Having never been taught to round his back, Red's back tends to be pretty "hollow." One of my barnmates told me about a "butt scratch" that triggers a back-lifting reflex. Check out the difference.
We've been doing several of these each day. It is hard work and not one of Red's favorite things.
You can see about where I place my fingers to get this response. I scratch up and down and like magic Red rolls his pelvis and lifts his back. There is a good article on KBR Horse Net, "Care for Horses' Backs". The author calls this reflex the "equine sit up".
Good thing I can totally trust Red to stand while I touch him anywhere.
. . . as in being his opinionated, nosy, expressive self.
Red Horse has no problem telling me exactly what he wants. Here he is saying, "but I don't WANT to go back to the general pasture yet!" He just really enjoys being futzed with - groomed, sprayed, massaged, fed crunchies, itchies scratched - what a life! He used to be so aloof, seeming to not understand why I must touch him so much. Now he enjoys the physical contact, and I think he really likes to be "listened" to. Of course, Red doesn't get to call the shots in our little herd, he would quickly become a very pushy guy. But there are times when he clearly asks for something, and there are times I want to show him I "hear" him.
He doesn't so much like our new Richard Shrake full cheek snaffle. Because Red is a good boy (mostly), he does open his mouth and accept the bit, but only after he holds his teeth closed for long enough to state he does not approve. This might seem strange, but I'm using it as a "time out". We have been starting each day bitless. If Red refuses a request, I ask and ask again, if I get a try we move on. If I get total refusal, we go back to the barn and switch to the snaffle. We have been able to stay bitless for three days.
The bit does make a huge difference in Red's responsiveness when I ask him to flex at his poll. In our Dr. Cooks bitless, he stiffens his neck and refuses to give. When I gently vibrate the reins, he just pulls with his nose. I am careful to give him a release when I gives a tiny bit. I find I am having to exert a lot of pressure to get his release. I've had a little success in hand, less when mounted. He does flex easily laterally. We are also using Dr. Lauren DeRock's protocal to build up Red's back muscles. I think we are making a bit of progress with the "upside down" syndrome.
The mouth of the Mad River is one of my favorite beaches in Humboldt County. It is possible to hike the beach or the Hammond Trail that follows along the river's landward side. This is such a lush area, full of life. If you ever visit, you will see a large family of sea lions, grey whales, osprey, perhaps a bald eagle, countless water birds, and occasional horses ridden along the beach or trail.
The river is by no means mad. The coastal flow of the river was part of the traditional land of the Wiyot People. When Eurpoeans were invading the lands of the local First Nations and "discovering" the area, the Joshia Greg party was seeking a way from the inland gold fields to the coast was the . Story goes that Dr. Greg threw a monumental hissy fit when his group crossed the river and he had to run into the water to catch a ride, getting drenched in the process.
Whether sunny, cloudy, misty, or clear, you will find more lovely skies at Skywatch Friday.
Since Lyra's bout of lameness, possibly from an abscess, she has been on recovery time in the general pasture. This has meant no riding, but lots of spoiling. She loves it! Yesterday she trotted sound in boots on hard, rocky ground. We have to start working on riding outside the arena. She has been a dream to ride inside, but is very difficult outside. I laugh at a friend of mine who is encouraging me to take her to the beach so she can "run it out". Ah, maybe a couple or three decades ago. Not these days.
When Lyra isn't enjoying being spoiled by me, she loves being part of her own, exclusive band with Zindi and Fidel. Her boyfriend (above) is touchingly devoted. He walks with us to the gate and waits there, occasionally calling out to her to be sure I'm taking good care of her. Horses' relationships are SO important to them. I am very appreciative that our relatinonship - Lyra and me, has become important to her. Gone are the days of refusing to look at me, insisting on keeping her head turned to the herd. It is amazing what time and consistency can do.
For the last couple of days Red had been looking downright mopey. No signs of physical discomfort. Could it be that his love Coal is gone from the general pasture? Could it be that I've been using a BIT since the buddy sour espisode on the trial ride? Definitely not a happy Red Horse.
Why, after almost two years of riding bitless, am I using a bit? Actually I am not particularily pleased with this myself. There are two separate reasons. The spooky behavior is one reason - not a good one. The other reason is I'm wanting to work with Red on his balance and self-carriage. Our Dr. Cook's bitless does not seem to effectively promote poll flexion. I just purchased a Richard Shrake full cheek snaffle. Actually, what I'd really prefer to stay bitless. Maybe Sydney over at Science VS Tradition can offer a few pointers. Sydney is about to graduate with a degree in equine science and is a dealer for the Nurtural bitless bridle. Think we'll ride over to her blog with a couple of questions about collection and bitless bridles. Meanwhile . . .
One day later: OK, so we had a talk. Please don't think I'm a total whack job. Well, maybe I am just a little bit. I laid it out for Red, I just can't keep fighting him over plastic bags beside the lane. If he won't respect our communication via the bitless bridle, I'm committed to using a bit to get and maintain his attention. We went back to our Dr. Cooks for one last try. Yesterday Red was outstanding. Today we went a bit farther down the road. Again, outstanding. You don't think it might be our little deal? No. Couldn't be - could it?
Training a Safe Trail Horse AKA Goodbye Buddy Sour Brat
In my job, I start where my client is at, considering their resiliency and what strengths are already evident - gonna take the same approach with my Red Horse.
He has never hurt me or tried to dump me when I am riding him.
He is safe around other horses, no kicking or biting.
Red can ride in any position - lead, middle of the pack, or bringing up the rear.
He is responsive to my aids on the trail, in the presence of other horses.
Trailering is not a problem as long as he is not in the 1st slot of a slant.
Red will give me everything he's got. If he is tired or breathing hard, he still works for me.
When coming upon an unfamilar object, Red will stop, back up, spin, and retreat. He will fight to ignore my request to move forward.
On a few occasions, he has made little bounces with his front feet. Not a full fledged rear, more like a threat about where he might take the argument.
Red does not "do" trails by himself.
If our trail buddies leave or go out of site, Red panics, calls out, rushes forward with his head as high as can be.
I often feel like I am riding a potential powder keg, as Red moves with high head, mincy steps, and total hypervigilance.
To tolerate having his buddy horse go out of site.
To accept unfamilar objects and move on down the trail.
To focus more on me instead of what imagined predators are hiding under the twigs and pebbles.
So here is our ultimate goal: Red will go safely and calmly down a trail by himself.
Yep! I've been doing my homework and we've already started to implement some strategies. Horse City has some really helpful forums with savvy folks who are generous with their ideas. Here is one idea that really fits our training needs:
Ride the horse the entire trail. Guide, direct, cue so that your horse is tuned into you, not the buddy horse. "When you are on the trail it is so important to focus on the journey and to be ahead of your horse. I always suggest people ride actively and guide their horse's foot falls in some way the entire ride. Lightly side pass around the odd rock on the trail for instance and always pick the path, sometimes diverting one way or another where it's safe just to keep the horse expecting and receiving the rider's input. Whenever a horse is "left to his own devices" and is allowed to navigate his own way down a well marked trail for instance, they tune out their riders much easier." (historyrider, horsecity training forum, thread: terrified, what to do about a horse that gets terrified when riding alone, post #4, 11/08)
I think this is one of the most important things for me to focus on, actively riding Red. Instead of enjoying the company or scenery, I've got to be consistently communicating what I expect from Red when we are on the trail. No more taking a million photographs and leaving him to follow the tail of the horse in front.
The other strategy we have started is riding "away from" our trail group. I have been making these forrays short, sweet, and rewarding Red for being so brave. This idea came from one of the riders on the Back County Horseman Redwood Unit's Half-Assed Trail Ride. I only know him as "Bella's rider."
On a trail ride go "against the flow". Ride away from the group on every opportunity - to the side, back in the opposite direction, stop and let them walk away. Get your horse used to being left and leaving others. (bella's rider, Half-Ass Flat Ride, 6/09)
While we've got alot of work ahead, I'm happy to report our first, tiny success. Today Red and I rode across the street from our barn, along the general pasture fence line, crossed the road, and came up the lane between the paddocks. He was such a GOOD BOY.
I was suprised how much I enjoyed this photo session. When I first read our mission - texture, I groaned. Whatever would I find to photograph. Yet by setting my eye on texture, I discovered a new way of experiencing my visual world. Thank you for this very rewarding Sunday Stills Photo Challenge. To see what textures fill the worlds of others, visit the Sunday Stills blog.
Athena is an 18 year old Paso Fino. She is staying with a friend for awhile. She has some potentially serious issues. The vet appointment is at 9:15 on Monday. Meanwhile I am slowly working on each hoof, trying to make her more comfortable. She can only tolerate holding each foot up for about a minute. I am worried that she may be showing signs of DSLD (Degenerative Suspensory Ligament Desmitis). She has severe forward flares, dropped soles, and very dropped pasterns. She is also a sweet, sweet girl.
Here is the link to a very comprehensive blog - My Horse has DSLS/ESPA. The blogger did a great job providing a comprehesive resource base.
Ginormous Ninny. What a pain: Mr. I Can't Walk Down the Lane Because I'm Going to Be Eaten Alive by the Plastic Bags Full of HAY!!!! Yeeesh! What was in the air? We went on a trail ride with a friend and he, in the presence of another horse, was ok.
What does he do when worried about the Red Horse eating bags of hay? He stops, gets big, refuses to move forward, starts to walk sideways and then spins away. Then he fights me when I bring him back around. What do I do? Try to deepen my seat, relax, breathe. Ask him for something - side pass, backing, or disengagement of hind end. When we get to a bit less resistance, I ask him to go forward. We go back through process . . . rinse, repeat. Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr. Slowly we make out way forward.
Look for my new training plan for the buddy sour horse - coming soon. Not soon enough!