Saturday, August 31, 2013

Trail Ride with a One Eyed Horse

Rocky, not understanding why
we want to take a picture of his missing eye
I had a lovely ride today with a friend whose horse had his eye removed just one month ago.  Rocky, an Appaloosa, has had some eye issues since last October and his human partner has had to treat his eye twice daily.  Its been tough on poor Rocky (and his human).   He had to be stall confined part of the time and just looking at him you could tell he was not comfortable.  Despite the discomfort, he has been a remarkably tolerant of all the medical treatment and has still remained his sensible self.

Last month his eye issues became worse and the decision was made to remove his eye surgically.  Today was the first time I've seen Rocky since his surgery and I have to say he looked magnificent.  You can tell he feels better and it shows in his coat and attitude.  If a horse could smile... he was.

He is still trying to figure out his surroundings and with his other eye most likely not fully functioning, it makes it even more difficult for him.   He is doing great though and shows confidence in his attempts to try.

When we went to load him on the trailer, he tripped on the base of the ramp and fell to his knees, nearly hitting his head on the partition.   He jumped up, ran down the path and stood and waited for his human to retrieve him.   On the second try we picked up his foot and placed it on the ramp and after a few seconds for him to ponder it, he headed up the ramp and calmly entered the trailer stall.  Well done!

Once we reached the park, I parked in the grass where it was slightly downhill with the hopes that the ramp would be less steep.  He came off very well.  I stood on the side and just lightly touched his side so he knew where the edge of the ramp was.    Loading to come home he had the same problem and tripped on his first step on the ramp.  This time, he fell to his knees but with no alarm.  He simply had this look of "oh wow, that is where the ramp is.... " and then calmly walked up the ramp.  I think eventually he will understand his owner's cues that the ramp is there.

I was very impressed with his confidence under saddle.   We started off in the ring and while he side passed a couple of times when he wasn't sure what was on his "bad side", for the most part you couldn't tell he couldn't see well.  When we started our trail ride, he decided to lead and there was almost no sign of his disability.   His only issue was that he tripped going up slight inclines and on tree roots.   

I likened his human's treatment of him to the way you would treat a disabled child... for the most part  you treat them like any other child (or horse in this case!) and where you need to, you make accommodations.  Since today was his first day off the farm since his surgery, we kept the ride to almost all flat ground and limited how much we went in and out of sunlight as it may have been difficult for this remaining eye to adjust the light change.

One thing he is having problems with is moving between small spaces.  Its hard to tell if its he's worried about what he can't see on one side or what might be potentially under his feet but I am sure his human will figure it out.  She has done a great job loving on him and trusting him that he WILL figure this out.  I know the faith she has in him is one reason he has such confidence despite the loss of his eye.

What fun to see a horse happy in his job and enjoying his day! 

Next Sunday I am attending a clinic with Steffen Peters at Hassler Dressage.  I can't wait to share with you what I learn.

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Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Happy Anniversary to My Blog!

Tomorrow is the one year anniversary of my blog.  One year ago I had the thought that I should start writing down what was happening during my rides and lessons so I could 1) remember the lessons and 2) hopefully see improvement over time.

The blog has been so much more than I thought.  I have had so much fun writing and by documenting my rides, I have learned more from them.  I have met people throughout the world that I consider my blog friends now.  I have received encouragement and advice from fellow riders and readers.  I have been humbled by posting my failures and enjoyed my success even more because I could share it.  Thank you for sharing this journey with me!

So here are the stats one year into this blogging journey.

As of tonight I have 20,080 hits!  Wow .... I can't believe that many people have found what I have to say worth reading!

These are my top postings:
Am I Too Heavy to Ride my Horse                                  541 hits
Partial Knee Replacement Healing and Rehab                 251 hits
Putting Together a Quadrille Team                                  237 hits
Why I Don't Ride Horses with Blue Eyes                        222 hits
Tenacity                                                                            154 hits

These are my top visiting countries:
United States
United Kingdom
New Zealand

Top Referring Sites:
Chronicle of the Horse

Top Search Keywords:
tom mulqueen
pony girl dressage
dressage blog
horses with blue eyes
am I to heavy for my horse
blue horse eyes
dressage horse heavy hands
quadrille riding patterns
dressage blogs

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Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Achieving Relaxation when Attending Clinics and Shows - Clinic with Jaralyn Finn

I attended a clinic with Jaralyn Finn (sponsored by the Potomac Valley Dressage Association and the Charles County PVDA) a couple of weeks ago as a rider  but also took notes during the other lessons.  One of the riders had an 8 year old Oldenburg Cross who is fairly green.  

When they first entered the ring, the gelding was a bit tense and jumpy.  Jaralyn gave them some great pointers on how to achieve relaxation that ultimately worked and could be applied to horses at any level.    What is interesting is that many of the suggestions were the same ones she gave a rider earlier in the day who was riding at a much higher level which proves that good advice for riding is the same at all levels.   “Don’t ride into the tenseness or the horse is less likely to be confident.  You need to keep yourself neutral when he is hesitant.”
Other suggestions were:

  • Use bending circles to get rid of tension
  • Use the calm moments to go forward and ask for more bend
  • Where it is scary for him, use half halts and nothing with your legs
  • Don’t work hard when he is against you
  • Relax your legs when he is tense; allow the horse to carry you
  • When you get the neck stretchy and low his back will open up and he will be happy
  • Use the 1 2 3 system of aids (highlighted in a prior post) once you have him happy
Bottom line – “Go forward when the horse is calm and when spooking, be a calm rider – don’t overreact.”

It worked – horse and rider left their lesson smiling and relaxed!

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Sunday, August 25, 2013

Aaaack! Can I just chop my legs off?

So last week I thought Golly was lame due to a cut on his leg.    With a couple of days of rest though he is doing well.  I rode him Saturday and he was wonderful.  The lessons we learned at the clinic to try to get him lighter to the aids are working and he did two very nice canter circles.  I was feeling pretty good that we were finally on an upswing after my recovery from knee surgery.

Then today I was just getting ready to go to a picnic, turn to say something to my son and BANG!  a sharp pain shot me behind my left knee.    All day today I have not been able to put weight on it and I think I may have pulled a hamstring.  Very frustrating.

I have been going to physical therapy for my right leg (the un-operated one) for the last few weeks trying to keep it going for a year or two before I need surgery on that one as well.  Now the one that was hurting needs to be the strong one for the pulled hamstring one.

For the most part I try to keep a positive attitude about my physical limitations and try to deal with them but today I just wonder if I will ever have legs that do what I want and need them to do.  I know it could be worse and there are many people dealing with much more serious issues but tonight.... wah wah... I just want a pity party.

Tomorrow is another day though and hopefully with the ice I applied and some rest tonight, I will be able to walk and can keep heading down this road of recovery.

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Friday, August 23, 2013

1, 2, 3 GO - Clinic with Jaralyn Finn

Last Sunday I attended a clinic with Jaralyn Finn hosted by the Charles County Potomac Valley Dressage Association with my horse, Golly.

Golly has been under saddle for five years and we are attempting Intro C and are showing well at Intro B.    Moving off my leg without constant pressure and specifically canter departs have been a struggle for us.

After watching me continue to harass Golly with leg aids, Jaralyn stopped us to explain her “1, 2, 3” system.   “Your horse doesn’t want to work this way.  Think of it from his point of view.  He is thinking ‘Well I don’t LIKE her jabbing me in the sides with those spurs but she is pretty nice and she feeds me so I will put up with it.  She seems kind of upset so maybe I should slow down.  Well hey!  She jabbed me again… maybe she wants me to go faster.’ He would much prefer to just move along without the constant nagging.”  Jaralyn’s solution was one that I thought I had been using but her clarification and refinement of how I was using it gave us clear improvement.
Step One is the “Utopia aid” – just a gentle pressure on their side should move them forward.   She likened it to just brushing “the hair on their sides the wrong way”.  That is how she trains her horses to move off the leg aids.

Step Two is gradual escalation of the Utopia. When the leg aid from Step 1 doesn’t work, then you gradually escalate your aides until you get what you want, walk to trot, halt to walk, etc.
Photo by Dorothy Anderson
Step Three is the “wake up call” and it takes courage and some planning because you are going to give them a swift whomp with your leg or a tap with your whip and you have to be ready to go with them, not hold them back. Your body language has  to tell your horse they did a good job responding despite them potentially shooting forward or bucking.  Jaralyn explained that whenever you find yourself stuck in Step 2 (using more pressure than your “utopia” leg aid) you wait a few strides and then give them a #3 “wake up call” and really allow them to carry you forward. After the wake up call, you should take a few moments out of your ride and carefully repeat the process of all three steps. After two or three times, Jaralyn said most dull horses become sensitive and forward just from the Step 1.

Some version of this I have heard from my instructor, from articles and books and from other clinicians.  However, Jaralyn gave me some additional pointers I had not considered before and also pointed out very clearly that despite KNOWING this, I was not following what I knew.
The biggest pointer she gave is that I was escalating from Step One to Step Two to Step Three too quickly.   I wasn’t giving him time to process, learn and succeed so he saw the three steps of escalation as one big aid that he ultimately was failing to achieve.  The second pointer was that I needed to “leave him alone and keep my leg off” completely once I gave the aid.  Let him carry me.

Jaralyn summed it up with, “The trick with lazier horses is to incentivize them into moving forward. You need to get to a point where you don’t use your leg.”
We used her pointers a few days later in our ride and they continued to work.  I did realize that this is one of those situations where I need more training than my horse.   I ride tomorrow and I will be looking forward to seeing how much I can improve!

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Thursday, August 15, 2013

Moving My Horse Past Scary Objects

I attended a clinic on Sunday and while watching one of the lessons I learned something I applied today.  The rider was working on how to react to a spook during training.   The clinician, Jaralyn Finn, recommended that the rider go forward when the horse was calm and when spooking to be a calm rider, not overreacting.  Specifically, she recommended that when the horse is reacting to something scary to not use your legs and to use half halts to regain their focus.

Today I used a version of it and it worked great!

Usually after my training rides, I cool out Golly by walking him around the yard.  There are a few "scary" spots that he doesn't like to pass and I use the cooling out time to desensitize him to them and gain some confidence.  Typically when he was balking at going past something I kept his head turned toward the scary object and used some strong aids (kick or whip) to move him past the object.

Today I tried a different tactic and used some half halts and rein aids to keep his head going forward and used very little leg aid and no whip aids.   Eventually if he started backing up then I gave very light leg aids and the second he moved forward at all I released the aid back to neutral.  In addition, as we approached the scary object and I felt him start tensing, I just remained neutral and loose.

The difference was noticeable.  He was more relaxed and confident and was able to go past some scary objects that usually caused me to use the whip to get him past it and then him to jig in response.

I have some more notes from the clinic that I will post later.  It was a great clinic with all types of riders and horses so I have a lot of takeaways that I plan on using.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Guest Post -- Rescue Horse Update

This guest posting is by Denise Parsons who recently rescued a mare.  This is a great recap of the potential challenges, cost and reward of rescuing a horse from auction.   Thank you Denise for sharing your story.

Some of you may recall me posting about going up to Camelot in New Jersey to possibly pull a TWH mare. Thought I'd send an update on our discoveries, pictures are from today when we got home.

I ended up buying her, sight unseen other than photos - something I've NEVER considered doing. She had been sold to Camelot through New Holland. She had been at Camelot for two weeks the Friday I pulled her. She was slated to go back to New Holland on the following Monday - where her future would have been quite uncertain. She might have been lucky enough to find an owner at that point, but could have just as easily ended up slaughter-bound or at another auction in an unending circle of auctions. She was in very good
weight and relatively healthy so would have brought a decent meat price for sure. I've never done a "rescue" and never really had a desire to, but for some reason, I felt pulled to go grab this mare.

Well here we are 6 weeks later...

She's been in quarantine for the past 6 weeks. When I got her back to Maryland she had a slight cough and a mild runny nose - looked like a simple upper respiratory, so we put her on penicillin for a couple days. After about a week, the tell-tale swelling of the lymph nodes started to warn of something more sinister than a simple case of the snots. Sure enough, it was strangles. The good news - I had not brought her back to my place, and she was in quarantine, and all of my own horses had recently had a strangles booster. The bad news, poor decisions about putting her on penicillin early on caused a major delays in the eruption of the abscesses. Just this past week she finally blew what I hope is the last of the abscesses. And were still several weeks from a clean bill of health at best.

This poor mare has been through the ringer over the last couple months. All I know about her is that someone had cared enough about her appearance to clip her before sending her on her way. I don't know how she ended up at New Holland or where she had been before that. But here's what I have discovered:

1. The clipping that was done on her I've only ever seen done by TWH show people. It included clipping under the forelock, and I've never seen any other people do that other than the walking horse people.

2. She had a matt in her tail that I've only ever seen in a horse that has had the tail up in a tail bag for too long. It was a solid mass in the center about the size of a broom handle and I could barely get through it with a knife. No debris or anything in the middle of the matt, just solid tail hair.

3. Her stall manners are impeccable. When you enter the stall she politely retreats to the back - not out of fear, but being respectful.

4. She has been amazing for the vet and for the barn people. She was getting 20cc shot of penicillin 2x per day for 10 days - the shots were given without her even having a halter on!

5. She spent nearly 6 weeks in a stall and never got antsy, cranky or had any indication of being uptight or unruly in any way. You can actually leave the door open to the stall and she'll just stand there politely.

6. She doesn't seem to care for other horses, prefers to be left alone and gets very "marish" if they approach her stall, however has never flicked an ear in the wrong way with a human.

After 6 weeks, I finally made the decision to bring her home. I wasn't thrilled about the cleanliness of the quarantine barn (dark, dusty and damp) and felt like her recovery was being delayed by the circumstances. I have put up an electric fence to keep her away from any shared fence lines here at the house and there will be no shared water or food buckets. I will be sure to sanitize everything I touch and handle her last after dealing with the boys each day.

After being in a stall for nearly 6 weeks without stepping foot outside, she quietly walked to the trailer and loaded right up. She stood quietly in the trailer and rode quietly back home. I pulled her out of the trailer and I
tied her there while I got her grazing muzzle ready (my fields look like a golf course). I brushed her, sprayed her down with fly spray and then turned her out. I expected 6 weeks worth of pent up energy to come busting
out. She walked around trying to figure out the grazing muzzle, looked around at the field and took about thee gait strides and then proceeded to eat. She's totally ignored my other horses.

I've been really amazed by this horse every step of the way. I did have a chance to hop on her the first week I had her, and although I kept the ride very short, it was long enough to find out that she knows seat and leg aids and even neck reins - not common for a gaited horse! I'm going to give her another week or so and see how she's doing with any remaining abscesses then it's time to see what she can do under saddle. I have purchased a safety vest and always wear a helmet, I'm looking forward to seeing if this mare is as wonderful to ride as she is to work with on the ground.

Right now I'm considering myself quite lucky. However, I will say that rescuing a horse is NOT for the inexperienced or for someone that thinks they're going to get a horse "cheap". Not counting the bale money paid to the auction house, I spent $300 to have her hauled home, $550 in board for the quarantine barn and well over $1500 in vet bills and meds just to start. I also had to have her feet done and I still need to have her teeth done and shots done. This is on a horse that was in good weight and relatively good health when she came out of the auction yard. And I still don't know what I have for a riding horse. I knew all of this as a possibility going into it however, but I suspect a lot of people don't consider this when they walk into an auction. In today's market, I could have easily gone out and bought a very nice riding horse that I could have papers and a history on for less than I'll end up spending on this mare.

With that said though, I've had the opportunity to make a difference in this one horse's life. I'm hoping to find out what she can do under saddle and depending on what I find, I will get her placed in a great home where she will have the opportunity to have a job with a loving owner.

But if I were to offer an invaluable piece of advice - if you want to "rescue" a horse, please visit one of the reputable area rescues. They have done the hard part for you - pulled them from a dangerous situation, brought them back to health, temperament tested them, etc. It's certainly the safest way to "rescue" a horse. And every horse that gets a home through a rescue makes room for another one to come into the rescue from a dangerous situation.

-- Denise Parsons