A chilled Filly

Saturday, 24 January 2015

Walking Filly

Filly continues to make good progress. I've found a route we can walk that includes a quiet road with only a little traffic. This is important as the woods are currently very muddy and slippery. An additional worry about the woods is that there are some flints in the mud and I don't want to risk her cutting her feet stepping on one buried in the slime. Additionally, road work is better for grinding the hooves down naturally so that they become the best shape to support her upper limbs.
This idea that the hoof can adjust to help with problems further up the leg is an important one. I feel that in the past hooves have been shaped by man to best conform to what they think the hoof should look like relative to the lower leg. That may not be the best shape for the rest of the horse. The hooves are the platform that support the rest of the horse and they need to be the shape the whole horse requires, not just the lower limb.

At Rockley farm Nic owns one horse that has been barefoot for many years. The state of the feet were to me shocking when I first saw them. They looked flared and had cracks running up the hoof wall. Nic said that she had hoped I would only see him after I understood more, but having seen him gave me a detailed explanation about his history.
He has a deformity of the upper limb that made him very lame. In desperation they left him barefoot with no trimming, but lots of hard work on varied surfaces. Of course he also lives in the track surfaces at Rockley that are designed to reshape horses hooves naturally with their abrasive surfaces. So he had the best chance to create a hoof that best suited his needs. And this misshapen hoof is what he came up with. As a result he can now hunt over Exmoor and has done 66 miles hunting this year ! Nic said she had tried trimming his hooves to a more "normal" looking shape and he instantly went lame so she learnt to leave him alone.

I think maybe humans interfere with their horses too much on occasion. Maybe rather than impose our idea of the what the horse needs on them we should let nature sort it out for us. This does not mean we can just leave our horses alone and hope they fix themselves. We have to create the conditions for the horse to be able to help itself. In many ways this is harder work than just relying on the trimmer / farrier doing the work for us.
In the case of Filly, as we don't have a track surface for her to live on, it means lots of walking out to find the surfaces her feet need. If I miss the walks for a while the hoof walls do tend to grow a bit longer than I would like. When that happens I very reluctantly take out the rasp and take a tiny amount off around the whole hoof. I don't try to shape the hoof at all, just take the same amount off all the way around. And no more that 1mm. I've only had to do this a few times when I've been away for an extended period and been unable to walk her to let it happen naturally.

The upside is that I actually really enjoy the walks. Filly seems to like them as well and finds the countryside very interesting. Yesterday she insisted on spending a few minutes staring at the local golf course while I explained the strange rituals that take place on that glorious stretch of grass. I think Filly thought that was just a waste of good grass ;)

Sunday, 28 December 2014

Bridleless on Bonitao

Lovely session playing with horse last night. We both went down and I played with Filly whilst Ritchie did a prepare to ride with Bonitao.
The session with Filly was mostly about the circling game again. She is improving quickly. We are mainly working on her "maintain direction" responsibility. But at an advanced level.
It's not about her keeping going at trot in a clockwise direction but about it being a nice smooth circle. She has a tendency to do ovals rather than circles keeping to close when away from the gate and pulling when close to the gate. Her idea is to get into a nice warm stable full of hay and I can't blame her. However she has responsibilities to uphold when she is circling and it is my job to gently coach her into upholding them.
If she pulls away on the halter that means she is pulling into pressure which is not a good thing for a horse that is ridden in a bosal. There are several ways to correct this behaviour. Meet the pull with an ounce more pressure to move her head back onto the circle is one but might mean she pulls harder. Driving the hind quarters out onto the circle is another and this also creates a better arc in her body that conforms to the circumference of the circle. Sometimes it is the shoulder that is pushed in with the neck out, then she is in counter arc which is really bad. So correcting this tendency to pull out on the circle is a fine balancing act of applying pressure to the zone that is causing the problem. It is not just about pulling on the head.
Where she come in too close the job is much easier. I just wave the stick and string around in a friendly game attitude. If she stays on the circle it can't touch her, if she comes in it can. It's her choice.
Once we had established some nice circles is was time to give into her desire for a warm stable and lots of hay.

I returned to the ménage to find Ritchie riding Bonitao. He's going really well at the moment. The bosal is helping us communicate the idea of collection to him very well. Ritchie was working on shoulder in when I got there. He tends to travel around the school with his haunches in so that he is not travelling very straight. To help correct that we are over correcting him at the moment.
Once Ritchie had finished riding it was my turn, just for a few minutes. I started by making sure that all my leg signals for turning were working well and also that he would stop on my body position. I felt so happy with this that I decided to take the bosal off and just ride with a string tied around the base of his neck. The string is only there so that if he looses mental connection with me I can get it back easily.
It was the first time I had ridden Bonitao bridleless, though I had done it often on Filly. But he was a complete star. We even managed sideways over a jump wing and sideways over a pole on the ground. His direct and indirect "rein" were great proving they really come of the legs and body position not the reins.
It was great feeling of freedom to be riding without reins again. I look forward to doing it often in the future

Monday, 22 December 2014

Appreciation of beauty

Filly and I went for a nice walk yesterday. I decided time off from the school was a good idea and also she needs to walk on a variety of surfaces for the sake of her hooves.
It was a chilly but dry day and the track was reasonably dry. The odd muddy section but mostly firm and easy walking. It was noticeable that Filly seemed much much more comfortable walking on the varied terrain than in the past.

As we go up the track out of the yard we climb a short hill. At the top of the hill there is a path which goes off to the left. Filly had made it known in the past that she wanted to explore this track. Yesterday I let her. After just 20 yards or so we got to a gate to a field we could not go beyond. The views from there were lovely though. Now I don't know what horses know or feel about landscape beauty, to be honest I would have thought they couldn't care less. But Filly stood at that gate for a fair while just staring at the view. Not a frightened stare, she seemed very relaxed. When she was ready we continued with our walk. But everytime we came across what I consider to be a pretty view she insisted on stopping and looking for a while and resisted being asked to come along. Then after a minute or so she would look at me and we would carry on along our way with no fuss at all.

I would love to know what is going on in her mind at these moments. After all human experience of beauty in the landscape was only really acquired fairly recently. The Welsh mountains, which to my eyes are beautiful, were until recently considered by most as a wasteful landscape with no value whatsoever. So what, if any, is an animals experience of beauty ?

Saturday, 13 December 2014

Strength to strength

Filly is now doing really well. Over just the last two weeks her feet have noticeably changed in shape, particularly the sole. All the feet are becoming much more concave (which is what we want) and the frogs are looking stronger and stronger. I wonder if this is because the hoof wall growth that started when she was at Rockley farm has nearly reached the ground. Hoof growth starts at the coronet band of course. Once started it then moves down the hoof as new hoof growth occurs. Exactly like a finger nail on humans. So although the changes in angle and density were started at Rockley we have had to be patient for them to get to the ground. They changes are not at the ground yet, there are several months growth still needed for that, but I think that as they are getting close to the sole they are influencing the way the sole is forming.

So we are back to playing properly with less concern for her lameness. I make sure no movements make her lame of course, but the range of things we can do are growing rapidly.
Yesterday we worked on her responsibilities on a circle. She was maintaining gait ok but her direction was not good. She was making ovals rather than circles. The classic circling game of standing still in the middle only happens when she is keeping her responsibilities. My standing still is actually her reward for doing the circle well. If she doesn't keep her responsibilities up then I will do whatever is needed as lightly as I can to correct her. Yesterday that meant spending a fair amount of time where I had to turn with her and correct her movement. But I was always looking for the slightest opportunity to go back into neutral and stand still in the middle thus rewarding her for her good performance.
The balance of when to correct and how firmly is of course the key to this and only comes with experience. It takes practice for both you and the horse. The "game" you are playing with the horse is getting the horse to work out what to do in order for the human to remain in neutral at the center of the circle.

I was watching a video of Pat Parelli the other day and he noted that the big mistake many make is not doing enough circling with their horses. He expects his to do forty (yes 40 !) laps at walk, trot or canter whilst maintaining gait, maintaining direction and looking where they are going. That's quite a standard to set us students to emulate.

As Filly needs lots of work on a circle at the moment to build muscle and also stimulate the hoof to promote its growth this is a perfect opportunity for us to get this really good. We also have a purpose for doing it. Not only to get her responsibilities stronger but to get her physically stronger.

Performing any game with the horse without a purpose is actually counter productive. The horse knows from are body language that we are doing it just to have something to do and without a real purpose and like a human would they resent being pushed around without reason. And when they resent you they loose respect for you and your leadership and either become dull and unresponsive or intractable depending on their particular horsenality.

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Overdue update

I finally feel motivated to update the blog. It's been a tough month or so. We had a farrier threatening us with the RSPCA for the "state of Fillys' feet" plus the ups and downs of caring for a fairly newly barefoot horse.
I'm sure the farrier was acting with the best intentions, though his stable side manner left a bit to be desired. Even though we were fairly convinced Filly was ok we took his concerns seriously and I had both a barefoot trimmer and a vet come out and check Filly over.
The trimmer thought she was doing pretty well fer her stage of rehab. The vet suggested she needed a small amount taking off the inside edge of her hind feet and maybe the toes, but the fronts were doing well.
Neither thought that the RSPCA were even remotely called for.

The ups and downs have been days when Filly was remarkably sound, followed by days of footiness. This has been a ratchett type of affair. Her bad days are now better than her old good days. For example a few evening ago she was lame at trot and canter in the school on both reins. On Saturday we had the osteo visit and she pretty good at all gaits but canter on right lead. This is odd as until recently left lead canter was worst. Like I said, ups and downs.
And then yesterday I played with Filly in the cold evening and she was very sound at walk and trot on both reins. The osteo had said that we need to build up her muscles again by doing lateral work and trotting poles.
We revisited basic sideways game along the fence looking for impulsion and relaxation. On the first traverse she stuck her head over the top rail of the fence and continued with her head up in the air as a result. On the second traverse she sorted herself out by stepping back from the fence a bit and did a nice sideways.
I set up a pattern of sideways along the fence stopping when the relaxation and impulsion were better than the last one. Then half circle around me and back into the fence to go the other way.
I also did a fair bit of work on the backup. Filly had always tended to raise her head for this which mean she did not engage her hind quarters. Yesterday I backed her with the driving game from in front of zone 1. I was looking for any sign of the head lowering. When it did we stopped and rested. I did not worry about speed at all, just head relaxing and lowering. I walked gently with her as we backed so this was not true YoYo game just backing practise.
We also did some 3 track work on the circle at walk to get those hind quarters working better. This was accomplished easily but we need to work on quality.
It was great fun to be able to play again without worrying about her soundness. 

Now as a record of her foot progress here are some before and after photos of her front feet. The first one of each set is the 25th July 2014 just out of shoes and the 2nd one was 2nd December 2014

Sunday, 26 October 2014

Filly is home

On the 11th October I finally brought Filly home. And she came home to our new yard. From just those two sentences it is obvious much has happened !
The new yard is so different from where we were. It's a bit smaller, absolutely spotless and better equipped. It even has a hot shower for horses and another one for humans !
When I say it is spotless I'm not joking. I've even felt obliged to pick up some shed hair I groomed out of Bonitao as it stood out so much. Everyone on the yard has been very friendly and gently interested in how we train and ride our horses. But to be honest it is so quiet there that we rarely have to share the huge outdoor school with others. Even if we do it's not a problem, even if a jump lesson is taking place at the same time.
When we moved Bonitao there it took him a day or two to settle in. However he only ran away from them a couple of times in the first week and has not done so since. The energy levels of the place are much lower and I think that has made him more confident.
One big plus is the fact that we can leave the yard straight on to great paths for hacking out. No road work at all. Being on the side of a hill that's made of chalk it's dry as well. We are told that some of the paths get very muddy in winter, but up to now it's been mostly bone dry, even after rain.

We picked Filly up on the 11th October after her 3month rehab holiday on Exmoor at Rockley farm. She loaded very well for the journey home, but the journey was difficult again. She "danced" for around 3 hours of the 4 1/2 hour journey and got off the trailer very stiff. I could go on about her progress at Rockley, but that is better done by the Rockley farm blog .
After we got home the farrier happened to come around the next day and looked at her feet. He was horrified and from a farriers point of view I can see why. However she is not being shod anymore and is also half way through rehab. As a result of his concerns I took the trouble to have my vet look at the photos and the report from Rockley farm. Over the phone he sounded very impressed by her progress and wants to come out in the next week or so to see Filly in person. The lower part of her hoof is not the shape that you would normally see on a horse, however if you look at the photos the new growth that is coming down the hoof wall is at a radically different angle. Projecting that down one can see what shape the new hoof will be. Primarily the front of the hoof wall will be much steeper. That means that the coffin bone will be held at a steeper angle. This will reduce the stress on both the deep flexor tendon and the navicular bone allowing both the opportunity to repair themselves.
Yesterday we had our horse osteopath also come out and take a look at her. Her main comments were that the hamstring muscles are very tight and we need to stretch them. Her view on the hooves was pretty much the same as ours. They are work in progress and she can see how the new growth will rebalance them.
So two out of three professionals think we are moving in the right direction giving us the confidence to pursue this path.
When she first arrived the yard manager was concerned that she was pretty "footy" going up the track to her field. The track is a very challenging track for a barefoot horse being very rough and rocky. Even Bonitao, who is shod, is very careful. Talking to the yard manager yesterday she said the Filly is coping much much better with the track now.
So all in all the picture is positive but we have a way to go. I've set a personal target of riding her again by next March. It may happen earlier, but I'm not going to ride until she is ready. As they say "take the time it takes and it'll take less time". If I ride her too soon I could put progress back and it'll take longer in the end.

Friday, 26 September 2014

Another visit to Filly

I went to see Filly again yesterday. Due to a mix up with messages Nic had already worked Filly and put her out. We brought her back so I could have a look at her in comfort.
She initially walked a bit lame with the right hind. As this soon cleared up I tend to think that was probably muscular. She has had another abscess in the right hind foot however, which apparently came out at the same time as the left front. I guess this is the price to pay when you first take horses out of shoes. As the feet haven't been stimulated they have gone soft and are more prone to damage until they harden off again. After all she spent the first few years of life without shoes with no ill effects other than the split hoof. She certainly never had an abscess in that time.
Hopefully these problems will sort themselves out over the next few months, patience required.
As a result of these issues she has not been able to load her feet as much as we would like, so whilst progress is still good it's not as fast as Nic would like. However now she is able to walk more she can be worked a little harder and hopefully progress will accelerate.
We took Filly to the arena Nic has so I could see her moving. The first thing I noticed was that the odd little swing her front right used to have has diminished a lot. It hasn't gone but is less attention grabbing. I also noticed that she was tracking up at walk pretty well with around 1/2 hoof print overtrack. Not great but better than it used to be without asking for effort.
Nic worked her for a while but was having trouble getting her to work from behind. She suggested I tried. So we switched to my equipment (rope halter, 22 foot line and carrot stick) and I started to play with her. Very soon she was doing ok ish circles around me and I started to ask for 3 track work. That caused her to flex nicely and start to work from behind.
Nic commented that it looked much better than she had been able to achieve. Nothing to do with Nics' ability as I've seen her working with a traditionally trained horse and it looked good, but Filly is not a traditionally trained horse.
I think that part of the problem is that Nic has seen several folks using Parelli to train their horses. But many many Parelli folks get stuck for a while with just playing the games, but not using the games to produce a performance horse. So many traditional folks who see parelli horse tend to assume that they are never worked in an outline online and then assume that they can't work in an outline online.
We are intending to go back there next Thursday and spend a few days with Filly and Nic. Then around a week or so later she comes home :) :) .

Saturday, 13 September 2014

Should I be angry or sad ?

I'm in Cairo, Egypt today. Some of my crew arranged to go to see the Light Show at the pyramids. Terrifying taxi drive across town to the Sphinx and Pyramids. There appear to be no traffic laws at all. But we only saw one bad crash ;) . The show was pretty good, very dramatic with a voice over that would have sounded good in an epic 1960s movie. The pyramids were amazing, as was the sphinx.
On the drive over I was aware that there were a lot of horses and donkeys being used as working animals. Nothing wrong with that. They appeared a little thin by UK standards and the harnesses could have been better but they did not look badly cared for otherwise. Of course it's difficult to tell when you are speeding past in a taxi, but I chose to give them the benefit of a doubt. It was unusual to see horse and cart trotting down a 6 lane 60mph highway though :eek:
On the return journey I witnessed an incident that soured the evening for me a bit. As we drove past this young guy with a horse and cart I saw him whipping the horse as hard as he could with a long stick as he stood beside it. The horse had obviously tried to defend itself by trying to kick him and now had one hind leg outside one shaft, but the handler was still whipping the horse as hard as he could. I don't know what started the incident of course, I just saw the result. I could not see what the handler was trying to achieve. Punishment ?
As we drove home I couldn't help wondering what my reaction should be to this. The first was anger. But then I reflected that maybe this was how the young man had been taught to handle horses and knew no better. So maybe sadness was more appropriate  ?
Either way humankind has a long way to go before horses are universally treated well. This is a shame because I'm sure that if the young man knew better he would actually get more work done and make more profit with his horse. The horse would last longer as well.
As I really like the Egyptian people (those I've met anyway) and find them very polite gentle people I choose to believe that the man was acting out of ignorance and possibly fear.
Spreading the word of good horsemanship is something I think we should all aspire to do. Like pebbles starting an avalanche if our actions just help a few horse and owners, who help a few more horses and owners maybe we can make this a better place for horses and humans.

Using the slopes

The fields we now ride in are far from flat ! In places they can only be described as steep. Bonitao is not accustomed to walking on hills, let alone being ridden on them. This has given us the opportunity to really develop his balance and make him think more about his feet.
We started by finding one of the shallowest slopes and just asking him to walk, trot and canter in a circle online. For most of the circle he is fine, but the part where he transitions from going downhill to going across the slope has been difficult. We have just slowly allowed him to work out how to do it. He is now clearly being much more careful with his hind legs and has started being really conscious about where he is placing them and how much traction they are giving him.
On the farm there is one field set aside as a play field. It has many obstacles set up making it a great place to use the imagination. For example there is a round pen made of wooden posts and electric fencing tape. This is in an ideal place on an area that is not flat but not too steep either. Great for developing balance whilst following the rail. So that is what I have been doing. Unconventionally I've been following the rail on the outside of the pen. In this new environment it took a while to get him to just follow my intention to remain on the circle and I had to use the reins to keep him traveling around the pen.
The first day we tried this I noticed that he drifted away from the rail at the same point he had trouble on the online circle, when transitioning from downhill to across the slope. I felt that he needed to engage his hind quarters more to help him steer around this difficult turn. Yesterday I started online to ask for three track circles at walk on trot whilst on the slope, with emphasis of going to 3 tracks as he made that awkward transition across the slope. This really seemed to help him. Sometimes we have to help the horse find the easiest way of going.
Once riding I continued with this lesson whilst following the rail. So as we came around the hill I asked for a very slight indirect rein yield to get his inside hind leg tracking under his body to give him more support on the corner without his hind leg sliding out. This really seemed to help.
I had also noticed that he seemed to rush down the hill which also made the turn harder. So I asked for the slowest trot he could maintain, just a little jog, around the the circle. This seemed to really calm him down and make him more confident on the turn. Pretty soon we were jogging nice little circles and he was not panicking as much if a hind foot should slip slightly.
With all the adrenalin now out of his body the next problem was stopping him eating the lush grass in the play field :) . 

Saturday, 6 September 2014

Riding at the new yard

Helen, who is now looking after Bonitao for us, asked if I wanted to hack out with her today. As I don't know any of the rides around the new place I jumped at the idea.
Riding in a new area is always a little tricky to start with. And even more of a challenge when there are no stables and you're not used to the setup.

First thing was to take Smokey, Bonitaos new field mate, back to his own herd so that he would not be on his own when we went out. In the couple of minutes that took Bonitao worked himself up into a huge separation anxiety. He was cantering around yelling for his mate, even though he could still see other horses around. I just waited for him to look to me for as a place of safety and comfort where he could feel better. Pretty soon he walked at liberty with me to the gate where I haltered and groomed him. Another example of using a stressful situation to my advantage and seeing it as a potential gift rather than a problem.

I saddled up near the car and started a prepare to ride. I wasn't after anything fancy, just calmness on a circle, some figure 8 patterns and some falling leaf patterns. All designed to give him focus and something to think about. As we did them all on a slope he had to think even more to his feet than usual which helped, but did highlight that he is not the well balanced on sloping ground. This definitely need working on. We also explored the area with some zone 3 driving to let him have a good look around from the perspective of being in front of me.

Then Helen and her friend arrived with their horses and we wandered up to the play field for some more prep and to start the ride. It's so nice to be somewhere where everyone knows the program, can anticipate what others are going to do and fit in around each other.

Once mounted Helen led the way on our hack. Bonitao does not like being behind, but that is where I desired him to be. It was hard work, but with Helen helping with the beep beep game we succeeded in keeping him behind the withers of Helens horse for the whole ride.

The beep beep game consists of the rider of the lead horse protecting her horses space with their stick. So if Bonitao came too close to Helen she just waved her stick around to protect her space. If Bonitao walks into that stick and gets knocked, well that's his fault. It has the advantage that I don't have to be the nagging rider always saying "no, slow down", but the horse still stays where we want him.

Bonitao never really gave up but became less pushy as the ride progressed, probably because it was a longish ride with some steep hills and he was knackered :) .

When we got back to the fields he was still very heavy in my hands, so whilst the others put their horses away I continued to work on getting him soft. I did not get off until he was following my feel in a polite and relaxed way.
Again it was great being somewhere where the others knew exactly what I was up to and I didn't feel I had to defend my actions.

Such a relaxing horsemanship day, even if the riding was a little difficult at times. I look forward to many more in the weeks to come.