Monday, April 27, 2009

The Stars Might Be Aligning

My weekend did not include much riding at all. Unfortunately, Saturday required me to go into work so I couldn’t ride but Tom did ride him for me and spent quite a bit of time cantering. His only comment later that day when I arrived home was that JB needed a lot of canter work. JB tends to be fairly tense in the canter yet. We didn’t do a lot of cantering last year and so part of it is that he is unsure and has not developed the balance to canter easily. The other issue on Saturday was that there were three other strange horses in the arena at the same time. Archery friends had come over to use our arena that day and JB was much more interested in socializing than working.
Sunday, I was not feeling well but dragged myself out to the round pen, JB in tow with my syrcingle and long lines. Not having the energy to ride, I thought it might be a good opportunity to work on the canter without the added weight and burden of a rider. It has been quite some time since I had him in lines but he remembered quickly and listened quite well to voice commands as I took him up and down through walk/trot/canter/halt . He offered a couple of nice easy canters that I was very happy with. Last year, I couldn’t get him to canter on the lines for anything so I was pleased that he willingly went into that gait. After about 20 minutes of long lining I changed gears and revisited the “bowing” cue. I came prepared with baby carrots in my pocket which he smelled right away so it was a bit distracting for him initially.

“You mean I have to do something to earn the carrots?”

We are only at the very beginning stages of this trick but using his halter and leadrope, I tap his shoulder, then ask for him to pick up his hoof and with the other hand with the lead rope, ask him to rock back on his haunches. As he rocks back, I reward that by offering him a treat and letting him have his leg back so he can stand up again. As we go along, eventually I build up to where I don’t release and offer the treat until he rocks back far enough so that his knee rests on the ground. As soon as he offers that, then I release... and more carrots…The next step is getting him to stay in that bowed position a bit longer each time.
As we revisited this, JB quickly caught on. Last summer we left off where he was just starting to drop his knee on the ground. Pretty soon, when I tapped his shoulder, he picked up his foot and was willingly rocking back to put his knee on the ground. Almost too fast and leaving me behind a bit! We only did it a few times and I decided since he was doing so well , I didn’t want to wear it out so I called it good for the day. I have read with trick training that you can over due it as well so I definitely wanted to avoid that. I was pleased with how quickly it came back to him. I had also started teaching JB the cue for the Spanish walk last year but that was a little more difficult. We were both frustrated so I stopped until I could figure out how to better execute the cue. I hope to revisit that however so if anyone has any pointers please let me know!!
While I do miss the focus of the endurance training and conditioning, I am really enjoying my new direction with JB for this season. Much more that I thought I would. It’s nice not to have to feel like such a task master with him, no more stress of “I have to do blank # of miles this week . Now, I just catch him JB a few times a week and head out to the arena or round pen to do what ever needs doing. I try to listen and let him tell me what we work on for that day. Sometimes, we just walk around and work on some easy bending because he is tense, or bothered because the wind blew his hair sideways that day. Some days, we work around obstacles, the Garrocha or trot poles. Other days we get down to business and I ask for more, with transitions, leg yields, shoulder-ion and more cantering to help him build the strength and confidence to travel in this gait comfortably. My point is that whatever it is for each day, we work through it together. If it takes us an hour to get a nice soft up transition into a trot, then that's okay.
Initially when I opted to take a step back and focus on getting him “right” before getting him “out”, I felt like it was a step backwards. Now that I have had some time to reflect and have started seeing some of the changes he is making, I can see that it has definitely been the right decision for him and us. I suspect by next year, we will be miles ahead of where we would have been if I just kept the focus on conditioning. While I enjoyed being out there conditioning and fulfilling my dream and my goals, I really don’t think JB ever did. I didn't want that. He wasn’t mentally or physically ready for the endurance conditioning last year and I probably shouldn't have pushed him.
With our less strenuous training schedule this year, a trail ride or ride out down the road doesn’t have to feel like a chore anymore and JB seems much happier as a result. Everything feels right, moreso than things ever did last year. I can't describe it really, and sometimes there are no words. It just seems like JB is happy, he looks good, he feels good and that makes me happy. I don't know if its just the stars have finally aligned for us but I am seeing a lot of potential in this little horse that I would not otherwise have if I didn’t give JB the opportunity to show me. I am just glad I finally listened to him.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Spring Tune-Up

It s that time of year again that the horses are due for vaccinations. For the last several years I have hemmed and hawed over whether we should vaccinate or not. I have always decided to go ahead and vaccinate , but only for Tetanus, eastern/western, influenza, and westnile. We don’t vaccinate for Rhino anymore because we have had so many issues with reactions. A healthy adult horse can usually fight off the Rhino virus anyways without too much difficulty. It’s kind of like a really bad cold for us. Every spring we suffer through sore and stiff necked horses for a few days, one year so bad we had to administer bantamine to help them because they couldn’t move their head and neck to eat and drink. We have had abscesses, swelling, lethargy, etc. All any horse owner wants to do is to have a happy healthy horse and the yearly vaccines are supposed to be part of that duty. Every year, as I administer shots, I can’t help but wonder, am I hurting my horses more than helping them? It’s a difficult question without a simple answer.
Over the last several years there seems to be more and more horse owners out there going away from vaccinating their horses because the side effects are worse in some cases than the disease that the vaccine is supposed to prevent. We even have a few friends who have made the choice for one reason or another to stop vaccinating all together. None of them have had any issues with illnesses since ceasing vaccinations and in one case; the owner hosts many clinics and lessons at their facility, bringing in several outside horses through out the year , exposing their own herd to risk. Those people we know that have chosen to go away from vaccinations did so because their horses had either horrible reaction that left life changing health issues or in one case they lost a horse due to a reaction.
On the other hand, I attended a local 4 day horsemanship clinic a few years back. It was in early and it just so happened that we had vaccinated all of our horses early that year. 3 days into the clinic , horses at the facility and those attending the clinic started coming down with a high fever, runny noses, coughing, and loss of appetite. A lot of horses got very sick. As it turns out , not one of our horses even showed the slightest symptom. Our horses were the only ones that didn’t get sick. At first I thought it was because didn’t keep our horses at the facility that it was being held at, and were hauling the horses to the clinic each day, but three other clinic attendees were also hauling in and their horses came down with the illness. That kind of ruled that theory out.
We found out later that every horse that did get ill had not received their spring vaccines yet. I would like to believe that in our case, the vaccines saved us from many restless nights of checking on sick horses, multiple doses of antibiotics and so on, but did it really? I guess I won’t ever know for sure but the vet seemed to think so and it seems to be the logical reason.

So , given that I have had both good and bad situations with vaccines, I am still torn about what best decision is. I suppose I will vaccinate for West Nile for sure this year but still tossing the coin on the others. I am not a scientist and maybe I am over simplifying but it has always seemed odd to me that horses need vaccines every year while with humans, most vaccines are needed early in life and then that is it ,unless a person travels to another country . Why are vaccines for other mammals needed yearly? One the flip side, there is of course the consideration of vaccination simply out of courtesy to other horse owners, especially if the horse is traveling to several locations where there are other horses.

I have copied below my vets recommendations and thoughts on vaccines and reactions that they recently published in their spring newsletter.

"The core vaccinations for all horses recommended by the American Association of Equine Practitioners include West Nile Virus, Eastern and Western Encephalomyelitis, Tetanus and Rabies. Each of these diseases poses a serious threat to the life of the horse. All horses of all ages are at risk of these diseases whether they are high end performance horses or a back yard pet. Rabies has not been reported in domestic livestock in the Flathead Valley in over 20 years; therefore we currently do not recommend Rabies vaccination of local horses that do not travel outside of the valley. However, Rabies is considered part of the core vaccines for much of the U.S., so for those horses that do travel, particularly to the east, Rabies should be included. We recommend and use Innovator West Nile + EWT made by Fort Dodge Laboratories, which contains all of the core vaccines (with the exception of Rabies).

The other diseases that we commonly vaccinate against are contagious but generally not life threatening to the horse. Influenza, Equine Herpes Virus (Rhino) and Strep equi (Strangles) fall into this group of diseases. Horses that travel or come in contact with horses that do (show horses or horses boarded in public stables) are at greater risk of exposure to these diseases. The decision to vaccinate for these diseases is based on risk of exposure, the owner’s risk tolerance, cost and potential side effects of the vaccine. We see very few complications from vaccinating for Influenza and Equine Herpes Virus. Local swelling and soreness at the injection site occurs at the rate of 1 in 200 horses, for this reason we recommend the vaccine be administered at least one week before a show. Strep equi or Strangles vaccine on the other hand has a higher rate of adverse reactions. Horses vaccinated with the intramuscular vaccine often exhibit some muscle soreness and although rare may develop an abscess at the injection site. The intranasal vaccine may induce a mild infection and occasionally an abscess in a regional lymph node of the head in 1 in 500 horses. These cases appear to a very mild form of the disease itself." -courtesy of Lasall Equine Vet Clinic

What are all your thoughts on vaccinating horses? Do you vaccinate or do you take your chances? What was your deciding factor for either decision?

Monday, April 20, 2009

Finally out on the Trail

This weekend, Tom and I finally got out on the trail for some trail time and an opportunity to really put the easy boots to the test for JB. For the last several weeks, I have been slowly limbering Rebel and JB up in the arena, both physically and mentally. We have done a lot of ground work, a lot of work on laterals, bending, flexing, garrocha, ground poles, etc.
To start the weekend, I did a short 4 .5 mile ride on Saturday from home with Rebel, which went really well, but on Sunday we headed out to the State land for some real mileage with Rebel and JB . I lost the dime toss on who got to ride JB , so I rode Rebel which was fine. Rebel and I have done many miles over the years on some less than safe rugged mountain trails. He is an excellent trail horse, and it was nice to be on my old standby ! We hit several hills along the way and then got off the trail into some thick timber. This was where I was really glad to be riding Rebel. JB hasn’t completely sorted out the idea of slowing down in tricky footing, like blown down timber, to pick his way through. He kind of stumbles and trips his way, trying to rush. Tom let him trip and stumble until eventually, JB started to figure it out. Eventually a horse will get tired of whacking his cannon bone and tripping in most cases. Pretty soon, JB was paying a little better attention and was actually looking at where he was placing his feet instead of just rushing through everything. Tom is much more patient with this process than me. I tend to try to help the horse too much, which in this case, doesn’t solving anything. The horse has to be allowed the opportunity to figure this kind of thing out on their own if they are to ever be good on the trail. After about a half hour of riding through this tricky footing, along with snow, we found our way back onto a 2 track trail. I think the horse were just as relieved as we were to be done bush whacking. Good experience for the horses but not always fun for the rider. The rest of the ride went pretty well for both horses. JB actually walked out ahead of Rebel for most of the ride, which is a notable improvement. I was rather impressed with JB’s energy level through out the ride. In many cases, we stopped to let the horses rest for a minute and JB would paw, anxious to keep going. He was looking out ahead on the trail, setting the healthy pace. JB’s is showing a lot of improvement in his willingness to move out now that his feet are feeling better, however, we have been trying to sort out a newly developed overreaching issue over the last few weeks.
The few rides I have actually taken JB on since he has started wearing boots have been limited to the busy gravel roads around our place. Every time we tried to trot, he would clip the buckle on the hind with his front hoof and it would come undone. The issue seemed to be worse on the right side. I even tried Cotter pins and those ended up getting broken every time. As a result, our rides had to be cut short because I spent more time stopping to rebuckle and readjust the hind boots than anything else. Wearing the boots was now creating it’s own unique set of challenges for us. The overreaching issue damaged the back of the front boots to the point that I now have to get new gaiters for the fronts. The over reaching was making JB alter his gait to avoid the contact and that was the last thing I wanted him to do. About a week ago, I had hind shoes with pads put on JB in an effort to resolve this new dilemna. My farrier that I use for special issues thought this should do the trick.. I had nothing to lose at this point.

Sundays ride was really the first time we had taken JB out on a real trail with the boots on the front and the hinds in shoes and pads. It seems he is still over reaching and tearing up the back of his front boots, although it is less. If we can’t sort this out, I may have to put JB in shoes and pads on the front as well and then he’ll have to wear bell boots to protect the bulbs of his heels.
We arrived back at the trailer after a little over 2.0 hrs of steady riding, half of it being up and down hills or over difficult footing. Tom stated that JB felt, energy wise, that he could easily do another couple hours. That was music to my ears. JB looked like he felt pretty good as well. He had barely worked up a sweat. Over reaching asside, JB was still looking fresh. Rebel, on the other hand was whipped. He was rather lathered up and was obviously tired. Ofcourse, he is older and completely out of shape. His heart rate came down within about 10 minutes. I expect conditioning with him will be a different process.

With all of the hurdles we have endured with JB over the winter and to now be presented with yet another challenge , I have had to rethink some things. I have to take a step back, or sideways rather, with JB for the season. We have made some great improvement in getting JB’s feet feeling better, no doubt, but with the emergence of yet another issue ( over reaching) I have to wonder if development is causing some of this. Although JB is 7 years old this year, it seems as though JB has just now, this year, reached a level of physical maturity that now defines him as a full grown horse as opposed to a colt. JB looks mature this year whereas last year he still looked coltish. I was comparing some photos and it was only last summer that JB noticeably increased his bone. As the breeder at Quien Sabe warned me, these horses are slow to mature. I may have underestimated just how slow.
As much as I want to do endurance on JB, I have to think about his well being. If he is just coming together, a time to refocus might be the best thing in the world for him right now and will set the foundation for a stronger endurance prospect later on. My plan is to work mostly on various dressage excercises, do a little jumping, let Tom work on horseback archery with him, and of course continue to take a trail ride or two a week as a break from the arena , with no actual goal of training for a race this season.
Depending on what JB shows me over the next several weeks , maybe we can do a limited distance later in the season co but I will let his progress make that determination. There’s always next year and with any luck, he will come out better, stonger and much more ready to handle the strains of conditioning for endurance next spring.

So that begs the question? What will I do for endurance prospect? JB will still take up a lot of my time but for the rest of it, I will focus my energy on getting Rebel ready for the June Blacktail Mountain Classic ride. From there, we'll see what happens. I mentioned in an earlier post about finally following through on a promise I made to myself and Rebel many years ago. I told you I planned to make good on that promise. Looks like 2009 might just be Rebels year to shine.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

The Garrocha

I got an email the other day from my dressage instructor . She is trying to coordinate a few lessons for her students in this area (she travels here from another area once a month). I really need to get with her as it’s been a while since I have had a lesson but in addition to the scheduling, she was asking about my goals for the year and what I have been focusing on. It was perfect timing because for the last week or more, I have stayed close to home with JB, working primarily in our outdoor arena or in our pasture. In the course of doing some initial refresher work in the arena a few weeks back (in the snow) JB ever so kindly reminded me that we have much work to do on a few key things that he didn’t think he had quite down yet. I had to agree with him, he did need a little more work on some things, as did I. If I ever have any hope of doing flying lead changes with JB, I guess I better nip this in the bud and continue to work on getting the lateral work more concrete. If I can get conditioning in alongside of the classroom time, so much the better but we may have to forego the May ride. We’ll see how he progresses. To me it’s more important at this point that JB gets better about suppleness and engagement of the hindquarters = a better ride on the trail later. That I can live with, a horse traveling around on his forehand? Not so much….
Since I find that arena work can become painfully boring I wanted to spice it up a bit. You might have noticed on the sidebar that I have Garrocha listed under JB’s 2009 conditioning schedule. I have decided begin to implement the use of the Garrocha with JB. I was introduced to this last year at Alice Trindle’s clinic when she did a quick demo for us, using Tom’s horse Cassidy, of her newly found skills in the Doma Vaquero traditions and the Garrocha. Being partial to Spanish horses myself, and the traditions that go along with them, I found the Garrocha quite fascinating. In Spain, the Doma Vaquero uses the Garrocha, a 13 ft wooden pole to work the Spanish bulls, but there is a lot more than meets the eye. Leg-yields, half passes, counter canter, rollbacks, stops, flying leads changes , canter pirouette, etc are all elements that are required to master the working the bulls. Hmm, sounds like all the same stuff we are all trying to accomplish with our horses doesn’t it? There are several YouTube videos out there that have some great footage of the “Garrachista” performing in competition if your curious. You will see that they do this with no reins and the horse is cued with only seat, leg and the communication that is required between horse and rider is a wonderful display of horsemanship.
While I don’t think I would ever get to the level of those performing, I found that the Garrocha work offered some key things that would be really helpful in the training with JB and any other horse for that matter. One of the first things that jump out at me is Rhythm, as you work around the garrocha, you can see that the rider and the horse are performing a dance , leg yields become effortless in time; Bending; the pole gives horse and rider something visual to bend around; Timing, you have to be in sync with your horse with your cues as you work around the pole and your horse has to be paying attention to your cues as you turn around and under the pole, the rider even comes into better balance and better posture and lastly but maybe most important is Purpose. The pole suddenly tied the bending exercises to an actual job, something I find really helps keep JB’s mind with me. All of these things are right in line with getting a horse lighter and more responsive.It also seems to force the rider to properly apply seat and leg aids instead of relying on your reins. As a secondary gain, the cues much more clear. It seems to keep the lesson much more interesting than just using barrels or standing objects to turn around. Besides when first learning, it offers a great entertainment source to any bystanders as I fumbled and dropped the pole.
I could see the first thing I had to do before I could teach JB was to teach my self and become somewhat comfortable with managing a 13 foot pole, and at the same time directing my horse and trying not to drop the pole or hit myself or the horse with it.. I am not the most coordinated individual so Tom had a few good laughs as I fumbled around with it. He was kind enough to offer Cassidy to me to start on, since good ol Cass already knew the ropes. I could focus less on my horse and more on me. He was very patient. Tom was nice enough to even snap some photos of our fumbling…

Then I moved on to Rebel. I felt like I was starting to get it….maybe.. There were glimmers of moments where I found myself and my horse in the correct place and balance together. Here we were kind of falling out of sync but when we had it right...What a thrill to feel lightness, willingness and harmony. For glimmers of moments it all came together just right.. Guess we will keep practicing!

This photo was our first attempt at turning back under the pole and change direction.

So, now that I sort of have a sense of what I am doing... JB, may I have this dance?

Friday, April 3, 2009

The Kind of Guy

There are several pet and horse owners grieving the loss of a vet and a good friend today. Hugh Rogers died in a plan crash Wednesday afternoon , on his 50th birthday He owned his own plane and loved to fly and I imagine was out flying on his birthday, doing something he loved. He loved the outdoors and anything to do with it .
Tom and I have taken our horses to Hugh for years. A trip to see him never went without a talk about hunting, flying , horseback archery or some of his bantering and joking. In fact, we almost had him convinced to come out and try doing some horseback archery with us this summer. We always joked about JB being Hugh's favorite horse because when JB was only a yearling and still a bit wild, we took him to Hugh for a visit. The plan was to anethetize JB in order to brand him. JB gave Hugh a heck of a struggle to even get near him with the needle. Then last summer when Hugh was vetting one of the local competitive trail rides I attended, he gave me the nicest compliment when he said how JB had come a long way since that first time they had met!
Hugh had that dry , good ol' boy sense of humor that had you in stitches most times. I remember fondly just a month or so ago when we were in the clinic with one of the horses talking about his recent trips with his plane. talking about flying was his favorite subject.
He was the kind of guy that was well known through out the Flathead Valley for his generosity of time and resources for animal care, everything from the local food back to Backcountry Horsemen. I always knew he was one of those people you only get the opportunity to meet once in a lifetime, but it was only after his death that I learned just how far his generosity went. A quiet philanthropist who was always lending a hand in times of need , without questions ,to not only animals but humans as well.
This is a huge loss to the community and my heart goes out to his family and loved ones.

We'll miss you Hugh but I know your up there with your unmistakable big grin and that mischievious twinkle in your eye, flying a plan and absolutely having a ball. For the full story about who Hugh was, click here.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

The Lion and the Lamb Phenomenon

They say March is usually "In like a Lion , Out like a Lamb" in this area but mothernature is throwing us a curveball. It' s more like in like a Lion and out like a grumpy, hungry , just out of hibernation Grizzly Bear! We have had snow and winter weather advisories all week and it is to continue through the end of the week. The weekend looks promising however, climbing all the way up to the mid to high 4o's. I am keeping my fingers crossed that we will begin to pull out of this winter like weather trend very soon. This week , as a result of the weather combined with working 12 hour days , is a wash as far as conditioning goes, which has me a bit grumpy. However, there is an end in sight.
Thanks to a wonderful boss who is willing to make some exceptions for me, she approved me to work short days twice a week. This week was suppose to begin those abbreviated work weeks through the ride season but with things at work, that may get delayed until the end of April which is fine given the weather forecast !( maybe the weather is cooperating on my account afterall since I can't start the schedule yet.) This schedule opens up a number of doors for my summer and helps ease the job fatigue I have been struggling with of late.
That being said, I will have quite a bit of time to pursue not only a heavy conditioning schedule for endurance, but more training time with the other horses and maybe I will be nice and get restarted on groundwork with Brego for Tom. Brego really needs it! I hope to also use this extra time to do some other things like enjoying some of Montana’s great outdoors, hiking, kayaking, and gardening, which I love but never have the time for. The best part about all of this is that I won’t have to fret as much about when I can fit in conditioning rides when there is laundry, house cleaning, grocery shopping, meals to cook and all those other nagging chores that need to be done. Last year, I was run ragged with everything that needed to get done when I started the conditioning program with JB and trying to balance that with working 50+ hrs a week. This schedule will be a big relief.

So, being curious by nature, how does everyone else manage their work schedule with conditioning for endurance and balancing all the other aspects of life? Anyone have any secrets they would like to share?