Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Taran's opinion of my cr@ppy riding

Taran is usually the most reliable of horses (note: this includes reliably spooking at random things). He does what's asked, mostly without protest. Sure, sometime he doesn't put 110% effort in, and you do have to manufacture a lot of energy, but he's generally an amicable fellow.

I mean, this is OK

Until now. Now, at 16, he's learned lead changes. Granted, they are still green, but he understands the concept and he knows the aids for them. He *also* knows that I might ask for a change at any time in the canter, and since he generally tries to please his rider, he's trying to figure out when I'm asking for a change and when I'm not.

T: You're doing something weird with your body so I'll try something weird too

The problem, according to T, is that sometimes it's impossible to tell if I'm asking for a lead change or merely sitting there awkwardly in a way that maaaaybe could be interpreted as asking for a lead change, if you're an overachiever and trying to figure out what your rider wants. Let's be honest - until recently, I've asked for a canter lead and then sort of let my legs do their own thing until further notice. I'm particularly bad about letting my outside leg hang like a dead fish while pulling on the inside rein too much, overbending his neck. But I had to fix that habit when we started doing the 20 m counter-canter serpentine in 2-3, because you really have to make it clear that you want your horse to keep the lead in the cc.

He's sitting so well and looks so fanc...

....errrr, never mind.

Of course, T didn't know about flying changes back then, so at worst I'd pull too much and get him overbent and a bit stuck, and he'd fall behind my leg and trot. But now... now, all those contortions I did or did not do with my body have a whole new meaning, and any one of them might mean I want him to change leads.

For example, I'm a pro at overbending T to the left, and letting his shoulders fall to the outside. What I need to do is use more right rein and push his shoulders a titch left, so that he stands up and is straight. But if I don't commit with my outside rein, it's ever so easy for him to pop his shoulder and toss in a change, or at least try to fake one.

Over bent with the shoulder out. Or maybe I'm doing this on purpose because I want him to change leads, who knows? 

I've also managed to break our left lead canter depart. If I get him straight on the right rein at the walk, and then ask for the canter, my left hip tends to roll forward instead of back... which moves my right hip back and presto, that's a right canter lead. Same problem in the canter... if I allow my left hip to get forward, my left canter aids are no longer clear, and he's suddenly questioning my riding ability and bouncing around in preparation for a change.

Boink boink boink

And heaven help me if I accidentally take my butt out of the saddle. I struggle to sit all three beats of the canter sometimes, and even just one beat out of the saddle and he can drop behind my leg and start bouncing. This is especially bad because I'm still in the stage of over-preparing for the change, so I tend to get him a bit too slow and up-and-down, which makes it hard to stay in the saddle. It's all connected, I tell you.


So, moral of the story. If your horse knows how to change, you'd better make DAMN sure you've got your leg, seat bones, reins, and other body parts all in their proper places at all times, because if you don't and your horse judges your riding like mine does, you too could be doing this doinkadoink maneuver pretty much anywhere. It just goes to show that all those "basics" like straightness and connection and rhythm and forward off the leg never, ever leave you. They just keep getting refined to the Nth degree so that you can perform progressively more challenging movements.

If you've done flying changes, what did you find to be the hardest thing about them? If not, what are you struggling most with in the canter right now and what are your tips for improving?

We did eventually get one on the aids, even if I did let my reins get long and him get a little down in front so that it's a half-stride late behind. Work in progress for sure!

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!