds like I always do, so I get to choose if I would rather be in pain or if I would rather poop my pants and feel like I'm gonna puke. It's kind of a toss up at times. Right now I'm opting for the pain, but I think I'll chance to pants pooping in a few hours.

How was your weekend? :)

Monday, August 27, 2012

In the meantime....

I'm in the process of writing a show recap, and filling you all in on what my last three days have been like. (hint: not very pleasant!!).

But in the meantime, check out these photos I found from Sport Horse Nationals in 2009...

This is Albert (Tariq El Kaiyoum) and I. Isn't he adorable?

And this is my trainer on Wildfire Skyy and me on Albert with our Top 5 ribbons. I love this picture. :)

Ok, for real. Updates coming!

Monday, August 13, 2012

Transferring, converting, uploading...

I'm working on the videos from the show. In the meantime...

Did you guys enjoy the blow by blow updates from the show on Facebook? I hope it was just like being there. Without the bugs, sweat, and hay down your bra.

Videos and commentary will be up as soon as I can get it done.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Early, but still dark out

I'm just about to leave for another schooling show with Kaswyn and Phil. I'm going to try and post updates to Facebook again. Hopefully I'll have better reception at this show!

Tuesday, August 07, 2012


For those of you who don't read comments on blogs, here is the slightly sour comment that I received on my last post -

"Anonymous said...

Let me see if I understand..

Your senior horse, who worked his tail off for you, is sore, is hurting, is uncomfortable..

and you still had someone riding and showing him?

Please justify for me (and everyone else) why this is "ok", especially in a world where FEI disqualifies a horse/rider because the horse had a small abrasion..."

A few points for you, Anonymous -

#1 - My vet told me not to stop working this horse, even if he seems a little sore. He has arthritis in his left rear fetlock, and most likely other areas. For him to just stand around is a bad thing. I asked him if I should just walk him, but he said that letting him get out of condition would not be a good thing either. His recommendation was to reduce his workload, and bute him when he gets sore, which he said may become more common. After all, humans have daily aches and pains as they age, but it doesn't mean we want to stop doing what we love. And this horse loves to work. I never ever push him if he feels off.

#2 - I appreciate the fact that you feel sympathy for Kaswyn, and you feel like you need to stand up and defend him. However, you don't know me, you don't know him, and you don't know our relationship. I've had him for 18 years and I know him very well. I'm doing what I feel is right for him, which is light work 3 times a week and turnout the other days. That's hardly a grueling training schedule.

#3 - If you have bothered to look at the other posts and videos on my blog, you'll see that Kaswyn has been showing Introductory and Training Levels AT SCHOOLING SHOWS. Kaswyn is not showing FEI anymore. He's not asked to collect, or bear unnecessary weight behind, or to do strenuous work. Please have a look at this video, and tell me: do you really think that he looks sore, is hurting, or is uncomfortable?

Ears are forward (not pinned), plenty of energy (not acting like he doesn't want to go), tail relaxed (not swishing except at flies, not wringing). The judge didn't ring him out, so she didn't think he looked lame or sore. In fact they got a 63%. Pretty good if you ask me.

#4 - You certainly have a right to your opinion. I respect that. What I don't respect is posting a comment anonymously that criticizes anyone. It's a cowardly act. Next time I hope you have the courage to sign your name and stand up for what you believe in. Like I just did.

Monday, August 06, 2012

Wrap It Up, Part 1

This summer has been crazy. I have three or four half-written posts, and one typed in as a note on my phone. It's been super crazy, with almost every night and evening booked up with some activity, either for me or for Craig and the girls. Add that to the fact that work has been too busy for me to bang out a post, and it means that I don't post much.

So, recently I've been having problems with Kaswyn's surgery site. The last surgery was Thanksgiving of 2010, and was a new procedure to eliminate the neuromas that he got from his neurectomy. It was done on both sides on the back of his left front pastern, with the outside (left side) healing fine, but the inside ended up splitting open into a nasty wound before it got a chance to heal. The scar, once it finally healed, always bothered Kaswyn if I touched it, and always seemed to get this crusty stuff on it. It looked like it never really healed. An equine massotherapist looked at it and suggested I rub lavender oil on it to soothe it. I've been doing that for over a year and it never seemed to get any better.

Over the past few months it seemed that Kaswyn had been carrying some fluid in that pastern, making it hypersensitive and painful. For the first few weeks I tried some bute, thinking that he just tweaked it, and the bute made him better. But he got worse again off the bute. I figured then that it was probably the heat that was making him swell in that area, so I started icing it after I worked him. That seemed a little counterproductive, so I started wrapping him in standing wraps.

Here is the deal with this pastern. It can't have tight pressure on it, like a stretchy polo wrap or vetwrap. I did that once and later that evening the barn called me and said he was acting like he was colicy. One gal said she thought the wrap might be bugging him, so they took it off, and by the time I got there he was much happier. I just think that area is very sensitive, so tight pressure or inflammation makes it painful.

But regular standing wraps pose two problems. First, only experienced people should apply them, which unfortunately knocks Debbie out of it. And sometimes she rides him when I'm not there, so she would need to re-wrap him. Second, for the wraps to really be effective the pastern needs to be wrapped and supported, and that doesn't usually happen with standing wraps.

When he was recovering from his surgery, the way they wrapped him was with a cotton wrap on just the cannon bone, then no cotton on the fetlock, then another narrow strip of cotton around the pastern so that it would make the pastern as fat as the fetlock. This allowed a standing wrap to be applied to the whole leg, and the pastern to get the support it needed without the wrap slipping up.

This is what I needed to work out - gentle, soft, evenly distributed pastern support that could be applied easily by anybody. This last point is important because I can't make it to the barn every day. Two days a week he gets turnout and I don't make it out there at all, which means the wraps must come off for turnout, but I'm not there to put them back on. Add this to the fact that the cotton I used as the pastern wrap got dirty easily, and shavings stuck to it like crazy, made it obvious that I needed a better solution.

I was seriously stressing about this for days. How could I solve this?

To be continued...

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

July 2012 Schooling Show, Part 1

Okay, here are the videos from the show!

Debbie riding Kaswyn, Training 1

Me riding Phil, Training 1

Me riding Phil, Training 2


Tuesday, July 10, 2012

July 2012 Schooling Show, Part 1

So the show this past weekend was good in a number of ways.

First, Kaswyn was super excited and decided to be fabulous during Debbie's Intro C test. He did his extended trot down the long side and was basically a boob. She ended up trying to half halt him the entire test. She did a good job with it, but of course it wasn't exactly pretty. She got a 53%, but amazingly got second place out of four horses with that. He settled down for his second test, Training 1, and was much better. Sure, there were times he could have been rounder or had more bend, but she did everything she was supposed to do and didn't go off course. He was much better behaved and they got a 63%, but were 4th out of five horses in that one. Not bad for her first time cantering in dressage!

As for Phil, he was really tense and nervous again, so I did what I'd been doing at home, which was really using my leg and seat to push him to my hand. It worked fine in the warm-up, but when we were in the ring he just wanted to blow through my hand. He was very very tense, and we got a 56%. The judge said I needed to allow him to go forward, and that I was stopping him, but if I hadn't stopped him he would have blown out of there! Of course she can only judge what she sees and doesn't know anything about his past, so I agree with the score. It wasn't a pretty test.

I only had 30 minutes between my rides, so I just stayed on him for ten minutes and hung out in the shade. Then I went back in the warm-up and worked on just hacking around. I thought of what my trainer said during one of my lessons - that I should be able to have a cocktail and ride this horse; in other words he should be easy enough to ride that I can just chill out. So I stopped trying to drive him so hard into my hand and just let him be. His connection has been much more solid lately and I found that I could just relax and let him go forward and he'd actually go into my hand, with the occasional hug from my leg. We went in the ring and we had a much more relaxed test. Nice connection, and he really listened to me, and didn't seem overly stressed out. His gaits weren't as impressive, but I was going for calm and relaxed, so I was happy with what he gave me. We got a 63% and second place out of 5 horses. I think during the first test I just drove him way too hard into my hand and it stressed him out rather than made him feel secure in the connection. So that was totally my fault. But at least I learned something. Oh, and I think I was sitting up much better and wasn't getting so far forward. So that's an improvement!

I think at this point what I need to do now is get him straighter and get better bend. I've been working so hard on the connection, which I think has improved a bunch, but now I need to fix the crookedness. There were times in the second test that I knew he was crooked but I didn't want to try and fix it too much for fear that I'd ruin the good vibe that we had going. I think I now have a solid plan for how I need to ride him at shows vs. how I ride him at home. So that's good.

I'm still downloading/uploading videos. So stay tuned!

Saturday, July 07, 2012

Horse show weekend!

So I'll be at a horse show this weekend and I'm going to try something different.

I want to try and post updates all weekend, but blogger makes this hard from my phone. So I'll update via facebook -

Let's see how this goes!

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

July Weekly Post - Get to the bottom of it #1

The next set of Weekly posts are going to be about my butt, in one way or another. Sorry, but it just seems really relevant right now. Let’s start!

#1 – How my breeches helped my seat

For the first three years or so that I rode dressage, I didn’t wear full seat breeches unless I was showing. Not because I was against them, I just was too cheap to spend the money on them. Then my trainer went away for USDF Regionals and, as a thank you to me for taking care of a few of her horses that didn’t go to the show, she gave me a pair of full seat breeches for schooling.

This completely changed how I ride. I hadn’t realized just how much my seat was sliding in the saddle on a regular basis, especially at the canter. Kaswyn’s canter is not the best, and it’s difficult to keep him round and balanced. Without the full seats I was all over the place. It was like my butt was the silver ball in a pinball machine, and that silver ball was ping pinging all over the place. With the full seats I actually got some stability in my seat, and my seat became stronger and more stable.

Just a few months ago I realized I had two pairs of breeches that helped my seat on Phil. Phil often gets me leaning too far forward. I know I need to stop this, but it’s a combination of #1) wanting to give him rein but not wanting to let the reins slide through my fingers in case I suddenly need them and #2) protecting myself and leaning forward when I get a little nervous. I’m working on this REALLY hard.

Anyhow, I have two pairs of full seats that I didn’t wear very much because, well, they hit me right in the lady parts. And not in a good way. You know how the full seats have that part right in the center of the crotch where two seams actually come together… well that little “nubbin” of fabric got me right in the lady parts and it did NOT feel good. I had delegated them to the bottom of the stack of breeches and avoided them as much as possible. However, one day I was forced to wear them because I didn’t have any other clean breeches (and really none that I could recycle for just one more ride).

And wow, did they poke and prod my delicate lady bits! I was squirming around, trying to shift the fabric, when I realized that if I just SAT UP CORRECTLY that the nub didn’t bother me anymore.

Glory be!

So now I wear those breeches regularly, and the nubbin poke in the lady parts reminds me to SIT UP and not lean forward. It’s not very subtle either. But it works.

So go get yourself an uncomfortable pair of full seats. You never know, they could help you!

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

New posts coming...

Well, it's been an interesting few weeks.

Relatives in from out of town, car repairs, a trip to the oral surgeon, and little girl attitude issues have made it hard for me to update.  Everything is fine, so no worries.  But it's just been a little bit nuts. 

The ponies are good, and we've got a schooling show coming up.  And hopefully I can get a lesson in before the show.  So hang around a bit.  It'll be fun! 

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Semi Regular Weekly Post - Other Aids

Whips and Spurs. They are aids in dressage that I fully employ when necessary. I have definite opinions on both that I’ll share with you now. This is going to be a long one.

Before I rode dressage, I never used spurs, but almost always rode with a whip. When I started to ride Kaswyn dressage I never used a whip because he was super sensitive. My trainer eventually told me that I needed to ride with a whip and get him used to it, because the whip is an aid that I’ll need to use in the future at the upper levels. It didn’t mean I had to use the whip on him all the time, but that he needed to not be so hypersensitive to it – just respect it and react properly to it.

At the beginning it was a struggle. Any time I would use the whip, even to tap him, Kaswyn would have a total breakdown. He would get so upset and nervous that it would take like ten minutes to get him settled down and working again. Mind you, I broke this horse and had never whipped the snot out of him, so this was just him overreacting to the whip and not any past trauma. Well, there was ONE time when we were schooling trot half passes in a lesson and he wouldn’t come off my left leg…well, I got frustrated and I will say I did get aggressive with the whip. Yeah, I had a little hissy fit. I’m not proud of it, but that one incident certainly didn’t scar him for life. My trainer still makes fun of me about that incident. Truthfully he had an issue with the whip before then. Aaaannny way…

Eventually he got accustomed to it, and realized that I wasn’t going to BEAT him with the whip, and was able to tolerate the correction without melting down. But then it came time to teach him to piaffe, which involved my trainer on the ground. WITH A WHIP. Kaswyn was pretty trained at this point, but still almost turned himself inside out at the thought of my trainer lightly tapping him with a whip. We had to laugh at his extreme reaction to it, and we could just hear him saying “Why??! Why must there be so much WHIPPING???” I’m sure even today if my trainer would pick up a whip while I was riding Kaswyn and walk towards us, he would immediately preprare to piaffe.

I also began to wear spurs, and for years I would wear spurs and carry a whip as my regular riding gear. I didn’t need to spur the snot out of Kaswyn, but just like the whip, my spurs are an aid. If my light leg is ignored, I apply a little spur. Or if I really need more push in a situation (like a canter pirouette that is losing impulsion in the middle of it) I’ll use the spur. The whip is like an extension of my leg. If my leg is ignored, I apply the whip. I’ll even apply it firmly if a light tap is ignored. My goal is to get reaction, and with spurs and whips the reaction from the horse should be "Sorry I ignored your initial aid.  I'll try hard to do as you ask".

What I DON’T do is use my whip or spurs as a punishment. THIS SHOULD NEVER HAPPEN!! Like, really NEVER EVER. There is no need to spank your horse for misbehaving. There are so many other tools at your disposal. It’s amazing to me how many people I see using the whip as a punishment. In the past I have helped people with their horses and they always seem surprised when I say “No, no. Don’t spank your horse. Your whip is not for punishment. It’s an aid.”

So let’s say your horse does something naughty that you think needs to be punished. Like, say, breaks from the canter to the trot. So you think you should get angry and whip the horse for this, right? Teach him not to break? Let’s think about it. Why do you think he broke in the first place? Not enough impulsion at the canter? That’s something you could have fixed three strides before he broke. Not really his fault. What about lack of balance? Again, something you could have helped with. It could have been a change in dept of footing, or muscle fatigue, or pain in a joint or his back. Was he really trying to be naughty? Or was he a victim of the situation that you possibly put him in?

Or maybe he spooked? Bad pony… or was he? Horses are prey animals. They’re not very good in an up close fight with their flat teeth and now claws, so their best defense is to RUN AWAY. Four legs make that really easy. And because of the way the horse’s head is shaped, with the eyes on the side, and the vision overlapping in the middle of their face, it’s possible for them to see something out of only one eye, and then turn to look and see it out of both eyes. In this case the Monster Thing jumps from one-eyed flat vision to a 3D version of the Thing, which makes the Thing appear to jump out at them. It’s self preservation, really. And instinct.

I can’t say this enough. To beat a horse that is truly scared is the worst thing you can do for a horse. You will then have a horse that gets scared, and then gets beaten for being afraid. In very short order you will have a horse that is AFRAID OF BEING AFRAID. Just like Phil. And like a lot of Arabian horses. This is why they get such a bad reputation. Learn some other tactics to deal with spooking horses. Beating them is never the answer.

The spurs are exactly like a whip – to be used when your other aids are not working. It’s not necessary to rake your spurs across your horse’s sides. Sure, sometimes a well-timed poke is needed when your leg is being completely ignored. But incessant or prolonged jabbing with your spurs is punishment, not an aid.

So how do you punish your horse if he’s being bad? First, don't think of it as punishment.  Think of it as a correction to whatever your horse is doing.  Next, you have to find out why he’s being naughty. In general, I find that most horses just want to make the rider happy. If they aren’t trying to please, there is a reason. Mainly when horses are misbehaving it’s because they HURT. Back, neck, legs, tummy – something is making them say “I don’t want to.” Make sure they don’t hurt, and see if the disposition improves.

Now I will admit that there are some (but very few that I’ve come across) who are just assholes. Yeah, I said it. And they don’t care about making you happy. In this case I think these horses just hate their jobs. You’d be a grumpy ass if you hated your job too... and maybe you are when you’re at work. Get these horses another job and stop fighting it.

So that was really long, but I think it needed to be said. Go ahead and use whips and spurs. Just be smart about it and use them as aids, not as punishment.

In short, just be nice! :)

Thursday, June 07, 2012

Semi regular Weekly Post - Gadgets

I'd love to get back in the Weekly post groove.  Lets see how long we can keep this up, shall we? 

#4 (or something) – Gadgets
DISCLAIMER: I am not a trainer. These are things that I've learned from lessons, books that I've read and personal experience.

I’m a classical dressage purist. I think Alois Podhajsky is the classical dressage master and his book The Complete Training of Horse and Rider is a book that every dressage student should read. It’s not an easy read, but it’s fantastic.
Because of this, my stance on gadgets like martingales, draw reins, and until very recently, side reins, have no place in classical dressage. Don’t get me wrong, I used to use them all the time. Sometimes I’d lunge a horse in side reins, and then ride it with a martingale and draw reins at the same time. How’s that for ya? It’s not uncommon to see horses at breed shows so trussed up with lines and reins and gadgets that they can hardly move. How is that beautiful? It’s not. So I’ve completely (almost) moved away from any artificial gadget. Here is why.
I’ll start with martingales.

The standing martingale is something I’ve only used with a jumping horse, and, as I haven’t jumped very much at all, I haven’t used one more than a handful of times. It’s used basically to keep your horse’s head out of your face. Something I actually could have used when Phil whacked me in the face with his head! But for everyday use, it’s totally unnecessary for dressage.

The running martingale is something to help you get your horse’s head down. It gives you leverage on the reins so that when you pull back, you are actually pulling the mouth in and down. This type of situation makes contact impossible. There can’t be a direct line from bit to hand if there is a ring in the way making the rein not straight. Sure, you can adjust them so that the ring doesn’t come into play unless the horse’s mouth is above it’s withers (which is something to be avoided in dressage), but if you don’t learn how to deal with that at home, then how will you deal with it at a show when you can’t use the martingale? Best not to use them at all.

Draw reins. Used to increase the leverage of the rider even more to pull the head into position. Just writing that sentence is so wrong. In dressage you can’t pull the head into position. You have to first let the horse go to the bit and stretch the neck and back. Then, after much time has passed to allow the back to be strong, you can begin to elevate the front end. At this point, if you have done your homework properly, the neck and shoulders will naturally come up, allowing more weight to be taken on the haunches. This can be done safely, with less risk of injury, if the back and haunches have been developed properly and systematically over a long period of time. Any horse can have a FEI frame with big spurs, two whips, and draw reins. That doesn’t mean the horse is strong enough to maintain it, or do it at all without injury. Also, draw reins make it impossible for the horse to make a consistent contact and connection, since the reins are constantly sliding through the bit. Just don’t use them. Ever.

The German Martingale. Also called Thiedemann reins.  Kind of a draw rein/martingale combination. It’s like draw reins that have a “stop” to them so you can only crank the head so far in. An improvement on the draw rein, but still not the ideal thing. If adjusted loosely you could argue that the draw rein would only come into play if the horse’s head were dramatically out of position. Again, this is something you need to deal with, and teach the horse that it’s wrong, without outside gadgets that you can’t use in the show ring.

Side reins. Podhajsky addresses them in his book, saying to use them on a young horse but that they should be long. In my pre-dressage years I used side reins all the time to achieve a “head set”. I would adjust the reins so that the horse’s head was where I needed it to be, and then lunged the horse that way. The thinking was that I could show the horse where I wanted to head to be, and that he could work in that frame and build up the right muscles, etc. This works for other training, but not for dressage. We don’t want a “head set” in dressage. We want a fluid frame, one that can be shortened and lengthened and is flexible. This is not possible with a head set. So when I first started with dressage I abandoned the side reins, thinking they were counterproductive to what I wanted to achieve.

Now, I am using them again. I was surprised when my trainer suggested I use them on Phil. He was a maniac on the lunge line when I first got him, and at time I was afraid he would fall down at the canter because he was tearing around and was so unbalanced. She said I should use a long side rein, attached to the girth, so that he couldn’t whip his head around in the air like he was doing. I didn’t have any side reins, but I found one (useable one) at the barn that I started to use. I used the side rein on the outside, and then on the inside I ran the lunge line through the bit and attached the end line to the girth. That way I had a rein on the inside that was flexible and movable, but could still contain his head and neck to the point where he understood that when he was wearing equipment it was work time and not time to toss his head in the air and act like a fool. The side rein on the outside was long enough that he could stretch his nose almost to the ground, but if he brought his head straight up it would stop him. I think it’s a good compromise, and it’s certainly worked for us.

All of these gadgets, and many more, are listed in a much more in depth manner at this site -

You should really hop over and check out this page.  I know the author is critical of side reins, as am I if they are too tight (as they are in the photos on the site).  I'm using them very long, and only to keep my horse from tossing his head in the air and fooling around.  He still has plenty of room to stretch down without jerking his mouth on the reins.  I'm also not trying to do any straightening, or head setting.  So I find my use of the side reins acceptable.  The author may disagree.  :) 

This all indicates that I’m a complete and utter dressage snot. But I’m not so inflexible that I’m unable to see the benefits of something that is presented to me in the correct way.

So, my stance is – just go with a straight bridle and simple snaffle if you can. It’s really the best way to teach your horse, to develop your horse’s body, and to train yourself in how to deal with the less than perfect frame. Dressage is hard work. As it should be.

Header Image from Bangbouh @ Flickr