A chilled Filly

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Touch all over

On James Roberts plan the second item is "touch all over". And he means all over. There should be no "yeah but" spots.
It has taken me the better part of a year to get to the point I could literally touch Filly all over and am I glad I took the time now. The difficult spot that took most of the time was the flank up to her teats. I got badly kicked at one point when trying and nearly passed out with the pain. Folks at the yard were a little derisive that I spent so much time getting to the point I could handle her teats relatively easily. But it has now paid dividends.

Filly starting lactating yesterday. I was gently playing with her and was more than a little shocked when a stream of milk came out of her teats. A quick phone call to our vet, Ben, and he reckoned she could be having a little phantom pregnancy brought on by the changeable weather and the fact she is on box rest. But he stressed that to ensure she did not get mastitis it was important to clean her teats.
A year ago that would have been an extreme sport, but because of the touch all over from James it was relatively easy. To be honest she was not wild about me using a wet sponge (maybe I should have used warm water ) but she was fine with my hands. She had a lot of nasty gunk there so I was pleased to be able to get it clean and reduce the infection risk. The last thing I need when she is about to go away for 12 weeks for rehab.
So a question to ask is "can I touch my horse ALL over, even in those slightly embarrassing bits, or am I going to find I can't when a medical emergency arrives?"

Filly is a lot better

For the last 4 or 5 days Filly has been much much better. She can now walk on concrete with only a little lameness. Where she used to dip her nose almost to the ground when her left front foot touched the ground she is now much more even. I can only assume that the equithane pads we had tried in her shoes had put too much pressure on the sole and had bruised it. Once the pad was removed it took a while for the bruising to heal.
Despite the improvement I have taken the descision to leave her on box rest. There are two reasons for this
1) We cannot afford for her to run around the field and pull a shoe off. To go barefoot at Rockley farm they want her brought there with at least 4 weeks of good hoof growth
2) When she had the tildrum and hrydro cortisone injection the vet was keen that she had at least 2 weeks box rest to give the injections a chance to work

So the problem has been to manage her on box rest. To be honest she has been much calmer than in the past and pretty easy to deal with. I've groomed her twice a day partly to get the dust off her and partly to give her main muscle groups a good massage. She started not liking being groomed at all, but now actually seems to enjoy it. This enforced rest has actually been very good for her. She's had a lot of attention and has become much calmer being handled. Possibly because I have been on leave from work and able to give her a very consistent way of being handled.

I played with her a little today. Just getting her to back up over a pole one foot at a time, then come forward one foot at a time. And by one foot at a time I mean pausing for at least 30 seconds between moving each foot. This is to prepare her for getting on and off the trailer. If you remember her big problem is getting her feet over the lip of the trailer onto the ramp, particularly the back ones. So this acts as preparation for that.

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

To lighten the mood

After the last, slightly depressing post I thought I would recite a few little stories from the last week or so.
Before Filly was confined to her box we were letting her in the indoor school for a leg stretch every day. The yard owner Rick did this last week. After a while he went to check she was ok. He found that she had pulled the mounting block out into the school and had sat on it. She even had one of her hind legs of the ground as she rested her bum on the top of the box. As he said all she needed was a cigarette coming out of the corner of her mouth and she would have looked very cool and chilled :) .
We always make a point of handling our horses legs a lot. This includes wrapping a rope around them and teaching them to yield to the pressure when we pull on the rope so that we can literally lead them by the leg. I had heard that is helps to prevent injuries if they get caught in wire, but was always slightly sceptical this would actually work.
The other day I was in her box chatting to the vet on my mobile. She started lifting her right leg and pawing at the haynet. I wondered what she was trying to do as she was doing it over so gently. In the end she managed to rest her hoof on the net and started chewing her chestnut ! She was using the hay net as a foot rest. Unfortunately this net was one with large holes and her foot slipped through into the net so she got stuck. I quickly finished my phone call as she looked at me very calmly but was clearly saying "Oops. Help please". She did not struggle once. I just lifted her leg and with a bit of fiddling managed to get her hoof back out of the net. I then dumped the hay on the floor and left a note not to give her a hay net again, just put the hay on the floor.

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

A painful journey

I know it has been a while since I posted. So much has happened I hardly know where to start.
The slight lameness Filly had when cantering finally lead us to consulting a vet. A vet I really trust and like. He came out to assess Filly several months back and decided to have her into the clinic for a proper check up. The finding was that she was sore in the right front foot. X-rays were taken at that point and hydro-cortisone injected into the hoof. After a couple of weeks of rest she was assesed again, and whilst a little better she was not as good as was hoped.
It was then decided to take her for an MRI scan. The result was that both front navicular bones were chipped, and the front right deep flexor tendon had a little damage. As a result of the chips some of the soft tissue in the area was a little inflammed.
The recommendation was to have more hydro cortisone and a new drug called Tildrun administered. To help with circulation on the hooves we then re-shod her with some equithane pads in the shoes to activate the sole of the hoof and the frog. After around 5 days she became very very lame on the front left hoof. The shoes and pads were removed to make sure there was no infection in the hoof, and then reapplied again. She remained lame.
It was then decided to remove the pads in case they were causing undue pressure on the soles. My heart lifted as she immediately walked better. Feeling much happier I left for the UK gliding national championship. This takes place over 9 days. On the morning of day 2 my wife rang me and said she had called the vet as the right leg was now hot below the knee and she was still lame on the left. I felt I could no longer remain at the competition and so hurried home to nurse Filly.
During all that time I had been investigating what we could do to help Filly recover. During that search it was recommended I look at Rockley Farm which specialises in rehabilitation of horses with navicular problems. This resulted in a 4 hour drive to Exmoor to see the place. I'll write a longer post about Rockley when I have more time, but the basic premise is to take the shoes off the horse and allow natural movement on a variety of surfaces which help to remodel the hooves to a better shape. After consulting with my vet, who had already heard good things about the farm, we have now arranged for Filly to go to Rockley on the 21st July. She will be gone for 12 to 14 weeks and she'll be 4 hours drive away. This is going to be tough and put lots of miles on my car. But it's worth it for the chance we can make Filly happy on her feet again.
Whilst there she will have her own blog to keep me in touch with what is happening. I'll share the web address of the blog when I have it.
So my focus for the next two weeks is to keep her in a condition where she can travel, a journey I am not looking forward to. But this is a journey for Filly and Filly alone. It is not for us to go on holiday together where I sometimes wonder if the trauma of the journey is worth it, it is to give her the best chance I can to get better.
This is an abbreviated version of all the ups and downs (which included many tears) we have had over the last few months and I hope helps explain why I have been a little quiet.

Saturday, 21 June 2014

Back to the vet

As a result of the recent MRI scan Filly had to go back to the vet yesterday for more injections. They couldn't be done at Manor farm as one of the injections, Tildrun, is adminstered slowly via a drip. The drug can make horses colic so it was felt that being under constant observation at the vet was a good idea.

She had to be there be 08:30 which meant an early start. Trailer loading did not go as well as in the past. Purely my fault. I should have left more time and even though I tried to be calm and patient I must having been giving off hurried signals. The result was trailer loading took longer than if I had left more time and been more patient. Her problem is still getting her hind feet over the junction between the ramp and the trailer. She finds this mentally very hard to do and lots of patience is required to give her confidence.

As usual the journey was not good. She arrived at the vets very sweaty. I can't sedate her on the way to the vet as they will be doing that there for the procedure and a double dose would not be a good idea. I always try and let her calm down before letting her off. I'm looking for her muscles to relax and for her to start eating hay in a calm, not frantic, manner. Then I let her off, but almost immediately ask her back on again. I want her last memory of the trailer to not be escaping it after a bad journey, but quietly walking on to it and eating hay. This makes the next loading much easier.

I left her in the very capable hands of the vet and his assistants and went to do other chores.

Returning at around 1pm I was told it would be wise to wait a little longer as the drugs had caused her mild colic. So I stayed and had a lovely cup of tea with one of the equine staff chatting about natural horsemanship. She was very open minded and interested.

Once Fillys' stomach had settled it was time to load her again. With as much time on my hands as I wanted my personal energy was very different. As a result so was the loading. Very patiently I waited until she was ready to put those hind legs in the trailer, then I asked her out again. She actually did not want to leave the hay net so reloading then went much easier.

The journey home was again difficult, but maybe not quite as bad. I took my time over the unloading, again reloading her repeatedly until she walked calmly on and ate hay. Job done for the day I tidied up and went home to prepare for my evening of aikido training. A very busy day :)

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Result of MRI scan

A long day yesterday. We had to get Filly to the vets by 9am for her MRI scan. That was a one hour drive. She loaded ok, but again the travelling was not great. When we arrived at the vets the staff there took one look at her and ran to get a bucket, sponge and scraper to wash the sweat off her. They were so nice and helpful it gave me great confidence in them looking after her for the day. I had been prepared to spend the whole day looking after Filly, but when we saw how compassionate the staff were we decided we could leave her in their capable hands.
It then occurred to us that we were half way to JRFS so decided that rather than hanging around the vets we would go and see our friends there.
We had a great day watching Josh playing with 5 colts, some of which he rode and some he did ground work on.
He really fired difficult questions at us this time. Not just about horses either. He would give a scenario of a rider and a student and ask what patterns would be best for them to practise to progress. That made us really think about the purpose of the patterns and how to use them to help the rider and the horse. In the past as we were the rider we only had to think about the horse. Thinking about both was much harder to do as the pattern had to match the needs of both.
We had arranged to be back at the vets by around 17:30 in the evening. When we arrived we found Filly back in her box and wide awake. As soon as she saw me she gave a huge shout and got really excited, which was a great welcome.
Before we left the vet, Bruce, showed us the MRI scans for her front legs. They had taken a scan of both front hooves. They showed that both the front navicular bones have small chips that have aggravated the soft tissue in the area causing soreness. In addition the front right "deep flexor tendon" has a small amount of damage. The suggested treatment was for a hydro-cortisone injection into the effected area on the right hoove and a course of tildren ( a drug that helps prevent bone degeneration). The vet seemed optimistic that the treatment would help her and she would probably be rideable again.
I hope this turns out to be the case, but if not she will still be my online and liberty horse so out story is not over yet !
For the journey home I prepared her for loading as usual. The surgery has a lovely sand school that I used to prepare her for loading using the usual games. It was noticeable that on this lovely sand she moved so much better than in the school at Manor Farm.
The loading went very well. Again I used a lot of patience and as one of the staff watched us playing with the trailer Filly suddenly self loaded. This resulted in the staff member asking us loads of questions about our methods. She said she had seen many ways of loading a horse, but ours seemed to be very gentle.
We had given Filly a mild sedative for the drive home and she was very very chilled. She ate the whole way and arrived at Manor Farm dry and without having done a single dropping. She also unloaded very calmly and settled into her stable with very little fuss.
The farrier is coming today to put the shoes back on that had to be removed for the MRI. Hopefully the injections can be performed on Friday, but we have to go to the local vet surgery for that.

Monday, 16 June 2014

Trailer loading

Tomorrow is a day I am not looking forward to. Filly has to go to a vet about an hours drive away for an MRI scan on her hoof. The result of this will determine our future.
But to prepare for the journey trailer loading practise must not be ignored. It would be a shame not to be able to get her to her appointment. So the afternoon was spent playing with the trailer.
It's best not to focus on the trailer as a means of transport when doing this as I get too focussed on getting her in, and not focussed on improving our communication. Today I decided to really work on my skills at feeling her slightest try. As luck would have it I have just read Mark Rashid's book "Horses Never Lie" again. That must make the fourth reading. In it he describes closing his eyes to see if he can feel a "try" even better than in the past. I decided to give the idea a go.
The feel I wanted was of the porcupine pressure I was applying to the lead rope to ask her to enter the trailer. To do this I had to be standing in the trailer of course, but on the side another horse would occupy.
I started with my eyes open as she was a bit worried and played very gently until she relaxed. Then I closed my eyes.
That takes a lot of trust ! But Mark was right. As soon as I closed my eyes I could feel communication down the lead rope I had never felt before. I can't even describe some of the feelings that were sent to me. But it was intuitive and obvious as to when to release the pressure. I had to feel it, I couldn't see it. Filly became softer and softer. Even her eye changed its intensity and became soft.
This softness lead to me discovering that what she was really worried about with the trailer was not getting on, it was getting a back feet over the lip of the trailer and onto the ramp as she got off. She feared the metal strip, which to her metal shoes felt slippery. We spent a long time just letting her "pad" her hind feet around until she became more confident with the transition from trailer to ramp.
As that confidence grew, so did her confidence in getting on. Without the calm softness we had developed when I closed my eyes I am not sure I would have noticed the problem.
Maybe I should play with her more with my eyes shut :)

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

The tripod tested

Filly had managed to stand on her own hoof and pulled one of the nails out of the front left hoof. So we asked our farrier, Nick, to come and sort out the damage she had caused.
He came today, took one look at the hoof and decided to remove the shoe, trim the hoof and put it back on. The test of my training with the farriers tripod was coming much much earlier than I anticipated !
To be fair the training had been going well. We had started with rewarding for just having the hoof on the tripod and got to the stage where we were rewarding for her actually balancing the tripod. In other words, if it started to rock over I would help her bring it upright again, click and treat. She soon got the hang of this and so I was working on extending the time the hoof was on the tripod.

Then the farrier came.

I explained to Nick that the cue for the tripod was "Filly, tripod" and point at the desired leg. She then at the least takes the weight of that leg and allows it to be place on the tripod. He tried this and was very impressed when it worked. He then commented that she was actively trying to balance the tripod as he worked on the hoof. This was a big turn around from our previous experiences where she had repeatedly knocked it over causing Nick real problems.

The best was yet to come. Nick decided to remove the other front shoe and trim the hoof as it had grown so well. This is the hoof we are trying to rebalance so that was really good news. So we came to the tripod with this hoof. He picked up the tripod and put it in front of her. Without even being asked she picked the hoof up and gave it to him. I think Nick was very impressed. As for, Filly she gave him a great big wet kiss around the back of his neck and into his left ear :) .

I now have visions of getting her to balance her hoof on a sawn off broom stick... just for fun.

Monday, 5 May 2014

Farriers tripod

I created a monster when I taught Filly to stretch her leg forwards. She seems to really enjoy have her leg pulled forward and then really stretching into my hand. Great for horse yoga, not so great for the farrier.
When the farrier is performing the finishing touches to the shoeing he place the hoof on a tripod to hold the hoof at a convenient height for using the rasp. This was very close to the position that she puts her foot in for that nice stretch so she puts all her weight on it and it falls over. Not helpful at all.
After a few shoeings like this I got my farrier to get me a tripod I could use at the yard for training. This may seem extravagant but I strongly believe that as the owner it is my responsibility to prepare my horse so that my farrier can perform his craft with as little interference from the horse as possible.
So how to train a horse to place the feet on a tripod and hold it there. It seemed like an obvious candidate for clicker training. So I use the cue "tripod" pick up her hoof and place it on the tripod, click, treat. Then repeat extending the time that she needs to keep the hoof on the tripod for in a relaxed fashion.
After two sessions I just have to say "Filly..Tripod" and point at her leg for her to pick it up. I then place her hoof on the tripod and help her to keep it there relaxed. Today for the first time she actually adjusted the pressure to keep the tripod up. Click and mega treat, then end of session.
I hope to build on this over the next few weeks so that the next shoeing is a little easier.
As for her leading. Today she was very good. Walking back across her field I noticed whenever she tried to get even a step beyond me. Just the energy and intention. Then turned 90 degrees so that she was behind me again maintaining my position in the lead with no fight. Possible in a large space, not so easy on a track of course.

Sunday, 4 May 2014

Leading Filly

Since the last post I've been continuing to take Filly to the field most days. Not to take her to the field as such, just to have a destination for the leading training. I've continued to use the waving of the stick idea where I swing the stick horizontally in front of me stopping it at the point I don't want her to walk in front of. If she comes to far forwards she gets tapped on the chest, the strength of the tap corresponding to how far she has pushed in front.
We had a few tantrums over this to start as she was used to being in front of whoever lead her, the position of the dominant mare. This was challenging her position in the herd and she didn't like it. Now, however, she has really settled down.
The walk to the field was very calm yesterday, far less spooking as she accepts my position as herd leader, and far less pushing in front. Once in the field I have never seen her so relaxed and calm. She grazed as horses should graze, slowly. In the past she was continually taking a bite then walking on with her head up. She could never settle to eat.
This may seem like a little thing, being able to lead your horse. But it has improved so much else, even her expression as I approach her in the stable has improved. She used to lay her ears back a little, not tight but not forwards either. Now she greets me at the door with bright eyes, pricked ears and a little whinny. She has always responded well to firmer handling. She has taught me so much about principle #5. It maybe 5 in Pats list, but in handling Filly I find it is much further up the list than that.
That is just Fillys' horsenality however. Try the same with Bonitao and you'll loose all connection with him instantly. His most important game is definitely Friendly game and the most important principle is "Principles, purpose and TIME are the tools of teaching".