A chilled Filly

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.

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

A very quick update

I have to leave for work in a few minutes, but we have had an update from Nic at Rockley farm. It's well worth a look

4 week update

Seems like all is going pretty well apart from the abscess. But then who knows how long that has been in her foot ? The fact it has come out can only be a good thing.

Saturday, 16 August 2014

A visit to Filly

On Thursday I finally had time to go and pay a visit to Filly. A long drive in some very very heavy showers, but the reward was when I got there.
After parking the car just outside the yard I walked towards the house. Then I heard the most enormous whinny from the stable block. I thought all the horses would be out so hadn't checked in there but recognised that voice. Filly was in her stable and had recognised the sound of my foot fall. I poked my head around the door to be greeted by an alert little face with ears pricked. So I had to say hi before going to the house. Within minutes she was used to my presence again and went back to her friends. Horses are like that and live in the moment. It probably just took a short time before she forgot I had even been away. But that's fine I had had my reward already.

I then went to the house to meet up with Nic and she took me out to see Fillys' feet. The first thing to say is that a huge abscess had blown out of her front left coronet band. If you remember that was the foot that was extremely lame just before she went to Rockley, so I guess it had been cooking for a while. Apparently she was lame again on it for a few days before it came out, but became much sounder once the pressure was relieved. Nic said it absolutely stank :( .
Once we had discussed that small problem we looked at her feet. I have to say I was amazed. They don't look like the same hooves. I had expected to see badly chipped hoof wall, but what I actually saw was hooves that looked like they had been manicured. OK, the very edges were a little uneven but no sharp chips at all. I also noticed that the frogs looked much much neater and, even to my inexpert eye, stronger. Due to the abscess I did not see her moving about outside the stable but she should be out again as I write this. In fact Nic is hoping to take her long walks on Exmoor soon being lead as Nic rides one of the other rehabs.
We then had a long cup of tea and a chat about all things hoof related and horses in general.
After tea I went back out to just spend some time with Filly in her stable. Nic went for a ride leading a couple of other horses while Filly and I just chilled. And I have never seen Filly so chilled. The atmosphere on this yard is so conducive to being relaxed that leaning over the door next to Filly I nearly nodded off and she definitely did.
After an hour or so it was time to face the long drive home. Bad rain again, but I was feeling so happy knowing that Filly was being well looked after mentally and physically. It was much less stressful than the last drive home. Trusting someone else with your horse for 12 weeks is a bit difficult but having got to know Nic over the last few visits I now feel very relaxed about it.
Nic has shared a few videos of herself riding and that just reinforces my view of her. She doesn't "do" Parelli or any other NH training, but watch these videos and I think you'll agree that that is because she is already there !
https://vimeo.com/81551001
https://vimeo.com/81551489

Thursday, 7 August 2014

The Box Exercise

As Filly is away I've been doing a fair bit of riding on Bonitao. I've spent a lot of time recently getting him really light with forequarter yields or direct rein. He will react to just a weight shift now most of the time. If that fails then just moving my outside leg forwards a little will get those front legs crossing over nicely.
At the same time I've been balancing this with getting the indirect rein lighter. This is asking the hind legs to cross over. He'll do this mostly from just my inside leg going back a touch, but occasionally still needs to be reminded with the rein.

For both of these I'm not talking about Level 2 Parelli type of feel, we are going way beyond that. I'm trying to see how light I can get the aids to be without them becoming over reactive. What I mean by this is that with my intention turned off I should be able to squirm around in the saddle, look at the view and have Bonitao not react to those feelings. I only want him to react when my intention (martial arts "ki" if you like) is turned on. To achieve this I've also being doing lots of "friendly" game in the saddle and on the ground both stationary and in motion. I also try to be very clear as to when my ki is on or off.
I don't think ki is a mystical thing by the way. But using it as a model in my mind effects the tension and intention in my body. It changes the activation of muscle groups causing my core to engage or relax. But we are straying of into martial arts training here.

Having got these basic yields very light I now wanted to get transitions much lighter. Not the traditional ones of walk, trot, canter, halt but ones between forwards, sideways and backwards.
I look to many sources to get inspiration for training sessions and so I came across this on YouTube Box Exercise . This was exactly what I was looking for, but how to make it as clear as possible to Bonitao ? Bruce does a great demo of the exercise in the video, but I want to do it from the ground first.

I like to teach a new pattern on the ground first if possible. I needed to make the pattern obvious to me which will help my focus and convey the pattern to Bonitao. Well the obvious solution was to place 4 poles on the ground in a box and move Bonitao around the outside of them with his nose always pointing in the same direction, say south. So we walk forwards along one side until his hind feet are just past the sideways pole. Move sideways right along that pole with his hind legs just in front of pole. Backwards down the other side then sideways with front legs just behind the other side pole. Simple.

Bonitao has done a lot of sideways with poles so I thought this would be pretty easy on the ground. Unfortunately it turned out he had only really done sideways with the pole under his belly or in front of his front legs. Rarely with the pole behind his hind legs and it worried him. This was the first problem to overcome. So we did a session of just going sideways in front of a pole, using the end of the pole as a place of rest. This is a bit like doing the point to point pattern to get impulsion except the impulsion was sideways and the points were each end of the pole. The ends of the pole were a destination, if you like, where he knows he will get a rest.
I also discovered that he was great going to his right, but going to his left was harder. In fact he would try hard to avoid going along the pole to his left at all, but was ok going left sideways when away from the pole. Approach and retreat to get over this problem by not asking him to go sideways with the pole too close behind to start with.

Once this pattern had become acceptable on the ground I tried it ridden. Backwards was good, but we had trouble transitioning from backwards to sideways. He wanted to keep going backwards. This was overcome with putting a long pause between the directions. Sideways to forwards was pretty good as was forwards to sideways. But we still have trouble with sideways to the left with the pole behind the legs.

All of this is very much work in progress, but the video gives me a vision of where I want to get to and now all I have to do is separate out the elements, get them good on their own and then recombine them into one beautiful flowing movement.