Long Time, No Write

Lately I’ve been taking a bit of flak about not writing in my blog. So I finally decided to get back to it. It’s been about a year I guess. Yikes.

The horses are all doing pretty well. So maybe I’ll just give an update on all the residents.

King (the eponymous Sky King) is in good shape. Not tremendously fat, which is unusual for him. He’s pasture sound and hasn’t been ridden for a couple of years. His tumours had a bit of growth spurt in the spring, which had me worried for a while. But they seemed to have stopped again. As far as I can tell, they don’t bother him. Not yet anyway. Veronica’s mare, Ella, loves him dearly and stays at his side most of the time.

Dressy, my big black Standardbred mare, is still not sweating like a normal horse. But she has recovered somewhat. I took her for a lovely ride with friends in the Dundas Valley Conservation Area trails a few weeks ago on a cool day. She was sweating lightly for about the first hour and a half. Then she dried up. Luckily there were creeks everywhere, and I was able to sponge her often enough to keep her cooled down. She seemed pretty happy to be out and wasn’t particularly overheated due to all the sponging. It was nice to be back out on her. She is a fun ride.

Venice has had a major change of attitude over the past six months or so. She has finally, after a lifetime of being terrified of humans, come around to being a friendly pocket pony. She has now had her vaccinations, had her feet trimmed, learned to love wearing a winter blanket (she shivers in the cold), loaded on the trailer, been ponied (with Diego), worn a surcingle, done all sorts of groundwork, and she lunges better than any horse here. Perfect voice commands.

Losing the Winter Coat
Venice, In the spring, with quite a bit of winter coat still to shed out.

I can see hope for her finally. For a long time, I wasn’t sure that the little mare would ever be quite normal. But now I am certain she will eventually go well under saddle. And be a useful, civilized, equine citizen.

Venice Wearing Her Blanket
Venice loved her winter blanket within about two minutes after learning to wear it. She is apparently a desert flower. Cold weather does not suit her at all.

Diego has had something going on in his respiratory system. He’s mostly fine, but has what the vets call “very slight roughness” in his right lung. He bombs around the pasture just fine. But he coughs periodically when he’s working. They tell me it’s not heaves. He’s had a course of Ventipulmin and also antibiotics. Both of which seemed to help initially and then didn’t. So we are going to try a trans-tracheal wash. Which means that they put a tube down, run a bit of saline solution in, draw it back up, and culture it to see what grows (or doesn’t). That way we will at least know what we are trying to treat him for.

photo by Luba Citrin
Diego and I, having a chat in the barn. He is chewing on a cookie. Photo by Luba Citrin

Despite the respiratory issues, he’s cheerful, eating well, and my granddaughter, Amberlea has been learning to ride on him. He seems to have been born to teach beginners to ride. She clambers up on him, while he waits patiently. She has progressed from clinging cautiously to banging him in the ribs to make him “trot on, Diego!” If I rode him as carelessly as she does, I’m sure he’d have an anxious meltdown. But she seems to be able to do anything at all on his back and he ambles around tolerantly. He trots very slowly, spooks at absolutely nothing, and tends to drift to a halt if she doesn’t keep encouraging him. He’s like an old, bombproof school pony.

Amberlea On Diego
Amberlea On Diego

Amberlea will be 8 in a few days. She calls Diego her “Rock Star” because he’s so good and has very long hair. Today she said “Diego is my horse…. okay, well he’s your horse. But he’s KINDA like my horse? A little bit?” I laughed at her and said “You can pretend he’s your horse”. She was happy with that, and ran around the yard chortling about her Rock Star. He actually hangs around, watching her over the fence whenever she’s outside (which is most of the day). She says he loves her. And I think he does. Possibly though, he’s influenced by the intermittent cookie deliveries that come his way. Coincidentally, we seem to be going through an unusual volume of horse treats lately.

McCool is also doing well. We keep working through issues. I had his selenium levels tested this spring, and he was quite low (.08 when normal levels should be between .12 and .16). So he’s been on a selenium yeast supplement since then. I’m waiting for the results from a new blood test. I am hoping that he’ll be restored to normal levels now.  His muscles have always been kind of tight, and he was not a really free moving horse. But over the last couple of months that seems to have improved. He’s striding out better, and his muscles feel less tight and knotty. Whether it’s the selenium or just additional fitness, a happier attitude, and general improvement from all the other physical issues we’ve worked through, I don’t know.

He’s often quite a nice horse to ride. Mostly nice in fact. But he still has a little bit of obstinance that surfaces periodically. He got quite balky this spring. Primarily because there was green grass everywhere and he saw no reason on EARTH why he should walk over it without stopping to eat it. All of it. And when I insisted that he go forward, his answer was “No…. I said NO!” So that was not a great deal of fun to deal with. Ontario is a remarkably green place in the spring. There were a lot of discussions about grass vs. forward. And he said some very rude things to me. He has quite the temper when he takes offence. He’s a strong, opinionated guy who has obviously won some battles in his history.  He knows that he’s stronger than a puny human.  So my strategy has been to set him up for success as much as I possibly can.  To get through difficult things by breaking it up into the smallest possible increments with plenty of positive reinforcement, and to never ever escalate. Just continue to ask for what I want and block bad behaviour as passively as I can manage while still being effective. Then if I get the slightest cooperation I reinforce positively. Sometimes I use clicker training and reward with food. But a lot of the time I just tell him how good he is. He does love to be appreciated.  He seems to have gotten over the balking thing. For now, anyway.

Today was really hot and muggy, so I didn’t feel like riding. I’ve been doing a lot of different ground work with him.  I’ve always meant to do some long reining  and never got around to it.  So today I finally got out there and started working on it with him. He was a little confused for about 15 seconds. Then he sort of figured it out and went forward. Within about 10 minutes he was walking, trotting, circling, and going over poles very comfortably.  He is a smartypants.

Driving McCool
Long reining over some poles. Photo by Jen Glasser.

He went to his first ride at the beginning of May. A 14 mile Set Speed. I was surprised at just how completely freaked out he was by all the other horses. He’s normally quite a confident boy. But, oh my, there was a lot of spinning and whinnying in the vet check. It was bad enough that I was a little apprehensive getting on him. But although he was obviously excited, he did stand for mounting. He was utterly unable to stand still once I was mounted, but all he did was power walk all over the camp.

Ready to Go Out On Trail
Ready to go out on trail at Aprilfest. Probably in the midst of taking a deep breath so he could blast out more ear-splitting whinnies to the rest of the camp. Photo by Brian Markell.

 

McCool and Ella
Just over the start line and he was still behaving well. Though I suspect that’s apprehension on my face. Veronica on Ella right behind us (Ella was, of course, a perfect angel) Photo by Brian Markell.

He walked out pretty well at the start. But shortly thereafter started to get very enthusiastically forward. I tried to put him behind Emily’s Quarter Horse, Duke.  Duke is a very steady guy with a good, forward trot. I thought that would keep McCool down to a dull roar on trail. But the first few miles were just a steady battle. He was pulling, shaking his head, and rooting to get the reins away from me. He’s a sturdy little horse, and actually managed to pull me out of the saddle and slightly over the pommel at one point. I thought I was going to go head first into the dirt. A human lawn dart. But managed to pull myself out of the nosedive at the last moment. The problem with all that is that between the left elbow that is all pinned together, a still tender collarbone from the break in October, and a torn rotator cuff in my right shoulder, I was already hurting by mile 2. In desperation, I finally gave in and let him go out in front of Duke and Ella. He was pretty darned forward out in front. But at least was no longer ripping my shoulders apart.

McCool in the Check
At the mid check. This would be me, soaked in sweat… explaining to McCool that he has been a total a$$. He is ignoring me disdainfully. Photo by Brian Markell.

The second loop was much better. He was still forward, but it was a safer kind of forward.  No more surging and bouncing, and I had brakes.

After that ride, I was really sore for a few weeks.  Sore enough that I felt a bit sick to my stomach off and on. It was mostly the rotator cuff.  I have a partial tear from being run over from behind by a 17hh baby Thoroughbred at work late last summer.  The collarbone was a separate (and rather stupid) accident. I rode under a partly fallen tree. The hood of my jacket caught on a branch. The branch was a lot less breakable than me.  McCool kept going. I stayed with the tree branch. Momentarily anyway.  Word to the wise… never wear a jacket with a  solidly attached hood when riding on trail.

Since Aprilfest, I’ve been taking McCool around to ride in different places with different horses. We do a lot of walking, in the hopes that he will learn patience and that it will make him a bit less of a terror on trail. He is improving. But he seems, by nature, to be a gritty, determined, competitive little bull of a horse. So I think my progress might be limited to minor improvements in him, and more tolerance of his antics in me. And admittedly, part of the problem is that my tolerance levels are not good.  The rotator cuff tear really hurts when he’s being a brat.  Not to mention the little voice in the back of my head that would prefer not to break any more body parts.

I am toying with the idea of taking him to the next Coates Creek ride at the beginning of August. If he continues to behave, I’ll at least take him and see if he’s a little calmer about it all.

The truth is though, as much as I grumble about McCool, I have become quite attached to him. He is smart as a whip, highly interactive, energetic, and bold,  albeit difficult.  He loves trail. Especially trail he’s never seen before.  Which is why he often gets nicknamed “Mini-Me” or “King-Lite”. He even looks like a smaller version of King.  If I can’t ride my boy King in competition, McCool is a pretty close facsimile. And if I’m honest about it… he’s probably a tad easier than King ever was to ride 😀

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 🙂

 

Venice

Venice

I haven’t posted about my little feral mare, Venice for a while.  There’s no exciting news really. But she continues to improve very slowly and steadily.

She’s been going out during the day with McCool and Monster.  McCool is not really in love with any other horse. He suits his name remarkably well really… he’s a cool dude without much fear. He likes any horse he’s turned out with but is not particularly attached.  But Monster… well… Monster LOVES Venice.  Venice thinks he’s a big stupid BOY.  Ick.

Racing in for Lunch

 

In the evening, I call the three of them in from the side paddock. McCool is smart as a whip, and he’s right there for his dinner in the blink of an eye. Venice right behind him. I lead him in (so he doesn’t do too much foraging enroute to his own dinner), and Venice rushes in behind him to get to her stall. She adores her safe house.  Monster ambles in behind them. He’s smart, but sort of ADHD.

After Venice eats her little bit of Trimax, I generally give her some roughage chunks by hand.  She’s very polite and careful. But enthusiastic. It’s not so long ago that no treat was worth the risk of going near a human. So while it looks like nothing, it’s pretty big progress.

We can, with a bit of patience, catch her out in the paddock now and snap a lead shank onto her halter.  She’s not opposed to being caught, but has little startle moments so you have to give her time.

I’ve been able to handwalk her for a few short jaunts around the farm. She’s wary but well behaved and quiet.  She never ever challenges me in any way. Soft as butter on the end of the lead.

 

My First Horse, Way Back When

My mother and Lady.
My mother and Lady around 1974/75?.
I had a horse when I was a kid growing up in Northern Saskatchewan. She was a little plain bay half Arab named “Lady”. I got her when I was 12. She was a range-bred 4 year old. The rancher that sold her to us figured she’d make a great kids horse. We didn’t find out until I’d been riding her for quite a while that his idea of a broke kid-type horse was that they’d brought her in as a 3 year old, put tack on her. jumped on her back and kicked her to see what would happen. She walked forward. They chased her a bit, and she trotted. “Good enough” they all said, “This mare’s broke”.

As it happens, she was a bossy, confident and very tough little horse that should have been in endurance. I rode her all day, every day through the summers. I rode her in town, in the woods, on the roads, at the fair, to the drive-in restaurant, in barrel races, and keyhole races, and flat races. I rode her western, english, bareback. She was an awesome little pole-bending horse since she had lovely, easy lead changes, and was a handy, athletic jumper. She also had tricks. Bad tricks. Smashing my leg on fence posts. Balking in the middle of nowhere (sometimes for several hours). Jumping into the neighbour’s garden at 2am for snacks. Jumping out to follow other horses going out on trail rides. Jumping out to follow kids on bicycles. Jumping out to go break the stallion down the road out for a few days of gallivanting. Just… jumping out for no reason at all. We got a lot of phone calls to come and retrieve her actually.

I had a friend who rode with me a lot. Lorrie. She had a big rawboned chestnut paint named “Chief”. Very sweet horse that one. Good natured and kind, if a bit umm…. speedy. He was always in a bit of a hurry. So we did a lot of chasing after Chief and Lorrie. Many miles of riding all over the place. In northern Saskatchewan there’s a lot of room to roam. But the best riding that I remember required crossing the river. That was the North Saskatchewan River, which is a big river. We had to cross a rather intimidating bridge. Looking at the photo, I’m boggled that I ever had the nerve. I don’t know that I could get off and lead a horse across this bridge now, much less ride across it. But Lorrie and I did it many times.

A very old photo of the Old Nipawin Bridge. That's a team of horses crossing it. The upper level is railroad tracks, the lower level is for a single lane of traffic. Click if you want to see a larger version.
A very old photo of the Old Nipawin Bridge. That’s a team of horses crossing it. The upper level is railroad tracks, the lower level is for a single lane of traffic. Click if you want to see a larger version.

Over the years, I did manage to get her turned into a pretty good little riding horse. Mostly as a result of so many miles and hours in the saddle and not at all because I had any training skills. I was a clueless little hooligan, but determined to ride. I’m not sure any other horse could’ve survived me. Of course it’s possible that not so many other kids would’ve persevered with such a tough-minded, smart boss mare either. Maybe we deserved each other 🙂

Going Outside With Venice

Today, I had to fix Venice’s halter. She must have rubbed against something and undone the snap at the throatlatch. So I took it off, did it back up and put it back on her using the same procedure as the first time. Binder twine attached to the crownpiece buckle. Toss it over her neck, holding onto the end of the binder twine. Then grab the halter under her neck and use the carrot stick to lift it over her nose. Why she will put up with all of that and still not let me touch her face with my hand is something that only makes sense in her little brain…

She doesn’t really lead in the normal sense of things (where you walk and the horse confidently walks along beside you). But she does, after a week or so of dragging a lead rope that’s attached to the halter, have respect for the halter. So when I put a bit of pressure on the lead, she gets bug-eyed and moves forward, one hesitating foot at a time. It’s slow, but it is at least pretty consistent. She doesn’t go backward, though she does sometimes take a long time to go forward.

I’ve taken her out into the barn aisle a few times now. She’s a little afraid to go through the stall doorway. But once through that, she is calm enough to eat a few carrots and have her right neck and side brushed. I can run my hand down to her knee before she melts down. Still cannot brush her left side, though I can touch it after I’ve worked with her for a while.

After that I took her out the front door of the barn for a few minutes. That’s a pretty challenging thing for a horse. Even well broke horses don’t like to go through it, since it’s a human-sized door, not horse-sized. It took her a few minutes to work her way through it. She moves her front feet first, stretching her body until her hind legs are so far behind it looks like she’s going to collapse in the middle. Then finally steps those hind feet up when she’s looked around sufficiently for monsters.

Once outside she had a moment of sheer panic and bolted off to the side a few steps. But I was using a 22 foot line, so just gave her a bit of slack and waited for her to settle. After a moment I was able to approach and stroke her shoulder, which quite obviously calmed her down. That was heartening to see, since I used to be the source of all her stress, not the solution to it 🙂

I didn’t stay out long, since I didn’t realize that my border collie, Jimi, was outside. He’s a cutie, and wants to be helpful. But he often thinks that horse training is a border collie kind of job. I prefer NOT to have his help with a spooky terrified little feral horse, thanks very much.

So I turned her around and headed back into the barn (muttering “get back” to Jimi every few minutes… he’s very obedient and very smart, but excitement sends his memory flying out his ears). She was again terrified to go through the narrow doorway. But I just gave her lots of time. She’s really sensitive. I don’t have to pull on her head. Just lift the rope enough that she knows I’m asking, and wait. She works up her courage and moves a foot forward and I instantly drop slack into the rope and tell her she’s good. That works amazingly well. Too much pressure and she panics. But ask nicely and she tries her heart out. That’s probably a lesson in many other areas of life too 🙂

Update on This and That

Venice has been getting steadily friendlier since I have had more control of her head. First with the war bridle, and now with a proper halter. She’s had a short lead rope hanging from the halter for a few days and she’s learned to flip it aside as needed, and to keep it out from under her feet. Jen, who is keeping Twister in the stall next to Venice, was surprised to realize that Venice had quietly sneaked up behind her on the other side of stall wall and was playing with her hair. Of course when Jen actually turned and looked, Venice jumped back in alarm 🙂

She has been learning to move forward when I put pressure on the lead. It’s not smooth and fluid yet, but she understands and she tries. Usually she can only manage one or two steps at a time. Today, I was able to lead her out into the barn aisle, where I fed her a few carrots until she relaxed. Just about that point, Veronica walked in unexpectedly, and poor Venice’s courage evaporated. She leapt about a foot straight up, then stood, quivering in her boots, but she held her ground (sort of). I asked Veronica to go outside for a minute, and managed to get Venice to walk back into her stall without any crashing around. Poor Veronica was horrified that she’d interrupted our little training session. But Venice needs to learn to deal with stuff like that anyway, and she coped. So it was all good.

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Twister had a good day today. He finally looked like he could walk without flinching, and Jen was thrilled. He’s been recovering from his episode of laminitis (founder) this winter, but it’s been very very slow. Hopefully the Pergolide is finally kicking in and controlling the Cushings. One difference that’s showing up already is that he’s mostly lost his long winter coat. He’s always grown a tremendously thick coat that was very late to shed in spring (a symptom of Cushings). This is the earliest he’s ever lost it. Jen is setting up a track around the inside edge of the big paddock so Twister will have lots of room to move, but no access to grass once he can be turned out. His management is going to be quite a project for the rest of his life. While it’s not grass that caused this episode, the sugars in grass are very dangerous for him. Rather like sugar for a diabetic.

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I’ve been riding Diego pretty regularly over the last two months. Nothing exciting. But lots of short uneventful rides. He’s been exceptionally good so far. Of course he hasn’t been pushed in any way. Mostly just walk/trot with only a few short, easy canters. But my theory is that we are “practicing being good” instead of practicing being frazzled. Trying to overlay some of his old reactive habits with a whole new set of calm habits. He had quite a long time off after the disastrous events of last year. And then all the ground work and driving. I am keeping my fingers crossed that we’ve managed to reset his responses to stress a little bit.

Certainly some of his hot buttons have faded out. He actually likes to trailer load now. We did a lot of practicing before winter set in, but then with the snow and ice, I wasn’t able to get him on the trailer for a couple of months. So last week I figured I’d better test load him a few times to make sure he was still good with it. He didn’t even hesitate. Hopped right on, totally relaxed.

He’s standing like a rock for mounting too. I get on the mounting block, and he lines himself up for me and doesn’t move a muscle until I ask. That’s important, since the older I get, the less graceful I become. And I never was very nimble. I had a friend who could swing gracefully up onto her horse bareback when we were teenagers. I ground my teeth in verdant envy every time I saw her do that. Anyway, Diego needs to stand quietly for me so I can get myself up there one-armed (I never realized that I even USED my left arm when I was mounting a horse until I broke that elbow!)

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King is looking good. Some of his tumours have reduced in size a little over this winter. He’s had his feed strictly rationed and is at a much more reasonable weight than usual. I’ve ridden him a few times, and although we did not do much, he didn’t cramp up. So I may try riding him a little more this year. Not in competition. Just for fun 🙂

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Dressy just looks smug. She thinks that the Queen of the Universe should not have to work (there are minions for that sort of thing), and thus all is right in her world.

Venice in Her Halter

Venice has been getting used to having the rope around her head. But she still cannot stand to have a hand on her face. I’ve been able to sneak my hand slowly up her neck and on to her jowl. But not over her nose or anywhere near the front of her face.

However, she will allow a parelli stick or a lunge whip to rub all over her. I can run it up her neck, over her ears, down the front of her face, down her nose (she nibbles on it in passing), and back up to her throat. I can also throw ropes all over her with very little reaction (as long as she’s expecting it). So I thought I’d try to get a halter on her without touching her. First, I tied a bit of binder twine to the crown buckle on the left side of the halter. Then I tossed it over her neck so it swung under her neck where I could catch it. I tied the binder twine to the other crown buckle. Then I hooked the nose band with the end of the parelli stick, and lifted it up over her nose. Amazingly, she stood for that (mostly). Once I had the nose band up and over, it sort of caught on the rope I had already looped over her nose. I pulled on the binder twine to tighten it all up and then was able to buckle the crown piece to the right buckle. I was able to lead her around the stall using the halter, and she cooperated pretty well.

What IS this thing on my head???
What IS this thing on my head???

I’ve left a very short lead rope attached to the halter. She was a bit concerned initially, and shook her head a lot. But within about an hour, she had that lead rope all figured out, and was tossing her head aside to get the rope moved out of the way of her feet.

She’s not halter broke yet by any means. But she is progressing steadily now!

Lots of Progress With Venice!

I am just ridiculously excited about my session with Venice yesterday. I reorganized my rope so I could configure it in a proper war bridle. And in a very short time was able to flip the loop over her nose and slowly tighten it up. She did not panic at all, and I was able to lead her forward around the stall. She was cautious, but never truly frightened about it. After a couple of minutes I took it off, and then was able to again flip the loop up and tighten it.

[youtube:http://youtu.be/d8CQWtIaSr8]

After a bit of work on leading, I was able to touch and scratch the right side of her face. She’s been allowing me closer and closer to that side for quite a while. But I was never allowed to touch more than her jowl. Today I was able to scratch down almost to her mouth. It obviously surprised her that it felt so good, and she suddenly started to lean into it.

Next I got the halter and showed it to her. I used the folded crown piece to touch her nose and rubbed it all around her mouth. She got interested and did a lot of lip wiggling. Then I worked my hand a little closer and sort of tricked her into allowing me to rub her upper lip with my fingers. By the time she realized that it was my hand, she was already kind of enjoying it.

[youtube:http://youtu.be/jb21KWra5OY]

Later in the day I went back and had another session. This time I was able to feed her a few horse treats from my hand. She was sort of startled and spit a couple of them out in her confusion. But eventually she did eat them. And was really quite polite about taking them from my hand with her lips. She didn’t snatch.

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I’d just like to take one moment here for a bit of a rant… Breeding horses, but not handling or training them in any way is utterly irresponsible and morally reprehensible. A horse with no training is completely worthless to anyone and is always in imminent danger of neglect, inhumane treatment, and death. Halter breaking a foal is easy. Halter breaking a five year old is on a whole new scale of difficulty, and most people do not have the time or the energy to invest when there are so many nice, trained horses out there.

Even horses in good homes are just one home away from a bad situation. Good basic training like haltering, leading, and picking up feet is necessary for any horse to find a new home should their current owner run into hardship or die. And more advanced training (like say… green broke to ride?) gives horses enough perceived value to stave off misfortune.

Do you want to guarantee your horse a good home in the future? Train THEM!!!! That will be their passport for life. They carry that with them even if you have no idea where they end up. It’s a far better guarantee than a contract, or a promise, or a sweet-faced buyer.

Getting There It Seems

I’ve been desensitizing Venice with a rope for the last few days. Flipping them around her face and neck to get her used to the feel. She’s not particularly afraid of ropes, and never really has been. It’s people that terrify her more than anything.

I really wish I was a bit more clever with a rope. But I finally managed to work out a way to flip a small enough reversed loop over Venice’s nose to keep it on for a few seconds. Almost like a war bridle.

So here she is, allowing me to almost halter her…

[youtube:http://youtu.be/hOaeuW6YOJ0]

Glacial Progress With Venice

Venice is turning out to be quite a lesson in patience for me. I kept thinking all along that we would have a big breakthrough and then would be able to sail along in our training after that. But what we are really having is tiny breakthrough after tiny breakthrough. Every single step has to be broken down into minutely smaller steps in order to progress. Every time I think we should just jump forward to a new stage, she makes me slow down and reassess what I’m doing.

She is the exact opposite of King, who was always leaping ahead of our lesson plan faster than I could keep up (leaving the inevitable gaping holes in his training). Every horse is a whole new education, that’s for sure.

I still have not gotten a halter on Venice. But I have been able to touch her and brush her over most of her right side. I am not allowed to touch her left side, or even look at it. So I have had to use a stick to reach around and touch the left side of her neck without seeing it. And then gradually over the last few days, she has allowed me to shift around so I can see that side of her. Sometimes. Each day it takes a bit less time for me to convince her that it’s safe to be touched or seen on that side.

I cannot touch her face. Just the edge of one cheek. However, she will reach out and touch me. And actually will do that quite often. Sometimes just with her whiskers, but yesterday she nudged me a couple of times. A pretty solid touch. I am beginning to think that maybe she likes me at least a little bit. Sometimes.

Here’s some video of yesterday’s session. It’s excruciatingly boring. Our sessions are not good spectator events I’m afraid. It’s all very slow, very quiet, and with very little action. Makes for very boring blog posts too 🙁

[youtube:http://youtu.be/enbBtaOnx3E]