A chilled Filly

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.

Moved again

It's been a hectic few days to say the least.
I've been riding in the big field with Bonitao a fair bit. The other day he spooked and, stupidly, I did not have his overreach boots on. As a result he pulled the front right shoe half off. Once back at the yard I removed it and inspected the hoof damage. Not too bad, but I wanted to ensure there was no further damage prior to the farrier being able to get there and put a new one on. As a result I decided to leave him in overnight and asked he be left in all the next day.
The following day I went to the yard at around 3:15 pm to get him ready for the farrier who was coming at 4. No sign of Bonitao in his box which was odd. I thought maybe he was in the indoor school. or another stable whilst they mucked the stable out. No sign of him. He was not in his field either. I expanded my search and finally found him a further two fields away with a different horse, the gate of which was not held closed.
He was a little jumpy and his neck and shoulders were covered in dry sweat, a sure sign of mental stress. On giving him a good look over I found a graze on his left hind leg as well. Obviously something very bad had happened.
I rang the yard owner and asked what on earth was going on. He said that the staff had gone to skip him out. Instead of moving him or tying him up outside they had just left the stable door open and parked the wheel barrow in the doorway. They know that Bonitao has a habit of running away from them so this was not a bright move. He took his chance and jumped the barrow through the stable door. I assume this is when he got grazed. Then he ran to his field. Finding the field gate shut he continued up the path and pushed his way through the unlatched gate (there's no latch on it) into the field I found him in. Then, of course, they couldn't catch him.
Despite the yard owner knowing I was at home on standby and therefore contactable by phone nobody bothered to let me know what had happened. If they had I could have gone to the yard and retrieved Bonitao from the field before he damaged his hoof further. As it happened he did chip the hoof quite badly and the farrier struggled a bit to put the shoe on.
When I suggested that really this was a very stupid thing to happen and that I was really very angry about it the owner implied it was all the fault of the horse. I asked if we couldn't get some staff who were better at handling horses. The owner does not like any criticism of his staff so said we should leave the yard as soon as possible.
Things have been building for us to leave as the standards there have dropped further and further so I didn't argue.
We quickly rang around our friends and one said we could come to her fields immediately. So the day before yesterday Bonitao was moved, yesterday being devoted to getting all our other horse equipment out of the place. Stable mats were the hardest to move, and the smelliest.
Whilst there we were told by other liveries that the three mares in Fillys' field had escaped overnight and wandered the yard until the morning. Then yesterday another horse was found in the hay field having escaped from a different field. Later on I heard a further four had got out of their field. So that was 8 escapees in a period of around 24 hours. There is also a race horse who has such deep wire cuts on his legs that it is possible he'll never be ridden again. The fencing at the yard was one of our bigger concerns. Bonitao still has the remains of a cut on his neck from the sharp point of a broken wire fence (I found hair on the fence), which has still not been repaired.
All in all I find I am sleeping better at night now. I had been getting the growing feeling that it was only a matter of time before there was a really bad accident there and we were almost perpetually worried as to what state we would find our horses in when we went to the yard.
We will miss many of the people on the yard, and their horses. But in the end the draw they provided for us to stay was outweighed by the worry about the welfare of our horses and it was the right time for us to leave. Filly being away only made this easier as we only had one horse to move.
So we have a new adventure now. We are in a beautiful part of the Chiltern hills with a lovely set of fields. The lady we are now with does Natural Horsemanship as does her daughters. In fact some of them went to JRFS for a course this summer and loved it. It will be nice to be at a yard (even if only temporarily) where we have like minded folks, though being somewhere without a school or stables is going to be a bit of a mental shift. I can't thank them enough for coming to out rescue.
Enough waffle for one post. I'm now going to the fields to go out for a hack with them and be shown the local riding areas :) .

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Good news and bad news

I went to see Filly again yesterday and there is good news and bad news.
The good news is that her hooves look amazing. The frog is much stronger as are the bulbs on the back of the hoof. The surface of the sole looks strong with no cracking. The grooves have deepened and the bars are coming back really well. Also the toes have shortened considerably on both the fronts and the backs. The best looking hoof is probably the front left.
This is ironic as she is also hopping lame on the front left. In fact she finds walking very difficult indeed. We assume that the abscess has flared up again which is a real shame. She was apparently doing very well up until last Saturday when she showed slight lameness. This has rapidly worsened over the weekend until yesterday (Monday) she was very very sore.
Nics' plan was to put her out in the field last night. The fields are wet at them moment and hopefully that will help soften the hoof horn a little to allow the abscess to break out. This is different to the way I've normally seen abscess problems treated, but I trust Nic to be doing what she knows is right. In the end it kind of makes sense to allow nature to sort it out. She would poultice the hoof but neither of us could feel any particular warm spot on the hoof to know where to apply it. In fact the hoof was not that warm at all.
As to her general demeanour, she is just being Filly. We brought her slowly into the barn and she got upset she was separated from her gang of admiring geldings. There were other horses in the barn, but not her particular followers. One of them was brought in and she immediately settled down and went to sleep.
I gave her a long groom and scratch which she accepted gratefully. I also noticed that anytime I went near her left front foot she picked it up clearly asking for the pain to be taken away. It was hard to not be able to help her.
I spent about 8 hours driving yesterday to spend 4 hours with her. Well worth the effort. Hopefully next time I visit she will be a bit better and I can take her for a quick play session.

Friday, 29 August 2014

Riding Bonitao in the big field

I've taken a break from working in the school. I think we both needed time away from the place. I've been on standby for work as well which means I can only ride in the evening after my standby has ended. So we have been going to the big field on the farm for the last two evenings to get some exercise.

The first trip to the field was a little eventful just getting there. As we came past the row of horse trailers Bonitao got really worried. He actually tried to bolt past them and I had to bend him to a halt. No big drama but a little unexpected. So we played with the trailers for a while, just doing the ridden squeeze pattern until he was confidently eating grass right next to them.
The first day in the field was pretty good. He had highish energy levels, the forwards walk was very forwards. But we just did a lap at walk, another at trot and a last one at canter. We through in the odd refuelling stop to take on some grass from time to time.
The lap at canter was a little tricky. He wanted to really tank off, so we just rode circles until he relaxed and then carried on our way.

Yesterdays field trip was more exciting. He was fine going to the field, the trailers holding no worries for him other than a slightly suspicious glance. The first lap at walk went well until we got to the far hedge. He's always had a problem with this hedge. I have no idea why, and I doubt we can ever really know what worries a horse about any situation, we can just have what are usually unhelpful theories. Unhelpful in that we then become anxious in a similar situation and transmit that to the horse when otherwise they would have been fine !
But he was worried and started spooking and prancing all the way along the hedge. This was not desired behaviour. But then the oft repeated phrase of James Roberts came to mind. "Get them thinking to their feet". We started doing all sorts of patterns. Figure 8, sideways, direct rein, indirect rein, back up etc etc. I tried to ride exactly the same as I would in the school in a normal schooling situation. I would not allow any heaviness on the bosal. If he pushed into it then light bumps until he softened and then release. We kept this up for a good twenty minutes. Everytime he relaxed he got rewarded by eating grass. With tenseness came more patterns. Eventually he was relaxed enough to walk a straight line along the hedge line.

In a way this energy was a gift. We achieved some incredible yields. Sideways had impulsion as did the direct reins. So rather than just seeing the negative of the situation I tried to focus on the positive and get some schooling achieved that would actually been harder in the school.
We'll keep going to the field for a while, both to use this energy and to try and get him more confident in the environment.