Thursday, May 30, 2013

A come-to-Jesus episode

The other day, I was dabbing Swat on Echo's hip (he has a rub mark from his fly sheet), and he pinned his ears and stepped his butt toward me. I poked him in the flank, asking him to move over. Not only did he not move over, he leaned into me  and stepped almost on top of me. The message was clear: I could take my request for him to move over and shove it.

Let me be really, really frank here. I do NOT put up with disrespect from any of our horses. They are 1200 pound animals and I am very appreciative of how quickly they can move and how they can accidentally hurt me without trying. They know that what I say goes - I am Boss Mare. I expect them to move when I ask them to, proto. If I ask you to step your butt or shoulder over, you do it. If I ask you to back from the gate, you better move your butt. If I ask you to back off your food, then you are just gonna have to wait to eat until *I* say you can.

Of course, at the track, Echo never had to learn this, so we're starting the Boss Mare education from scratch. We've had a few sessions in the stall during feeding time where he tried to mow me down, but we quickly came to an agreement where he waits politely until I put the dish down and say he can have it. But this habit of pinning his ears and moving his butt into me - I needed to do something about it, STAT.

Enter "natural horsemanship." Let me preface this by saying I'm not a fan of any system with gimmicks and videos and horsenalities. However, I do agree with the main message behind this school of thought - your horse must respect you. Several years ago I audited a Clinton Anderson clinic, and there were a bunch of things I took away that I'd never seen before. The concept of ground work - having the horse yield his haunches, shoulder, be able to soften, back, walk politely next to you - was new. The horses I'd worked with up to that time had all been good equine citizens with nice ground manners, and while I was more than aware of the benefits of longeing, I'd really never used ground work to improve my horse's focus on me and respect for me. Shortly after the clinic, I worked with a Lipizzan mare with a biiig attitude, and boy did a few sessions work wonders. It's definitely not something I'd use with every horse (Cash, for example, would lose his poor little brain if I tried it with him, he's just too sensitive), but like every training method, there can be a time and a place for it.

Echo's time and place was this week. I've been using a rope halter on and off with him since he arrived - this instead of putting a chain over his nose. So I got that out, and a short bat (to enforce my requests in case he ignored them) and off we went.

At first, he categorically refused to move away from pressure, so I asked more forcefully until he took a tiny step away from me. Not gonna lie, I had to smack him with the bat to get a response. The next time, I didn't have to ask as hard. And today, after a week of 5-minute-a-day sessions, I can now sort of poke my finger in the air near his hip, and he steps away from me. Hooray!

But the real breakthrough came one session where he decided he didn't want to follow me as I was leading him through a gate. He's done this a few times while being led - stopped dead and refused to move. I can usually unstick his feet and have him move forward, but this time I decided we'd do some backing. We backed a few steps, and then I asked him to move forward. He refused again. We backed some more, and he decided that he preferred to back instead of moving forward. Well OK then - so we backed until he didn't want to back any more, and then we backed some more - right through the gate he didn't want to go through. We stopped on the other side of the gate, and he got this really funny look on his face, like "Waaaaait a minute... how did this happen!??!" He stood there, puffing a little (he'd backed himself halfway around the pasture and back) and I let him rest. Then we went through the gate half a dozen times, with nary a foot out of place or thought of hesitation on his part. We then went for a bit of a walk, and he followed politely at my shoulder, stopping with me, turning with me, backing when I did, all with only the lightest touch from me. He was so attentive and focused on what I wanted, instead of being off with the butterflies in Baby Racehorse land. It was really wonderful!

So now, we have daily sessions where we go through all the steps. He still has a hard time moving his shoulders, but he's getting it. Sometimes he needs a reminder poke instead of just a gentle touch to move his butt. But he's ever so much more polite to be around, and it's reflected in our under-saddle work too. He's moving away from leg pressure quite readily now, and is much more responsive. Definitely a win-win!

Don't believe a thing she says. I'm really an angel!

In fact, lest this post leave you thinking that things aren't going well, let me give you a bit of a hint as to what we've been doing under saddle: leg yields at the trot. Shoulder-fore. Relaxing the poll and jaw. Real dressage horse stuff! In fact, we have a jumping lesson on Saturday and a dressage lesson on Sunday, so I'm looking forward to a fabulous weekend of riding!

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Boring saddle pad? Here's how to dress it up!

I love gorgeous saddle pads. You know, the ones with double trim or plaid bindings or something special that makes you go "oooh!" when you see them? Yeah, those. Love them. But they're expensive, and I already have a bunch of perfectly serviceable (if boring) pads. What's a girl to do?

Enter a rainy day, the sewing machine, and my embarrassingly large collection collection of fabric scraps and trim. I had a hunter green AP pad and a chocolate brown dressage pad that wanted a little something more. So I started digging around to see what would work.

Love the gold brocade with the hunter green. The two types trim add a little extra flair, and will cover up the edges nicely.

This fabric scrap is leftover from the kitchen curtains in our old house. Time to use it up! 

To get started, cut out the triangle of fabric, then overcast the edges to keep them from fraying. I use the zigzag setting on my sewing machine - if you have a serger, that would work too.

Next, fold the long edge of the triangle over an stitch it to itself. Use matching thread to sew your trim over that, being sure to cover up your stitches. (Note that I've also sewn across the end of the trim to keep it from fraying.)

Lay out your triangle on your saddle pad. I lined up the left and bottom edge of the triangle with the left and bottom edge of the pad. This gave me plenty of fabric to turn under.

Here's the hardest part - you need to go around and turn the edges of the fabric under, pinning as you go. You'll top stitch this later.

Here's the final thing, all pinned down and ready to be sewn. Use as many pins as you need to hold the fabric in place and prevent it from wrinkling.

Here's what it looks like after it's been sewn down. 

Finally (not shown), stitch the thinner trim down all the way around. Tuck the edges under the point of the triangle on one side, to keep them from fraying.

The finished product. Way fancier than what we started with! 

I ended up using some plain gold fabric I had instead of the trim I had originally picked out, but I think this worked better.

If I were going to do this again, I would use an iron-on fusible interfacing to stiffen the fabric and make it easier to work with. The gold triangle got a little wiggly on the long side as I was sewing it down, and it's not the crisp, straight line I was hoping for. I would also be a little more careful in matching my thread colors - I didn't do too bad a job with what I had on hand, but having your thread be invisible means that any screw-ups aren't quite as noticeable (ahem).

The green pad took me significantly longer than the brown one, in part because I was still figuring out how to assemble everything. Sewing is half geometry, I swear! Anyway, I spent about 5 hours on both pads, but that included trying to find all my trim and fabric. It did NOT include cleaning out our hall closet, lol! 

I realize that this is not the best step-by-step tutorial ever. I just sort of got to sewing and forgot to take pictures! If anyone is interested in better instructions, I can do that in another post with another project. Just let me know!  

I've got another pad - made from scratch - in the works too. Pictures to come!

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Best. Dog Toy. EVAR.

What is YOUR dog's favorite toy? 

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Another first! Echo's first dressage lesson

After our first XC school on Saturday, we did our first real dressage ride with a new trainer on Sunday. I really enjoyed riding with JD - she's positive but provides excellent critiques, and made sure to reiterate our homework at the end of the ride. We'll see how the rides continue to go, but we certainly got off to a good start. Hooray!

I'd love to say that the ride was a smashing success and we're doing amazing things, but I'd be lying. We're still working on very basic things like steering and not falling in. This is hard with a horse who doesn't quite get leg cues all of the time! The ride was definitely a mixed bag of the good, the bad, and the ugly.

The good

We went to a dressage barn where Echo's never been. He unloaded nicely from the trailer and stood for grooming and tacking much better than he did on Saturday when we went XC schooling. Pawing was limited to him raising his RF, but a quick growl had him back with four on the floor. We longed briefly (he was very nice in the round pen) and went to the covered arena. He's been in a covered round pen before and was fine with the arena. The mirrors at one end were only mildly interesting (!?!?!!?) - the other horse didn't sniff him back so apparently wasn't worth his time. I was totally blown away by how nonchalant he was - what a good pony!

As the lesson progressed, a horse in the paddock closest to the arena lost his marbles and got the zoomies. He sprinted around for a good 10 minutes like a lunatic. Echo was distracted by him but never tried to do anything other than look - never sped up, never thought about bolting, just kept on keeping on. I swear, this horse has such an amazing brain!

We had some nice leg yield at the walk to the left - he was really starting to cross over and get the hang of things. We had some SUPER nice trot moments at the very end, where I really got to feel him come up over his back. OMG, I could ride that forever. And his canter... big, rolling, sooo amazing. I only got to feel it for a stride or two at a time, but now that I know what we're aiming for, I'm constantly trying for it!

The bad

I have no right leg aid. None. (This was obvious yesterday too with him heading to the right at every jump.) And if I did, Echo ignored it completely. It was to the point that when our (new) trainer, JD, poked him in the right side with the butt end of a whip, he moved TOWARDS her, leaning INTO the pressure instead of away. FAIL. 

The ugly

My riding was the ugliest thing of the day. I have video but I'm too embarrassed to show it. I'm heaving my butt out of the saddle at the trot, my hands are low and wide and I can't keep contact to save my life, and my leg is allll over the place, but mostly too far in front of me. Maybe I can get some longe lessons or something, because I sure am not doing Echo any favors at all riding like this. Ugh.

Echo only had one really ugly moment. At about the 40 minute mark he stopped dead and refused to move, despite me kicking his sides in. That's when I picked up a whip, and we went back to work again for a few more minutes and he was fine. This is the longest ride we've ever done in an arena, so I imagine that his baby racehorse brain was a bit taxed - hence the dead stop. It's understandable, but we worked through it and that was a good bridge to cross.

The very good :)

Our new trainer LOVED Echo. Loved his movement, loved his attitude, loved how hard he tried and how much we progressed in a single ride. She commented that she thought he could take me as far as I wanted to go. Woohoo!

We have another lesson in a week. In the meantime, my homework is to work him in-hand to get him moving away from pressure on both sides, plus lots of leg yields down the long side, and doing squares at the walk. I need to carrying a whip, and JD wants to see how Echo does with very small spurs. I'm also going to start longeing in side reins so that he can think about contact and relaxing into it - right now he just doesn't quite know what to do about it for more than a step or two.

Lots to work on - I'm so excited!

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Echo's first cross-country school

Today, Echo went cross-country schooling for the first time ever. Up till now, he's only jumped a few Xs and tiny verticals in the arena, so this was the first time he'd seen a solid fence in an open field. I was more than a little nervous about how it would go!

We schooled at the same place we ride with the hounds - the hunt owners have their own private cross-country course, and invited the hunt regulars out for a schooling day. It's a gorgeous facility with loads of jumping options. My plan for the day was to keep it simple, low-key, and positive. I wanted to try a few of the very smallest logs, go through the water a few times if he was having a good day, and stay on my horse. The last being the most important, naturally!

When we arrived and unloaded, Echo promptly forgot all of his manners that we've been working on since he came home. He pawed and bit his lead rope. He swung his butt around into me. He tried to walk on me. Oh well, more stuff to work on. I opted to longe him before getting on, and boy was that ever a good idea. He was very naughty to the right (his worst side), trying to stop and turn around. This is something we've mostly fixed at home, but of course in a new setting everything's a different story. We longed to the right, then left (he was an angel), then right again, which was much better the second go-round. He'd worked up quite a lather, so we went to the washrack for a quick hose-down. Then we headed off to join the rest of the riders, who had already done a nice warm-up loop around the property.

There were four horses in our group, including MC on Reddums (I suckered her into going along). We started off with a nice group trot around the XC field. Echo was STARING at the round bales, which resulted in some interesting lateral moves! Otherwise he trotted VERY nicely with the group, and never tried to barge ahead or anything. I rode him on a light contact and he was really quite a happy camper, other than the silly round bales. The jumps also required the old hairy eyeball, which was a bit of cause for concern. Fortunately it was all the BIG jumps that he looked at and not the tiny logs!

After our five-minute warm-up trot (GEEZ I am out of shape!!!), we started jumping. The first fence was a teeny, 9-inch log. Unfortunately, Echo didn't read the memo that he could actually jump such a thing, and sort of swerved out to the right while eyeballing the slightly larger fence to the left. I caught him before he could blow past it, and we came around again. The second time he lost speed in front of it, but we had a lead over it so he took it. We came around several more times and although we had some steering and forward issues, he went over it very nicely. I need to work on my right leg, that's for sure!

The second fence was a slightly larger log, and we again had issues with him trying to duck past it on the right - mostly because he was staring at the much larger fence on the left, which was a trakhener. He jumped it twice on the very right side of it (there were no flags), and then we had a horse stand on the right as a jump standard. After that he was fine over it.

The third fence was another log, this on with another fence on the right. I found it much easier to keep him straight over it, and we had a couple of lovely jumps. I also found my lady balls and tried cantering the fences, with fabulous results:

By that time, it was getting pretty hot, and we're both out of shape. Two of the other riders went off for a bit of canter work over larger fences, but MC and I opted to go down to the water for our last jump of the day. Red led the way in the first few goes, and then Echo was feeling bold enough to try it on his own. Turns out, he loves water! Not only did he trot through happily, but he also cantered through very nicely! We even cantered over a log on our way out the last few times, and he was really a star!

Through the water, over the log on the right. WE ROCKED IT!!!

Red was, shall we say, not as good in the water. I've never seen a horse go from trotting to rolling in the mud quite so fast. He just sort of dropped out from under MC as she was going through. Bad, BAD PONY! At least it was a soft (if somewhat squishy) landing, and everyone was fine, if a bit soggy. 

As a first-ever cross-country outing, I'd say it was a success! I think the first fences would have gone better had I ridden more forward, but we both definitely improved as we went on. Although he was looky, he held his shit together, and he was good in a group. Everyone commented on what a nice boy he was and how well he did - it's really nice to ride with such a supportive group, especially for our first outing. 

Hellooo? Future event star needs more carrots. 

Tomorrow we have a dressage lesson with a new trainer, so hopefully that works out well. I apparently need to find my right leg aid - it would have been handy today, that's for sure! So excited!

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Confessions of a supplement addict

A year ago, if you'd asked me if I feed supplements, I'd've scoffed. With a barn full of relatively easy keepers, and one horse who was ultra-sensitve to sugar, what need did I have of supplements? I fed (and still do) a high-quality ration balancer for the hoovers, and a low-starch Senior feed for the others. Add in good-quality grass hay and free-choice salt (both loose and block-style) and there was no need to send SmartPak a large chunk of my paycheck every month. I did use a hoof supplement for Saga (Bioflax 20), but only after trying every other trick in the book to help him grow more sole.

Then I got Echo, and now food prep time has turned into a bad episode of Iron Chef.

Echo is your typical high-maintenance TB. He's got two related issues: he's rather on the thin side, and he very likely has ulcers.

When he arrived, you could see every rib in his body, despite being fed vast quantities of Senior feed and good hay at Adopted Horse Parent's farm. My goal in life became cramming more calories in, but Echo has a problem with this - he doesn't actually like to eat. Sure, he'll eat his grain, but hay is iffy. He'll eat it for a while, but then there are other things to do, like annoy Cash. Or stare off into space. Or watch the donkeys. Or the deer. Or the butterflies. And it doesn't matter what type of hay I give him either - alfalfa, T/A mix, and I've tried three different Coastal hay suppliers. He eats for a bit, and then he's just not into it. Cash helps some, in that Echo often eats when Cash does, but it's not enough. I feel like someone's Jewish grandmother, going "Eat, Liebschen, EAT!" every time I see Echo.

At the advice of my vet, I moved Echo from Senior feed to a Complete feed when he arrived, which has about 100 calories more per pound (roughly 1200 more calories/day for the same weight of feed). Unfortunately, it also has almost 2x as much NSCs, which is not good for his feet. In fact, he's been a little footsore of late, despite that nasty chunk of his hoof being almost grown out. If he's sensitive to sugar like Saga was, the feed could be contributing to him being footsore (it's also possible that the grass is contributing, but they are all limited to 2 hours per day of grazing, so that shouldn't be much of an issue). So we're switching him back to Senior (again on the advice of the vet, TC, and my farrier). But then we have to make up the calories somehow...

There are lots of ways you can do this. I've spent too much time researching options, and here's what I found and why I feed what I do:
  • Rice bran - Lots of calories, but also high in NSCs (25-30%). I used to use it, and it works, but because of the NSCs I now stay away from it.
  • Corn oil - Cheap, but extremely high Omega 6/Omega 3 ratio. Omega 6 causes joint inflammation and other issues, so you want to get as close to 1/1 as possible. Corn oil is like 46:1... YIKES!
  • Cocosoya or soybean oil - I've heard really good things about cocosoya, and I know some blog readers have used it with excellent results. However, some horses are sensitive to soy (Saga was one) so I try not to feed it.  Good Omega 6:3 ratio, though, about 8:1, and readily available.
  • Cool Calories or another weight builder supplement - The Smartpak reviews for these sorts of supplements are good, but check out the ingredients list. Partially hydrogenated vegetable fat is usually the #1 ingredient. We know that hydrogenated fat isn't good for us, why feed it to our horses? Besides, if it's really just a hydrogenated vegetable oil, I'd rather simply feed some sort of  oil. Rice bran is another popular ingredient.
I'm running out of options here, aren't I? Making horses fat is haaard! So here's what Echo DOES get to help him gain weight:
  • Olive oil - Decent Omega 6/3 ratio (10:1). No NSCs. Roughly 1000 calories per cup. Horses do not seem to have a sensitivity to it like they do to soy. It's expensive compared to the other oils, so it's a good thing I can buy in bulk from Costco! Anyway, Echo gets 1/2 cup 2x/day.
  • Ground flax - LOADS of Omega 3s, about 900 calories per cup. This stuff comes highly recommended not only for helping with weight, but clearing up skin conditions, putting on a good shine, and helping grow a better hoof. There's some argument as to whether it needs to be ground to feed it or if it can be fed whole - either one seems to be OK, but the ground stuff goes rancid quickly. I just started feeding it ground, and am grinding it myself in small batches and storing it in the fridge (I may switch to a stabilized version in the future). We're working up to 1/2 cup 2x/day for both Echo and Cash, who has been having trouble shedding out this spring. 
I get the people-grade version of this stuff in my breakfast cereal. Nomnomnom.

In addition to getting Senior and all the hay they can eat, Cash and Echo also get about 4 lbs of soaked, rinsed beet pulp each, 2x/day. Cash finds this easier to chew than hay, and Echo is more intent on finishing it than hay. Whatever it takes, right?

Of course, pouring all this feed into Echo won't do any good if he's got digestive issues. I have not had him scoped, but he shows some classic symptoms of ulcers. When I first got him, he would not let me groom or touch his belly, especially on the off side. He pawed constantly. He pinned his ears and nipped while being girthed. He wouldn't finish his feed. He was lethargic under saddle. And of course, despite all the food he was getting, he wasn't putting on any weight. I discussed these symptoms with my vet, and she suggested  trying some (relatively inexpensive) things to see if he improves, and he has. So to help with digestion, he gets:

  • 1/2 cup aloe vera juice 2x/day
If you add a splash of lime juice to a cup of this, do you think it would make a margarita? Oh wait, that's AGAVE juice. Oops.
  • 2 magnesium tablets 2x/day (same stuff people take for heartburn, lol!)
Now in the barn aisle as well as the health-food aisle.
  • 3 packs of Omnezaprole ("blue pop rocks", same stuff as Ulcerguard but much less expensive) 1x/day (this is only for a month)
Blue pop rocks!

I am happy to say that today, I can groom him all over and he is comfortable. The pawing has stopped entirely. Being saddled and girthed is almost a non-event (he's even mostly stopped biting his lead rope). He eats his grain in good time, has much more energy under saddle, and I can only see about 4 of his ribs now. So all this stuff seems to be working - THANK GOODNESS!
He also currently gets SmartPak's Bug Off supplement, since the flies annoy him terribly despite his impressive anti-bug wardrobe. Unfortunately, it doesn't seem to be helping him, and it smells AWFUL (actually makes me gag, and I have a strong stomach!) so I will be discontinuing that when I run out.

I can't even tell you how vile this stuff smells. Echo eats it though, go figure!

For his delicate little thin-soled flat feetsies, he gets Bioflax 20. This stuff helped Saga grow almost 10 mm of sole depth in about 9 months, so I'm hoping it will work for Echo too.  And once a month, everyone gets a psyllium supplement to clear out any sand that has taken up residence in their guts.

So... come clean, y'all. Please tell me someone out there is a crazed supplement addict like myself?

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Watch out for falling coconuts :)

My apologies for the prolonged blog silence. Hubby and I just got back from a week in the Yucatan, where we had no phone and no Internet access. Terrible, I tell you, just awful.

Yes, it really does look like this. How we suffered. 

We flew into Cancun, but since Cancun is such a high-rise tourist trap these days, we actually stayed  about 3 hours south of the city at a small, private B&B right on the water. In theory, we were going to spend a relaxing week laying on the beach. In reality, hubby and I got bored after one day, plus I was having to bathe in sunscreen to keep from frying. So instead of laying around, we actually got in a lot of sightseeing. It was awesome!

One of the first places we visited was the 12-story Mayan ruin at Coba. At it's height around 1000, Coba was home to over 55,000 people. 

Here's me at the top of the pyramid.

Coba has an impressive intact "pok-tu-pok" court. This game was played with a resin ball, and teams were of 3-7 players. Use of hands, feet and head was not allowed, and the goal was to get the ball through the stone hoop. The captain of the winning team was sacrificed to the gods. Gulp.

Coba had lots of impressive termite nests in trees. In Mexico, termites build their nests off the ground because there are ground-dwelling anteaters. Hubby and I are considering getting a pet anteater to take care of the fire ants we have.

Next up was the ruins at Tulum. This was a lighthouse that served to show ships the passage through the surrounding reef.

It was also home to a lot of Very Large Iguanas. This one kindly informed us that he was not moving off the path, and we could go around him. Thank you very much.

Part of the palace structure in Tulum.

Hubby and I.

No vacation is complete without a lot of eating and drinking. Here we're halfway through a plate of cerviche, which is shrimp and fish marinated in lime juice. You sort of scoop it up onto a tortilla and off you go. The margarita is a must-have side dish.

The ruins at Xcalak (prounounced sha-ca-lack). It's a very different style of construction than the ruins at Coba.

Our final stop was the ruins at Chaccoben. Another style completely, although still keeping with the same basic pyramid theme.

A huge grove of palms hides the ruins at Chaccoben. It was very eerie walking through the palm forest looking at 2000 year old buildings.

Did I mention that we did a lot of eating? Here's hubby with a guanabana popsicle (tastes a little like strawberry-banana-kiwi, but it's a funny-looking spiny green fruit). They basically take crushed fruit, pour it into a popsicle mold, and there you go! So refreshing.

As for the falling coconuts reference, it's apparently a very real threat in Mexico. They can cause serious head injuries!

Thursday, May 2, 2013

May is the new December!

Yet another late winter storm is sweeping its way across the country. I know lots of folks have snow and truly nasty weather, which fortunately we are avoiding. However, tonight we've got wind gusts up to 50 knots, and we're setting new record low temps for our part of the world. Um, yay?

Put another log on the fire!

Since it's been in the upper 80s for the last month, the boys have completely shed out their winter costs. I washed all the winter blankets several weeks ago and put them away. Tonight, I pulled everything back out of storage and rugged everyone up.

Seriously, mom? This rug is SO out of season.

With the gusty wind, blanketing was more challenging than usual. Echo had the grace to spook at his blanket (which he's worn several dozen times) AFTER I put it on him. Doofus. I'm really glad I cancelled my lesson tonight! And of course, everyone's been running around like complete loonies.

Loonies, I tell you.

Total loonies.

I hope everyone's staying warm and toasty tonight!