Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Happy Birthday Harley!

14 years young

Harley was born just a few months before I graduated high school.  I was going off to college and riding a huge Hanoverian/TB mare, but little did I know, my heart horse was a sweet, little, buckskin quarter horse who was busy growing and finding his way to me.  After almost nine years, we finally met and we have not been apart for very long ever since.  I am forever grateful for my husband's encouragement to just "go for it".  Having waited since the age of three to buy my own horse, it was difficult to know when was the right time.  After five years and counting, it turns out that Harley-time is always the right time.

Happy Birthday Harley!

Thanks for being my 
dressage horse, 
trail horse, 
bareback/trick/circus pony,
wild mustang,
black stallion,
beloved pet, 
and most importantly, 
my heart horse. 

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Riding Reflection: Working To An Ideal

Harley felt great yesterday.  We started out with a ten minute walk on the buckle.  Then, I picked up my half of the contact and Harley picked up his.  He has such a nice way of softly arching his neck and touching the bit.  He feels like a horse who knows his job.  We worked some circles, leg yield, and half-pass away from the wall, all in walk.  I tried to feel him lift and cross each hind and front leg.  I didn't want any rush in the movement.  We were still warming up our bodies.

"Take time opening your shoulder to the left, Harley."

I watched his ears carefully.  They stayed level as I felt the inside rein meeting my outside seat bone and leg.  Harley listens for the half-pass.  Lateral work feels like the riding equivalent to puzzles.  I think he likes it.  I like it, too.  After a few steps to the left, I sent him straight ahead and he anticipated by starting to go sideways to the right.  I accepted his idea and asked him to leg yield away from my inside leg back to the track.  I could feel him thinking.  Now, we had warmed up our minds.

I asked for trot and Harley picked up the first step nicely, maintaining his half of the contact.  Yes!  That nice first transition is still a novelty.  I am trying not to take it for granted, because it used to be pretty raw, not like the elegant transition he is offered this time.  We stayed large at first and then worked some circles.  The energy was flowing really smoothly.  I kept my thumbs pointing at the bit and he motored along with a consistent frame.  I kissed him into canter and he found his rhythm almost immediately.  Little snorts escaped his nostrils at the end of each stride.  I love the staccato they create.  I gently hugged his sides with my lower legs in time with the canter.  I melted my seat and encouraged him to lift his back.  Harley was a workhorse.  He wanted to just keep going.  The canter and the contact in the bridle became steadier as I felt his back fully release.  We returned to trot and his back stayed with me, but he started to "over-flow" himself.  This feels like he is pushing just a bit too much for the amount that he can carry.  He feels very round, but with the scale tipped too far forward.  I gently half-halted on the outside rein as I sat in the posting trot to encourage him to shift some of the weight to his hindend.  He understood and found the strength to lift himself up a little more.  The sensation was awesome.  He was working at the edge of his balance, but he seemed to understand and wanted to try.  It is possible for a horse to want to improve as an athlete?  After a short time and a great effort, I asked him to walk and we called it a ride.  He blows my mind.

A+ for Harley

The kids are studying Newton's Laws right now.  Once a net force is applied, additional force is not required to keep an object in motion.  Although, we are not living in a frictionless environment or weightlessness, it is nice to image this physics concept when riding your horse.  Apply the aids to go forward once and then your horse should continue on.  He has overcome the collective inertia of himself and his rider, so he should not need additional aiding to keep up the pace.  His inertia is what makes transitions such hard work and so effective for conditioning.  He must apply as much force with his muscles to transition down as he does to transition up and skipping gaits requires even more strength.  Once the horse is moving, it is, in theory, easier for him to keep going.  The large muscles are all close to his body, leaving the tendons and ligaments of his lower legs free to return elastically to their starting position as another stride begins.  The fluidity and effortlessness is remarkable to experience as a passenger.  I find myself imaging that the purpose of dressage is to get the horse as close to the ideal as possible.  The physical ideal.  The physics ideal.  Combine this with a living, breathing, feeling, responding creature and you truly have a recipe for wonderment. 

Friday, March 23, 2012

Headshots and Health Report

A friend recently took some photos at the farm.  I was not expecting a photo-shoot, which was basically spontaneous as we walked to the barn, but, thankfully, my horse was very clean for just coming out of the paddock!  What a Good Boy.

Thank you so much for the photos!

This week has been hectic and stressful.  Unfortunately, I was on the phone with the vet earlier in the week, because Harley was not feeling well.  He was going off his feed and acting like his tummy hurt.  Harley has never colicked before and only refused dinner when he was ill last December.  The vet came out and did an exam.  He was bright-eyed and social by the time our vet arrived.  Nothing like presenting a perfectly healthy and  happy-looking "child" to the doctor, although I am not complaining!  We are not really sure what the problem was.  He could have had a low-level colic, was having trouble with the heat, as it has been unseasonably warm here, or something else which is not obvious at the moment.  Of course, we will all be keeping an eye on him and I am happy to report that he has been eating his dinner voraciously since his exam.  I can't help feeling nervous about it, but I am confident that Harley will let me know if something is not right.  When I was wondering if I should call the vet and asked this question aloud, Harley started raising his head and neck high in the air and doing the Flehmen response over and over again.  It was not your typical "Look at me.  I am cute." behavior, it was definitely more like "Look at me.  I am acting weird, so you notice that I do not feel normal."  My vet trusted my judgement.  She said that I know my horse and he knows that I will listen to him.

Thankfully, the vet's visit was positive and yielded unexpected delight.  She was raving about Harley's weight.  She said that he is a "6"!  What?!  I think that she was being overly generous, because she knows how difficult it has been to get him to put on weight.  Between his teeth, his metabolism, and his high-energy personality, putting condition on him has not been easy.  I never in a million years thought that my horse would gain weight over the winter.  That alone tells you how mild our weather was this year.  The downside is that we barely had a hard-freeze, so there are a lot of plants and other organisms that simply did not die or go dormant.  Pollen, fungi, and other pesky critters will probably be a problem early this year.  I have already found a couple ticks on Harley and his paddock mate is having some issues with his skin, probably from the persistent mud and the microbial life which it is certainly housing.  Let's just say that the vet was very busy during her barn visit.  As a teacher, I know what it is like to be bombarded with questions, but even I was amazed by how my vet just takes everything in stride and at the end of an already long day.  I do not think that I could do her job.  There are no "breaks" when you are a vet, especially when you have your own business.

Who is this round pony?  Looking good, Mr. Harley!

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Buttermilk Buckskin: Changing Colors

I did not go looking for color when I bought Harley.  I wanted a good riding horse first.  If the good riding horse was also pretty, that was just icing on the cake, and, besides, I knew that my horse would be beautiful in my eyes no matter what.  As luck and circumstances would have it, I ended up purchasing a horse with a very unusual coat color and markings, even for a buckskin.  Harley's coloring is definitely unique.  Pretty much anytime we meet new horse people, they are captivated by his color.  Just a few weeks ago, we met some people on the trail.  One woman in particular was showering him with compliments and then as we walked away, I heard her continue to exclaim how she had never seen a horse that looked like him before.  At our first Turkey Trot, a person driving through the parking lot, stopped their car, rolled down the window, and snapped a few photos of Harley as we walked by.  It felt a little paparazzi, but I smiled and waved just the same.  Harley batted his eyes and gave his best Marilyn impression.  We may not have jaw-dropping movement in the dressage ring, but we certainly get people's attention in the color department.  I like the attention and so does Harley.  He always manages to arch his neck and puff up when he has a new audience.  Such a ham.

Harley's "buttermilk" buckskin coloring changes quite a bit throughout the year.  I thought that if might be fun to document some of those changes as we move from winter to spring.  Harley's stockings are acquiring an interesting molted appearance.  Take a look!

The light hairs are shedding out from the front of his legs first.  The black stockings will eventually reach over his knees.

The front of his leg looks really neat up close.

Almost all of the this light hair is going to fall out, as evidenced by the shedding fur on the ground!

I love the long, wispy hairs on the back of his legs.

Stylish, side-swept "fetlocks".

His hind legs have not shedded quite at much as the fronts, so you can see more color gradation...

...and the red highlights in his tail.

That is just the beginning.  Right, Harley?

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Memoirs: A Horse Girl Wants a Dog

I used to beg for a dog when I was little.  Of course, I really wanted a horse, but I knew that a horse was not something that could just "happen" overnight.  Dogs seemed like a good second choice.  Dogs were happy.  Dogs were playful and could learn tricks.  Dogs liked to go for walks.  The only problem was that I was a little girl and I lived with my parents.  My parents are not really dog people, so they did what any resourceful parent would do when faced with the demands of a dog-wanting daughter.

They got me a gerbil.

My gerbil was black and was named after a toy poodle, which I met while on family vacation.  I was easily swayed by the dark eyes and long tail.  I loved my gerbil, even if he did keep me up at night, scratching in his plastic sky-house.  My parents tell me that I used to yell at him to be quiet in the middle of the night.  He was good at ignoring me and kept right on scratching.  I built obstacle courses for my gerbil to explore out of blocks and tissue boxes.  I wanted him to have an enriching gerbil-life.  Although comical, cute pets, gerbils are not long-lived, so began a long line of gerbil companions whose names all began with "P".  The only trouble was that gerbils are so tiny, that I felt like I had to touch my pet so gently that I could just barely scratch my gerbil behind his ear and feed him sunflower seeds by hand.  Oh, and gerbils do not go on walks.  I still wanted a dog.

Eventually, having a gerbil and the occasional goldfish won from the state fair was not enough.  I started to lament for a dog again.  My mom bought brightly-colored neon fish to swim around with the goldfish.  The "Neats", as we called them, were beautiful with their shimmering blue stripes, but, alas, they did not have fur and could not snuggle.  I begged for a dog.  I wanted a pet to teach tricks and take for walks and snuggle with in front of the TV.  So, naturally, my parents broke down and I came home with a large gray and white kitten.  This was their last resort.  This kitten grew up to be the most "dog-like" cat I could have imagined.  He would go for walks in the woods, ride on the sled in the snow, and even let me give him baths, although he did not wear a happy face for that one.  I loved him dearly and he was joined by a second cat several years later.  Both had lots of warm, soft, wonderful fur that rumbled as they purred.  My cats loved to nap with me while I watched television.  My big gray and white cat could catch pieces of ham in his mouth like a terrier.  They were not dogs, but they were just about perfect.

Except there was one small technicality.  My cats' fur made me sneeze.  A parent of a friend mentioned something about giving up her cats, because her husband was allergic.  People do that?  I asserted to my parents that under no circumstances were my cats to be given away.  Sneezing wasn't that bad (I sneezed A LOT!) in my mind and I was willing to live with allergies if it meant having my furry, purring pets.  Thankfully, my parents never challenged the idea.  My dog substitutes grew into much more.  I became a devoted cat owner for fifteen years.  What this really means is that I was owned by two cats for fifteen years.  Cats are like that.

After marrying my human love, I moved out and moved in with my husband, whose family always had birds.  Naturally, we bought a bird.  I learned to read the many feather expressions of our little white parakeet.  She was such a darling, little creature and so incredibly smart.  I was delighted the first time that she flew to me and sat on my shoulder as I walked around the living room.  I was surprised how interactive parakeets, and later a cockatiel, could be as pets.  They are tiny pets with big personalities.  We have four birds at the moment and they never let you forget that they are there! 

The only problem with my avian companions is that I cannot really pet them.  I can sort of pet the cockatiel, but only if he feels like having his neck scratched.  The parakeets are only observed from a distance, even though we have been able to train most of them to perch on our fingers.  They object to any petting, which is a shame because their feathers look so soft and silky.  I want to touch them!  Luckily, I have a solution, and he has lots and lots of soft, warm fur...

Riding this pet is not frowned upon.

Harley is not just my trail horse, my dressage partner, and my beautiful animal.  He is my "pet".  I may have never gotten that dog, but now I have something much better.  I can run my hands down Harley's long neck all I want.  He has soft, fluffy fur around his tummy and chest from his winter coat.  The texture could put a lamb to shame.  Velvet fur covers his muzzle.  Even his mane and tail are soft and silky once I have detangled them.  He is somewhat secretive about his favorite itchy spots, but I know where to find them.  Brush his forehead rigorously with a hard brush and he will lay into the brush.  Use a gentler stroke along the facial bones under his eyes and he will happily tilt his head so that you can get just the right spot.  If he slobbered from the bit, he also appreciates a good brushing under his chin and jowls.  Harley loves baths in the summer.  He stands nicely for running braids and will do just about anything for carrots.  I can hug his big face and whisper into his ear.  His liquidy brown eyes look right into me.  Harley takes his second job seriously.  He is a good pet.

One of my favorite children's books is The Girl Who Loved Wild Horses by Paul Goble.  The Native American themed book refers to horses as "Sacred Dogs".  I may never officially join the ranks of dog ownership, since my allergy to cats extends to dogs, but I seem to have acquired my dog after all.  I will take my Sacred Dog over the real thing.  Besides, I am certain that a horse was what I was hoping for from the beginning.

My Sacred Dog

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Dancing With My Horse's Backside

Think two-step meets a shopping cart.

I am describing my attempts to get Harley to roll his backend under as demonstrated in the very nice video posted at It's Quarters for Me.  Horse yoga.  I read this interesting post and watched the very clear how-to video and thought "I could probably stand to do some stretch work with Harley".  Every time I see my teacher, she immediately starts working his shoulders and neck.  My friend at the barn does all kinds of stretches with her horse.  Even the barn owner does the occasional carrot stretch with his trail horse.  I think that I have fallen behind the ball.

I am going to start with what Harley is good at.  He is really good at the belly lifts.  He can lift his back so high that it looks kinda unnatural.  I think this is a benefit of being rather rectangular in shape.  He has a long back and loin and they have an impressive range of motion.  Of course this does not mean that he stands with his back up all the time.  He doesn't.  He lifts it under saddle, but I should take the time to breathe with him and do a few sets on each side.  Nice and easy with a long exhale, like I am doing yoga, too.

You know what?  It was fun.

Harley is also good at carrot stretches.  I wouldn't say that he can go all the way to the stifle, as that would take some dedicated practice, but he can wrap his long body around like a bow.  A friend once nicknamed him "Gumby Horse", because he reached for the carrot she rested near his hip on the first try.  This makes it really easy for him to bend under saddle.  Too easy.  I spend more time reminding him to be straight then actively bending him.  Another benefit and challenge of being long-bodied.

The front leg stretches are an excellent addition to our new routine.  After a couple sessions, he has figured out how to extend his front leg without stepping down onto the stretched leg.  He seems to have already gained some range of motion and is finding it easier to straighten his knee.  Harley absolutely LOVES this exercise.  He lifts his foot up for me and nearly does the exercise by himself.  I just support at the pastern and lower his leg forward.  He actively licks and chews and sometimes nuzzles my back.  We are so keeping that one in our box of tricks!

The tail pull got a mixed review.  I thought that he was pulling against the resistance that I was providing, until he rested a hind leg, sighed, and looked back at me like, "Are you going to hang down there all day or can we get saddled up already?"  Do I not weigh enough to create meaningful traction?  Harley seemed pretty "blah" about that one, but I will give it a couple more tries.

Then came the dance (Well, actually I tried to do the exercises in the same order as the video, but this was the funny one.)  I found the spot described in the video on either side of his tail.  My hands were resting on his hindquarters about seven inches or so below the top of his tail.  I tried gently pressing his muscles and watched his hips to see if he started to tuck his butt.  FAIL.

Harley felt the pressure on his backside and immediately tried to interpret what I wanted.  He sauntered to the left.  He sauntered to the right.  He tried stepping forward.  He tried stepping back, but did not want to step on me and then would side-step again.  I tried to stay behind him (Normally, I would say, "Do not stand behind a horse!") as he side-steped which caused him to step forward or side-step the other way.  I followed, trying to apply pressure on either side of his tail and trying to watch his hips.  Unfortunately, I am too short to see over his croup, so I could not really tell if he was doing anything other than shifting around.  A couple times, I think that he might have started to tuck his pelvis, but I really could not see clearly.  At some point I realized that what I was doing probably looked dangerous or completely ridiculous or both.  I decided to call it quits and try another day.  Our waltz was created by what I thought was gentle pressure.  It seemed like Harley moved as soon as I applied any pressure at all.  If I applied no pressure, he did nothing.  If I applied stronger pressure, he just danced more.

I think that this yoga stretch could be very beneficial for him.  The practitioner in the video suggested that if your horse cannot do a stretch, then that is probably the one that he needs to do.  Okay.  I will try again, but how do I explain this one to Harley?

Saturday, March 10, 2012

The 150th Post

One hundred fifty posts.
Memoirs of a Horse Girl will be one year old next month.

When I began writing this blog, I was not sure if I would have the staying power necessary for blogging.  I made a modest attempt at blogging every day and then realized that I just didn't have the time.  Since horses are never far from my mind, I am sure that I could come up with something to write about each day, but I do not feel that I would regularly have time for the editing and proofreading, as well as reading other blogs, which I really enjoy!  I also seem nearly completely unable to write short entries.  Once I get going on the keyboard, I like to just keep going!  So short, daily posts do not work for me, but I am accepting of that fact.

Every writer, musician, and artist needs a muse.

During this past year, I have found my blogging rhythm.  I write about every other day.  If I have something burning that I am really interested to share, then I blog more often.  If my schedule with work, family, and other stuff (house, appointments, etc.) requires more time during a particular week, then I might blog a little less.  If you knew my school's marking period schedule, you would find that there is an indirect relationship between the number of blog posts published and the deadlines for interim and quarterly report cards.  I spend many hours at home lesson planning, designing assignments, grading those assignments, and updating my electronic gradebook.  That sort of paperwork interferes with blogging, because they fill the same void: sit and read and write and then do it some more.  Of course, my job has to take priority, because I am paid for that one and I love teaching.  I love my job.  What I do not love are the many hours that I must spend at home grading.  Hours and hours.  Non-teachers or people who do not live with teachers will often have no sympathy for this.  Teachers get summers off.  Teachers get winter and spring vacation.  Teachers get every holiday in the book.  I know.  I get it.  I sincerely wish everyone had lengthy time intervals like my summer vacation to recharge their batteries.  I wish that for my husband who only gets two weeks vacation outside of federal holidays.  But what non-teachers or people who do not live with teachers may not understand is that doing paperwork for hours after school and hours on the weekend (including those holidays) really starts to burn the candle at both ends.  It is impossible to leave your job at work if you must carry a fifteen pound messenger bag home with three hundred tests, quizzes and lab reports to grade.  The time I am given to grade at school is completely inadequate.  I use that time for lesson assembly, lesson clean-up, staff communication, parent communication, making copies, and running to the bathroom (If you are a teacher or work on a strict time schedule, you will really appreciate that last one).  There just is not time for the multitude of paperwork which accumulates on any given school day during school hours.  Often, there is not time after school hours either, but I digress.  My students work hard.  I work hard.  These are good things, it is just that sometimes they interfere with my regular blog posts, and that has been enlightening...

What I have noticed is that if I write a post and let it sit for a few days, more readers tend to get to my written entry.  Sometimes I check the "stats" and see that people, like me, are busy and need a few days to read what I have written.  If I allow some time between posts, I tend to get more feedback in the form of comments, which I love and really make my day!  This also relieves any sense of urgency, which I might get from blogging and, to be honest, I do not need one more deadline.  I want blogging to remain fun and a stress release, because that is what I really need.  I can take my time editing and proofreading, so that my writing is (hopefully) grammatically correct and free from typos (if I can help it).  I want to set a good example, should my students or their parents become readers.  I want to exemplify that writing is fun and something worth doing, even when time is short and the days are long.  I am a science teacher, so my objectives are not to teach writing mechanics or compositions, although you better believe that scientific writing and lab reports are on the table!  Bring the supporting details and data to explain your conclusions, leave those pronouns at the door, and, by all means, use science vocabulary!  Writing has got to be one of the most difficult skills to teach, because so much of it is not mechanics.  Writing has a lot to do with feel and timing.  Rhythm.  Not unlike riding.  So I am trying to teach by example.  I am still working, even when I am writing for pleasure.  I found something about which I love to write.  I hope that you continue to read my work, contribute your thoughts, and keep your own blogs going amidst your busy lives, because I know we all have them, whether grading papers is a part of them, or not.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Riding Reflection: All Thumbs

During today's ride, I tried to keep my objectives for myself really clear.  I recently read a very nice post at the School Your Horse blog about the rider's thumbs.  The tip was to keep your thumb on top of the rein (check) and point your thumbs at the right and left sides of the bit, respectively.  Whoa.  That reminds of me of my teacher's instructions to "flatten my wrists on top".  Turns out, my wrists are perfectly flat on top if I point my thumbs at the bit.  What a useful image!  I can control my thumbs with ease, which is delightfully refreshing in riding.  However, I needed to put this idea into practice, so during today's ride, I made a point to "point" my thumbs at the bit.  Here is what I found.

Harley loves the contact that is produced when I am "all thumbs".  Not only did he accept the bit, but he also rounded his neck easily and nearly automatically.  All that was left for me to do was keep the engine motoring behind.

The contact was very even in both reins.  Likewise, I could quickly feel when he did not bend properly or dropped a rein by not stepping evenly forward with his hind legs.  The reins felt like rails, which my horse traveled along.  Wherever the rails pointed, my horse went.  Guess what controlled the rails?  That's right.  Thankfully, they are opposable.

Harley's walk was more energized and marching than usual.  Was that all because of my thumb position?  Seriously?  I was kind of shocked, but I have tried it for two rides and he marched in both of the them, even in the warm up.  Amazing.

Concentrating on my thumb position was easy at the walk and not too bad at the trot either.  Harley maintained his energy in trot and was very nicely light in the bridle.  It seemed like I could feel his hind legs more.  Quieting does a lot for the position of the rider.  Having a clear focal point seems to be key as well.  Because of this focus, I made an unexpected discovery.  Sometimes I adjust the rein length too abruptly.  I did not realize that I was doing this, until I was super careful about my hand position.  I went to shorten my outside rein on a small circle and Harley nearly staggered trying to lurch sideways in an effort to follow my clumsy hand movement.  My apologizes, Harley.  Sheesh.  I know that he listens, but I had no idea he would try to follow every movement once I narrowed in on my thumb position.

Guess which gait was the big challenge?  You guessed it again!  The canter always makes the exercise new again.  When I read about this tip, I immediately suspected that I break my wrist in the canter depart.  Maybe not every time, but I can imagine myself doing that.  It was like my last (hopefully) little place that I could brace in anticipation.  No more.  Since I was thinking about it today, I did not do what I imaged, but I am fairly certain that I have.  What I discovered at the canter is that, apparently, I am not too bad going to the left.  Harley was nice and balanced and I felt like I had a better connection on the outside rein.  I could feel his outside hind leg step down into the outside rein at the beginning of each stride.  Awesome.  This made the canter very controllable and smooth.  Even small half-halts had an immediate effect.  I got control of his impromptu hindend changes very quickly and then he settled into a relaxing, fun gait.  The right was a different story, but very enlightening.

My right thumb behaves itself, but my left thumb consistently twists pointing to the inside.  Sometimes my thumb wanted to point at his inside ear, sometimes at my inside hand.  That is no good.  I tried to fix it, but my hand kept turning to the inside in true habitual form.  I have worked long and hard on not dropping my left hand and I think that has gotten better, but now I need to work on not twisting my wrist!  Harley absolutely did not have a nice connection with the outside left rein.  The rein was not totally slack, but he was not stepping into the rein the way he was on the left.  Who can blame him?  There was nothing supportive or pleasant to step into.  Just a twisty, crooked mess.  I forced myself to point my thumb at the left side of the bit.  I had to remind myself every stride!  Add a little inside leg and a soft contact with my whole seat and Harley finally said "Hello" to my outside rein.  He was relaxed.  He was balanced.  And he stopped trying to leap onto the left lead every five seconds (his personal favorite game).  His canter going right is so easy to ride, that I was deceived into thinking that he was on my aids.  I had been suspecting that he wasn't, since I was having trouble persuading him not to hop around and have so much fun while I was trying to canter like I was going for a Sunday ride.  Who would have thought that such a small change, the direction of my thumb, could have such a profound impact?  Even though it will take some time to undo my left thumb's tilt, this change is much easier than many, many other things that I have had to relearn over the years. 

Three cheers for two thumbs!

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

My Barefoot Horse: Side-By-Side Comparison

You will feed me carrots.
Spring is nearly upon us.  I can see it in my horse's feet.  The wall growth was slow during the winter, allowing me to leisurely trim every three to three and a half weeks.  If I was feeling really lax, I could have pushed it to four, but I happen to like trimming Harley's feet so there was no need to procrastinate.  I could finish all four feet in one session without too much trouble and the moist ground, although bad for frogs, made my rasp slide over his feet with ease.  March has just squeezed past the starting line and I can see a small increase in the growth rate of my horse's feet.  Has it been three weeks already?  Two and a half weeks of growth is looking like three.  Pretty soon, two weeks will be all I can wait or I will be dealing with flaring quarters and forty-five minutes behind the rasp.  At the peak of the spring to summer transition I will probably touch up his feet every week.  I adopted that strategy last year to avoid marathon trimming sessions and using nippers, which I do not own anyway.

Since I nearly trimmed his left front entirely before starting the right (I often switch back and forth), I decided to take some comparison photos.  Each foot is an individual, but I thought it might be interesting to see a before and after side-by-side.

Does his right front look like it needs a trim?  The toe bevel is still noticeable from the last trim.  His right foot has what I call the "duck-bill" look.  The quarters have grown down to the ground, but the toe is still rounded.  The foot is not flared, but will begin to flare, especially on the medial edge, if I do not help him remove hoof wall soon.  The bevel has been refreshed on the left front all the way around the quarters.  I put a pretty strong roll at the toe.  I have tried less and his feet usually crack at the toe or I see a little mechanical separation at the toe.  There is not a difference in hoof height, because I trim so often, which I have observed to be best for my horse.  I am fairly certain that my original farrier would look at these feet and say "See you in four weeks."  I am sure that he would not be alone in that statement.

The untrimmed right front: He squares off the toe, which is the roll being maintained at the toe and growing out at the quarters.  There is not a lot to take off, but enough to keep me busy for fifteen minutes at least.  The photo makes the outer wall look more overgrown, but this does not make sense, since the inside usually gets less wear as the horse moves.  The lateral and medial growth seemed pretty even to me, maybe a hair extra to take off on the outside (lateral).

The trimmed left front: The outer wall is gray and the inner wall (water line) is white on Harley's feet.  I removed excess hoof wall that is above the sole and beveled the edge so that the gray outer wall does not touch the ground.  Since the bevel is very rounded, the white inner wall basically does not touch the ground either, which ensures minimal peripheral loading, sole contact with the ground, and frog stimulation.  The frogs are looking rather withered right now.  I did not touch the frogs at all.

The rasp marks from the last trim are still visible along the edge of the untrimmed foot.  From this angle, the hoof wall that is just barely above the sole is apparent.  From this angle, it really does look like there was more on the outside, so maybe there was!  I think that he has a really nice toe callus.  That stays for sure!

The hoof is not flat.  I follow the curvature of the sole when I trim and I trim almost entirely from the bottom.  There is no need to try and make the surface flat, because this foot is not being prepared for a shoe.

The trimmed foot with the bevel just about to the heels.  I strive to bring the heels back and to the level of the sole.  I also want to see a nice flat landing surface that I can balance my rasp across.  I sight across the foot from the back to ensure that the heels are of the same height in relation to each other and the rest of the foot.

Bevel, wall pigmentation, and frog apex close-up.  I am not trying to make his feet pretty, but a nice foot just IS pretty.

Until next time, enjoy the sunset and the carrots!

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Lungeing: Back To The Future

I am finally feeling better, although I also feel like I ran the gauntlet this week.  There were deadlines to be met, meetings to be had, projects which never gelled, and me with my energy at half mast.  I am so glad that it is Friday (yesterday)!  This was one of those days where I had to force myself to go to the barn.  That does not happen very often, which demonstrates how drained I was feeling.  Gray clouds and the weather forecast threatened rain, as I backed out of the driveway.  I decided that today might be a good day to lunge.

At the barn, a deliciously muddy Harley met me at the gate.  The mud was dry so he cleaned up pretty easily.  There is something satisfying about making a dirty horse clean again.  Harley was very helpful and bright-eyed, lifting each foot for me before I even reached to pick it up.  I brushed him on Wednesday, but we had not ridden since Sunday, which was promptly followed by my cold shutting me down for the week.  He obediently lifted a front leg when I touched his elbow.  Oops!  I forgot that I had originally used that cue to train our version of the Spanish walk.  That was a year ago.  Harley did not forget!  He was hoping that we were going to have some fun together.

Out in the ring, I set up a couple trot poles.  Harley stood like a statue while I unwrapped the lunge line and snapped it to his halter.  I like to use the inside ring on the nose band to encourage him to flex toward me as he circles.  The lungeing session started out pretty normal, except that the trot poles were not working out too well.  He has been trotting over them undersaddle better than ever, but now he seemed to be having trouble with the spacing on the line.  I adjusted them once and then demoted the trot poles to walking poles when he almost slipped trying to push over them.  I guess the ground was too sloppy.  Harley stretched his neck very nicely in trot, reaching nearly to the ground at times.  I thought how nice it was that we could pick up where we left off the last time we lunged many, many months ago...

...and then I asked him to canter.

HELLO!  What is this?  Harley started hopping around and then racing at the end of the lunge line.  Thankfully, he does not try to run off the circle, but he did show me some creative and rather acrobatic leaps.  I tightened my grip on the lunge line and felt like I woke up for the first time all day.  It was not totally clear what Harley was doing at the end of the lunge line, but I saw some counter canter, some lead changes, and some cross-cantering.  He also tossed his neck, leaped up in a very nice uphill way, and motorcycled like the good ol' days.  Wow!  I have not seen that Harley in a long time.  I felt like we went back in time.  My horse turns fourteen this month, but you would not have guessed it by the antics he was pulling on the lunge line this evening.  What happened to my experienced statesman on the lunge line?

I do not know if it was fun, pent up energy, better condition (He is looking GOOD!), or some of the disobedience that I have met undersaddle at the canter recently (him wanting to change leads on his own), but Harley was a bit of a maniac.  Although I believe that he was having a good time at first, I think that my horse started to scare himself, because the look in his eye changed.  I have noticed that when my horse is stressed or upset, he gets this extra rim of reddish brown around his eye.  It almost looks bloodshot at the edge of the brown iris.  That was how his eye started to look.  He may have been goofing off or having fun in the beginning (i.e. being full of himself!), but his fun quickly changed to a loss of balance and that made him start to panic.  The more he panicked, the faster he ran.  He started to snort forcefully through his nose and turn his head and neck in toward me.  This did not help his balance, but it did show me, beyond a doubt, that he was worried and not sure how to stop "freight train Harley".  I did my best to stay calm, but I had very little control with the line.  Sure my horse was circling me, but the line felt like a wiggly piece of spaghetti.  I knew that Harley needed to find me at the end of the line to feel confident.  Only then would I have a chance to help him rebalance.

I took up some of the slack in the line and bridged the line between my whip hand and my leading hand.  I tried to keep the line from getting slack by keeping some tension on the line with my whip hand and reaching forward up the line with my leading hand (in this case my left hand, since he was traveling left).  Harley was bouncing around at the end of the line very unpredictably, so this is easier said than done.  I talked to him, but I could see my soothing words were not helping.  He would transition down to trot, but the trot was worse than the canter and he kept turning his head and neck in like an exaggerated shoulder-in.  He was very off-balance and his nerves were escalating.  I was concerned that he might slip and fall, so any hard, fast corrections with the line were out of the question and certainly were not going to take his weight off the forehand.

I asked him to canter again by slowly cantering myself at the center of the circle.  Cantering allowed him to slow his feet down, which were moving at a crazy tempo in trot.  I exaggerated my canter strides making them as slow as I possibly could.  I brought him back to trot and then to canter again.  With each transition, the connection on the line became more consistent and his tempo slowed.  At last he slowed down enough to find a rhythm in his gaits and a connection with me on the line.  I actually saw him lick and chew in the canter.  That was a really good sign.  Harley's neck arched, his tempo returned to normal, and his hindend engaged with noticeable lowering of his hindquarters.

The year was twenty-twelve.  Harley was BACK!

After two very nice canters on the left lead, I was certain that my horse had regained his balance and his confidence.  He stretched his nose all the way to the ground in trot and then walked with lots of relieved snorts.  He halted on a dime, like he always does, and I walked up to him to tell him what a "Good Boy" he was.  For all that activity, he was barely warm with just a little moisture around his chest, neck, and legs.  His eye looked bright again and he relaxed his neck down as I stood next to him and patted his soft fur.  His excitement was not completely gone.  He repeated some of the same airs above the ground going to the right in canter, but returned to the Harley who knows how to balance himself on the lunge line before we were done.  He performed one very nice left to right lead flying change somewhere in the middle of his goofing off.  I swear he looked right at me to ask, "Did you see that?"  I praised him for that one and did my best not to praise or punish for the rest of it.

In my opinion, Harley is a good example of a horse who cannot be chased to "fix" his problem.  I have watched horses run in the round pen to fix certain problems.  I have even done so myself, with a very lazy horse that I worked with before Harley was around.  Chasing Harley would only make matters worse.  Creating hard tension against the line would allow him to brace and fall on his forehand more, while leaving the line slack left him feeling abandoned.  I had to find a way to keep him calm and slow down his feet, but just stopping them wasn't good either.  He stopped a couple times during his second motorcycle impression, faced me, and looked completely frazzled, almost vibrating with energy.  Standing still seemed to build his tension, because he had not found the balance that gave him confidence while moving.  It is a difficult thing to send a horse moving off again after he has been running on the line and now is stopped in front of you.  My instincts told me that he had to keep going.  He could only make it back to the future, if he was moving forward.