Diego, Monster, and Hocks

DiegoI had a rather stressful week worrying about horses.

At the last ride Diego wasn’t right and while out on the second loop I turned around and walked him back to camp. He was lame behind when I trotted him out, and the vet found a hard knot in the muscle of his left thigh.  I thought that he’d probably pulled a muscle in there somewhere (I was thinking groin, which can take quite a while to heal fully) and didn’t worry more than normal for a day or two. But then started obsessing because he’d had that weird dogtracking issue at the previous ride (which was attributed to a small but nasty cut on the hock).  He looked sound in the pasture, but finally I decided to get the vet in just in case there was something more that I was missing.

In the meantime, I was also worrying about Monster. When I brought him home from the track he was very uncharacteristically thin. He’s always been on the fat and lazy side, so I was rather shocked to see his ribs (never having seen evidence of their existence since the day he was born….).  Other niggling things started to bother me about him too. He clicks, pops, snaps when he walks. It all comes from his hind end. At first I thought he was forging (hitting a hind toe against the bottom of a front hoof while walking). But I had Ana lead him around and tried to locate the source of the click. It seemed to be coming from either his stifles or his hocks.  Definitely no lower than that.  He seemed uncomfortable and awkward in his hind end.  His hind toes started wearing off at the front.  He stood with his hind end under himself and would alternate resting hind feet a bit more often than you would expect a relaxed horse to do.  The scariest thing was that he didn’t seem to have much appetite.  He ate, but slowly. He didn’t always finish meals. Monster has always been an enormous eater with vast enthusiasm for food. He’s been fat most of his life, even while in training at the track.  Warning bells were going off all over the place.

So I called the vet to come and look at both Monster and Diego on Friday. Also Dressy who had a swollen leg.  I cleaned her leg and found a little scab which I pulled off. Then scrubbed it with Prepodyne (tamed iodine) scrub.  It oozed a bit and dried up. So by the time the vet got there and had a look, her leg was much better. He wasn’t too worried about her.

When he looked at Monster’s hocks, he thought he could see some unusual thickness in the joint towards the lower section. He had me trot out both Monster and Diego and did flexion tests on both of them. In a flex test, the vet picks up a hind foot, flexes the hock tightly and holds it for a minute. Then the horse is trotted out as soon as he drops the foot.

Monster was somewhat lame for the first few steps, but it was moderate. He did step right around and across with every step of the left hind at a trot. It was quite odd looking.  There were no neurological symptoms apparent. I had thought that maybe it was a stifle problem, but the vet was pretty sure he was looking at a hock issue, and suggested x-rays.

Then Diego. Ana trotted him for me, so that I could watch. And I was floored. He was really lame. Not just for a few strides. But lame all the way down and back. And he was nearly as lame on the other hind after flexing it too. The vet looked really concerned.  I have never had a horse flex that lame, and I didn’t know what to think.  The vet suggested x-rays for him too.

I had to leave shortly after the vet visit to go to an endurance clinic for the weekend. The clinic was very good (really VERY good). But I was a complete mess and wasn’t focused on any of it. I was way too obsessed about Diego and the flex tests.  I had myself totally convinced that I’d never be able to ride him again.  I love riding him, and I’ve worked hard and brought him along really carefully to overcome his anxiety issues. It’s a lot of emotional investment.  I should really have just stayed home and done some reading on flex tests and hock problems – I’d have been less worried if I’d known more.

So I booked the x-ray session for Wednesday of this week.  Because I was completely paranoid after a weekend obsessing about hocks, I had the vet do a quick check of McCool to see if he looks like he is in good order to go to work.  He had a look at his teeth and confirmed that McCool is no more than 8-9 years old.  He likes his conformation (I knew that already, since he commented very favorably on McCool the last time he was here).  He checked all his joints, and had me trot him out. In the end he said (at 5pm after a long day) “Soundest horse I’ve seen all day”.  It surprised me just how relieved I was to hear that.

Monster was next, and he was the most amazingly angelic horse through the session. The vet and his assistant crawled around under him with the x-ray plates and the camera thingy with lots of cords snaking around his feet. Monster just rested his big head against my shoulder and napped. Once in a while he chewed thoughtfully on the end of the lead rope. He was not sedated. Just really couldn’t care less what the humans were doing.  He didn’t move his feet at all. Didn’t even flick his tail at them.

Diego was not nearly so good of course. He wasn’t bad. Just moved his foot at a few inconvenient moments and shifted when he wasn’t supposed to. It would be hard for any horse to live up to Monster’s absolutely stellar behaviour anyway.

The x-ray results were completely opposite to what I expected. Diego’s were clean. At an estimated 17 years old, you’d expect to see a bit of wear and tear. But really… no.  The vet gave him a shot of Polyglycan (like Adequan) anyway, just to be sure. I still think he may have a bit of a groin pull which will take time (and maybe that would explain the rather extreme flex test results). But the vet thinks he’s fundamentally sound. He told me to give him a few days off and then start back slowly with lots of walking.

Monster’s results were not nearly so happy, and kind of startling in a five year old horse that never actually raced. He has spavin in both hocks. That’s a degenerative joint disease (osteoarthritis). It’s in the lower two joints, which is at least a little bit positive for his prognosis. The lower joints do not really move like the upper joints do.  They are starting to fuse, and if they fuse completely and solidly, then he is likely going to become sound again.  It may take a tiny bit of the spring out of his hocks, but he should be quite capable of most activity… just not racing or maybe high-level jumping.

The vet is predicting that it might take anywhere from six months to several years for them to fuse completely. Or they might not fuse at all. If they do not fuse, he will not be sound. There are some more aggressive methods of getting them to fuse which could possibly be tried as well.  So Monster’s future is very uncertain at the moment.

His appetite has returned for the most part, and he’s started putting some weight on. The dapples are even coming back.

Monster is 16.2hh. Venice is - little. Haven't put a measuring stick on her yet. But she's teeny!
Monster is 16.2hh. Venice is – little. Haven’t put a measuring stick on her yet. But she’s teeny!

Linda, who bred and owned him, is going to take him back to the farm and keep him there through his rehab. She doesn’t want me to have to pay for everything without knowing if he’ll ever be sound and comfortable. He may come back to me at the end of it.  But for now, he may as well be there where there is lots of flat pasture for him (my hills are steep), and funds for NSAIDS and x-rays, and whatever else he needs.

Monster is a big, classy looking horse. 16.2hh. Big boned and correct with a long, easy stride. Horse people are always very impressed when he strolls by. The vet said that if he came sound, he knew of a place that would love to have him.  When Linda spoke to the vet office today, the receptionist also mentioned that she might like to take him. At the track, many people offered to take him when he was finished racing. Of course, I spoke up for him the day he was born, so I always had first dibs. Linda says that she’s never owned a horse that so many people wanted.

His name is Charming Devil. Apparently he really is 🙂

 

Cayuse Canter

I wasn’t planning on going to Cayuse Canter Endurance Ride, since I have been sick with some nasty respiratory virus, and my bank account has been suffering from it’s own flu (due to the necessity for an extra couple of loads of hay this month to get us through until the grass gets going.) But Anastasija has been bubbling over with excitement and ambition to compete with her horse, so she campaigned all week until I agreed to go.

Diego managed to find something really disgusting to lie down in on Saturday morning before we left. He looked awful, stained with green, brown, and yellow, legs and belly encrusted in mud and manure, and he smelled even worse. It was too cold for a bath, so I just held my nose and loaded him up.

Ares was clean of course, because Ana is much wiser than I am. She put a rainsheet on him the night before and left him in the (less muddy) back paddock overnight. Even then, Ares rainsheet looked a bit disgraceful. He definitely tried to get himself as filthy as Diego.

Ares and Anastasija ready to start
Ares and Anastasija ready to start

Ana was entered in the 12 mile Set Speed ride on Saturday. I was in the 12 on Saturday and the 25 on Sunday. The trails were modified a little bit though, and they turned out to be 14 and 27 miles. And the 50 became a 55. There were lots of entries in both of the Set Speed rides, but not too many in the 55. It’s been such a difficult spring for conditioning that many of the horses are not as fit as usual.

Diego
Diego

I had to spend a lot of time scrubbing the mud off Diego. Rubber currycomb, shedding blade, wet towel, sponge, bucket of water. It still only got the surface muck off. I had to really scrub at his hocks, and at one point, with the rubber curry I didn’t realize I was scrubbing a big scab and ripped it off. Quite a bit of blood oozed out, and he was not too happy, poor guy.

At the initial vetting, Ares got all A’s and really behaved himself well. He’s much less anxious that he has been at previous rides, and so is Ana. Diego was also good, but when he trotted out, the vet noticed he was dogtracking and had one hip a bit higher. That’s something Diego does do, as he’s a fairly crooked horse. But it’s not something the vets usually comment on. Then I remembered the scab that I’d ripped off, and the vet checked that. He figured it was tender enough that probably it was affecting him a little bit. Diego was not lame, and the vet thought he was fine, so we were allowed to start.

I’ve been a little bit frustrated with the treeless saddle I’ve been riding Diego in. I have a nice Christ sheepskin pad that I use with it. Last fall I put some really thick inserts into it, which created a very distinct spine channel. That was great for him, and it solved all of his sore back problems. But unfortunately, it’s not so good for me. The padding is so thick that it’s made the saddle quite unstable. A few weeks ago, in a fit of frustration after falling off him at a walk when he spooked at a rock, I pulled the inserts out of the pad. I was immediately much more comfortable and secure. I knew that would not be sufficient for longer rides, but it worked fine for short rides around the farm, which is all I’ve really been doing. I was planning on putting more moderate inserts into the pad, and tossed them in the trailer to take with me. But of course, somehow I ended up with a mismatched set and the really thick ones that I now despise. I opted to protect myself instead of Diego’s back and left the inserts out of the pad.

Andrea and Skye
Andrea and Skye

Andrea and her lovely big Belgian/QH mare Skye went out with Ana and I. There were some politics to work out initially, since Ares is rather awful about strange horses. It actually occurred to him that attacking her might be a good plan. Anastasija made short work of that idea though, and he settled down. I put Diego in the middle, and Ares went out in front. He’s a very brave little horse on trail. Surprising, since he’s so neurotic about most things. But he trucks along at a good clip. I only saw one spook all day, and that was just a half stop and he immediately carried on forward. He showed off his lovely canter going around an open field and Andrea commented on how nice it looked. He loves to canter.

Ares and Anastasija
Ares and Anastasija

Skye went out in front periodically and we’d send Ares to the back to prevent any rudeness from him. He’s not so happy following though. He definitely prefers to be in front. Skye likes being in front too, but she was getting a bit excited that first day (she hasn’t been to a ride for quite a while) so she had to go to the back of the line whenever she starting charging forward (big strong girl… she’d make an amazing jousting horse!)

Skye wanted to go... fast!
Skye wanted to go… fast!

Diego was pretty happy to be in the middle. He figures that lions will pick off Ares and Skye and that will give him time to scamper off with his life 🙂 He does actually go in front sometimes, and once he settles into it, he’s fine. He seems to prefer to lead when we are crossing open fields. On single track trail he’s happier to have a leader in front of him.

Ares and Anastasija
Ares and Anastasija

The trails were just beautiful. The trilliums were out, as well as a few other wildflowers. The footing at Cayuse is mostly pretty nice. Lots of sandy loam. Very little roadwork (really just a short section of gravel road to access the forest from the ride site). It’s all rolling hills with the occasional gorgeous view.

One of the views along the Cayuse Canter trails
One of the views along the Cayuse Canter trails
Alison and Dianne  on trail
Alison and Dianne on trail
Alison and Dianne crossing the railway bridge
Alison and Dianne crossing the railway bridge
View of the trail from the railway bridge. Jolanda Slik and her Saddlebred, Ace's Night Hawk are just heading to the water trough.
View of the trail from the railway bridge. Jolanda Slik and her Saddlebred, Ace’s Night Hawk are just heading to the water trough.

At the mid-check, Diego was no longer tracking oddly behind, and the vet figured he was fine. He felt good all through that first loop (it was only 7 miles of course). He walked in at parameter, so despite my hopes of getting him a bit cleaner after sponging him off to cool him, I could only take a damp sponge and wipe off the worst of the rivers of sweaty muck dripping down his sides and legs. The wind was cold, so he’d have been a shivering mess if I’d really used any water on him.

We went out on our second loop after a 45 minute hold. Ares was still trucking along with tons of energy. The cold weather really helped him to stay cool. He led for most of the second loop as well. I am really impressed at how steady he’s become. Skye was more settled on the second loop as well. She was able to lead a bit more without charging off like a racehorse. She’s a lovely mare, and has an absolutely amazing trot. You would not look at her and expect to see that kind of speed.

Andrea and Skye lead the way into the vet check
Andrea and Skye lead the way into the vet check

Partway through that loop, I start to feel suspicious about Diego. I changed diagonals and he’d immediately flip into a canter. I tested it about three times. Yup. Sore back. The insert decision was coming back to haunt me. I did my best to stay off his back for the mile or two we had left. But he was starting to feel wrong. We walked into the finish.

When I pulled the saddle off, I could see ruffled hair right in the middle of his back, and swelling over the spine. That’s a spot that will always swell on him if there’s the least bit of pressure there. It goes away within a half hour or so. But it’s a big warning sign.

Do you have a cookie? Because I like cookies...
Do you have a cookie in your pocket Andrea? Because I like cookies…

His heart rate was already at 48 when we came in. So he had no issue meeting parameter. When I took him to his 30 minute vet check, he had to wait for a couple of minutes in line, and was half asleep. His final pulse was 39. That’s the best he’s ever had. So that was great. But when he trotted out, the wonky dogtracking was back. He still wasn’t lame. Just not travelling straight. I told the vet that I was pretty sure his back was sore, and sure enough, he was sensitive when the vet checked it. We decided that he should not go out on Sunday, although he did pass the check.

Ares passed the vetting just fine. His final pulse was 43, which is far lower than he managed at his first two rides. Anastasija was thrilled with that. Skye had a final pulse of 40, and also passed with flying colours.

At the awards Saturday night, Ares got a Grade 2, and Diego and Skye got Grade 1 (range is 1-best to 5-lowest). Anastasija was beaming. So was Andrea 🙂 The two of them decided to go out together on Sunday to do the 14 mile mileage ride.

Ares and Anastasija
Ares and Anastasija

I checked Diego’s back before bed, and it was completely back to normal. No swelling, no flinching. Nothing. So no permanent damage done. He was the same the next morning too. He was a little worked up when Ares went out on trail. But he did settle down eventually. And I took advantage of all that snortiness to get some nice photos of him.

Once he settled down I took him over to the vet check, and had the vet look at him again. They were in a lull between loops, so I got two vets for the price of one. His back was perfect, but he actually looked a bit lame, not just wonky when he trotted out. On examination, it looked like his hock was starting to get just a touch of filling around the cut. The second vet was pretty sure it was actually the cut bothering him the most, and not his back. Which made sense. He suggested that I sweat it.

Ares was pulled at the mid check on Sunday. Bad luck. He had bruised his frog on a rock. It wasn’t bad, but Ana could feel it out on trail every now and then and knew he wasn’t quite right. Skye and Andrea carried on and finished the last loop alone. She said that by then Skye was really good. They just had a bit of a moment when some faster riders went by and Skye was SURE she could catch them. So there was some sideways cantering. Given the size and power of that mare, I imagine it’s quite something to be on top of her when she’s doing that!

This morning, I could still see a bit of swelling in Diego’s hock. So currently he’s in a stall with it all wrapped up in furacin sweat, plastic wrap, and a bandage. It doesn’t look too bad so far. But he is flinchy enough about it that I do think that was the cause of the wonky movement, and not the sore back (since that was better within a couple of hours).

I took a ton of pictures, both on trail and in camp. So here’s a gallery with a whole lot more (you can click on any of the thumbnails to see a full sized version of the photo.)

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Herdbound Horse

I’ve been riding Diego now for a couple of months. We started out with a lot of groundwork over the winter (driving, lungeing, clicker, Lyons, TTeam, and Parelli exercises, etc.). And of course the big, bad trailer loading issue was the first thing we tackled. Although his issues were pretty well entrenched, and his anxiety was very real (like a human with claustrophobia), he came around surprisingly quickly. He now loads reliably on the first try. No more refusing, swinging, rearing, or bolting off. He seems calm and happy when he is on the trailer as well. So that was a big success.

When I started riding him back in late February, he was remarkably steady and quiet. Given that my left elbow was freshly out of a cast (after surgery to reconstruct the shattered joint), I was very careful not to ask much of him or put him under any stress. We started out in the round pen, just walking and asking for nice soft halts, one-rein stops, walk-trot transitions, sidepassing, circles, and the beginning of neck reining (so I don’t have to use the left arm too much).

My theory has been that if Diego can practice good behaviour long enough, and have enough successes, he might overwrite some of his own bad habits. Since I’d never ridden him through any of his antics, nor have I seen the worst of them, I have been sort of feeling my way along to find out what his hot buttons might be. I definitely wanted to avoid any explosions, since I am physically not as capable of dealing with that sort of thing with only one good arm. He’s been known to buck on occasion, though never yet with me. The peak (or depths perhaps?) of his behaviour problems happened last summer when he spooked badly and dropped his rider (and owner at the time). She suffered a very seriously broken leg.

After that, and my own riding accident on Dressy, I’m being vastly cautious with him. We’ve been doing many walking trail rides, and careful, repetitive exercises. I’ve seen a considerable improvement in his confidence level as a result, and he has been a pleasure to ride for the most part. Soft-mouthed, willing, and calm. He went to Aprilfest and Queen’s Bush Training Ride, and was absolutely stellar. Very reliable on trail, and easy to ride.

But Cayuse Canter two weeks ago wasn’t quite as successful. Ares was paddocked right next to him, so he was very well behaved overnight. And well behaved to tack up. But the start was somewhat chaotic. And although we had a staggered start for the Set Speed ride, we went out at the beginning with horses all around us. I would not have chosen that if I could help it, but I was also in charge of the scoring afterwards so I just couldn’t afford to be one of the last riders in. (And as an aside… I really don’t think I will willingly both score AND ride anymore. It’s just way too much to take on now that we are getting such large numbers of entries in Set Speed rides!)

The start at Cayuse Canter curves through a big open hayfield in a swooping ‘S’. Halfway around you have to go down into a gully and back up, curving back towards camp, then away again. It just seems to set all of the horses off into high anxiety. Diego was desperately trying to stay right with Ares (who is Mr. Anxiety even at the best of times), with horses swirling around nearby, and horses visible well ahead and behind us too (not to mention the donkey and the alpacas). Diego did nothing too terrible, but there was an awful lot of dancing, head tossing, and bouncing around. Then a friend rode up behind us on her somewhat high-energy Arab. She was planning on riding with us, but it became apparent very quickly that another horse in the mix was not going to work for Ares. Sue, who was riding him, used extremely good judgement and got off to lead him. We sent Tracey on ahead with her mare. That gave Ares (and Diego too) a chance to settle down somewhat.

Emily on Duke, and Andrea and her big Belgian X mare, Skye were with us too, and the four horses walked for a couple of miles until my two found their brains and relaxed (the other two were, of course, perfectly behaved throughout). By this time Diego looked like he was wearing lipstick because he was trying to keep his nose in contact with Ares’ hip and had rubbed the red grease marked entry number all over his muzzle. Sue was giving Ares a gaiting lesson, which was both good for Ares’ brain and kind of fascinating to watch. Like most Standardbreds, he is very prone to gait, and if you ride them correctly they will develop a variety of smooth gaits. I don’t know what it was she had him doing… but some sort of amble or running walk. I think he started out a little alarmed at having a stranger on his back. But Sue was really good with him, and he worked hard to please her. He’s a good boy, but not uncomplicated, and still quite green.

We started to trot about 2-3 miles into the loop. Diego was still a little ramped up and we tried switching positions a little on trail. Diego still gets anxious when he’s out in front, and at one point when I asked him to take a left turn to a smaller trail he refused and reared. I drove him forward strongly (being somewhat outraged that he would rear) and for the rest of the loop he was much more settled and steady.

That probably would have been the end of any shenanigans from Diego if Ares hadn’t been pulled at the mid-check. Ares’ heart rate would not come down, and when Ana noticed the little flicker in his flanks, I realized that he was likely getting ready to thump. That’s caused by an electrolyte imbalance, so we shoved a few extra doses of electrolytes into him and he came around. But we pulled him out of the ride anyway. He’d only done seven miles at a very moderate pace, and he ought to have been fitter than Diego. But it was a bit warmer than the horses were used to and obviously he’s another of those dark non-Arabs that need more electrolytes.

Diego was down to 48 within a minute or two, with almost no sponging. He’s one of those Arabs who just loves the heat. It doesn’t seem to bother him at all. He really seems fitter than I have any right to expect, given how slow we’ve been going.

Anyway, at the end of the check, Diego had to leave Ares. Sigh. It wasn’t too pretty going around that big hayfield again. And this time, on the way up the far side of the gully he reared again. And this time it made me even madder. I got after him and he abruptly came down and subsided totally. “Yikes! Sorry…” From that point on he was a different horse. Very polite and traveled smoothly down the trail. Emily and Andrea, who, bless their hearts, stuck with us for the second loop too, must have been tremendously relieved to have the real Diego back.

The upshot of all of this is that Diego is herdbound. He wasted an awful lot of energy trying to stay in touch (literally) with Ares. I didn’t enjoy the foolishness on the first loop. But none of it was catastrophic. And he definitely does respond reasonably when I insist on decent behaviour. It gives me a focus anyway, now that I have a better sense of what is likely to cause him anxiety. I am now thinking through some strategies to teach him confidence alone (or more correctly… confidence with just me).

The first step is that I’m going to separate him from the herd for part of the day. My round pen is just about knee deep in grass. It’s maybe 100 feet from the nearest paddock. So he can go out there every morning for breakfast and stay for a few hours. We’ll see how that goes. I have some ideas for groundwork and riding exercises too, but I haven’t been riding much since we got back, since my elbow has not been handling the load well at work and I’m quite sore at the moment. I’ve just picked up a brace for it, so we’ll see if that helps. Riding doesn’t generally bother it, but cleaning stalls is tough. It’s not that strong and the joint seems a bit unstable when I lift anything.

Unfortunately, I suspect that Ares is not a good trail partner for Diego. Two anxious horses together definitely does not result in comfort for either of them. Though perhaps when both of them are a bit more confident, it might work better.

[I’ve heard a rumour btw… that Cayuse Canter might re-locate the start line next year 🙂 ]

Back in the Saddle

Well, I waited as long as I could. But I’ve been getting pretty cranky about not being able to ride. So yesterday I had Anastasia get on my problem child to make sure he was calm and happy about being ridden. He walked quietly without any sign of stress. So today, we did the same thing again. Tacked him up, brought him out and had Anastasija get on him for a few minutes. He stood like a rock, very relaxed for mounting. Once she was on though, he was really kind of bad. Ignored Ana and followed me like a puppy. I finally said “okay, forget it… I will just get on him myself”. So I did.

"Hey! Why are you backing up???"
“Hey! Why are you backing up???”
"Got cookies?"
“Got cookies?”

It was a total non-event really. We ambled around in the round pen for a while. Then walked around outside the round pen. Diego was quite perfect. I think all the ground driving and miscellaneous other ground work has really relaxed him. His head stayed nice and low, and he didn’t startle at anything, or tense up, or rush even for a second. I didn’t ask much of him mind you… lots of big circles, a few small circles, halts, a few steps of back up, and one step of sidepass. All of which he managed with a great deal of good cheer and no resistance at all.

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My elbow held up fine of course. Since he was so relaxed, there was no stress on the joint. And I was ridiculously happy to be back on a horse 🙂 It’s been just under five months since I’ve ridden. Way way WAY too long. I wore my helmet, and my crash vest (not that either of those can protect an elbow, but…). I was glad to find that I was not at all tense. So my confidence seems pretty much undented. So far at least.

Nice and relaxed
Nice and relaxed

Veronica took the pics, and when I reviewed them I saw that my bad old habit of collapsing my left side has returned with a vengeance. So that’s going to take a bit of focus to overcome. Luckily, there is another Becky Hart Centered Riding Clinic coming up in April, and we are signed up for that already. I’m going to need that. And it will be good for Diego as well. He needs lots of that sort of training.

Yep... collapsing that left side again.
Yep… collapsing that left side again.

Ana rode Ares too, and this time I gave her a dressage whip to carry. With instructions NOT to use it. Just carry it. He’s a super sensitive guy, and always on high alert for humans who want to kill him. But he’s been getting a lot more confident lately and that has morphed into testing the limits to his human’s patience. He sometimes gets a little sticky about going forward when she asks. Or, his cutest trick, going home. At a walk or slow jog, but relentlessly GOING HOME when he thinks the trail ride should be over. Anyway, the dressage whip put a whole new face on Ares. He was instantly far more responsive. “Okey dokey” he said to Ana… “I’m going forward, no problem!” She asked me when she should use the whip, and I sort of laughed. “Likely never”. I think if she actually used it, he’d melt down completely. All he needs is to know it’s in her hand. Instant respect for the human. And I think Ana was pretty relieved to discover she didn’t have to use it.

Ana and Ares
Ana and Ares

Veronica did some more driving with Ella. Since Ella never raced, just jogged at slow speeds on the training track, she’s as placid and steady as can be in harness. Well… except for the fact that there were some clumps of half dead but possibly still delicious grass under her feet, and with all snow melted at the moment, the temptation was a bit too much for her a few times. Veronica practiced keeping light and steady contact on both lines. Which sounds easy, but is not at all simple to maintain. She improved considerably today though, and they started to look more like they were in harmony towards the end of the session.

Ella, patiently waiting for Veronica to sort out the lines.
Ella, patiently waiting for Veronica to sort out the lines.

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So a very good day for everyone 🙂

More Snow, More Driving

It’s been snowing madly here. I was starting to think we’d get away with another non-winter. But winter has abruptly arrived. It’s really helped the footing out though. The horses are all much more comfortable with a snowy cushion on the frozen concrete-hard ground.

We did a bit more driving practice this afternoon. First in the round pen, and then up and down the driveway. Anastasija wanted to watch, so she took the pictures this time.

Standing nicely while I organize the lines.
Standing nicely while I organize the lines.
Relaxed and going forward
Relaxed and going forward

Once we’d run through yesterday’s lesson and he was confident and forward (which only took a few minutes), we headed out the driveway.

Heading out to the driveway. He was very steady and calm throughout.
Going out to the driveway. He was very steady and calm throughout.
Oh! Hello Ana! Watcha doing?
Oh! Hello Ana! Watcha doing?
Grey horses look rather magical in the snow
Grey horses always look rather magical in the snow
Not bad for the first time turning tightly.
Not bad for the first time turning in a tight circle. His head went up a bit as he worried about what exactly I was asking. But he dropped it right back down as soon as he understood.

He is quite responsive to voice commands, so I asked him to trot. He was unsure if that was the right thing to do and stopped a couple of times, concerned he might be doing a bad thing. But with a bit of encouragement he was happy. I was surprised at just how nicely he handled it. A very slow and surprisingly rhythmic jog. It’s very like dancing with your horse to trot them in long reins.

We managed to jog a few times and he was really good about it. Very slow and controlled.
We managed to jog a few times and he was really good about it. Very controlled.
Nice and relaxed as he heads back to the barn
Nice and relaxed as he heads back to the barn

Learning to Drive

I’m getting a bit antsy with all this enforced idleness. So today I thought I’d teach Diego to ground drive. He lunges reasonably well, so it’s not a particularly big step to move to long reins. He was very happy to see me coming with the halter. Practically piaffing in glee as a matter of fact. Helpfully jammed his nose into the halter before I had it unbuckled. I think perhaps he’s been getting bored too.

After lungeing him for a few minutes, I had Veronica come in and hold him for me while I set up the reins and got him used to them draping around him. Then I had her lead him forward for one lap around the round pen while I walked behind gently moving the lines around his hindquarters a bit. He was totally unconcerned and very happy. So we carried on by ourselves. He was a little unsure at first, and at one point he tried to turn and face me in confusion. But he was easily convinced to move on ahead. After that he marched around like a pro. He was very attentive and kept his attention very focused on me and what I was asking. It was a great first session.

Ummm.... What do you want me to do?
Ummm…. What do you want me to do?
Which way do I go?
Which way do I go?
Really? Are you sure?
Really? Are you sure?
Like this?
Like this?
Oh okay, this is easy!
Oh okay, this is easy!
My gosh, I am a clever a horse!
My gosh, I am a clever a horse! (not to mention handsome!)