Thursday, March 28, 2013

Monitoring Nutrition : Finding the Right Supplement Balance

Mel over at  Boots and Saddles did a post HERE  about supplements.  I am going to piggy back a bit off that post because I have been working on making sure my horses nutrients levels are balanced. It's a process.

We have 5 horses here at Acer Farm, all with very different needs. In an effort to keep chore time simple and cost effective, we mostly have it figured out but it's always a good idea to reevaluate things from time to time. We have chosen that we would rather spend more money up front to get good quality hay as opposed to cheaping out on hay and supplementing to fill in the gaps. We feed  beet pulp with senior for the old guy Rebel and give everyone access to loose mineral and salt.  It seems to work and we have pretty healthy horses with good feet, clear eyes and shiny coats (sans Maggie right now, as her coat , mane and tail are looking less than ideal) .

The recent hay testing will help us with decisions on keeping nutrient levels as balanced as possible and hopefully provide me some insight into what I need to supplement in addition.

In regards to Maggie, I have been working through a more detailed approach because she has some different needs and she is used the most heavily.  I don't want to blindly supplement, possibly creating additional issues. She has a few different things going on that are unique to her from the rest of the herd. The biggest difference is that she is a mare.  Say what you will, but sometimes girls are just  higher maintenance! Maggie is a pocket poney to handle and do anything on the ground with but can  be hot or nervous under saddle or in new situations, although this isn't consistent either. Sometimes, she is as calm and quiet as an older QH ranch broke gelding. Her other "main" issue that can't go without consideration, is that she is what is considered high risk for Insulin Resistance.  When I first got her,  she was about to founder and had several fatty deposits  in her hind quarters, a thick cresty neck and a rain catcher for a spine. She got dry-lotted for the first year she lived here. It was not an easy time for her because she had spent her first 3.5 years of her life grazing in irrigated farm ground with green lush grass up to her belly. Since that time, I  have managed her on a  strict diet and lots of excercise.  She is as easy of a keeper as they come so no grain for her if I can avoid it.

While I am waiting for my hay analysis to return, I have been using Smart Pak's wizard  as well as the program known as  MYFEEDXL program. Since lots of folks are familiar with SmartPaks' wizard, here are the survey flags I marked for Maggie , the output from the wizard and my review of those results.

Take a look and see what you think...

 Flags I marked for Maggie in the survery:

Maggie as a nervous mare

Maggie can be a cranky mare

Metabolic- Maggie is not tested out as insulin resistant but given her history, breed and weight tendencies, she is definitely a candidate. It would not take much to tip the scale in that direction with her.

Work load= heavily used flag, (4-6 hrs a week is considered heavily used according to smartpak.. I would tend to disagree… but it was an accurate representation of her workload for right now. If I were conditioning for endurance, it would be a lot more.

Pasture access- Rarely. Right now our pasture is dormant, soon to bloom into a green luscious founder causing goodness. Maggie will only get limited access to this until late July, when the grasses cure out an the sugar levels decrease.
Maggie is a picky eater- if there is anything not familiar about her food.  Even grains that are supposed to be very tempting that endurance riders will use to keep their horses eating during competition like Ultium or Omolene.. she could take it or leave it.. again, she does not eat well if tired..

 Ulcer/ gastro= negative- even though she is a sensitive nervous mare, I don’t suspect ulcers at this time.  She can tend get looser stools , but it’s situational. Mostly during her cycle or a new environment with lots of unfamiliar activities. She gets a nervous stomach and she could be at risk for ulcers, but I don’t feel like it’s ulcers at this point.
Skin/coat- She gets sweet itch under neck every summer and welts up from the bugs so I flagged this.

 Maggie has no joint or hoof issues but I did flag for a slightly dull coat .

 So  here is what got returned:

Basic Support- $3.03/day

Metabolic-Smart Control IF $1.14/day

Calming – Quiessence , which has Magnesium and Chromium- .86/day

Multivitamin- SmartVite Performance Grass $1.03/day

This would cost me $84.85/month

 Enhanced Support-$4.17/day

Metabolic-Smart Control IF $1.14/day

Calming – Quiessence , which has Magnesium and Chromium- .86/day

Multivitamin- SmartVite Performance Grass $1.03/day

Insect Control-$0.71/day

Skin/Coat – Smart Shine Omega $0.43/day

This would cost me  $116.75/month

Comprehensive Support-$9.14 day

Metabolic-Smart Control IF- $1.14/day

Calming – Quiessence , which has Magnesium and Chromium- .86/day

Multivitamin- SmartVite Performance Grass $1.03/day

Insect Control-$0.71/day

Skin/Coat – Smart Shine Omega $0.43/day-

Digestion- Smart Digest Ultra- $1.25 (probiotics/prebiotics)

Joint- Smartflex III Resiliance- $2.14/day-

Immune Support- Vitamin E - $1.07/day – this also decreases stress.

Mare-ish Behavior-$ 0.71/day

 This would cost me  $261.55 a month.

1. Multi-Vitamin- I know Maggie is not balanced. I would really prefer to avoid grain due to her IR risk.  I have been feeding Accell Lifetime vitamin/Mineral but only because I had some left over from last year. I discovered half way through my season last year it contains L- Tryptophan which is illegal in several equine sports, including endurance. It also is high in Iron , which she is already getting more than she needs through her hay (I already know our iron levels are high here).

I will switch her to the SmartVite product that is recommended by Smartpak.

2. Metabolic- This is a tough one. I think Maggie  is definitely high risk for some IR but I have been managing her diet and exercise to keep her out of dangerous territory. I think that goes further to prevent it than supplementing. I will not include this in her feeding routine . 
( Anyone have any other thoughts about supplementing for IR prevention?)

3. Joint support-  Maggie has not shown to be stiff or exhibited any swelling in conditioning. I will consider this recommendation more of a preventive thing to fight cartilage breakdown that comes with heavy use.

Its’s probably a good idea but pretty hard to justify the added cost. I often use straight MSM and it's alot less expensive.
I believe in taking really good care of legs but I do ride a horse with really heavy bone and no legs issues to speak of. Supplementation would probably fit into “nice to be able to do and probably  good idea “  category, but pretty hard to justify the added cost.  If I have a hard ride, I hose,  ice or poultice to get the inflammation down so at this time I treat it as needed.

4.Vitamin E- She should probably have this because of her limit to pasture but I can get cheaper sources.

5. Skin/Coat- I think this is a good recommendation but I am going to go with a less expensive alternative , Flaxseed . I have used it before with good results and can buy it in bulk. Yes, more work to grind it myself to keep cost down but it's not a huge inconvenience.

6. Digestion- I give a round of probiotics and prebiotics prior to and just after seasonal worming or after a round of antibiotics. Not sure there is a need for additional supplementation on a regular basis. 
7. Insect Control- I might consider this. I have never fed a feed thru before.
What are people’s experiences with it? Does it help much?

7. Nervous Behavior- The product that was recommended was Quiessence which has B1, Magnesium and  Chromium in it.Chromium is also helpful for horses with IR so I might get an added bonus by feeding this.  B1 deficiency is also common in horses if they are not on pasture.  I had previously placed an order of just straight magnesium for her but I am reconsidering using this product.
Any thoughts?

8. Mare-ish Behavior- She definitely has this issue at times, but I don't think this will be something I will include in her regimen for now.I will assess as the year goes on and reconsider if her cycles are hindering her work.

One surprise I had with the SmartPak wizard is that there was no recommendation for Selenium supplementation. I live in an area that is known to be deficient. I feed loose salt as well as give our horses access to block salt with Selenium added . I am not sure they are really getting enough but this is also a supplement that has a small window to over supplement as well. As soon as my hay testing gets back, I should know how far off we are.
Where does all that leave me? (other than broke if I were to supplement her with all of this)

Here is the final decision for now *(which is subject to change at receiving the hay results)

1. Multi Vitamin

2. Quiessence

3.Vitamin E- capsules for pennies on the dollar instead of Smart Pak product

4. Insect Control(threw it in here because it's a good possibility I will use it)
About $73.00 /month which calculates less than their basic support package. I have not added in the cost of loose mineral and salt .

 I would welcome any thoughts/feedback, etc...
I have also been using MYFEEDXL program as well but I can share that in a follow up post if anyone is interested.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The canter finally "happened"

There is something to be said to have all of one's horses home...

I went and picked up Maggie last night from the boarding facility last night. It seemed unfortunate timing to bring her home because we have had some exceptional moments in her training in the last couple of  weeks. My paid month of board wasn't actually up for few more days but my schedule for the rest of the week dictated that last night was the best night to get her home. Before loading her up,  I did decide to utilize the nice outdoor arena with good footing one last time.

Remember when I did this post and talked about working on her canter? Well, in all honesty, I  hadn't actually worked on her canter at all while she was boarded.  I realized soon after getting there and riding Mags a few times that I needed to work on other things with her to help porperly prepare her for canter work. 
It's always been my philosophy with horse training that if you can't get something at a walk or halt, you certaintly aren't going to get it when  you add speed. Certain things that had to be in place and working consistently before I could ask for canter and expect there to be any success.I had missed some things along the way with Maggie's training and now it would need to be rectified...

Historically her thing is to rush into a huge racey jack hammer like trot that will knock teeth out of your head if you let it . Then when she does finally go into the canter, she kicks straight out back several times and then even a few more times when you ask her to keep going. When we first started dealing with this (over a year ago) we ruled out saddle fit or any other physiological reasons for this reaction. It was definitely just a discomfort/dislike with that gait for her.

Well, it must be working because yesterday,  Maggie discovered her canter without it being a huge issue. Historically her thing is to rush into a huge racey Jack hammer trot that will knock teeth out of your jaw if you let it , then when she does finally go into the canter, she  kicks straight out back several times  and then even a few more times when you ask her to keep going. When we first started dealing with this (over a year ago) we ruled out saddle fit or any other physiological reasons for this reaction.  It was definitely just a discomfort/dislike with that gait for her.

Yesterday afternoon, we set about our warm up routine which involves alot of circles and serpentines and up down transtions between the walk and trot (that is..correct transitions ...meaning no head in the air camel impersonation transition)

Eventually, we made our way around the arena in a nice relaxed, head down , even paced trot...We worked on  changing speeds within the trot;  collecting up at the shorter end of the arena and extending down the longer side of the arena. Teaching her that "rush" isn't something she always needs to do has been the biggest challenge.

After a few changes of directions I let her just trot on the buckle  to stretch down and reach.  She has begin to accept that she can stretch down and trot without having to increase pace. She will now maintain an even pace about 80% of the time.  It is such a pleasure to ride her when she is cooperating.  As we trotted around, I thought to myself  "wow, she is so relaxed, she almost feels like she could drop into a nice litte canter here"

As soon as that thought crossed my brain, she did just that... so I let her.. it was pretty cool because I didn't actually ask with any cues.. which eventually we can work on but the fact that she went form a nice relaxed trot into a canter , on her own , without it being a big deal, was a huge accomplishment.

She only got tense once when another "rodeo" rider came by us at a gallop but she easily checked back and when I asked her to drop her head at the canter, she did. It wasn't the most comfortable or easy canter to ride but I just got off her back into to 2 point and let her go. She maintained an easy pace and after we made it around a couple times I asked her for a walk, let her catch her breath and quit for the day.

It was a great stopping point.

I love it when a plan comes together...and I am gald she is home again!


Friday, March 22, 2013

A Morgan wins the GMHA 100 Mile ride..

I just couldn't help myself on sharing this because I am one of those "want to be a real endurance rider someday but don't want to ride an arab" kinda girls..

This is so cool! Lisanne Dorian winning on her morgan mare.

Video snipits here of the ride.

The 60 Mile Grand Champion is also a Morgan.

Who'da thunk it???


A Possible Nutrition Deficiency?

I finally had enough reasons to break down and get my hay tested. I have considered it in the past but our hay supplier has had in done in the past and when we inquired, he always told us that everything comes back as pretty equal. I am not sure what "equal" really meant but he never offered to share the report with us and , actually , to be fair, I guess we never asked to see it. I never had much reason to because our horses have always done well  on it .  Healthy hooves, clear eyes, nice coats, etc. We pay a bit more for this high quality grass/alfalfa hay since it is our horses primary diet. We don't feed a bunch of supplements or grain.  Hay, loose trace mineral free choice,  and loose Redmond Salt free choice. That's it.. simple..

I have had Maggie at the boarding facility for over a month now. She was wormed the first week that she was there. Since she  has been there, she is on their straight grass hay because their alfalfa/grass is mostly alfalfa.  The quality of their grass hay doesn't look all that fantastic so I started her  on the usual vitamin/Mineral supplement I use during conditioning season two weeks ago to try to offset any nutritional gaps.

In spite of that,  I have noticed some things about her coat and behavior that I am not really liking .
I will start with her hair and skin.

Maggie, being a Lippitt Morgan, typically hairs up like a woolly mammoth for the winter with long , somewhat shaggy looking hair. It's pretty normal for a Morgan so it's never been a concern. However, this winter, and especially now,  it seems a bit rough , and unhealthy looking. Not glossy or smooth. It also seems to have an orangey tinge to it.  This could indicate an  imbalance in copper/zinc ratios or more likely an all out deficiency.

Inadequate copper and/or zinc will produce faded coats on horses, known as 'sunbleaching'. The orange/rusty tips of her mane and tail would probably confirm this as this is another symptom of a deficiency. The ideal copper to zinc ratio is 1:3.

Did you know that  Copper and Zinc are only two of several trace minerals that are almost always deficient in horses? When it comes to trace minerals, it's an interesting dance. Too much of one will cause another to not be absorbed.

Balanced Equine Nutrition website has a good article about all of the symbiotic relationships if your curious. For this post I will only focus on a couple.

Did you also know that it's nearly impossible to get this ratio of Copper/Zinc correct if your horse is getting alot of iron in their diet?

Too much iron  combined with low zinc and copper levels is one of the most common issues with providing a balanced diet for horses.  "The high iron concentration interferes with the absorption of copper and zinc, making  already low levels of these trace minerals even less available for the horse", according to an article written by Getty Nutrition.

This presents a unique problem because I primarily feed hay and most hays alone in the Northwest   are already high in iron.

Did you also know that  unlike humans, horses act an iron storehouse?  I had no idea on this one. We can pass it, horses are less able to do this. I suppose at some level horses must be passing some iron through their system somehow because if they weren't it seems we would see alot of iron toxicity? That's a question better left for a vet or a nutritionist to answer..

Typically if the horses coat is rough, it's common that their feet are also in bad shape. In this case, Maggie's feet are in tip top shape, albeit a bit soft with all the mud she has had to be in for a while. 

Behavior- Maggie's behavior has been a complete 180 under saddle while at this facility. She is nervous, anxious, spooky and tense whenever I ride her. Alot of it has to do with the "energy" at this barn. Lots of rodeo and gaming folks are there. As a result, lots of bothered, anxious horses in the arena at the same time we are. But after being there for 5 weeks, I would expect she would have adjusted a bit. She hasn't. A second factor to consider is that it is also spring , and she is starting to cycle. This alone can change a mare's behavior dramatically. However, Maggie's typical response , especially her first few cycles of the year is to become lethargic and cranky. She is still somewhat cranky but definitely not lethargic at all. She is hyper reactive to everything.

Without knowing what is the bigger influence is on Maggie's behavior, I could make an assumption and opt to supplement with Magnesium which is a common supplement for similar behavior changes that are not related to cycles.  Excessive calcium also causes irritability, twitching, spasm and hypersensitivity. When the calcium:magnesium ratio is too high , extra magnesium will help.

The bottom line is that I don't know what the calcium/magnesium levels  of our hay at home is  so I would be wasting money to just start throwing supplements at her and hoping for the best.

I am  unsure if Maggie could have had this quick of a change from 5 weeks eating the boarding facilities hay. When I look at the rest of our horses, I see some similar "not so great" coat conditions so it could be that our hay isn't quite up to snuff . Since Maggie is coming home in another week I figured it might be worth taking some steps to get some concrete answers.

Ergo... the hay testing..

My vet loans the hay probe(you  have to have this for appropriate testing) out without a charge so that is really nice.

I knocked down several random bales from the neat stack..(this is going to kill T to see the mess but I am not restacking those bales)
You'll need a drill.Preferably an electric one because my battery powered drill that had a fully charges battery didn't even make it through the first sample.  One plastic bag for each sample. Make sure you lable each bag. I used the method of numbering the samples 1-10 and the name of the ahy supplier. I have two  and I only had two bales left from one of the suppliers so I could only take two samples. Initially I labeled each bag with a marker  but it didn't show up well so I ended up using sticky folder tabs on the bags instead.

Drill, bags and probe ready to go
Insert drill into the short end of the bale at a 45 degree angle.

This was the hardest part of the whole thing. There is a little copper button on the end of the probe that you have to press in to release the end cap of the probe so you can push the sample of hay out with the wooden dowel. I found a tool in the hubby's tool kit that did the job perfectly. 

Once the end is removed from the probe, the wooden dolly is used to push the sample out

                                                            And into the sample bag
 It's a pretty simple process . I only had one small issue. On the very last sample, the probe came off the drill. I discovered that I will be buying a new drill attachment as this one got completely stripped out... The probe puts a ton of torque on the drill . You are sufficiently warned!
Take your samples, fill out the form and stuff it all into the envelope with a check and mail it off.. I expect to have results in 7-10 days because I also opted to do the selenium test which takes a bit longer.


Monday, March 18, 2013

Jumping Lesson #2

Despite the still healing injured finger, I finally decided I could bandage and splint it well enough to do another jumping lesson.

*actually, I am still fighting whatever infection decided to live in the incision but it's getting better.. one part is just healing very slowly as a result. Lots of Hydrogen peroxide flushes...

I was glad I went for a lesson because it was a total blast. I am not sure you can call it a jumping lesson because I am really not jumping anything of  any signifgant height.. just a little cross rail.
In my last lesson (my first) I was really struggling with my forward seat and finding the "sweet spot" of the forward seat. In today's lesson, I finally dialed in and started to find my long lost two point position. It made me remember how much I used to enjoy jumping... such a thrill, even if the jumps are teeny weeny right now..

We started out the lesson talking about contact. A trained hunter should travel long and low and effortlessly with light contact. A bit of a drape in the rein but not so much that you can't communicate with the horse via the reins either. When I ride Maggie this is always a goal but she gets so rushy that I often have to half halt alot. Fancy is happy to just stay at a steady even pace . This was such a breath of fresh air. Our other focus was working on getting a better feel for Fancy's speeds/gears and  how to ask for those.  My trainer had me work on extending Fancy's trot down the long side of the arena and then going into a sitting trot and "packaging" her up on the shorter sides. In other words, collecting her up. Fancy takes a ton  more leg to do this than Maggie requires so I was having to work pretty hard and again ,I kept anticipating Fancy to surge ahead with the added leg aids like Maggie does..

"Your not riding Maggie... Your not riding Maggie", was the reminder I had to keep mumbling to myself.

The goal of doing this sort of excercise in schooling on the flat should translate to the jump course. When actually riding through a course of fences the horse will have to understand how to lengthen or shorten   his/her stride between fences. Every jump course has a predetermined number of strides between fences and if you miss the mark, it can tend the mess up the rest of your course, causing penalties. In Fancy's case, she is on the smaller side and doesn't have a huge stride so it will be important to be able to lengthen that stride.

Fancy also has the loveliest rocking horse canter  (Imagine, a canter that isn't explosive and rushy.. another breathe of fresh air!)  but gets lazy in the corners so again, lots of leg there as well. I struggled with this more than anything because I had forgotten to bring my half chaps and was getting pinched.. I will remember next time..

I can't wait for next week's lesson.

Check out ths YouTube video link  of John French riding Rumba during the 2009 $100K Hunter Derby Finals.. It is so lovely to watch, it was worth sharing. This video is the ultimate in what  a good  show hunter horse/rider team should look like.
A few things to notice:

*Soft and fluid rider throughout entire course
*Rider has contact with his reins but is not interfering with the horse or getting in his way.
*John is up in his forward seat "ready" position . When he gets to a jump, he just tips forward a bit and the horse effortlessly jumps under him.  Some of these jumps are 4 feet.. Can you tell?? Not really..that is the whole idea.. effortlessness.
*Landing- The rider lands  into his leg , keeping a strong base as opposed to landing  into his hands and hitting the horse in the mouth.No balancing on the horses mouth here!
* Pace rarely changes- This is harder than John makes it look. Aside from the one jump that he is supposed to hand gallop up to, you could set a metronome to this horse's rhythymical stride.
*Riders cues are happening but often go unnoticed. Horse and rider look like a team, both are quiet, relaxed but there is definitley communication between them.

Ofcourse, this horse has a ton or training and worth beaucoup bucks but this video really shows the pretty hunter picture that hunter riders are striving to achieve.I could watch it over and over again!

I have definitely been bitten by the bug...

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Le Galop

I have been trying to take full advantage of the arena at the boarding facility where Maggie is boarded. After all I have paid for the month and I intend to get every pennies worth.  I have been riding 4-5 nights a week, regardless of rain, snow, ice and mud. Bad footing and Montana spring weather be damned!!  It's a small arena but I get to ride inside. AMEN!

It's left me dreaming of having my own indoor arena someday and I have officially started yet another piggy bank...The Indoor Arena Fund. I am trying to come up with creative ways to put money aside for my own indoor arena..I am thinking Bake sale?? Yard sale? Standing on the street asking for donations?? All  very good possibilities... So far.. the indoor arena piggy bank has $1.37 cents of loose change in it. We aren't off to a great start. I am thinking of taking a loan from the European Vacation piggy bank which has been building for 6 years.

Is that wrong?


It's going on three weeks since I have had Maggie boarded  and the riding sessions haven't quite turned out like I imagined. I have to share the small arena with lots of young lesson goers, and other "O-Mok-See " or gaming adolescent riders that think racing around barrels and poles at Mach Chicken speeds is fun and then can't understand why their horses are half out of their minds when they try to do anything else.
All this activity is distracting and nerve wracking for poor Maggie and myself. Not to mention the  fairly green lesson giver/trainer and the bad training advice she often gives to lesson goers. I have to make a mental effort to tune her out.

I had originally planned to spend alot of my time in the arena lungeing Maggie to work on her canter and canter departs. Very few horses I have ever known are naturally balanced in a canter. A nice canter can take time to develop. Maggie is one of the worst cases of an unbalanced canter I have ever experienced. She's tense, unbalanced, racey, counter bent and bucks in her departs whether its under saddle or lunged. It's ugly and impossible to ride because she holds her ribcage is such a way that the saddle slides to the outside. I literally have to stand on my inside stirrup to keep it from sliding over, which is totally counterproductive to staying balanced on the horse. I have not spent alot of time working on improving her canter because it's so difficult  and I was avoiding it  but she is going to be 8 years old next month. It's high time we work on it.

Initially I had the notion that if I could get her to canter on the lunge , over time  she would learn to relax in that gait, enough to make it more bearable to ride and then I could hop on and cater away into the sunset.

er... not exactly....

While  lungeing goes a long way to help the horse learn how to travel in that gait, lungeing alone isn't going to fix Maggie's issues with it. Even on the lunge she struggles. She actually does the strangest thing. I should seriously video tape it because it's kind of funny to watch in fact. When I ask her for a canter she will trot, trot trot just as fast as her little feet can take her (which is pretty fast) , and then only by continued encouragement by me, she will explode into a huge kick out/buck thing then off to the races at high speed, scrambling  canter. She will canter a few strides and then it's like she startles herself and does another leap in the air/kick/buck thing causing tension on the lunge which she interprets as me pulling on her , which  then causes her to be startled and abruptly stop. Her mane and forelock are usually all in disaray by now and she just looks so incredibly funny and pathetic. The poor thing..

Like I said, it's not pretty.

I often hear the green inexperienced trainer instructing her students to "canter" without ever going over what those things are to prepare for a canter,whether it be aids, posture, or lateral work. Often times the horses are cantering around on the wrong lead without any correction.

It got me thinking about how I am preparing Maggie for a canter. The correct aids should be something like this.

Support the outside shoulder of the horse with your outside rein. This lightens the inside shoulder in preparation for canter depart.
Inside rein contact but light, or neutral contact
Lean on your outside buttock by lightly putting your outside shoulder back.
Ask for the canter depart by putting your outside leg back and touching lightly.
Keep your inside leg at the girth.
Let your hands follow the forward momentum of the horse moving ahead. (light hands)

 How am I asking Maggie to canter? Are all my aids clear, am I balanced? Am I consistent? I know what the correct aids are  and how to apply them but am I doing that each and every time? What about the work that comes before I have ever asked for a canter? Do I have the ability to control Maggie's front end independantly from her hind end? Is she responsive or reactive to the aids? Is there any resistance?

These are all questions that I got to thinking about more carefully.

I have only attempted to canter Maggie once since being at the arena. For one reason, the obstacles of the other riders are just going to make things even more difficult and getting private use of the arena just doesn't seem to happen and two,  I discovered some holes in  properly preparing her for the canter .

One of the key precursors to a good canter depart is the horse being able to perform a good shoulder-in. Maggie needs more work on this. It had been a while since we had practiced. The shoulder -in teaches the  horse to move laterally and bend from the poll to the tail. The horse moves toward the outside of the bend with his eyes directed toward the inside of the bend.

But what does it do in relation to canter preparation?

As I understand it, when done correctly the horse must must lower the haunches, therby engaging the  hindquarters, thereby lightening  the front end.
Its one of those lateral moves that I personally find harder to do correctly because I tend to want to push the hind quarters out as opposed to direct the shoulders in. The best way I have found it to work for me is to start on the long side of an arena and as I come out of a  the corner, to begin to ask for the shoulders. I am a visual person so I need this spacial reminder of coming out of a corner as opposed to just doing it along a straight wall. 

It goes something like this:

As Maggie comes out of the corner, I keep contact with the inside rein like I am going to ask for a circle. I open my  inside rein slightly (this is directing), keep light contact with the outside rein, inside leg at the girth, outside leg slightly further back. At the moment her eyelashes, nose, the poll, the neck and the shoulders start coming inside the arena on the circle, I encourage her to “slide” on the long side of the arena by bringing the inside hand toward outside (inside hand toward outside shoulder of the rider). I am careful NOT to cross the center of her main with the inside rein.I carry a crop to softly tap on the inside shoulder of the horse to cue her lightly. I have seen some western riders use theirs feet on the shoulder but I prefer a crop.   It looks dumb in my opinion to shoot your foot way up there on the horses shoulder and it throws the rider off balance.
The inside leg at the girth maintains forward thrust and the outside leg – slightly further back – controls the haunches.

I have two other suppling  excercises that I have been focusing on to  help  free up Maggie's shoulders and hips and  become less reactive to leg aids.

                                                Sideways on a circle(softens the shoulders)
Going to the Right
Stay balanced in the center of the her
look ahead, and onto the arch of the curve
Inside calf lightly on at girth, light contact.
Outside calf slightly back, light contact
Focus on making my shoulder point back towards her hip on the same side as we come around the circle. This keeps my shoulders in line with her shoulders and is a good reminder for me because I tend to hunch my shoulders and lean forward.

As Maggie comes around, I tip her nose slightly (eyelash) to the center of the circle and slow the outside shoulder by shifting my weight a  little more to the outside(left) seatbone and more feel on the outside rein.
Asking with my inside leg and supporting outside rein,I ask her right hip to "float" sideways and forward to the left front shoulder as we come around. Right hip to left shoulder.  If the shoulder drifts or gets ahead of the hips, slow the left leg with outside rein contact to let the hip catch up.
This is essentially a leg yeild on a circle.
I only ask for a couple of steps  at a time , no need to get greedy. I don't contribute to the thinking that if two steps correctly is good, 14 steps is better. If two are good, I leave it at that. If I can't get one or two good, I just regroup and try again but here is no need to drill it once she gives me a try. Sometimes in the beginning, all I got with Maggie was a shift of weught or a small step without crossing her hind feet. We had to build on that until we got that true step.
Then  we switch direction and do it again. I will do this for a couple of times and then go do something else. With my little Morgan wonder, I have to keep things really mixed up or she gets irritated and things go down hill quickly. She doesn't appreciate drilling either.

This excercise alone seems to keep Maggie more relaxed than asking for a leg yeild on the straight. After trying this a few times, and then trying  a straight leg yeild on the straight, Maggie had much better success with the nicest floaty leg yeilds I have ever gotten from her. No head tossing, no swishing of the tail or any other resistance. 

I love it when a plan comes together.

Here is the other one I like to do.
                                                Soft Hips- Turn on the forehand
This excercise  is really helpful with preparing for canter departs particularly.

Going to the right
Centered in the middle of Maggie, focusing on the arc of the circle with good posture
Slow the shoulder by putting more contact on the outside rein and sitting more weight into the outside seat bone (left), letting Maggie's hips come around.
After only a step or two, stop the hips with the outside leg and sinking into the saddle a bit with balance seat bones, and bring the front end through to the right.
Repeat in the other direction.

Essentially I am combining a hind quarter release, pausing , then asking for a front end release or turn on the forehand in one movement. Ideally it should be slow and controlled.

A big issue with Maggie is that she tends to rush and anticipate. These two excercises have really gone a long ways to help me to help her through some of that and it seems to be translating to other areas.

Maybe our quiet canter depart isn't so far off afterall.


Monday, March 11, 2013

Quote for the Day

 "Through his mane and tail the high wind sings, fanning the hairs who wave like feather’d wings."
                                                                                              ~William Shakespeare      


Thursday, March 7, 2013

Tunnel Vision

When I started the "chase" in the sport of endurance , I made alot of lofty long range goals.I started out thinking , foolishly perhaps , that in a few years I was going to take my little Barb stallion JB,  all the way to Tevis.
If you have followed this blog very long, you know how that story ended.

 But still, I continued, starting over with a new horse.

A snotty , fiery little Lippitt Morgan mare that was supposed to just be a companion to the mare that was here to be bred to JB but ultimately ended up being my next project staying.  That 100 mile endurance dream soared again when I finally manged to get her going under saddle. Strength , speed and a whole lotta attitude. Maybe , just maybe....

When I decide to do something I tend to grab a hold of it and not let go until I get what I set after.  Some call it stubborness, foolishness even.  I call it ambition. It's what fuels me , drives me to be better , to reach just a little further.  When I was a young adolescent riding the show circuit, it 's what won me several blue ribbons. The simple fact was that if I wanted to place in the showring, I had to  work harder to make it through those cross country  courses with my Palomino ex barrel racing Quarter horse.  He was anything but a "made" show horse that so many of my peers were mounted on, high priced TB's or warmbloods purchased  specifically by their parents so they could see their kids win.  Alot of times I lost to those fancy horses but alot of times I won.. and I could hold my head high because I earned it. I am a firm believer in working hard to get what you want and rarely are things in life free.

With Maggie , it's been another challenging road. Once again I have found myself having to work pretty hard to get any break through's in Maggie's training. I would say out of all the horses I have started,trained, and ridden, she has been the most challenging. I have not been able to attempt a 50 mile ride, much less a 100 miler.  I have been at this sport for 6 years or better now. For a while last fall, I got pretty down about that.  I had to reevalute things , again.

I have this bad habit of having alot of high expectations along with that ambition, and then when I don't quite get there, I fall prey to alot of negative self critcism. 

Being aware of it is half the battle. If nothing else, the sport of endurance has taught me alot about bouncing back. I have learned that instead of setting those big lofty goals and getting thrown off course(which is just going to happen from time to time)  and then disappointed,  I set a lot of smaller more immediately attainable goals.

Last year I wasn't sure I would be able to compete  at all but I still wanted to condition Maggie in case the opportunity presented itself. As it turned out,  I managed to get Maggie fitter than she had ever been or anyone ever believed she could ever be for that matter. I turned  that round little Lippitt Morgan mare into a trotting , hill climbing power house.
Camas Creek Canter July 2012 
All that time on the trail together alowed me to start to dial into what makes Maggie tick. We were getting in synce and I even felt like I could trust her in any trail situation. We completed a  CTR where we managed to out maneuver alot of seasoned 50 and 100 mile arabians on the trail that day, and we  completed a 30 mile AERC LD and even top tenned. Two 30 mile rides completed with a healthy horse and new found trail partner at the end.  Success? Absolutely.

Short term goals.. they work...

Being driven by alot of ambition and also having  self critical tendoncies at the same time can sometimes be like throwing two wild Tom cats in a gunnysack together and hoping they both come out as buddies. Only one is going to come out on top.

or maybe not?

The ambition drives me ahead and the slef criticism gets me in ruts, and then the amibition pushes me ahead again.It can tend to be a vicious cycle maybe it all balances out in the end.

This spring, that smaller bite I have chosen for Maggie  has been to get her thinking less about speed and conditioning and thinking more about the finer tuning in horse training. I am asking her to focus more on the smaller thing, be less reactive to my cues, don't rush, and all kinds of little things that will lead into bigger things like a quiet canter depart.

Believe me, I would much rather be conditiong for endurance.  It's much easier to just point her down the trail and go but  she has more to offer as riding horse and I want to bring that out.

Last night, because of ongoing complications with the franken finger, Tom agreed to work Maggie this week for me a few times. For over a week now he has heard me complaining and whining about my riding sessions at the boarding facility with Maggie.

"She's reactive, spooky, her leg yields aren't going well, she's drifting through her outside shoulder, she's counter bending, her transitions are tense, etc, etc.  (yep there's that critical stuff)

I had been feeling  like I wasn't getting anywhere with her and instead  going backwards. There is that high expectations thing again...

He rode her around and went through all the routine things I have been focusing on along with a few other things he works a horse through.  He saw what he called her sticky spots that I had been complaining about. This was the first time he had ridden Maggie since last spring. He hopped off and handed her to me. Typically he doesn't say alot when he rides a horse unless he's asked. This time he offered it without me asking. He said he really didn't understand what I had been complaining about . She was so much more improved from last year. She was listening , responsive, and soft. He was surprised how nice she had become under saddle since he last rode her.

His words... "you have gotten some pretty big changes in that mare".

I thought about that for a while on the ride home . He's not the kind to just say something to make me feel better..

Once again, I had gotten so caught up in the doing and chasing of that goal, that I got tunnel vision.  I could not see the accomplishments made.

I may never do a 50 mile ride or even a 100 mile ride. It's hard to say.  Right now , its more important to learn what I can from the horse that I have and enjoy the ride. There are alot of amazing things that can happen along the way when your not looking.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

A Week of Riding

Tonight I am sitting here in front of a fire, relaxing on the couch, having a cup of tea to soothe away the muscle fatigue that always comes with the first few rides of the year.  I am relishing my day, actually my week. I have ridden Maggie every night this week . In one week of concerted effort at tuning back into my horse, I have learned so much about her and myself. This has been a great time to revisit all those little training holes  that I skimmed over last year in pursuit of conditioning. 

Each evening I came home , smelling like  a spring time barn. Eau De Barn...

Every night it the same questions "Well, how did she do tonight?" from the patient husband whp often ends having to plan and cook dinner so his wife can have her horse fix. It's been so nice to have a place to go to work my horse .  Some nights I came home frustrated because it felt like we just revisit the same things over and over and never really get anywhere. It's hard to see the forest for the trees but I know I am asking more from Maggie now, searching for a higher level of feel , softness , balance and rhythym.  Other nights , I came home riding on a cloud. It's those times when she is the loveliest mare to be had. When all these years of asking for these things come together for a few moments and it sticks. She is supple, attentive and calm.Asking her to pay closer attention and not just go forward. It's been challenging but very fun to work on subtlety and timing in Maggie's training.

How subtle can I ask for that front end to come over in a roll back. A shift of a seat bone, a wiggle of a finger all timed perfectly. How little does it take to ask for her to back up correctly with weight on the haunches and light as a feather in my hands. Can we do a 20 meter circle and keep our momentum and not fall to the inside shoulder? Can I make the rein mean something to the feet. Can I walk along and just pick up the right rein and have her take a step to the right? Maybe , just maybe walk along and knock down those little orange cones with that right foot as we go along.

All these things.. so many things to fine tune and work on. It's been really nice but it's going to take time to get there.

 Maggie is not fond of the indoor arena. It makes her nervous and unsure. It's noisy and echoes. With all the snow and ice melting away, it makes strange sounds. There is a lot of activity with lessons and other boarders trying to work their horses. It's a small arena. It gets congested easily.  Maggie's focus is often fleeting , and she is hyper reactive to the any other horse in the arena. It's a work in progress. The exposure is good for her  and I hope in time she will come to accept it.

Today we took a break from the arena.

All ready to go

I LOVE THE VIEW FROM HERE~ I think I recognize those trees...

It was first time this year the mercury was expected to reach  into the 50's. I opted to take advantage of it and head out to the trails with Maggie. We rode throguh two big hay fields and made our way into the woods. As soon as we headed out I could almost feel her whole body relax .  She was an absolute dream. Not once did she get rushy,  not even on the way home.We had to maneuver several icey spots and she was extremely cautious.  Compared to how she had been in the arena , it was such a nice break to be back out in what is clearly her comfort zone.

We even curled a hair or two and never broke a slow easy walk.

I had brought along some soaked beet pulp and alfalfa pellets for an after ride treat. She  dove into it and then acted like she was really tired. I guess she had been worked 6 days in a row , even though it was all pretty slow easy work she has been sitting idle since November.

She will get the next two days off.

Friday, March 1, 2013

The Mud Diva gets a new dress

I found a great deal on a midweight blanket for Maggie after discovering her heavier winter blanket had either shrunk , or more than likely she grew. I put it on her and immediately got the pissy mare looks.

It was a bit..    ahem    tight..

she kinda looked like  a stuffed sausage in it..(sorry  miss thang)

It was also too short, which I don't recall being an issue before but I could just be forgetting. I really have not consistently kept her blanketed in the past for any length of time. Since it was a  pretty nice blanket and those seams were not going to withstand much rolling action in it, out came the checkbook.  I got her 75 instead of a 72 , because 74 was sold out .One added inch wasn't going to make too big of a difference.

I brought it out to the stable last night. After a nice hour long riding session , I pulled it out of the bag , and guess what? It fit nearly perfect, alittle long but not so much it's going to cause her issues. I didn't even have to adjust any of the straps. It was like a custom made dress for my little Mud Diva.  It was much nicer quality than I expected and the color is quite pretty up close,almost a purplish blue.

(The pictures are not great as they were taken with my Galaxy III ,which is an awesome phone but the camera isn't worth a warm bucket of spit.)

Does this dress make my butt look big?
 Ofcourse , she can't have a new dress and not break it in properly:

Ahh, much better...
you can't really see in t h is photo but arena dirt is now all over the pretty new blanket.

I think she approves.

She has already started shedding and hopefully this will help speed things along. Last spring, it was late June before she completely shed out. Might have to get the clippers out and clean up the goat beard this weekend.