Sunday, August 30, 2009

More on collection

While Steve was riding Lena and I was trying not to hover, Bar and I worked some more on his body position in the round pen.

I have noticed he is less relaxed going to the right, with the bowed tendon leg on the inside of the circle. He is also a bit shorter on the right side, and I'm sure it's all connected. Just have to keep working and keep stretching.

BUT, we are making progress. The first series (again, sorry for the blurriness/graininess--it's really hard to take a good picture in the indoor arena) is Bar going to the left. You can see he has good extension, even with his head all up in the air, but I'm starting to really be able to see when the engagement starts to happen much better.

Here is a bit more engagement happening:

Now to the right, where it takes him a lot longer to relax and get into the groove of things:

And a tiny bit of improvement, including his tongue sticking out--which means there was licking and chewing--a sign he was relaxing:

Then we had to stop because Peter came in to lunge another horse, but I do feel like we're getting here, albeit on the slow-but-sure path.

Back in the saddle

Steve announced to me last night that he was going to ride his horse today, and I admit to a tiny bit of anxiety on my part.

Maybe more than a tiny bit--it's only been a month since the accident, after all.

But life, as some of us know, is too short not to live and Steve really missed riding his horse. I had to trust that he did indeed feel well enough to get back on Lena and ride. I also have a lot of faith in Lena's sensitivity to her rider

So, off to the barn we went, and it all turned out okay.

I had to stop watching and go work Bar, lest my own anxiety eat me alive and become too obvious to either the horses or Steve. Okay, they all knew anyway, but at least I didn't hover.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Learning collection

Horse people talk a lot about collection--what it means and how to get your horse there. I've had advice that ranged from what bit to use, to driving the horse up into my hands, to suggestions to use a tie-down, etc.

When Katie was taking riding lessons and showing Western Pleasure, I remember her coach talking about collection and getting the horse's head down into the proscribed position. Back then, it made absolutely no sense, but even now--after watching other horses, having lessons, talking about it in classes, reading about it, and watching horse training videos--it was all just vague concepts. I could feel when both horses had it, just as I could feel when they didn't, but I never felt like I knew how to teach it to the horse--particularly Bar--until Karen evaluated him. She gave me explanations that made sense and visual cues to watch for that would help me make sure Bar and I were headed the right direction.

Collection, being in the frame, or traveling through is not just about your horse having their head in a particular position and their rear foot landing in or past the hoof print of the fore foot on the same side. It's about a horse using the ring of muscles--from poll, down the neck and topline, around the hind end, and underneath to the belly muscles--to drive themselves forward in a balanced and strong way. Just like humans need strong core muscles and good posture, so do horses. It includes a mental piece, too--getting a horse relaxed gets them to that proper frame faster.

Bar has a very long stride and manages the rear-footprint-into-front-footprint without hardly trying. However, his hind end is not often connected to his front end and he does not relax well most of the time to get the circle of muscle to come into play.

Karen told me several things to look for, starting with what would signal relaxation, and then what would mean he was "traveling through," and it finally clicked for me. I've been working off that for the last two weeks, using it with both horses, and getting wonderful visual examples from Lena of where I want Bar to be. The hardest thing for me--as always--is patience and giving him time to get there.

Ideally, we're working at a relatively quick trot, and as they get into a zone, you'll see muscle groups start to relax and vibrate or bounce--over the ribcage, in front of the hip, and the big muscle at the front of the neck. Licking and chewing are also great signs of a horse relaxing, and a nice lift to the tail is also a good sign. Finally, you want that head to drop and the horse to reach out with the nose and open the poll, maybe blow a little, too.

Bar is not quite there, yet--except at the walk--but he is closer than he was two weeks ago. Lena has provided me with some great visuals of where I want him to be, though she isn't always there, either.

Here's Bar at a walk, nose extended out, nice reach in his neck, long stride, etc.:

And here he is at his normal trot--this is actually relaxed somewhat, notice the tail position and (though you can't see it) the muscles are mostly bouncing nicely. (His trot pictures are all blurry, but you can see position well enough for what I'm trying to describe.)

And here is Lena in a very tense, heads-up trot, just so you all know she's not really perfect, either:

And here is Bar a tiny bit better--I know it may be tough to see, but I'm going for that 1% Ike talked about (go for 1% improvement every day and your horse will be 100% better in 100 days) and it's there:

With Lena, who was trained to drive with that hind end and be collected, you can do the normal tricks under saddle--drive her up into the bit, bump her head, jiggle the bit back and forth--and (usually, anyway) she'll respond and get into frame.

Bar doesn't know any of that. You pick up his face and push him into that bit and he objects or runs off. Tie downs and other methods just seemed to aggravate the situation so I stopped using them. Unfortunately, I didn't replace those methods with something that would work for him and that wasn't what he needed, either.

Now I have a place to start that gives both of us a frame of reference so when I ask for it under saddle, we each have that basic concept to work with.

Sometimes it feels like baby steps, but I go back to Ike's 1% and remember it's all about the process and what we learn together. And Bar and I have both learned a lot, that's for sure.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Trail riding adventures wherein Bar impresses Katie

Katie and I took the horses out to Armstrong Redwoods again and ended up having quite a bit more adventure and challenge than we anticipated. And at the end of it all, Katie admitted Bar had both impressed her and gained a level of trust with her none of us quite expected.

We headed up East Ridge trail, like Steve and I had before, but instead of turning around at the bridge and fire road, Katie and I kept heading up the trail. It was a beautiful day and the horses were feeling strong and healthy. We did stop to let Bar rest a little, but he seemed pretty happy and nothing seemed to be bothering him except not being in front.

We got to the top of the ridge and had a spectacular view all the way down to the coast. We kept going up the trail a little ways, found a nice redwood grove (which Lena fertilized), and Katie and I were enjoying the sun, the horses, and the trail immensely.

We got to a narrow spot on the trail that had a trickle of water and some mud and Lena balked a little bit over the scary mud, so Katie had to work with her to get her to go forward. All of a sudden, Bar dropped his head down and started rubbing his face on his front legs and tossing his head up and down. I looked down and saw a swarm of yellow jackets flying around his head, going for his eyes and nostrils. I looked up at Katie and Lena, still in front of us on the trail, and said "Go!!" Katie looked at me a little confused, hesitated for only a split second, then urged Lena up the trail. We kept moving, me talking to Bar the whole time, until we were well past the nest and I could get off and check him out. Katie said she saw him rubbing his head on a tree, then tossing his head, and thought he had gotten his bridle caught on something. When I told her to "go" she couldn't figure out what was going on--knowing Bar hates to have Lena too far away from him--but recognized the insistence in my tone of voice and responded.

It could have been a train wreck. Bar and Lena both could have taken off up that narrow trail at a gallop, not paying any attention to either of us. But they didn't. He heard me the whole time, reacting to both my voice and my body, and stopping as soon as Katie and I felt like we were a safe enough distance away to check him out and figure out what to do next. I'd gotten stung, too, but just once, and had watched one yellow jacket work its way out of Bar's mane as we trotted up the trail to safety. Ugh.

Going back the way we came wasn't really an option, so we headed up the trail and ended up at the Bullfrog Pond campground, with what looked like a paved road as our only way down again. So, as a ranger drove by, I stopped and asked if there was another way and she recommended East Pool Trail, so we headed down the road with me walking Bar and Katie riding Lena, until we found the trail head. Which was downhill off the road. With steep stairs and steep slopes next to the stairs. Not to mention horses and riders that were already pretty tired.

But, what goes up must come down, so down we headed, on one of the most challenging trails I've been on. This trail would have been tough for me as a seasoned hiker, let alone an ex-racehorse still working on his downhill trail skills. It was was steep, narrow, and slippery in places. There were waterbars across the trail with foot-high drops to negotiate. It might not have been so bad coming up the trail, especially when we were all fresher, but it is definitely not your run-of-the mill trail in either direction. Downhill being tougher for horses than up, however, the difficulty was definitely ratcheted up a few nerve-wracking levels. Maybe seven.

And it wasn't just physically challenging, there were mental hurdles to get past, too. We got to a switchback over what is probably a creek in the rainy season which not only had a bridge (well, planks over the gully), but also had yellow caution tape to keep you on the narrow bridge. Katie and I both took a deep breath. Lena hates yellow caution tape. Katie had to use a little extra encouragement to get Lena over it (spurs, that is), but over she went, snorting the whole way, with Bar right behind her.

Did Bar get grumpy? Did he rush or do anything that made our journey more dangerous? Nope. He carefully negotiated every obstacle and kept going, one foot in front of the other. Every now and then he'd slip--they both did--and he'd stop for a second to make sure his long legs were still firmly underneath him before moving forward again.

Finally, though, the length and strain of the ride started to take their toll on him and he started to stumble a little more than I was comfortable with so I got off and walked next to him the rest of the way down. I noticed he was favoring his right hind, too, like he had a hitch in his hip, so he and I took it nice and slow down to the picnic area. He got to see me slip and slide a couple of times, too. Definitely not an easy trail for horse or human.

But we made it. And both horses performed above and beyond what we've ever asked them to do before on one of the most challenging trails we've ever been on.

Best of all, Katie agreed that Bar is not as crazy as she thought he was. At least not on the trail. He impressed her, and that's hard to do.

I am just glad we all made it through--even if some of us are a little sore today-- and that I got to experience such an interesting adventure with my horses and my daughter.

Life is pretty good, I'd say.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Sunday with Katie, Lena, and Bar

Katie dusted off our cutting saddle--says she's used to them now--and got on Lena today. Katie was working on her seat, Lena was just glad to be out again (I rode her yesterday) after two weeks of the round pen.

I didn't get to watch much of her ride, though she says it was good and she spent a lot of time working on her seat using tips Ike and Cheri gave her over the last month. It's just really good to see her in the saddle again, and good for Lena, too.

I worked with Bar in the round pen using some of the tips Karen gave me to improve his fitness level. He has not been using his hind end enough, either because he was sore, or just because he was never trained to get into the frame that gets him to use his whole circle of muscles, or both. The idea is to get him into that frame and relaxed on the ground so it's easier to get him into it while under saddle. He is not, as you may guess, always relaxed about things. A tense horse is (generally) not working his body in the right way, not using the whole ring of muscle to propel himself forward from his hindquarters. That can lead to back soreness and injuries, and in Bar's case, he is also relying too much on that front end which creates a higher risk of stumbling over his own font feet.

Just like my chiropractor tells me, using the core muscles protects your back and it's important to keep them strong and supple. In the case of a horse, it keeps them balanced. Traveling through (I think this is the term, but please forgive me if I'm wrong) basically means that the horse is engaged from the poll, down the topline (neck, back), over the hindquarters, and around through the abdominal muscles, allowing him to drive from the hind end.

We are getting Bar much closer, and we're even getting there some of the time, but it will take patience and more work from both of us. That's okay, because I can already see an improvement in his body (and his brain, too), particularly in his topline, his range of movement, and his level of relaxation. I really appreciate Karen's knowledge of the bio-mechanics of how he needs to move and her help in showing us what to look for as we work.

Steve is also getting healed, though rather slower than he would like. We also ordered not-quite-matching helmets for our brains.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Start with the head and work back

Start with the head and work back
Originally uploaded by spottyhorse67

Bar got another excellent massage from our friend Karen McDonald this morning. He was much more relaxed this time and Karen didn't have to chase him quite as much.

More later, I learned a lot about him today.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Mutual injury inspection

Mutual injury inspection
Originally uploaded by spottyhorse67

Steve's first excursion to the barn since "the incident" went well and both horses were glad to see him. They also think the sling would bean excellent way to carry a sufficient number of carrots.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Healing human and horse

It turns out both Steve and Bar are in for some healing and rehabilitation, though I'm trying to not feel like a terrible horse-mom for not noticing Bar's injuries earlier. He banged his shoulder up, too, which I didn't catch until I had my vet and farrier out yesterday for an evaluation.

I have been a little preoccupied, though.

Steve is home and healing well, though not as quickly as he might like. His right shoulder is nicely ringed with a chartreuse bruise and the top of the shoulder has some dark purple mixed in. Picture some of the mottled Star Trek alien skin make-up and that's pretty close.

The dizziness and vertigo are nearly gone most of the time, but he's still taking it pretty easy right now. When he's ready to drive, he'll have to drive the big truck because it's the only automatic we have and shifting will have to wait for at least another few days.

Now that he's home, I'm hoping to get myself back into the normal barn routine (at least somewhat), and take some time to get Bar healed up, too.

I had Dr. Leslie the vet and Mike the farrier out yesterday to do an evaluation on Bar to make sure there were no structural, physical, or neurological reasons for his tripping. We ruled out his feet, which are in good shape, and then Leslie pointed out that his shoulder where he fell was pretty swollen. I of course fell into a little puddle of guilt, especially since I worked him in the round pen (not hard) the other day. I knew he was sore, but missed the swelling. Poor guy. I can't believe he actually did any work for me, and pretty much without complaining. He's a little bit of a stoic when it comes to pain, unlike his friend Lena the drama queen.

It was nearly impossible to fairly judge whether there was any front-end lameness since he was obviously compromised with the shoulder, but Leslie had also noticed some atrophy on his hind end so we did a Flexion test on his hocks. She held his rear leg up against his belly for over a minute on each side, then on a count of three let it down and I trotted him off while she and Mike watched. The first side he bounced forward instead of trotting, but it was still obvious he was sore. I can't believe how patient he was--especially we went back after the first side and picked up the other hind leg. He went along with me, though it was very clear he was hurting and grumpy about all this. He stomped a couple of times in frustration, but still did everything I asked of him. Leslie commented again the difference in him since we first got him. I told her it was because he loves me. Ha!

The verdict is that there is some lameness in the back end--his hocks--but it's not irreparable. That makes him not use his hindquarters enough and his front end too much. With the bowed tendon leg--which is a little over at the knee also--that's a recipe for the tripping. However, Leslie thinks with some Glucosamine and rest, he'll be fine for what we do with him. I'm also having Karen come out on Tuesday morning to give Bar a massage and evaluation. She gives me good, practical advice and has rehabilitated several horses, so should be able to give me some training and exercise tips, too.

I'm very glad there isn't any neurological issue, though I wasn't actually too worried about it. He does know where his feet are and has good strength in his hind end--he was able to resist Leslie pulling on his tail from each side quite effectively. He did look at me out of his one eye as if to say, "What is that weird woman doing back there?" a few times, though.

I'm sure if I think about it, there were signs he was having pain. And I could beat myself up about it, but that won't serve any good purpose. The best thing to do is go forward and help him build up his strength and flexibility, and for us to have fun doing it. My own focus on maintaining my own physical condition despite various aches and pains--knowing it's much better to keep moving--gives me a pretty good perspective on what he needs.