A chilled Filly

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.

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Happy day

Yesterday I decided would be a good day to check that Filly "accepted a human". It's been a long time since I did this with her as it involves sitting on the horse :) .
Fortunately I recently spent a great day with my instructor Josh watching him start colts. Josh was James Roberts apprentice when we first met. Since James sadly left us Josh has continued his studying with a variety of horseman and has also set up his own business starting and re-starting colts. Unfortunately for me he has left JRFS in Wiltshire and moved up to a place near Aintree. However he was at JRFS for three weeks recently doing a colt start for them and I took the opportunity to spend the day refreshing my knowledge and learning the new things Josh has discovered over the past year.

So, with my knowledge refreshed, I decided it was time to make sure Filly was still accepting of a human on her back.
I ran through the usual "prepare to ride" checklist I follow prior to every ride, except for the saddling part. Accept a human is best done bareback in case the horse reacts badly to the experience. In addition I just used the rope halter and 12 foot lead rope. That prevents me being tempted to pull on both reins if things go badly as I only have one rein !

Rather than bore you with all the details I will just comment that the actual mounting went very well. To start I just jumped up and lay across her back, rubbing the far side of her. Then slid off when she relaxed. I then lay across her again then knelt on the side of her back in an upright position to check she was ok seeing me vertical on her back. Slid off when she relaxed. Then I went to the kneeling position again and as she seemed chilled slid my leg over so I was sat on her. Her head did come up a little at that point, but after just 30 seconds rubbing on her her head dropped and around a minute later she let out a long relaxing sigh. I rewarded that by getting off and finishing the session.

I got the feeling that she kind of said "at last". She was very cuddly as I put her away and seemingly very happy and relaxed. I'm not going to do this again until I'm ready to ride her as that would not be progressive. It was just a quick check to ensure that there was not more extensive training needed before I could start riding her properly. Once she is physically ready to be ridden properly I may quickly do the same then saddle up and get on with it. I'm debating what bridle to ride her in. It'll either be the rope halter and just the lead rope on one side, or the rope halter and clip on reins. We'll see how it goes and how she feels on the day.

I was so excited to be on her again I went around and told everyone who would listen. No one but my wife seemed that excited for me, but they don't know how much it has taken to get to this stage so that's ok :)

Saturday, 14 March 2015

A silly accident and positive news from the vet

I made a stupid error the other day and Filly paid the price. I allowed her to roll in the outdoor school too close to the fence. Filly rarely manages to roll right over so I wasn't too worried. That day she did and she got caught up in the fence area. I was very pleased that she didn't really panic, but of course she had to squirm around a lot to get unstuck. Very little I could do to help. Eventually she found her way to her feet and trotted around the school looking a little upset.
I just quietly followed her and eventually she came to me and walked alongside. At least she could move and didn't seem lame. However she had a lot of grazes on her hind legs, none bleeding, but they looked raw and sore.
I quickly took her back to the barn and washed them with hebe scrub to try and avoid them getting infected. That seems to have worked.

However the next day she had a puffed up right hind leg. Spraying cold water on it didn't help much, but walking seemed to reduce it a bit. As 4 days went by we decided to get the vet to have a look. Ben came out yesterday.

He was not too concerned about the leg. Said to keep an eye on it and call him if it got worse.
Whilst he was there he took the opportunity to look at Filly's feet. I was a bit nervous as to what he would say as the abscess holes are now at ground level and there is lots of cracking of the hoof wall around them.
To my relief Ben thought they were doing very well. He did suggest we just rasp of the edges so they weren't sharp, something I routinely do anyway.
He then saw her walk and thought she was moving much better than when he last saw her. He then asked for her to walk on some rough ground so we went on the very stony steep track to the school and back. He actually seemed quite surprised as to how well she coped with that terrain.
I was very excited to hear what he had to say. It was professional confirmation of what I felt to be true. All the hard work is beginning to pay off at last and I can look forward to a horse that is comfortable and happy to move around.

On a side note I went to the Parelli day at Addington which was amazing.
However it cost me a fortune as I bought a Photonic red light unit. They look like a small maglite torch but cost £600  :eek: .
I had researched them a lot in the past, used a borrowed one on myself when I had my hip injury and have friends who swear by them.
However the benefits seem to good to actually be true and I was worried it was "snake oil".
With trepidation, expecting him to laugh at my extravagance, I showed it to the vet. He was actually very positive about them. He said the practise uses the exact same model I have bought and has had some amazing results, especially for flesh wounds, which was handy given the circumstances of his visit  :) .
I mentioned that the seller at the show was a hoof podiatrist and had recommended running it around the coronet band to stimulate hoof growth. Again to my surprise he agreed with that idea even though he had not thought of it before himself. He reckoned it was good for treating any shallow structure in the body but that there was still ongoing research as to how deep it's healing properties will penetrate.

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Another exercise

Talking of relaxation there was a second technique to keep in mind that I find very useful when playing online with a horse.

Bear with me on this one  

It starts with two folks holding your forearms with both hands. They hold tightly such that your upper arms are out horizontally from your shoulders and your elbows bent so your forearms are point vertically downwards. They can even lift up a little on the forearms to put you in a very awkward position. You'll find that you can barely move and indeed I have seen film of police marching someone off like this.

However the reason you can't move is that the grip on your arms makes you want to move your arms.
The trick is to forget about your arms and realise you can still move the rest of your body. So totally relax your shoulders and just leave your forearms where they are. Take a step back with one foot and gently kneel down. Then whilst kneeling slowly sit back on your heels, still keeping your arms loose. You'll find you have to be leaning forwards from your waist at this point. Then just slow raise your torso to the upright position, still kneeling and put "weight" in your arms so they drop to your sides.
You'll find that if you are still loose in your arms your opponents will be inexorably pulled off balance and if they don't let go will fall to the ground either side of you. At no point did you use your arm muscles or really use any strength at all, just position and your weight.
I weigh 86 kgs and I've had a 55kg girl pull me over doing this, so relative weight is of little importance.
Tony, my sensei, describes the feeling on the uki (guy holding the arm) as "whoa, ok I'll go over here then" rather than "your not pulling me over there". Done properly this should provide a feeling of wanting to follow the pressure rather than wanting to pull back against it.

So how does this relate to horsemanship?
I now try to avoid using muscles when I play online. I think more about body position and just having weight in my arms.
So if a horse pulls my arm out straight I don't use arm muscles to pull back. They are way to weak and when applying that much power cannot be subtle enough with the way the power is applied and released.
If the horse pulls I try to imagine my arms are very heavy and want to swing back to my side from whence they came before the pull occurred. If the horse still pulls I just think about sitting back away from the horse similar to what I just described. Not kneeling down of course, but the same intention.
The same idea of relaxed but powerful ki drawing the horse towards me. But the drawing is in a smooth way.

It is the way that the force is applied that matters rather than the amount used and to apply the force correctly I try to use relaxation and ki (intention).


After a little searching on youtube I came across Seishiro Endo Shihan demonstrating the ideas to a class in Japan. It's not the same exercise that I just described but has many of the same ideas. If you look at around 4 minutes 30 seconds into the video you'll see some ideas that more closely relate to online work. Hope this helps the understanding of my ramblings

  Seishiro Endo Shihan