Monday, June 18, 2018

Mutual grooming - any Haflinger will do!

Taran LOVES to be groomed. He always seems to be super itchy, especially under his mane. It's not from bug bites (don't hate me, but we have hardly any bugs here), and it doesn't seem to be from dry skin (flax and flax oil don't help) or allergies (he's itchy year-round and anti-allergy/microbial shampoos don't help), he's just ITCHY. And if there's not a handy human with a curry around, or a nice scratchy tree to be found, Taran recruits a Haflinger.

Paddy is generally his favorite groomer, I think because they've known each other the longest. They'll stand shoulder-to-shoulder and go after all sorts of spots, generally for 15-20 minutes (unless I disturb them with my annoying picture-taking).

Geez, lady, we're busy here.

Griffy will also do if Paddy's busy. I've watched T push Griffy off the hay and then shove himself in front of Griffy's face, pretty much demanding to be groomed. T will sometimes nip Griffy on the leg - apparently he doesn't always do it right? - and then they'll switch sides or Griffy will groom a new spot. T is very clearly in charge of those interactions.

You must groom me now.

Right there is good.

Recently, we've been horse-sitting a spare Haffie, named Art. T and Art literally gave each other one "Hi My Name Is" sniff over a gate, and then started grooming. Geez, T, way to make an impression. Since then, they'll go at it any chance they get.

No T, we cannot keep this one even if he's an excellent grooming buddy.

I did a little digging about mutual grooming, but there doesn't seem to be a lot of scientific research out there. Apparently horses that groom each other are generally close in herd status, and do it to cement herd bonds. According to Kimura's (1998) study of free-ranging horses, aggressive-submissive behavior (i.e. T nipping Griffy) can sometimes be seen and used to determine herd status. However, mutual grooming is based on the bonds between individuals, not social rank. This is interesting because I've never EVER seen Reddums engage in grooming with anyone, even T, and Reddums has always been kind of a loner.

Sigurjonsdottir et al (2003) found that in a mixed herd without a stallion, rank was significantly correlated with age, which is true in our herd (but hasn't always been). Christensen et al (2002) found that young stallions who were boxed alone for 9 months tended to significantly increase the level of mutual grooming and play behavior when returned to a herd. The authors suggested this was a "rebound effect", and may be what I'm seeing with Taran since he was not turned out with other horses when at the trainer's.

I'll scratch your butt, you scratch mine.

What amazes me most about these grooming sessions is that somehow each horse knows where the other one wants to be groomed. There has apparently been some study of facial expressions to see if it's possible to determine how they communicate this, but so far nothing conclusive.

Has anyone studied why horses lick other horses? Because someone probably should, and I volunteer T as the number one subject of study.

Does your horse have a grooming buddy, or more than one? Do they try to groom you, or ask you to spend extra time on certain itchy spots when you're grooming?

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Cantering for days

At some point in the last year, most of my rides transitioned from walk/trot with some canter thrown in, to mostly canter with a little trot and a lot of walk breaks. I’m not entirely sure when that happened, but all of the sudden canter became something I was confident about - and of course, all the tough stuff we’re working on right now is at the canter. 

Our trot warm-up is pretty quick these days. Some walk-trot-halt-trot transitions to get him quick off my leg and a little more up in front, then some shallow leg yields to get him moving his body and stepping up. I’ve found that cantering earlier in the warmup is better for loosening his back, so we do a few 20 meter canter circles each direction. After a little walk break, we might do some shoulder in and haunches in at the trot, a couple of 8-10 meter voltes, and maybe a few trot half-passes, mostly so I can work on setting him up correctly in the corner. If I don’t set it up right, I just end up getting in T’s way, but if I’m correct with bend and balanced, he can almost do the Grand Prix trot half-pass. And then… the rest of our ride is canter work. 

Sometimes my horse only has three legs, which explains a lot.

And there is SO MUCH to work on. I am endlessly trying to polish our walk-canter transitions, because while T is great at them, I inevitably forget some body part of mine and then it takes me two strides to reorganize. I do a lot of canter-walk-canter-walk-canter transitions on the quarter line, focusing on straightness and prompt transitions (spoiler alert, this shit is hard and we look drunk, I hate mirrors because they don’t lie). We spend a lot of time trying to improve the jump and quality of the canter, doing things like renvers, leg yield, spiral in and out, to help his strength and ability to sit. 

And there is definitely more sit!

Then there’s stuff like canter squares, where I turn his shoulders for two strides in each corner. When I get it right, I can really feel him balance back and his shoulders get super light and it's so easy for him... and when I don't, I'm basically hauling him around the turn.

Our problems have a lot to do with me still not actually keeping my butt in the saddle for all three beats of the canter, but I'm getting better.

We work on cantering on the spot (ish, very ish), lots of forward-and-back… there are an endless number of exercises to use. I find it mentally challenging to process what’s happing under me and choosing the right exercise to improve it when I’m on my own – in lessons I can be more of a puppet and rely on my trainer to help me figure it out. 

Like here I have lost his shoulders to the outside and I'm bending him too much with the inside rein. I need a more solid outside rein and a titch of outside thigh to ask his shoulders to stand up under his body. 

And of course, working on the changes. That’s another post in of itself, because we’re both working on the change and working on NOT changing… which seems to be just as challenging! But we’re making progress, and for a sixteen year old horse that just started learning changes in January, it's pretty awesome.

Not a change, but you can see that his inside hind is on the ground and the outside front is still in motion... a year ago he was landing outside front first. The canter CAN be improved, but it takes time! 

Oddly enough, I don’t spend a lot of time working on medium or extended gaits any more. When I do, it’s more of a check to make sure he remembers how to do them. It seems that because we’ve been working so much on carrying and pushing power, when I actually ask for a medium gait, he’s up in his shoulders and absolutely pushing me out of the saddle from behind. I just have to keep my leg on, help him with balance if he needs it, and otherwise stay out of his way (hahahaohmygodthisissohard). It is incredibly cool to see how much his medium gaits have improved - not because we've been explicitly working on medium gaits, but because he’s gotten so much stronger.

How much of your ride do you spend at each gait?

Monday, June 11, 2018

When in Mexico, never trust a Dutchman who knows a “scenic shortcut”

This weekend, I joined the husband on a geological field trip down in Mexico. For the past 10 years or so, he’s been studying the Chicxulub impact crater - the one that killed the dinosaurs 66.0 million years ago (he made me write the “point zero” when he reviewed this). He and a number of colleagues, including a Dutchman who wrote one of the original papers on the crater, were planning to collect rock samples at several sites in the Yucatan for additional analysis. My goal was to tag along with the scientists while eating as much ceviche and drinking as many margaritas as I could, and pretend to understand when they talked about accretionary lapilli and megabreccia and whatever other rock terms they use.

The first day was pretty cool – we went to three different outcrops (ok they were road cuts) and gathered samples. I helped by asking dumb questions about rocks that were different colors. The second day we swam in a crystal-clear lagoon with stromatolites (big rock-looking things that are actually made from some of the oldest life forms on earth) and drove to Palenque, which is a huge Mayan city-ruin. The third day, we toured the city (wow, 1800+ buildings with 8000 residents at its peak), and then we headed to the last outcrop. And that’s when the fun began.


Burial chamber at Palenque

View of the city from the top of the observation tower

As our little caravan of three rental cars turned off the somewhat questionable (yet perfectly serviceable) paved road onto a dirt road, I remarked to the hubs that perhaps our fearless Dutch leader knew a shortcut. Fifteen minutes later, we began to wonder if perhaps we’d agreed too hastily when he had casually mentioned that the shortcut he knew was “paved,” because we hadn’t seen a scrap of pavement yet. 

And then we got to the first “bridge”.

This is not actually the first bridge, this bridge is much nicer. There aren't any pictures of the first bridge because I had my hands over my eyes, but imagine this bridge with no railings and half as wide. You're welcome. 

Sure, let's just cross a stream here

The guys on the right are riding horses, which is totally a legit mode of transportation

Look how NICE and SAFE this bridge looks (in comparison to the first one)

Look! A tiny bit of pavement! We were super excited to see this.

We also drove through a jungle

In the .02 seconds that hubby wasn't desperately gripping the steering wheel, we did have some nice views. And then we hit a car-sized pothole.

That's a goat

I'm sure there's plenty of room here (like a whole inch). The passenger in the car in front of us opened the door to make sure they weren't about to drive off the 8' cliff on the right. Eeek.

In comparison this is practically a two-lane highway.

OMG we've never been so glad to see pavement in our lives.

Two solid hours of dodging car-sized potholes, axle-breaking potholes, loose rocks, scraping the undercarriage, really wishing we'd had a Jeep Wrangler, and hanging on for dear life while going 20 kmph, and we made it back to pavement. Another 30 minutes' driving took us to the nearest town (which is not on any of the maps we had), where we got lunch that sadly didn't include a beer. Then it was a further hour's drive to the outcrop, where we all piled out, climbed a bunch of rocks, and chipped a bunch of chunks to take back.

Um, rocks? But really important ones. 

Apparently they are more interesting under a hand lens.

Anyway, we survived our expedition, even after navi-guessing back to the main road since we had no cell service and GPS was sketchy (definitely Type 2 fun omg never again thx). On the bright side, I ate really good ceviche every night, and drank a whole lot of margaritas. Hubby got his samples, so I'd call it a success! 

OMG so much ceviche...

Our poor rental Jetta though... I'm pretty sure it needs therapy and is never going to want to leave the parking lot again. 

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Caring for a show horse with PPID (Cushings)

T was diagnosed with Cushings (PPID) in October 2017. He had an ACTH level of 987, and the high end of normal is 110.

We immediately put him on Prascend, and in the last six months have since seen several dramatic changes. He went from being a lethargic horse to being much more energetic, often being rather exuberant at the trot and spooking for fun (which I’m glad about, because it means he’s feeling good). Whereas I struggled to keep weight on him all last year and some of 2016, this spring he’s gotten quite plump. His topline has filled back in, and he’s muscled appropriately for an almost-third-level dressage pony.

Even fancy fat ponies still love to get dirty

But… but. He struggles with regulating his temperature. He gets cold really, really easily. When I was at Nationals in November, I bought him a 400 gram fill blanket with a hood. I joked that I’d never use it… but it got used a LOT this winter, despite not having a particularly cold winter. He’d start shivering when the temps were in the 60s if there was a breeze and it wasn’t sunny. He now owns a very versatile wardrobe for weather conditions 70 degrees F and under.

I was hoping that we’d get a break this summer, but it’s actually worse – he’s started to overheat incredibly easily even though he’s getting body clipped regularly. He still sweats, but not as much as he used to, and even though he’s fit, trotting for 5 minutes has him breathing heavily. We’ve started doing a lot of walk work – mostly laterals – to work on suppleness and strength without doing him in. I’ve also started riding him before work, since it’s coolest then and sometimes we even have a bit of a breeze. We’re keeping our rides short and sweet, trying to make the work really count because I know I don’t have a lot of time to get it done.

At least our walk laterals are getting better. Imagine how good they'd be if I would STOP LEANING OMFG.

The heat sensitivity is also affecting our travel plans. We recently hauled to our usual clinic, a two-hour trailer ride. It was about 95 out, and by the time we arrived at the, he was colicking due to dehydration. Some banamine fixed him up, but by the next day symptoms returned and he ended up with an overnight at the vet’s for fluids. He’s fine now, but it’s clear that I’m going to have to limit our travel distance and make sure we only travel during the coolest part of the day. Since I have to haul to lessons, this means that lessons can only happen in early mornings, which means weekends. It also means that showing during the summer, and much of the fall, is off the table. 

Sometimes we just go for really long walks to improve fitness.

To attempt to address the dehydration issue, T is now on electrolytes. He’s always had free choice loose salt and a salt block, because I’m of the opinion that I’d rather let the horse self-regulate than force him to eat something he doesn’t need. I know the haffies use the lick, but I’ve never seen T try it. Anyway, do you know how hard it is to find electrolytes with no sugar? Because dextrose is the first ingredient in nearly every type of elytes… and guess what, PPID horses shouldn’t have sugar. The only option I could find was Summer Games, which was developed by several vets for the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta. It does have dextrose, but it’s the fifth ingredient, which is the best I could find. So far he’s actually eating them, which in of itself is a miracle. 

Magic stuff I hope

Because that’s another part of PPID… lack of appetite. We struggled with that before the Prascend, and it’s still an issue. He now refuses to eat the awesome flax-based Platinum Performance that he used to love  – he won’t touch it no matter what I mix it with. Right now, Triple Crown Lite (for vitamins), Renew Gold (for fat), and some soaked, rinsed beet pulp (for supps to stick to) is his mixture of choice. He’s quit eating carrots because I stuffed his Prascend pills in them (because I’m a horrible person, apparently), so now we have to dissolve the pills in water and pour it over the beet pulp. He’s also now on a vitamin E supplement to hopefully help his immune system, since PPID horses have a depressed immune response. Plus, since ulcers have been a thing, he’s trying GUT.  At some point I’ll see if he likes beer, because that’s good for anhidrosis and keeping weight on. If I can get him to eat the supplements without BP, I might take him off that, because there is some anecdotal evidence that BP may contribute to anhidrosis. At this point, I’ll try anything. In the meantime, I need a full kitchen in my tack room so I can prepare the right mix of All The Things.

T is unconcerned with my attempts to get him to eat, as long as he has his haffies to groom.

(Does anyone else try their horse’s supplements to see what they taste like, or is it just me? SG has a very mild flavor and no smell, so I think it’s well-masked by the other stuff in his feed. The vitamin E supplement also has a very mild flavor. GUT, however, has a strong sweet smell and a weird taste, so we may not be able to stick with that. Time will tell.)

Sooo… anybody else out there have secrets to share on keeping their PPID horse fit and healthy? I’ll take all the tips I can get!

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Do horses remember each other?

Taran came home from my trainer's on Monday night - he's been gone for 4 months. On one hand, I really missed him, but on the other hand, he now has at least the beginning of the skills we need for 3rd level and hopefully beyond, and I'm really excited about that.

Not sure which level movement this is but at least he's light on his forehand?

I managed to make the 5 hour round trip drive to visit T once or twice a week, and every time I was there I noticed that he seemed kind of despondent. Barn staff assured me that he loved it there - out 12 hours a day in his own private grassy pasture, and he seemed to have become friends with one of his stall neighbors.

Taran and Paddy

But he wasn't eating very well, which is usually a sign that he's stressed. I always fussed with him and stuffed him with cookies when I visited, but still - it's not the same as seeing him multiple times per day, rubbing his face just the way he likes, or doing a late-night curry session to get all the itchy spots. I missed him a lot while he was gone, and I felt guilty for leaving him there for so long.

Reunion grooming with Griffy (sorry, it was dark, but you can see the ear shadows)

I'm not the only one who missed him. Our little herd's dynamics shifted while he was gone. The Haffies are not the best of friends to begin with, and Paddy got more and more snippy with Griffy as time went on. T always instigated grooming sessions, but with him gone, nobody groomed anybody else. Since T wasn't there to play with, Griffy tried to get Reddums to play bitey-face, and that went about as poorly as one might expect. I would tell them that T was coming back, but even so, a missing herd-mate was clearly a problem.

Taran, Reddums (you can see his star in the background), and Paddy

Then Monday night after picking T up and driving him home, I was backing the trailer into the driveway when Taran called out. Immediately there were three answering calls from the barn. The talking continued as I parked and unloaded him. When we walked into the barn, Reddums, Paddy, and Griffy were all lined up at the gate, craning their necks in their excitemen. T pulled the lead rope out of my hands, and the four of them began touching noses and sniffing each other over the gate almost desperately.  It reminded me of long-lost relatives meeting each other at the airport, hugging and laughing and crying all at once. At one point Griffy was licking T while Reddums sniffed noses and Paddy was nibbling his neck.

Reddums supervises the showing off

I finally managed to get the gate open and let T out, and the reunion continued. Paddy and T groomed for a few minutes, then T switched to grooming Griffy. Reddums stood by as sentinel, then ushered T over to get a drink and supervised while he rolled. And then they all went off as a group to ... do some kind of horsey thing. It was dark and late, so I left them with their reunion. Since then, everyone seems more relaxed - T is eating great, Paddy and Griffy have reached detente (mostly), and Reddums is benevolently dictating once more. Life is back to normal.

The new normal maybe? Eeek.

Have you ever had horses be reunited after months or years? Were they pasture-mates or did they have a more casual acquaintance, like stall neighbors? Did they remember each other? What did they do when they were reunited?

Running for the sheer joy of it (the rest of the herd is slower and somewhere out of the pic)

Monday, April 30, 2018

The new jousting horse in town

This year has been a bit of a challenge for my husband in the jousting arena.

Plz select your jousting haffie

Long-time readers will remember that Paddy, who is a jousting savant, has been struggling on and off for several years with a likely DDFT injury to his right front. Earlier this year, he injured himself AGAIN playing out in the pasture, and we had the vet out AGAIN. This time, she recommended we simply retire him. If he's hurting himself being a horse, there's just not much we can do about it. I refuse to keep him locked in a stall for the rest of his life, and we've rehabbed so many times just to have him damage it again.

So. No more jousting for Paddington.

Which is a damn shame, because he is really good at it

Which left Griffy.

To be fair, we bought Griffy as a second jousting horse. But when we got him home, it became pretty apparent that he might never joust. You need a horse that has a certain self-confidence to joust or do mounted combat, because they have to be willing to go up against another horse with a can-do attitude.

Things Griffy is good at include being petted by his adoring fans

Griffy doesn't have that. He's the lowest in pecking order in our small herd. He wants to snuggle with humans, and gets all of his confidence from his rider - he absolutely lives for you to tell him "good boy!" during your rides. He's super sensitive to changes in weight, your seat, noises, movement... basically, everything you *don't* want in a jousting horse. We'd even talked about selling him as a dressage horse after his success at his first show, and looking for a horse that would be more suitable for jousting instead.

No scary armor and nobody's trying to hit your rider in dressage

But. Husband and I both love him, and he's SUPER fun to ride. We are both learning a lot from him and don't want to give him up. Plus, he was our only option so we had to try.

Also it's really hard to beat this hair

We took things super slow, and went through more treats than I can count. I spent more than a week doing nothing more than walking up and down the jousting lane, stopping at the ends and hanging out, quite literally texting on my phone while we stood there. We practiced slow trots and canters in the lane. We practiced stopping. We added a lance, and one piece of armor at a time. Every ride, we pretended like we were starting from 0, with no expectations. We went to every practice we could, and kept everything slow, methodical, and positive.

Family portrait

And this weekend, at our annual Lysts on the Lake joust, Griffy took my husband to the finals.



Did I mention that he's the smallest horse out there?

Perfect stop at the end, and I hand over the cookies :D

He stood at the beginning of the lane better than any other horse there, and he always stopped at the end (granted, I was there with cookies). There were a couple of really big hits, one of which nearly unseated my husband, and Griffy kept doing his job even though you could tell he was a bit rattled. We always made a huge fuss of him at the end of the lane, telling him what a good boy he was, there were some runs where my husband was even telling he was good during the run. The other jousters were joking that his motto needed to be "Who's a good boy!"


Reddums the Feerless War Pony also came back out for the occasion. We retired him about four years ago, and he's been doing great since then, but this winter he started really losing his topline and looking his age. I decided to start riding him a bit (literally 10 minutes of walk and 2-3 minutes of trot a few times a week) and he really muscled back up and seemed to be enjoying the attention - or maybe it was the cookies? Hubby got on him a few times and did a little sword work, and Red thought that was pretty much the best thing ever, so they started ramping up their routine a bit, still keeping it light in deference of Red's age. Originally Hubby had planned to only do the joust on Griffy, but Red seemed fit enough for the skill at arms and mounted combat melee, which is Red's favorite. Even at 25, they came in second place out of a fairly large field. Little guy still has it in him!

Professional Attack War Pony

All in all, it was a great weekend, and I'm super proud of both my husband and Griffy for sticking with it, doing what the horse needed, and making it work. Griffy might not be the bravest, but he's the best. :)