A chilled Filly

Monday, 27 July 2015

Inside the bosal

Now I'm back to riding properly by enthusiasm for studying has increased. So the other night I watched the Mike Bridges DVD on hackemore riding again.

I picked up on several ideas that make more sense to me now. One of the key ones is the idea of riding inside the bosal.

The bosal is a raw hide "hoop" that encircles the horses nose and hangs from a piece of leather that goes over the poll. If the horses face is vertical there is little or no contact from the bosal on the horses face. If the face is not vertical and the nose is sticking out then the bosal rests on the horses nose and provide pressure there. The pressure is supplied by the weight of the bosal and the weight of the heel knot that ties the reins to the bosal. Thus if the horse is flexed vertically then his nose is on the inside of a ring. The rider can use the reins to move that ring around. So if we want the horse to laterally flex to the right the rider applies a little right rein and the left cheek bar of the bosal comes into contact with the horses left cheek/jawbone. If they move there head correctly then the contact comes off and the bosal hangs loose again. Thus they remain "inside" the bosal.

This is what makes the bosal so effective for teaching the horse how to carry there head compared with using a bit. With a bit there is constant contact to ask for the flexion so there is never true release of the entire signal. With the bosal if the horse moves correctly then the bosal is hanging free again and all signal is removed. Thus the horse can search for this spot of complete release and be rewarded when they find it.

Of course this is in the ideal world. In practise they can take to leaning on the bosal, which is a pretty mild feeling. Milder than a rope halter anyway. The rider must not let this happen, but using steady pressure will not be a strong enough signal to get the horse to come of the pressure.
Thus when riding in a bosal it is important to never accept steady pressure from the horse. The signal can be applied with a nice soft feel but if the horse pushes into that feel then the reply should be bumps from the rider proportionate to the pressure the horse is applying. The bumps start light and increase in frequency and intensity until the horse comes of the pressure when they should cease instantly.

This instant release of pressure is a part of the function of a well set up hackemore. To get this to happen reliably and quickly the size and weight of the mecate rein must be correct for the size and weight of the bosal. So for a 5/8" bosal the best is to use a 5/8" 22 foot mecate. As the horse gets lighter in this set up then the mecate can reduce in size and weight to the 1/2" with the 5/8" bosal. When this is light then the horse is ready for the 1/2" bosal.... and so on down the sizes to the 3/8" bosal and mecate.

I've found this image of being inside the bosal has suddenly opened a new door to effectiveness for me. At the moment I'm awaiting a new bosal for Filly so I'm riding her in the rope halter.  The snag with a rope halter is that there is never a total release of course, it's too flexible and is always in contact with the face. Even so this image has had a powerful effect actually making me lighter and more precise with my handling of the reins.
Ritchie was using the image today when riding Bonitao in a true bosal and also reports that it helped her feel.

Can't wait for my new bosal to arrive so I can explore this concept further with Filly.

Tuesday, 21 July 2015


As many of you will know I've become interested in the vaquero tradition. As a result I've been riding our horse Bonitao in a 5/8 bosal and mecate for nearly two years now. With Filly being able to be ridden more it was time to buy a new bosal so we can both ride together. Bonitao is getting to the stage where we probably need to go down a size in mecate, if not bosal, to the 1/2". As a result I've spent some time on the internet researching who produces nice bosals.
I've certainly discovered that not all bosals are created equally during this search and so refined my search to hand braided bosals made in the USA by people who understand their use and ride with them. Preferably from the California tradition of vaquero as that is the style I am particularly interested in.
This search lead me to the website California Classics. Scared that I was going to sound a total fool I rang them and the phone was answered by Dorothy. She started with an explanation as to why she couldn't supply a bosal just at the moment as Aaron has torn the ligaments in his arm and can't braid until next year. But then we started talking about vaquero. And, boy, did we talk. 58 minutes later we hung up (which was lucky as I have free international calls for 1 hour). We talked about all things vaquero. She seemed really excited that here was someone from the UK interested in her heritage.
We spoke about the folks she has known well. Folks you probably never heard of like Tom and Bill Dorrance (she was going to be the co-author of Bills book), Ray Hunt etc. I quickly realised I was talking to someone who "knew" vaquero. She reckoned she had managed to produce 2 good bridle horses herself in her life, but unfortunately could no longer ride.
Some of the information was interesting. There is a style "vaquero" and a person with the title Vaquero. There were actually very few Vaqueros as this was a title bestowed by the elders of the area and only bestowed on the very best horsemen. So many who describe themselves as vaquero maybe riding in that style but may not be worthy of the title.
We discussed Pat Parelli briefly. I explained that that was were I started my horsemanship education and learned that vaqueros even existed. She agreed that it was a good place to start but wasn't sure were Pat was going with his horsemanship now.

The upshot of all this is that we have been emailing a bit and she says she'll answer my questions as they come up but be patient about the reply.
Her website does have a lot of good information on it and I can recommend a read http://www.calclassics.net/index.php . I can particularly recommend the following page  for general interest

Monday, 6 July 2015

A lovely ride

I've missed the horses for the last few days as I've been joint director of the local gliding regional championship. That was over 9 days, though I did manage to make a fleeting visit to Filly a couple of times.
The championship ended last night and I had made sure to have today off to get some chores done and see the horses.

Filly is living out at the moment so I had to collect her from her field. As the track to her field is stony and hard this gave me a chance to asses how she was walking. I'm pleased to say she was pretty good. She still has the odd miss step as she treads on an uncomfortable stone but has generally learnt to avoid those. The trick is to leave the lead rope very very loose and let her find her own way down.

We did all the usual "prepare to ride" routine, but I put an emphasis on a soft feel on the halter. To do this we did falling leaf pattern where I walk forwards while she trots half circles back and forwards in front of me. To get her to keep her distance from me I just swing the stick and string around in friendly fashion. Not trying to tag her but not avoiding it either. The game for her was to work out how to avoid the stick and string. The solution was nice neat turns and a change in her body arc as she changed direction. She got frustrated at one point but then worked it out and really relaxed and chilled about the whole idea. Lots of licking and chewing later and she was ready to ride.

I mount up outside the yard as I don't want to ride her on the rocky track. At this stage that wouldn't be fair on her. Once mounted we rode up the bridleway, which though steep, is not rocky to the carpark at the top. It only takes around 15 minutes which at her stage is ideal. I got off there and let her graze for a while before mounting and riding her back down.

I know for many folks this is a "so what" moment. "You rode your horse to a carpark and back".
But for me it was a big deal for the following reasons
Only once did she get tense and I had to let her relax before asking her forwards. That was the only time on the entire ride I had to use my lower leg. To start walking other than that occasion was just a shift in my intention and a light squeeze with my thighs. During the rest of the ride I actually worked on my own riding by trying to keep me legs and feet soft and still.
At no point did I have to use the reins, though I held them at a length just short of a contact to start with. By the end it was one handed and loose.
I kept stroking and reassuring her that I was still there by talking a load of nonsense.

We met some hikers on the way home which she was a little nervous about. So I gave them some treats to feed Filly and they soon made friends.

It wasn't so much the ride as the feeling of total contentment. She was not lame at all, even coming down a fairly steep hill which just heightened my feeling of well being. I think this transferred onto Filly and made the ride even better.

Back to work tomorrow unfortunately with no time to ride which is deeply frustrating after today. Only two days working then two off. Can't wait !!

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Visit from Barefoot trimmer

Another check up for the horses. This time from our barefoot trimmer, Mel.
We started with Filly. I had been concerned that the hind hoofs had become a bit long. Mel agreed, but did not trim them. She just prescribed more road work to get them to wear down naturally.
The fronts were more interesting. The front right is beginning to look pretty good. Most of the old hoof wall from when she was shod has split off. The new hoof has a much shorter toe and the hoof is overall much more upright. This will of course reduce the stress on the deep flexor tendon which will release the pressure on the navicular bursa and make her much more comfortable.
The front left is a slightly odd shape, not at all symmetrical. But Mel feels that this has adapted to the old injury in her right shoulder and should not be made to look pretty. Filly should be allowed to adapt her hooves as her body dictates.
Her right hind has a bit of asymmetry to the inside (medial) half of her hoof. Again Mel feels that this is an adaptation her feet have made to her body and should be left alone.
The believe is that as the hooves adapt to her body her body will have less physical stress on it and that will allow her body to adjust itself to a better alignment. As this happens the feet will readjust as necessary keeping up with the body. So there is a continual give and take going on between the hooves and her upper limbs.
Of course this needs help from us, but not from the rasp or the knife. Our part in this whole equation is to help her move in a better way. In Fillys' case that means straighter and more forwards ( effectively a longer stride). This I can help her with using ground work. When on a circle I can use a flag to encourage the inside hind to step well forwards and under her body. When she gets this right she obviously feels the relaxation as her head lowers and she becomes soft in the body. The periods for which this relaxation is occurring are getting longer and longer.
The flag itself is also use to get her to think about parts of her body. If I see her sides getting tense I just have to move the flag to the spot and it relaxes allowing the head to go back down. Obviously to achive this she has to be totally confident that the flag is not a threatening object, just a caressing one.

So what was the overall impression that Mel had of Filly. Much improved is the answer. She barely touched the hooves, just tidied up the bits that are flaking off anyway and added the slightest roll to her toes. And I mean slight. Maybe a millimetre or so. She could not see any lameness at walk so saw no need to "fix" anything.

Once Mel had left we did the usual prepare to ride and I rode Filly up to the top car park and back with Ritchie leading Bonitao behind us. This is along our normal in hand walking route and she knows she gets to eat grass at the carpark. Ritchie was very sweaty by the time we got there trying to keep up :).
Filly was calmly and confidently very forward with no lameness I could detect at all. And believe me I am on high alert for lameness !! At the car park I got off and allowed her to graze for ten minutes before remounting and riding her towards the stables. On the way down I thought I detected a very very slight limp. To be on the safe side I got off for the steep downhill and we walked quietly back.
So all in all a good report for Filly and our first ride up the hill through the woods.

A good horse day :)

Thursday, 18 June 2015

Good news

We had our horse osteo, Dustie, come and do one of her regular check-ups on our horses. We have these done every six months, or more often if there is a specific problem.

Last time Dustie assessed Filly she thought she was not in a great place. Sore back, tight hamstrings and generally not herself. That was just after she had come back from Rockley Farm and to be honest she does not travel at all well. It was a 4 hour journey home to a new yard and she was not happy about it.
So I was a little nervous as to what Dustie would have to say this time.

I could not be there for the actual visit, but my wife, Ritchie, was. As soon as I got home I rang to find out what was said. I needn't have worried so much.

Dustie reckoned Filly was better than she has ever seen her. Her spark was back, which means should wouldn't stand still for the treatment and needs a dummy in her mouth (rope) to keep her occupied.

She found that a rib was out, probably as the result of rolling. The hamstrings are still a little tight. The right shoulder injury was much much looser and she was moving well.

Interestingly her right canter lead is very smooth, but her left one is very choppy. Until she really gets moving that is. Apparently she had an extreme extrovert moment after her roll and cantered at speed around the school. During this she was moving well on both canter leads and changing lead at will.

I rode her yesterday for the first time in a while. The delay being due to my bad back. She felt really good. No cantering but lots of trotting.

As for her behaviour when being ridden it was not great. She wasn't being dangerous, but she had decided that she wanted to lean on the outside rein the whole time. As a result the ride was much longer than I had anticipated as I dis not want to reward that behaviour by getting off. So we just rode a follow the rail pattern until we managed a whole lap with me having to use no more than phase 2 on the outside rein to keep her straight. This was in the rope halter and I think it time we went back to the 5/8" bosal. After all the rope halter more supple than a bosalita and that is for use on a finished bosal horse just before going to two rein.

Means I'm going to have to buy a 1/2" bosal for Bonitao and a 1/2" mecate to go with it. Time he moved on anyway.

Friday, 5 June 2015

Walking slowly

I was flying my glider the other day when I hit one of the worst patches of turbulence I've ever encountered. It felt like the bottom of the glider was suddenly hit by a large hammer. The shock of the impact went straight into my back. By the time I landed it was a bit sore. Two days later it was very sore. A day after that I was in an A and E in Berlin being x-rayed. No major damage fortunately but according to my physio a nerve that was very very unhappy.

The physio did say I need to walk though and who better to go for a nice walk with than Filly :)

So for the last few days we have been walking up into the hills for 40 minutes or so. It is most comfortable for me to walk correctly but slowly. Filly is used to me striding out and this has caused her a little confusion.

James Roberts always said we should make sure that whenever we were walking we should have a forwards walk. He even got us to practise the correct pace by walking up and down his school and timing us. This was to make a forwards walk a habit for both us and our horses when they are with us. As he said without "forwards" you cannot train your horse in any other area. That's why the first three items on his training scale was "Rhythm, relaxation, forwards".
So for years Filly is used to a forwards walk when we are together.

So this has become and interesting and overlooked exercise for us. I particularly need slowness downhill at the moment. I'm trying to achieve this with a soft feel of course. So I have the lead rope at a relatively short length but with some slack. If Filly walks too fast she takes up the slack and leans on the halter.
I ask gently with a twist of my wrist and a drop in my body energy for her to come back to me. If that requires more than around a pound of pressure I avoid getting into a pulling match by using my other hand and tapping her on the chest with the end of the lead rope. Very soon she realised that pulling on the halter resulted in the tap and she stopped pulling. We are now at the point that just the weight of the snap lifting up as she starts to pull the slack out of the rope is enough for her to slow down.

I do NOT hit her hard with the end of the lead rope, just a light tap. If I need more I increase the frequency not the force so that it becomes annoying to her rather than painful. I don't believe you can teach anything through pain except fear.

This might sound like a boring way to spend a training session but actually it has been really good fun and has yet again been a place for Filly and I to explore a soft feel.

Sunday, 24 May 2015

Update on the feet

Since I last wrote there have been many ups and downs. Fortunately the ups have outnumbered the downs and I feel we are making progress.

Fillys' hooves have now nearly grown a complete new hoof capsule since the start of her time at Rockley farm. Now the new hoof is very close to the ground we are beginning to see rapid changes in the shape of sole. At the moment it looks like she has a badly flared front right hoof, but actually looking at the hoof more closely shows this not to  be the case. What looks like flare near the ground is the remaining hoof wall from when she used to be shod. We can tell this because farriers often smooth the hoof wall with sand paper to "make it look nice". The surface of the "flare" is very smooth and is clearly a vestige of the shod hoof wall. This is starting to break of and the true shape of her hoof is starting to emerge.

This is all helping with her gait. She now trots very nicely on a pretty tight circle on both left and right rein. None of her old head nodding. In fact she holds her head pretty low and even. This is getting better and better with time.

I'm not achieving this using side reins or other constricting devices as I believe that this gives a false impression of how the horse is moving.

What I'm actually do is moving with Filly on the circle abeam zone 3 (hind quarters) and using a flag or stick and string to just ask the inside hind to step under her body as she trots. Timing the ask with the stick or flag is pretty important. I try and get the signal in time with the inside hind foot leaving the ground so that it is able to move under her whilst in its' swing phase.

After a minute or so of this she tends to really flex her body and neck laterally and then the neck vertically. As a reward I then allow her to go onto a bigger circle and relax for a circle or two. I'm increasing the time I ask for the flexion slowly and we can now do two or three circles of flexion before needing a rest.

This was a technique James Roberts used to call "online engaging indirect/direct rein" and it is only now I really begin to understand it. The step under is an indirect rein move but the way it applied tends to engage the hind quarters rather than disengage them. The direct rein is when we go back onto a relaxed circle and hopefully retain the engagement for a stride or two.

So all in all things are progressing well. A vet from the USA came and saw her a few days ago (flu jab) and passed comment that she was starting to get nice frogs. This is particularly significant as he is and ex farrier :)

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Solo hacking

Since I last posted things have moved on well.

Mel has been over again to check up on the progress of both our horses. She is a barefoot specialist. I won't call her a barefoot trimmer as she has yet to see the need to touch our horses hooves with anything more aggressive than her hands, We spent a lovely afternoon with Mel, including coffee and cakes . I hadn't realised fully how far she travels to see us. Around 2 1/2 hours each way !! I am very grateful she takes the time to help us out.
Her report on both horses was pretty good. The main problem was with Fillys right front. It's actually the best looking hoof of the lot but the heels are getting a little long and so the frog has lost contact with the ground. We think that is because she favours the front left and so wears the front right less. So some schooling to get her more balanced was prescribed.

That schooling fits in nicely with doing a "prepare to ride" each day. And yes I have been riding her a fair bit. Several times in the school and now out on a hack.

We have been on two hacks. Both short as we are keeping her ridden work short as she builds muscle. The first was with Bonitao and Ritchie. The first part of the hack is along a road planings track. Filly walks and trots on this fine when not ridden, but with my weight onboard she is finding it a little sore again. Not badly so, just the odd missed step as she steps on something sharp. Other than saying "keep going along the track" I don't try to guide her. She has walked this track many many times now and knows where the best footing is so I just let her meander around to where she feels comfortable.

After two hacks with Bontiao I felt it time to go solo. Yesterday was a lovely day so I felt it would be a good time to go out on our own. After a very good prepare to ride with some trotting over poles on a circle I walked down to the carpark and mounted up.

She was a little hesitant leading the yard as there was lots of very big farm machinery around. Just by being calm and focussed we were soon past those and out on the track. She was a little tense and the old limp came back for a while causing me to worry a little. But as soon as she relaxed the limp disappeared much to my relief. I wonder if the limp is now just a learned behaviour brought on with tenseness ?

We continued until we got to a nice patch of grass next to a busy road with a golf course on the other side. She was a little tense about the golfers, as was the golfer in the bunker . But she grazed on the sweet grass. Not in a totally relaxed way, she was chewing too fast, but at least she could keep grazing without startling at anything.

The walk back was better in terms of the limp. She offered trot a couple of times but I politely declined by relaxing and picking one rein straight up. We are still riding in the rope reins and halter.

I need to buy another bosal really but haven't got around to it. In the UK we have to order them from the USA to get a really good one and buying off the internet takes care.

Back on the yard and I had a totally relaxed Filly. As a first solo hack it could not have gone better. We didn't do this prior to her rehab as we were at a yard where hacking out was much harder. Busy roads etc. But at this yard it's a real pleasure with miles of track and lanes to explore as she gets stronger, with enough variety to keep us both interested.

Thursday, 9 April 2015

A quick check up

It's been nearly a month now since we removed the shoes from Bonitao so we felt it time for him to have a check up and see how a specialist barefoot trimmer viewed his progress. So we had a visit from Mel yesterday.

As I was on standby for work we looked at Filly first.
Mels' view was that her feet were still progressing pretty well although the heel of the front left had grown a little long so that the frog had lost contact with the ground. However she thought that in general the digital cushion of the hooves had improved since her last visit and I should continue to concentrate on improving her muscle tone, especially on the right side. She did think this had improved but had a way to go to get Filly properly balanced. She also thought that it could be the muscle imbalance that is causing just the front left to grow extended heels. As she would be weighting that side more this would stimulate the hoof to grow more rapidly.
The abscess sites that came out of the coronet band whilst she was at Rockley farm last July have nearly finished growing out now and Mel wants to see Filly again once they have disappeared.
She agrees that the abscesses were almost certainly caused by the shoes originally but it took the mobilisation of the hoof structure that occurred when the shoes came off to allow them to erupt.

As for Bonitao, she thought he was progressing very well indeed. The constricted heels that had been created by years of shoeing was beginning to self correct and the hugely overgrown heel depth was slowly returning to normal. We have noticed that since the shoes have come off he is less prone to tripping. I guess that he must have felt he was wearing high heels all this time and is finally transitioning to more comfortable flat footware :) .

Again Mel saw no need to see him again for a while so long as we keep working him hard and get him out on the roads to abrade the hooves to a better shape.

She did not actually trim or rasp either horse hooves as she felt that doing so would impede rather than help their progress.

So the medium term plan is more walking / riding out for both horses and some gymnastic work for Filly online to improve her muscle tone. Both of these activities are fun so there is good incentive to keep up the progress we are making.

Sunday, 5 April 2015

Riding Filly again

At last all the conditions came good.
Filly is walking well with just a little thrush in both hind hoof frogs. This does not seem to be causing any discomfort and is being treated.
The weather was overcast, cool and calm.
There was no one else on the yard to cause distraction for either of us.

It was time to ride Filly !

I did the usual prepare to ride routine I do everytime I ride a horse. This provides structure to the session, gives me confidence and Filly consistency. It allows me to assess whether Filly is "mentally, emotionally and physically" ready to be ridden.

It was interesting that as soon as I got the saddle pad and saddle out Filly's ears pricked up and she followed me with her eyes where ever I went. If I can anthropomorphise for a moment it looked for all the world as though she wanted to be ridden.

The prepare to ride went incredibly well. She stood stock still and relaxed for the saddling. As for the actual prepare to ride section I concentrated on travelling circles (circling game as I walked around the school) and the direct / indirect rein falling leaf pattern. The first was done to make sure she was respecting my personal space and her mind was active and working on how to move to stay in a circle around me as I moved. The falling leaf pattern was done to check that she would yield her hind quarters and follow a feel on the halter.

She was giving me so many "green lights" to get on with it I actually did a pretty short session. Certainly not the sort of session a traditional trainer might to "take the edge" off the horse.

I had debated with myself for a while as to what headgear to put on her. She has made it clear in the past that she prefers to have the minimum on her face so I ruled out the bosal for now. That left the rope halter. But one rein or two reins ?
As she was being so good at follow a feel I decided that one rein was more appropriate so just used the 12 foot lead rope without tying it up to form two reins. I was only going to follow the rail at walk (I want to slowly build her up physically) so just having one rein that I could use to bend her to the fence if we got into trouble would be fine.

Mounting went pretty well. The only snag was when I tried to rock her to get her to brace herself. She's so good at follow a feel now she just followed the pressure I was putting on the saddle. Finally she kind of arranged her feet in a good position and there was another "green light".

So I got on. She did not move a muscle :) . Once on we did the usual neutral lateral flexion which was a little sticky to start with, hind quarter yield where she reminded me to be very light with my legs, and forequarter yield which went well.

With that we were on the rail and walking around happily. I was paying particular attention to her gait. Was she still lame ? This was what I was most nervous about for this ride. The honest truth is that she was the best I have ever felt. Not 110% sound, but much more comfortable than ever before. The only time she felt a little lame was when she got tense approaching the corner of the school where all the scary jump wings are housed. But even that was better than the best we had before.

We followed the rail in both directions for around 10 minutes total and as soon as she was completely relaxed for a whole circuit (those jump wings ;) ) I got off.

After the ride again I am in danger of anthropomorphising but she became very cuddly and seemed very content with life.

All in all it could not have gone better :)

Neutral lateral flexion

 A content Tim and Filly at the end of the ride.