dancing horses

dancing horses

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Building the Bond

Steele has been here for 6 months. Not only has he grown a lot in this time there has been a slow growing of our relationship.

When I went to look at him I really didn't expect to like him all that much (sorry Karen and Rachael). But when I first saw him there was this 'something' that attracted me right away. The more I saw the more excited I became. I tried to keep it under control but I do suspect that Karen knew better. When I went home I was explaining him to my husband- again trying to keep myself sounding all objective and neutral. Because I pride myself on my rationality I kept it to a listing of the pros and cons. I suspect that he also saw right through that- but then we've been married for 25 years, he may have picked up a thing or two....So the deal was done and Steele became 'mine'.
ha! That turned out to be a myth.

When he first came and I started working with him it was funny. He was fairly willing to try things and to listen but I always had the sense that he was sizing me up. Kinda like 'who are you anyway?'. He was also curious and willing to hang about. As I continued to work with him I could do more and more outside of his comfort zone. It's not that he didn't trust me when he first came it was more like 'okay I trust you this much'.
This trust has grown over time.

When I call him he usually comes right away. Most of the time I just have to walk out to the field. If I'm in the barn working he comes down and hangs out. Sometimes I have to close the bottom door to the stall so that I can, you know, get actual work done. When I do this he hangs his head over and sends me messages like 'hey, what's with the door? I can't get in!'

When the farrier came last week he used the time to stick his head under my arm and snuggle.

The other day when I was working in his stall he came in and gave me a hug- that's when a horse wraps his neck around and holds you to their side. It feels quite nice.

Today when I came home I put Steele in the cross ties to groom him. Irish came down to the stall and then bolted out as though he was being chased by wolves. Needless to say Steele wanted to run with him and being restrained in cross ties was not part of his plan. Funnily enough even with him being agitated and antsy in the ties I was not afraid or nervous. I just kept doing what I was doing and correcting his behavior- so when he shifted away I put him back. Meanwhile Irish was cavorting about like a horse half his age. Steele settled quite quickly so after he stood still for a bit I let him out to have a romp. He went out into the paddock, looked at Irish and turned right back to me, ears up. I gave him a rub on his head and then said 'go on go and play'. I shooed him away and, after a look at me, his tail and ears both went up and yeehaw! off he ran across the field, dancing and bucking. He stopped at looked at me.
"Did you have fun?" I asked. He snorted and shook all over. 'oh yeah'

He then trotted back to the barn.

I think we're doing just fine.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Sunday Musings

For the basic Adult Amateur (or non-professional horse trainer) raising a youngster is daunting on some days.

 It's a lot like parenting. I used to work with families of children with special needs. I noticed that the parents often had more than the usual amount of guilt. Guilt that it was some how their fault, guilt that they weren't doing enough to help their child, guilt that they were neglecting other family members. I used to tell them that there were two types of people in the world: those who knew how to raise children and those who actually have children. Frankly, I made most of it up as I went along.

I'm doing the same with Steele. There a many books out there on training young horses (just like parenting). I've read a lot of them. I take what seems applicable and ignore the rest. Lots of people have opinions on what you should do or not do. I find it helpful to listen to them and then weigh it in light of my own circumstance. Here are the questions that I wrestle with:

  • Am I going too fast? Pushing him because he's smart
  • Am I not pushing enough? 
  • Am I being over strict? Or not strict enough?
  • Am I giving him time to be horse? What does that even mean anyway? 
Yesterday I let the horses out early in the morning. I then realized that it was pouring rain. I hate the fall rain- the horses get wet and when the temp drops they get chilled. I brought them in- which Steele seemed happy enough about but Irish was peeved. Every inch of Steel was coated in wet mud. So grabbed my fleece cooler and put it on him to wick away the water. It was comical. He didn't mind it on but after a bit I put him in his stall and it made a funny noise when he walked (the shoulders are lined so it doesn't rub, this made a swish sound). I kept my eye on him for about 15 minutes. He picked at it a little bit and then went on eating. I decided to go in the house and leave it for a bit longer. While I'm in the house I'm envisioning him getting it half off and then becoming trapped. Or ripping it to shreds. I finally couldn't take it anymore and went out. Guess what? it was fine. He was eating happily and the blanket was where it should be. sigh. 

Steele, I've noticed has none of these worries. His thoughts seem to fall along these lines:
  • is it supper time? 
  • does she have a carrot?
  • where's the best spot to roll and really get the mud in?
  • what is she doing now? I'd better go hang out with her. 
  • Where's my breakfast? 
  • What do you mean I have to stand while that mean holds my leg up?
So far I think we're doing just fine. The other day when I went in his stall he gave me a 'hug'. That's when horses wrap their head and neck around you and hold for a few seconds. It was very sweet. 

He then walked into my space. Which I had to correct. Oh well. 

Like I said, I'm just making it up as I go along.
its okay, I know what to do even if you don't

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Happy Birthday!!

Tomorrow is Steele's birthday.
He will be two years old.

Two is a big deal. By now Steele's has likely reached 90% of his final height. He looks like a real horse. Many many people advocate starting a horse at 2.
Shang Hai Bobby - at 2 years of age he's unbeaten in 5 starts

While I can see why I deeply disagree with this idea. Horses are still growing and developing. I don't think it's a good idea to put strains on joints that are not finished. Many race horses do not race past 4 years of age. Many more break down. I've seen the same thing with Quarterhorse Futurity winners.  Others think that nothing should be done with a horse until they are 4. I am not in entire agreement with this either. I think that the second year is a great time to get horses used to saddles, bridles, ground work and all the myriad things they need to know. It's a ideal because they are keen to keep their brains busy but are still highly cooperative.

Convention is that all horses' age is calculated as of Jan 1. This means that Steele was two as of Jan 1, 2012. However, since he was  a late baby I was never comfortable with that. I will likely be like this for his lifespan.  It will just mean less as he gets older.

Enough of the musings. Let do some photos:
Here is Steele shortly after birth:
14 hours old
24 hours old

first time  in snow
Now he's officially 15'2. Last week he was even front and back but now his butt has shot up again. I bought him a new halter for his birthday. I do love leather halters. 

I can see the horse he will be when he's all grown up. 

And I was able to get a conformation shot - a rare moment when he stood still.

I bet that the next two years will be fun. 

Monday, November 19, 2012

A Glimmer of Hope

As you may recall Irish has been having some difficulties that appeared to neurological. The vet had me put him on a month trial of Previcox. This belongs in the Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory category (or NSAID). If his issues were related to inflammation either due to injury or arthritis it should help. He's halfway through the course of it. I have been riding him lightly so I can evaluate how it's working. Up until yesterday I noticed no change.

Yesterday some of our trot work felt more like ages past. It was not consistent but it was there. After my ride I tried the tail pull. Typically if you pull on a horses tail they plant their feet and resist. Irish would wobble over. I've not done it too much because I didn't want to train a response in him and, to be honest, it was too darn depressing. However, yesterday he planted his feet and wouldn't budge. I tried again. Nope- he resisted and quite effectively. I tried the other side. Same thing. By now he's looking at me as though to say 'um, WTH are you doing?'

I asked a good friend to come out and give me her opinion. She has decades of experience with horses and has had a few with neuro problems. She also knows Irish and I quite well. We did tests of the tail pull going up and downhill. We did tight turns. No issues. I rode him and he was lazy but normal.

So fingers crossed because the meds seem to be working. I called my vet and left a message. The original orders were to finish the prescription and then see how he reacts going off.

Oh and while we were playing with Irish, Steele did his level best to be noticed- prancing along the fence line with his tail up, pulling on Irish's cross tie and generally making a ruckus!

Sunday, November 18, 2012

It's a trap

My trailer has been away getting waxed and polished. Because it's a European Trailer it's made of lightweight composite material and a gel coat- like a boat. It's faded in the sun but Ed knew of someone who brings boats back to their shine. We took our trailer there but because it's fall it took a while to complete. It came back this weekend looking fabulous. 

I decided that it was time to resume Steele's training on loading. Today he would go on about halfway and then back out. He was never bad nor was he panicked but it was quite obvious that he was unsure. I just took my time and settled for the half in and then back out. I will keep at this. Any tips would be greatly appreciated. :)

Here's a couple photos from this weekend:
follow the leader. I love Irish's elevation here
This made me smile


Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Steele Thinks on Feet

This weekend was beautiful- sunny and warm. Sunday after attending the Remembrance Day Ceremonies in town  I've been riding Irish to check on whether the drug is having any effect. So far it's not. There's been no difference in his way of going. Rather than become depressed in the ring I decided that it would be a lovely day to go for a hack. In Nova Scotia November is deer hunting season. This means that it's not safe to be anywhere near the woods without wearing hunter orange. I won't even go into the woods until it ends. Except for Sundays. Sundays are supposed to be free of hunters. Life has taught me that not everyone abides by the rules so I still wear hunter orange in the woods. I took Belle with me and she was wearing her hunter orange vest. Dogs do get shot by hunters- either accidentally or on purpose so both dogs wear vests as well. What I hadn't reckoned on is that Irish thought that going into the woods with a bright orange dog was outside of his contract. After spending a bit of time trying to convince him that Belle was not satan incarnate I gave up and headed back to the ring.

While we were gone Steele was not impressed at being left behind and made his opinion known. After I finished with riding I decided that he and I needed to do some work together. For this story to make sense I need to describe my paddock set up:

Both stalls have dutch doors that open into a small sacrifice paddock. From here I can open one of 2 gates depending on which field in in rotation. The one to the left is larger and there is a chute with two gates to get into it.

I had both horses in the small paddock. I took Steele into the larger one via the chute but instead of closing both parts of the gate I only put the top tape across. My goal was to get Steele to focus on me rather than the grass or Irish. Irish was left in the small paddock and was totally unimpressed. Initially Steele hung at the gate but I used the lunge whip to get him away. He galloped off and tried to come behind me. I cut him off so he ran the other way and tried to get back to the gate. Again I cut him off. He headed to the top of the field and I followed. His eyes lit up and he did a nifty end run around me and headed hell bent for leather to the gate. As he galloped full out and then spied the tape across. He hit the brakes and went into a skid. We both realized that he wasn't going to stop in time. The rest all seemed to happen in slow motion. As he slid towards the gate he ducked his head and body and slid under. He came to a brief stop and I could see him go 'oh!'. with that he gunned it and slid under the second one. With a saucy flick of his tail he bolted into his stall with Irish hot on his heels.

I took a moment to laugh and wonder. I know that I am probably boring everyone when I go on about how smart he is but he figured out that his ducking worked and made use of it for the next gate in a split second. I love a horse that can think on his feet like this. As much as it can work against me (like in this example) it may also save my bacon in the future.

 As long as he learns to use it for good instead of evil.

I went into the stall to get him while he hid behind Irish. I took him back into the field and this time closed both tapes. He didn't go near them after that. Within 10 minutes I had him focused on me- following me all across the field, backing up and trotting beside me all without a lead line. He quite enjoyed it. I need to get my riding ring fenced and do some more reading on liberty work. It's a lot of fun. And good for a young horse with a busy little brain.....

I am so clever

Friday, November 9, 2012

Steele and the Surcingle

Today I went to visit a friend who recently bought a Quarterhorse filly named Lyric. She's as cute as bug and a total trap.
don't look too close or you'll want one too. 

Later, at lunch we were talking about training. She asked if I had a surcingle. I said no, but I was intending to get one. It ends with her loaning me one since she won't need it for a bit.

At supper I tell Ed "Sherry loaned me her surcingle"

"what?" he asks

I repeat what I said.

"You're not making sense. What did you get."

I repeat slowly "a sur-cingle. It's one word" I add helpfully.

"What is that?"
I explain that a surcingle is- that it's basically a way to ground train and drive a young horse as part of their early training. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Surcingle)
a training surcingle

"So are you going to lunge him? I thought he was too young". And here I thought that he didn't pay attention when I go on about horses.

'yes he's too young to lunge but he's not too young to get used to the sensation of having a girth on. I'm going to start him tonight.'

"I bet he doesn't care" is Ed's considered opinion.

I am more skeptical  After all I have more experience with horse training.  I know that getting used to the sensation of something around their girth area is not easy for horses.

I head out to the barn. After a good grooming (seriously, how much mud can one young horse cake on!) I get out the surcingle and introduce him to it:
"This is a surcingle" I say "it's to help you get used to having a saddle strapped on and to help you learn about rein aids. This will lead to you impressing everyone at a show".

Steele sniffs it and yawns.

I lay it over his wither.

He shifts slightly.

I take it off and put it back on.

His eyes droop.

I put the girth on. When it comes around his belly his head comes up and his ears swivel back. I give him a scratch and he goes back to sleep.

I undo the cross-ties and walk him up and down the barn aisle. I expect him to react to the constriction as he moves.

He heads to the hay pile.

I put him in his stall with it on and I putter around. Steele eats his hay. After 15 minutes I go into his stall. I wiggle the top of the surcingle. 'nom nom nom' Steele continues to munch.

I undo it and take it off. Not even an ear flicks.

I go back in the house.

'That was fast' says Ed.

"Remember your prediction?" I ask

"was I wrong?"

"no. He couldn't have cared less."

"that horse is the most laid back animal I have seen" He says.

How on earth could I argue with that???

Thursday, November 1, 2012

There is Peace in Answers

This was said to me by a friend this week. I love how wise she is.

I've started and stopped this post a few times. So here we go.

This post is not about Steele- it's about Irish. There's background on him on this post: http://journeywithadancinghorse.blogspot.ca/2012/08/in-which-you-meet-irish.html

A few weeks ago my farrier was here and he noticed that Irish had a sore on the front of each fetlock. I've noticed those off and on and they were driving me crazy because I couldn't figure out how he was hurting himself. The farrier- who's a horseman I highly respect said "the only time I've seen these is when a horse has a hind end problem. Instead of using their hind legs to get up from a roll or laying down they use their front and get up like a cow does. This causes the sores.

As soon as he said that the penny dropped. For the past year our training has stalled. He's not been off or lame but getting him to use his hind end was getting harder and harder. And he wasn't developing muscle over his back or hindend. I'm a dedicated rider- I ride often and work towards goals. When I receive instruction I try to follow it to the best of my ability. I couldn't figure out why weren't gaining ground. Then other things came to creep in- leg yields were suddenly hard, his walk, which always had a lateral tenency was lateral almost all the time- especially going downhill whether I was riding or he was in his field. It was becoming harder to get him off his forehand. Of course, hind sight being 20/20 all of this makes sense but it crept up so slowly and gradually that I just got used to it as it progressed. There were other symptoms that I won't bore you with. Once Paul made his statement it all came together.

So I called my vet and described my symptoms. He came out and did an exam. He was thinking it was hocks- that Irish was developing arthritis.

However, it's not his hocks. It's neurological in origin. Irish is having trouble coordinating his hind end. If you pull on his tail you could- if you kept going- pull him over. The cause is still unkown- it could be an injury, arthritis or a tumour. It can't be EPM- we don't have possums here. Right now he's being treated with anti inflammatory drugs- Prevocox (sp?)

The good news is that I continue to ride him- he's not dangerous (although I'll be careful). Thank heavens I have my own place- that means I can keep him with me and comfortable. He's not sore and he's not unhappy. I doubt that he'll miss showing. :)

Horses- they break your heart and heal it all in one go.