Sunday, November 15, 2009

Extreme Makeover Part I

First of all -- as most people know, I am a bit of a prankster, especially at the barn. So, of course, now that I am officially back, I have started setting up some lovely little props around the farm. The above pic is of my latest work (in Jennie's trunk). And I have now proven that Jennie is officially blind as a bat because, after about twenty minutes of watching her walk back and forth to the tack room and not shrieking, I started getting a bit fed-up. It turns out that she thought the bloody hand reaching up out of her trunk was a pink glove! Jennie, get yourself off the road and on to an optometrist's chair ASAP!

And now on to the Ponykins, who has been going through a myriad of changes lately. First, Heather got on him last week and managed to install a Dressage Pony Button on him in one ride! She is a great teacher and he is obviously a super-fast learner (Einstein and Smarty Jones have now been added to his list of nicknames). Now, with a fair amount of leg (and spur) and some soft contact, he willingly arches his little neck and stretches down into the hand. And all without draw reins or any other gadgets. Hooray! Thank you, Heather! I will definitely get some pics of that soon.

Secondly....Salem's feet. I have been pulling my hair out over the barefoot situation, as there is not a single farrier down here who does an actual barefoot trim. My farrier trimmed Salem's hooves exactly as if he were going to put shoes on them. This is not a true barefoot trim and it has lead to mucho flaring, chipping, cracking, and under-run heels for Mr. Salem. Well, one of the feed store owners has done quite a bit of research on barefoot trims, including attending a clinic, and he trims his own five horses. He was kind enough to come out and show me a few things on Salem's front feet. He took off all the flares, cut the bars down a bit, and gave the hooves a bevel or "mustang roll." This takes the weight off the hoof wall, which will cut down on the flaring. He also discovered a small abscess that popped out of Salem's right front coronary band (more on that later). Here are the results:

I'm not quite sure where we go from here, as I can't exactly ask Joe to come out and fix Salem's feet every few weeks. He left me a rasp and showed me how to file them, but Salem will need more than that eventually. I guess we'll have to see what happens...

Moving on -- seeing how Salem had been fluffing up like a little chick (plus the fact that his skin had been getting increasingly flaky despite my best efforts), I decided that it was time for a Body Clip. Now, this was a big deal, seeing as I had never body-clipped and Salem had never been clipped before. To make things easier, I got a syringe full of Rhino Tranquilizers (not really, lol, but the stuff was strong!) from our favorite vet, Dr. Bob Scott. (Heather and I are the co-presidents of his Fan Club and always half-joke about making glittery "We ♥ Dr. Bob" posters whenever he comes.) Of course, first Mr. Salem had to have a bubble bath...

Where's my rubber ducky?

...and I had to take plenty of Before pics. After all, what's an Extreme Makeover without before pics?

(Jennie was originally holding Salem for these pics...until she stepped on a dead frog, threw Salem's lead rope on the ground, and ran away screaming like a little school girl. Salem reacted to this by looking at her quizically, pooping, and going back to munching grass.)

After Salem had completely dried, I put him in the wash rack and got everything all set up. Salem got his syringe of Rhino Tranquilizers and embarked on a lovely little "trip."

Oh, yeah...that's some good stuff

Jennie (who had by now recovered from the Frog Incident) was kind enough to start off the clipping job and let me watch her technique for a bit. I was horrified to see what all of that flaky skin was -- fungus! Despite tons of currying, I had no idea just how much gunk was underneath all of that woolly mammoth fur. Egads!

Eeeeeeeeeewwwwww! There's a fungus among us!

Poor Salem! He is absolutely covered in fungus -- back, butt, shoulders, belly, sides, and legs. The only fungus-free areas are his head, neck, and chest. I am very perplexed as to why this happened -- he gets groomed thoroughly every day, hosed off after every ride, and bathed every few weeks. I use a clean saddle pad every ride, clean my brushes often, etc. and he never stands out in the rain. Anyhow, I am using Malaseb shampoo on him in order to dry it up. The first day, I covered him in MTG, but the stuff is just so yicky. I'm going to switch to Lotrimin (Athlete's Foot medicine) spray tomorrow.

Last but not least -- Gas Chamber Hoof! :-) I got some White Lightning to clear up Salem's abscess. It's supposed to be the best stuff for abscesses, thrush, white line, etc. (it supposedly also kills Anthrax), but it involves a very complex process. You mix the product with vinegar and put the horse's hoof in a plastic bag...for 45 minutes.

Gas Chamber Hoof!

Salem tolerated this very well. Sure, he had on his Worried Eyes and was a bit unsure of himself, but he took it all in stride. Unfortunately, I do not make a very sturdy Gas Chamber because it lasted all of five of the necessary forty five minutes. This was most likely due to Salem's excessive pawing, stomping, and flinging about of his hoof. I guess I'll have to rethink my strategy and try again tomorrow.

*sigh* What are you doing to me now?

Next time, I will have After pics of Salem's new look -- body-clipped, dressage-cut and dyed black tail, and pulled mane. And maybe I'll have some Dressage Pony pics, as well (fingers crossed).

Friday, November 6, 2009

Mental Hazard Training

After last week's tarp work, I've been thinking what my next step in Salem's "mental hazard training" should be. Thankfully, there's always a lot of commotion at the barn, so he's pretty relaxed even with cars zooming by, barking dogs running about, screaming kids jumping all over the place, turned-out horses bucking and cavorting, etc. Well, I was over at the Dixie Rumble blog and I found a list of "obstacles" found on a judged trail ride that one of their OTTBs (Rosie) completed. Ohhh, myyyyy goodness! I think Salem is damn near unflappable, but I'm not sure how he would feel about this wacky stuff --

1. Find the man hiding in the trees and ask him how many deer he’d seen today. (He was hiding by event # 6 which was a standing log jump…..he was in the trees as we sailed over the jump…tricky)

2. Turn on the forehand 360 degrees within a painted circle.

3. Remove clothes pins with ribbons blowing from trees and move them to another tree (not too tough but a little hairy with the flappy colors)

4. (OMG this one) Stay within a small fenced area in the formation of a Z…..pushing a huge white ball with a broom! You have to keep the broom and the ball ahead of you while you maneuver through the fenced zigzag.

She got a lot of praise for this! She was blowing, hopping, reversing, snorting…..but we did it!

5. Trot by 3 stuffed deers and shoot Nerf gun balls at them.

6. Step over stacked logs…or pop it at a walk (which is what we did)

7. Climb a 12 foot hill, quietly down the other side, then walk over a mattress, 4 foot piece of shiny glittery material, and then step on a plank of tin.
(She did a Rosie dance but made it through with a few extra beads of sweat)

8. The enchanted forest………..not so good. Had to walk through a large curtain of strung beads, listening to howling wolves, crows and goblin noises. Pass through a herd of goats and reach down into a crinkly bag of animal crackers.
Did everything but the beads.

9. Dismount, rub horse with a plastic bag attached to a stick, remount with out the horse moving. Fabulous job

10. Throw 3 tennis balls through a huge wooden horse’s mouth. Scary with the balls winging by her eyes, but we did all 3.

11. Walk across a board that teeter/tooters as they step on it. She followed my paint horse……she was a little jittery, but we made it.

12. Throw a lariat over a steer head on a stack of hay.

13. (OMG!!!!) Walk through the woods to encounter 2 huge Christmas blow-up figures with the motors buzzing to keep them blown up. She was a little wiggy…but we made it past them without incident.

14. (She was a champ at this one) Walk into a large pool of murky water. Have a long rope handed to you with a 4 foot blown up alligator attached that you have to drag behind you as you walk through the water!

This was tough for many horses!!! Rosie pranced through the water with that gator following her like she was in a parade.

15. This was horrible. They put 2 vertical posts 6 feet apart. 6 holes each side with pool noodles sticking out horizontally like wiggly posts. We had to walk through this (but there was no visual opening. You had to convince your horse he/she could go through these without being eaten by the noodle gobbler).. I had Brooke stand directly on the other side and slowly walk away. Rosie thought she was being left behind, so she only fought for a minute…..then charged through!

OK, this has definitely given me some inspiration! I'm not quite sure how everyone else at the barn would feel if I made an obstacle course like this one, though. Salem and I might be asked to pack our bags and leave!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

To Draw Rein Or Not To Draw Rein

...that is the question.

Yes, I am still thoroughly flummoxed (isn't that a great word?) and on the fence about the whole draw rein issue. I can see both its potential benefits and its potential drawbacks. So, let's examine the evidence, shall we?

On the one side of the fence sits the Dressage Purists, who believe that any "gadget" is a short-cut, a cheat, and does not teach the horse properly. On the Sustainable Dressage site, it states, "The active draw rein, pulling the bit down and in, in a direction between the attachment at the girth and the hands, trap the horse. There is room to move inside the confinement, but not in the desired direction - forward-down-out. The horse can however curl back in (green position). It can also shorten the neck and elevate the head some (red position), in trying to relieve the action of the bit.

In order for the horse to be able to relax the jaw and poll, and stretch forward-down-and-out as one would wish, the rider needs to give the draw rein out of the hand more than an equal amount, and to be honest - this is not something draw rein protagonists tend to do! Instead, much of the problem seems to originate with a non-feeling hand that reluctantly gives, and rarely with any good timing. Stretching is not a priority for these riders, as much as pulling together and shortening the frame.

The short draw rein will do exactly the same as the underline muscles during rollkur work - they will shorten the underline and pull on the nuchal ligament to be wrapped around the spinal column lengthwise, and compress it. The bottom of the S-curve will push out, and the horse will hollow. Added to this, the exaggerated pressure on the tongue will cause stiffness in the jaw and poll, which will tense the topline in the same way as a stargazing horse tenses his topline. Whether the horse actually holds his head way up, or is striving to move his head upwards but stopped by the draw reins, it's all the same. The same hollowing reflex is at work. "

Yikes! Are you all running and throwing out your draw reins yet?! Deep breaths, and stay with me. I think one very important point to note is the section that I italicized above -- "In order for the horse to be able to relax the jaw and poll, and stretch forward-down-and-out as one would wish, the rider needs to give the draw rein out of the hand more than an equal amount." I'm certainly no expert, but my interpretation of this is, "Don't crank the horse down with the draw reins, keep them loose as a guide." Yes? No? And, of course, I personally always follow the basic rule, "As soon as the horse responds to pressure, reward him immediately by taking that pressure away."

Ok, on to the other side, the People Who Believe In Draw Reins. I found an article on Equisearch, which was taken from a Lisa Zinger article written for Practical Horseman. Here's what she had to say --

"Draw reins (and side reins) also let your horse know he can lower his head under saddle. If he's unfamiliar with stretching down, draw reins let him feel contact as he stretches forward and down while you have your leg on and your fist closed around the reins. But you're not "cranking" his head down; you're encouraging him to lower his neck and head, with his nose just a little ahead of the vertical, by guiding him to that position with your fingers softly closed on the draw reins. When his head is where you want it (here's a moment where your trainer's input is valuable), your draw-rein contact needs to be giving, even loose.

Draw reins show your horse the way, but you don't want him to depend on them once he's there. Constantly riding with draw reins may teach him to hang or lean on them ; when you take them off, he may be less on the bit than before because they were "holding" him there. He may even throw up his head or poke out his nose - the very things you were trying to teach him not to do. So keep draw rein sessions short: Warm him up in regular reins, ride five or ten minutes with draw reins, and then ask him to maintain the proper neck and head position with regular reins. If he pokes his nose forward, close your hands and legs for one or two strides and see if he responds by coming back. If he doesn't reinforce the lesson with another five or ten minutes with draw reins, and then ask him to maintain the proper neck and head position with regular reins. If he pokes his nose forward, close your hands and legs for one or two strides and see if he responds by coming back. If he doesn't, reinforce the lesson with another five or ten minutes using draw reins. Finish your schooling session with a free rein to let him stretch his neck.

Don't use draw reins every day. Use them periodically, as a reminder - for instance, at times when your horse is offering more resistance, or when you introduce a new or more difficult exercise."

She also says that draw reins should be attached to the sides of the girth between the saddle flap and the horse's elbow, never between the front legs (as I was taught). She says this is "a severe use of draw reins that can overflex the horse." Wow, you learn something new every day!

Hhhhhmmmm. I'm still not sure where I stand. I definitely know that I don't want to be a Draw Rein Junkie -- I used to know a few (at my old barn up North), who put them on their horses every ride, crank their horse's chins down, and then expect you to drool over what a great "head-set" the horse has. These horses, of course, learn to lean into the draw reins, as their riders never give them any release from pressure, so the rider has to constantly hold the horse up. That's certainly not my idea of a fun ride. And it also does not teach the horse self-carriage (which is supposed to be the ultimate goal).

As a little experiment, I rode Salem in draw reins today. I kept them fairly loose; and, to be honest, he started out pretty ostrich-necked, as usual. But, as we went along, he started to get it. We had one amazing moment -- after cantering on the right lead, I asked for a downward transition and *yowza!* found a whole new gear that I never knew Salem had. Somehow, my leg had magically found its "home," Salem was soft and flexing and right there, perfectly between my hands and my legs. We found this big, powerful trot that even had a touch of suspension. And, while it was forward, it didn't feel rushed -- because he was actually using his back-end and pushing with his back legs. We trotted once around the field like that and, Lordy, it felt ever so loverly! After once around, I brought him back to a walk and gave him lots of pats and praise.

So, after my experience today, I'm thinking..."Well, maybe I should use them every once in a while, just to show Salem exactly what I want from him." I'm still not sure. What do you all think? I would love to hear your opinions, both pro and con. And, for those of you who do use them, what do you think about draw rein placement? Do you put them between the front legs or on the sides? All opinions are welcome.

P.S. Aaaack! Three posts in a row with no pics! Dearie me, my standards are slipping (and so soon!). I brought the cam out today, fully charged and complete with memory card. Unfortunately, I was in a bit of a hurry to get on before the sun went down (*shakes fist* Damn you, Daylight Savings!) and it was, of course, far too dark afterwards. My Jennie-friend was there, but she was having waaaaaay too much body-clipping Savvy and Largo to take pics of little old me. *sigh* I'll get some soon, I promise!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Oooooooooo! This looks promising!

I was just over at the Sustainable Dressage website and found an intriguing article about the shoulder-in volte. This exercise apparently teaches the horse to engage from behind and round, as well as stretch the back, lower the neck, and relax the jaw. You can read the article here --

I'm planning on going over this article very carefully and then trying it out on Salem tomorrow before I get on him. We're still having a bit of an "ostrich neck" issue and I would like to teach Salem to stretch down and out without relying on "gadgets" like draw reins or de gogues. I know next to nothing about dressage, but I really want to do things right with this guy. Please keep your fingers crossed for us, and I will report back (hopefully with good news!).