Tuesday, 10 November 2009

A small restart!

Gosh - I haven't blogged since the end of September! Shan't bore any of you with excuses but I'm in a really good place with my riding at the mo!

Having great fun with Zeffy! He's going to be one very special little horse! Now hacking on the road (first time last Sunday), confident and sane, fast but stoppable cross-country and getting better and better in the school.

Bruce is back in work. I've been hacking him but took him in the school for the first time this morning and he was amazing. He's a big horse - Patrice calls him a "supertanker" - but when he's working correctly he is so light it's amazing.

Will post in more detail, including hopefully some video of both horses. But for now I want to pay tribute to my very special and unique teacher, Patrice Edwards. Amazingly shes turned this wannabe classical rider into someone who can actually influence my horses to the good. I finally feel like I'm a trainer of horses!! Yeeha!

Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Lacking in Motivation!

Me that is! Again due to family business not the horses!! Thank goodness I have them to keep my sanity!!

So, Bruce first. He's still very slightly lame and on field rest although Mike's taking him for the odd walk around the yard sticking to concrete. Thankfully, as it's been so dry there's very little grass and so he's not putting weight on.

After his lesson with Patrice, I wanted to give Captain's body time to adjust and ensure that I wasn't overdoing it with him so for the last week just some in-hand walks, stretches and acupressure. He looks good so I'm going to take him in the school tonight for a "I think I can, I think I can" session. Just realised I haven't posted about the lesson. Really interesting - will do so in the next couple of days!

Zeffy. Patrice was pleased with our progress since camp and pronounced that now I had control of his shoulders it was time for his hind legs to come to the party! So our current work is mainly about encouraging him to stretch forward from the withers to engage his back and quarters. This is achieved by me helping him to move forwards in balance and then letting him reach forward. Bad description. Will try to refine it but my heads all over the place at the mo! I'm also concentrating on "straightness" using the whole of the arena and particularly the long sides. Any "miscommunication" or incorrect aiding from me sends him scurrying sideways - he even gave me half pass in my lesson! Unasked for of course!! This is brilliant training for me!!

Yesterday, Hannah came to treat Zeffy. She checked him last time she came to Captain and noticed a couple of tight spots. Nothing serious but we want to nip them in the bud. One area related to the saddle - my fault I actually took a wither trace and had it widened too much so it was lifting at the back. Not sore but a little tight. Barry came and adjusted the saddle last week - Hannah correctly wanted the saddle sorting first. Other than than, he's a little tight in both hamstrings. We guess purely from adjusting to carrying a rider. Hannah's given me some stretches which will require clicker training and I'm also to massage him after work which he'll adore. He just loves being touched!

That's it. I'm sorry for my very poor description of our current work. I'll try to elucidate when my heads a bit clearer!

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Stop the bus I want to get off!

2 days of Patrice (Friday and Saturday) - still watching my lesson videos and "processing" and then I'll report, but 2 wonderful days and I feel we're really progressing! And even better so does Patrice!!

This post is an update on Bruce. Just to recap, around 6 weeks ago Bruce was very slightly lame on his front right foot. Within a couple of days he was around 4/10 lame, the vet came and thought it most likely an abcess. So we poulticed for over a week and nothing - but he improved to around 1/10 lame. Thinking it was probably just a minor sprain we rested him for another couple of weeks and then when it didn't further improve I called the vet again. Last week he went for foot xrays which were completely clear and today he was booked in to the vet hospital for soft tissue diagnostics starting with navicular bursar and coffin joint blocks with talk of exploratory surgery and/or MRI scans if nothing showed.

Hmmmmm. All this for 1/10 lameness? And what would the likely treatment be? Rest?

Mike and I, Gareth our trimmer and close horsey friends discussed likely scenarious and Mike and I decided that the risks involved in injecting into joints for the nerve blocks were not justified by such a minor lameness. Just one biggy to rule out which can present quite lame initially and then look much less so - collateral ligament.

So yesterday I spoke to the vet. Talked through our ponderings and said that instead of the nerve blocks we wanted her to scan Bruce's foot to rule out collateral ligament damage and that if the scan didn't reveal anything sinister we'd just give him some more time off.

This morning, vet R and a colleague of hers came to the yard and spent the best part of an hour taking scans and this is her report:

1/10 lame RF straight line trot, no worsening on flexion. On lunge 1-2/10 lame RF on left rein, 1-2/10 lame on right rein. A bit improved to last week.
Scanned collateral ligament, coffin joint, palmer pastern. No visible changes and all ligaments symmetrical in size.
Confirm paddock rest for 4 weeks. Give Navilox 4 1/2 scoops twice daily for 4 weeks.
Re-examine in 4 weeks if no deterioration.

So good news! Alongside the paddock rest we're going to start straight line walking around the yard (on the concrete) and perhaps also on the road - avoiding any rough or deep surfaces. I can't wait to be able to start riding Bruce again! Watching him on the lunge this morning reminded me what a super horse he is!

Thursday, 17 September 2009

The search continues ....

For the cause of Bruce's lameness. Just to recap he's still slightly lame in his right fore foot. And yesterday Mike and I took him to our vet's clinic for xrays. First the vet watched him trot up on a straight line and circle and pronounced him 1 to 2/10 lame - only mild but now over a month and we need to know the cause. Bruce has never been shod. Our equine vet practice is fairly conservative and pro-farriery. So I was dreading the thought that in the event of any problems being revealed by xrays, the likely recommendation would be remedial shoeing. I needn't have worried - the vet was surprised that a 12 year old horse had such clean bone structure. Absolutely no sign of bony changes or injury and wonderful feet! Here are a couple of the xrays:

So the cause of Bruce's lameness must be a problem with the soft tissue. And because there are so many tendons and ligaments in the foot a scan will not help in the initial diagnosis. The next stage is more nerve blocks: Navicular burser and coffin joint were the two mentioned. Once the problem area is identified then hopefully a scan will reveal the cause. If not the further investigation by MRI or keyhole surgery may be indicated. But we'll take it step by step. So Bruce is booked into the lameness clinic next Tuesday.

We also had our six monthly visit from our Equine Dental Technician yesterday. Bruce and Zeffy just needed routine floats although one of Bruce's front teeth had a broken edge which needed smoothing (probably from playing rough with Zeffy!) Captain didn't need anything doing this visit. And the baby molar that Cora found lastweek and gave to me to add to my collection of Zeffy's baby teeth was, according to Shane, in fact from Ellie, the 3 year old mini-shetland - so I passed it on to Karin, Ellie's owner.

Zeffy's saddle was being altered yesterday so just a lungeing session last night. I collected his saddle today and will ride him tonight. Last practise before Patrice comes to us tommorow!

Bits or Bitless

I'm adding this as it's a subject I've been pondering on for years and I've been prompted by a friend's blog to put my thoughts on here.

For me this goes beyond to use a bit or not. For years my aim (like many I think!) has been to ride in total harmony and lightness. For the boundary between my horse and me to be invisible. For my horse to feel as much joy from the interaction of our bodies as I do. This has not changed and will always be my quest. But my path has changed. I thought that I could achieve this by sitting beautifully and doing nothing. Now I am learning that this is not possible but at last I have a teacher who can teach me what I must do to move towards this Nirvana. I am becoming a much more effective horsewoman.

Around 7 years ago (when I just had Captain) I started riding him in a rope halter. Hacking, showjumping, cross country, even dressage competitions (hors concours). He much preferred bitless. And he'll never have a bit in his mouth if I do ride him again. A bit is not necessary for a walk round the farm. So why did Captain prefer bitless? Simple! My hands were not good enough. My "do nothing" riding resulted in a loose unstable contact which must have felt to Captain like I was absent most of the time apart from the occasional jerk on his mouth.

Enter Bruce, my need to up my riding skills and little by little I've improved and understand how my body (including my hands) should interact with my horses. I won't go into detail but these words of Paul Belasik's crystallised it for me:

Without some kind of bit there is no dressage. The horse and rider use the bit as a reference point for propriocentric balancing, in the same way as a person walking through a dark room may need only to touch a chair back or handrail to help keep their balance. The muscle systems of the body, sensing a static reference point balance the body over the feet. This is much the same as the way a person would hold on to a train strap for balance - they don't actually hang onto the strap and pull themselves off the floor and swing like a gibbon. These static points are used as solid references, enabling the body to redistribute weight over feet in different ways.

I would add that I am only now becoming "brave" enough to use rein aids via a bit because I am confident that my hands (and the rest of my body!) are now good enough as P has helped me to improve bit by bit (no pun intended) and because she is one of the few who truly understand and can teach the meaning of a light, elastic contact which is used to communicate effectively but which never ever pulls on the horse's mouth or causes tension through inappropriate rein aids.

Throughout my journey I've been searching for evidence that it is possible to train a horse to true collection and lightness without a bit and I've yet to find it. Yes I've seen pictures of Nuno Oliveira riding advanced movements bitless - but this is after training with a bit. And yes I'm sure you can ride and train a horse without a bit to a basic level. In fact I'm currently designing a bitless bridle because I've never yet found one that my horses liked and I think there's a gap for one!

This is such an interesting and thought provoking topic! And I'm sure my thoughts on it will continue to evolve!

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Home on the Range!

.... where the rabbits and the foxes play .... (English, version - we do have deer but no antelopes in the UK as far as I'm aware!)

Well, I didn't make it to the Charles clinic. Ruth was too poorly to make the trip and although I could've gone by myself I'd've had to find accommodation and it all became too complicated and expensive!

On Saturday, Hannah came to give Captain his monthly treatment. She thought he was pretty good. A little tightness on his back on the left but quickly removed. He always seems to get this and as I'm not riding him it's most likely through the way he moves to compensate for his poor athritic hocks. Hannah thought it was less than usual and that the "work" (in-hand hacks and 5 minute in-hand schooling sessions and stretches) was helping him. I've been thinking of riding him again - just walking round the farm. Hannah suggested stepping up the in-hand work for the next month to prove or disprove her thoughts that he's better with work when she next treats him. Then, all being well, I'll introduce some ridden work and if he seems OK, Hannah will be able to see if it's helping or not. We both noticed that Captain's developed a bog spavin on his nearside hock. I hadn't spotted it before. I'm going to keep a close eye on it and him and unless he seems less comfortable than usual I'll leave well alone. No point in subjecting him to examinations, injections, etc unless he's clearly suffering.

Zeffy had a busy Saturday. First I took him to our local vets for his flu booster. Gunner came to babysit. When Cora and I arrived, the vet was out on an emergency call and we had to hang around for 30 minutes but both boys were good. When we got back to the yard Hannah had arrived, Zeffy was due for his first treatment (now he's being ridden) but when Hannah examined him she found a little tightness on both sides of his back towards where the back of the saddle sits. We looked at his saddle and it's not right. Great fit at the front - definately not too tight but toward the back the panels are slightly off his back. Saddles have got to be one of the worst nightmares!!! As he wasn't really sore, Hannah thought it would be better to treat him after I've sorted the saddle. So Barry's coming out tonight. In the meantime I've been using a suberpad between the numnah and saddle and Z's been quite happy. Patrice is with us on Friday and Saturday so I've been "practising" whether in the school or hacking and am pleased with our progress. The proof of the pudding will be what P thinks!

Bruce looks a little better but still not 100% So Mike's been practising lorry loading in preparation for Wednesday's trip to the vet. Bruce has been perfectly angelic almost self-loading.

Finally, today's title is in honour of Captain. I mentioned a few weeks ago that I'd bought a Barefoot Nevada saddle on impulse - hoping that a treeless saddle might be a short term answer for Zeffy while he was changing so quickly - but it was miles too long for him. Well, Captain looks just stunning in the saddle and Barefoot bridle in my eyes. Since I first saw him I've pictured him in Western tack. So for that reason I've not sold the saddle although this is clearly crazy as Captain's not being ridden!! Anyway yesterday we had a Captain Fantastic photo shoot!

Handsome boy!

One can only pose for so long, you know!

Better than a donkey! (2 year old Beatrix had just returned from the seaside!!)

Friday, 11 September 2009

Going to see the great man himself!

First Bruce. I finally spoke to my vet early this morning (a bit p**d off that she didn't come back to me yesterday!) Bruce is booked in to the equine clinic next Wednesday afternoon and we'll start by x-raying his foot. When Rentska (Dutch) came to see him he came sound as soon as she nerve blocked his foot so she's agreed that the next step is diagnostics. I'm hoping that it's nothing more than a strain that's taking a little time to resolve but we must find out rather than leaving something that should be treated. In the meantime Bruce is fine. Not in any real discomfort .... but getting fat from lack of exercise!

Talking of fat .... Zeffy. Actually he's not too bad at the moment - the grass isn't really growing now. I've given up with the grazing muzzle as he become so adept at removing it within 5 minutes of me putting it on. So I'm trying him on a new herbal & mineral supplement called Slim and Sound. It's very effective because Zeffy hates it and so refuses to eat his dinner! I'm contemplating getting a lorry load and spreading it over the field!! In the meantime I've been adding a handful of mint to his meals and that's made it palatable enough for him to eat. Info on Slim and Sound: http://www.metabolichorse.co.uk/slim%20&%20sound%20equine%20metabolic%20syndrome.htm

Back on track today, I lunged Zeffy this morning and will ride him later.

Finally, I'm going to see Charles de Kunffy at the TTT (Training the Teachers of Tomorrow Trust) in Surrey on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday. http://www.ttttrust.com/index.asp
Charles is one of the regular International Trainers at TTT. Auditors are welcome but riders are by invitation only from among the instructor members of the TTT and it is quite an honour! My friend Ruth (who schooled Zeffy for a few weeks) is riding with Charles on Tuesday so I'm particularly looking forward to watching her lesson.

Thursday, 10 September 2009

In Limbo Land

I'm finding it difficult to do or concentrate on much today. Bruce is still very slightly lame on his off-fore and I'm really anxious about it! He seemed to have been steadily improving and so we thought it was a minor strain which was resolving with rest but one month on we need a firm diagnosis. He looks sound in walk but is lame in trot. Last night Hannah physio/chiro came out and could find nothing to explain his lameness. So today I left a message for the vet who came to see Bruce to ring me - Mike and I now want a diagnosis before we agree to any other treatment. If necessary we'll ask for Bruce to be referred to Newmarket.

So Zeffy and Captain were neglected this morning. Just breakfast and out. I may ride Zeffy later. Captain has been looking so good recently that I've been thinking about riding him again - just walking round the farm - we'd both enjoy that!

For HorseofCourse, The Self-Correcting Circle exercise in Charles de Kunffy's words:

In working towards ambidexterity, it will also be necessary to work the horse on circle to the right. (Note from me - this assumes left-handed crookedness)Now the horse will always want to fall in or cut to the right but by doing so he will self correct himself. Once the horse has spiralled in to the smallest possible circle that his conformation allows, the right hind leg wants to cross under as in a leg yield, will have to step forward eventually and support the body, shoulder and rib-cage weight. Don't allow the horse to make you as crooked as he is. Wigh a good, deap seat, make him as ambidextrous as you are.

1. As you circle, maintain your leg aids: right leg contact near the girth, outside leg back, as always. Take the right rein contact and toally yield the left forward to give the horse no support. Let the horse spiral or fall onto his own self correcting devices. As the right circle gets smaller and smaller, his right hind leg will support his weight by stepping toward the right foreleg instead of crossing over.

2. Next he will voluntarily inflate his circle and move on an ever larger spiral outward. The rider can assist by riding a leg yield out and encouraging the horse to arrive from the small circle to the large circle, and then he will no longer be cutting in or leaning on the right shoulder.

This is our main exercise at the moment and when Zeffy engages his right hind leg I can feel a shift under my seat to the right. I'm not following it to the letter. At the moment I'm keeping my legs off him as much as possible so as not to aid the natural lateral evasion of the Iberian - he scoots sideways at the slightest tension in my legs. I'm also not giving the left rein completely forward but keeping a forward contact with my left shoulder also slightly forward.