Saturday, October 30, 2010

Buckshot is Better & The Equine Extravaganza...

First, I have some photos to share! Above are some recent pictures of my sweet horse, and of me with Buckshot.
Now, onto my update…..

On Thursday afternoon I rode Buckshot and he was better. I think I know why.

I took off Thursday and Friday from work so I could have extra time with Buckshot and attend a few days of the Equine Extravaganza. Thursday I went to the barn to see Buckshot. I have been reading about equine arthritis and the many conditions of stiffness that horses, particularly older horses, can get. One thing was repeated many places: warm the horse up by walking for a good long time, at least 15 to 20 minutes at the walk, to help reduce stiffness and discomfort. So on Thursday, I walked Buckshot for 20 minutes before trying the trot. And he was much better! The BO watched us ride since I had asked her to observe him, and she said he looked fine, in his front legs as well as his hind legs, at the walk and the trot. He had more energy at the trot than he has had lately, and gave a very nice extended walk when asked. We didn’t canter because 1) the day was warm, about 80 degrees, and 2) the arena had a lot of water in it from recent rains. I was thrilled and greatly relieved that he was better! And I am committed to warming him up at the walk for 20 minutes before asking for anything faster, from now on.

Thank you for the kind comments you gave on the last post! Juliette, I agree with you - especially after my experience on Thursday – that walking is extremely important – thank you for your comments. Story, you asked about supplements. At the moment, I give him MSM for joints, and Fastrack for gut and digestion/poop purposes. I’ll explore others as needed. But for the time being, I want to see if a proper, extended warm up helps him. Carol, thank you for your comments as well – what happened in late September in a reining clinic was that Buckshot fell as I asked for a stop from the canter. He apparently tripped on uneven ground, and his front feet went down, straight down, and then his back legs went straight down. He bounced back up immediately. Luckily, I stayed centered on his back just fine as he went down and came back up. I then walked him over to the side, and didn’t feel any offness or limping. I rode him a bit more later in the clinic and again, he didn’t seem off or limping. There weren’t any scratches on his legs. Then he had five days off during the week.

I’ve been riding him since then and he has seemed sort of fine at times and sort of less energetic, wanting to stop at other times. But not quite himself. So I am watching him carefully for stiffness , although I don’t know if it is caused by his age or the fall. I am encouraged by Thursday’s ride and my walking him conscientiously for 20 minutes first, because, in all honesty, I haven’t been doing that with him. In all honesty, I had kind of gotten out of the habit of doing a decent warm up. (I have always been taught the importance of warming a horse up at the walk, but slowly I shortened it, in my enthusiasm to get on with the fun stuff of trotting). So my own actions may have been pushing him into trotting before he was warmed up enough and comfortable enough to do so. I am now very committed to being conscientious about a proper warm up.

On another topic, I spent two days at the Equine Extravaganza! I got Buckshot a new halter (in black- I think he’ll look very handsome!) and a new bridle! It is a brown leather bridle with noseband and braided reins. The nose band and brow band are both padded, on the underside, where they touch the horse. I really like that feature and hope it is very comfortable for Buckshot. Finally, his first new bridle. I hope he likes it.

I saw some good clinicians and learned several interesting things. The most interesting exercise I saw was one by Colleen Kelly, an Irish speaker/ dressage judge/ horsewoman with a great sense of humor and terrific presentation skills. She had three riders in the arena with her and was trying to help them with the sitting trot. She had them walk in a circle around her, and told the riders to look at her boots as they rode. The horses all came in and made the circle smaller. It was a natural shoulder-in. Then Colleen had the riders look at signs around the walls of the building, so that the riders were looking outside of the circle. The horses all automatically moved out and made the circle larger. A natural shoulder-out. She pointed out that shoulder-in and –out work helps with both the sitting trot and the canter. I want to try that with Buckshot.

But now, I’m pooped out. I’ll enjoy some chili I made this afternoon and in the morning, go out to see Buckshot. After our 20 minute warm up, I hope he’ll be feeling great (with our now cooler temperatures) and that we’ll have a great ride!

Monday, October 25, 2010

A Bit of Soreness

I think, after my weekend rides with Buckshot, that he is experiencing a bit of soreness, of his hind legs. Both days he demonstrated the things that have been flummoxing me for a few weeks – a lack of forwardness overall, sometimes coming to a halt, intermittent energy but mostly low energy, more difficulty than normal walking on the trail. On Sunday, as I trotted him, I felt a slight offness so I asked the BO to observe him. She said he looked slightly off in the rear and perhaps a bit stiff in the rear, as if he was sore. Perhaps a bit of arthritis. So for the rest of the ride we stayed at the walk. The day before, during our ride, we cantered a few times and at the right lead he was quite unstable, steering far to the right. Several times on the right lead he didn’t go into the canter at all, but did have a big extended trot. Poor fellow, he’s probably sore, and at his twenty-something age, I can’t be surprised. I didn’t try to walk him down the road either day. We’ll work on that again another time. It’s time to get the vet out to do his annual teeth floating so I’ll ask him about this. The BO gave me some good suggestions of treatments that have worked for her horses.

I don’t know if it is related, but all of these subtle, becoming-more-obvious changes started after he fell at the canter several weeks ago. But I will look into this possibility of arthritis, and in the meantime, I'll warm him up much longer at the walk when we first start riding (I confess that I haven’t been as good about a long warm up as I should have been), and I'll try not to tax him. He’s been such a good riding horse for me- reliable and willing and energetic. Now I need to look after his needs more.

This week I also ordered my season’s supply of Bit Warmer Heat Packs. Have you seen this? It is a cloth packet you put a heat pack in, and then wrap around the bit to warm it up. It enables you to warm up the cold metal bit before you put it in your horse’s mouth, in the winter. I bought mine two winters ago and used it the last two winters. I was very pleased with how easy and effective it is. It’s affordable also- the bit warmer itself is appx $20 and the individual disposable heat packs, which have a long life, are $.95 each. The heat packs are activated by shaking and kneading them (you don't have to heat in a microwave or in hot water). I was able to reuse the heat packs quite a bit; sometimes one pack was reused two or three times. For me, they are easier than using a hair dryer to warm the bit. I highly recommend them. You can order them at the company website

Monday, October 18, 2010

A Good Ride, I Think....

How do I tell if I had a good ride with Buckshot? What are the factors that I use to evaluate our riding sessions, or our sessions together?

Ideally, I want Buckshot to have good energy in him, a sense of willingness and responsiveness, to seem to enjoy our exercises and patterns, for him to feel a sense of pride at the end of the ride, that he “did well” and if possible, for me to feel that I rode well and did some skill better than in the past. I revisited my definition of a “great ride” because this past weekend, we did not have great rides. On Saturday, he had low energy, and would demonstrate a good, energetic effort on one pattern, but not on the next. At times, just getting him to walk forward was difficult. The weather was pleasant, and the footing was pretty good, with a few rain puddles in the arena. Then, during a trail ride after our arena work, he stumbled quite a bit and seemed uncomfortable in his feet. He had been trimmed the week prior and the BO said several horses were feeling this way, since the ground is quite hard due to lack of rain.

On Sunday, he seemed similar – low energy, followed by a burst of energy, followed by wanting to stop or walk slowly – in the arena. The weather was pleasant and the footing was good- moist dirt/sand in the arena. We even tried some lateral work, where I pointed him in a straight line, held one leg out to the side (opening this side) and touching him on the opposite haunch, with the word “side, side, side.” I have been using this word with him on the ground, trying to get his back legs to cross over. Well, after gamely trying this lateral work, I burst out laughing, and told Buckshot I had no idea if he had done it or not! I told him he should never fear doing lateral work with me because I can’t tell at all if it is working! But I’ll take whatever effort he gives me as a huge success! How funny- to try it and not be able to tell if it is working! Really I was laughing at myself! And laughing while riding just feels so spontaneous and fun! Sometimes I just need to laugh, so I don’t take myself so seriously.

As other riders made their way into the arena, I decided to try and ride Buckshot down the road to the hay field. Well, we got to the start of the road and he was not going to do it. He turned around, he skittered, he stumbled on the rocks (it is a rocky area, and his feel were quite sensitive), he moved away from the road in another direction, but he didn’t feel happy about any of it. So I dismounted and tried to walk him down the road. We only got about ten feet down. He stopped and didn’t want to go further. I tried cajoling him, I tried being stern and tapping him with the crop, nothing worked. I even burst out laughing once at the – incongruity of it – my sweet, cooperative (usually), widely experienced trail horse – just didn’t want any part of this journey. So we turned back. And walked calmly back to the round pen, and rode there for a few minutes. Again, he didn’t have much energy or interest.

By this time, the other riders had left the arena for the hay field, so I took Buckshot back to the regular arena and we did more patterns and exercises. Shortly, another boarder came up with her horse and we decided to go on the trail. Buckshot did okay, but was again stumbling a bit more than normal on the roots and rocks. We ended the trail ride by walking back to the barn, on the road, the very same road he doesn’t want to go down, in the other direction. He did fine, staying on the edge of the road where the footing is soft (sending me through every single branch, leaf and brush above him!). We ended our ride and I gave him praise and carrots for his efforts.

I am a bit flummoxed over the situation of leading him down the road. I don’t understand why last weekend we walked a good distance, but this past weekend he didn’t want to go on it at all. I don’t know if this is regression, or if it will change from time to time. But I can’t force him. I want him to feel safe about it, and somehow he doesn’t feel safe. Or maybe his feet were much more sore than I realized and he just couldn’t bear the road’s rocks. This feels like one of those dilemmas that I don’t know if I should be stern and unyielding, requiring him to trust me and go where I ask him to go, or if it takes finesse and compassion on my part. I wonder if I should introduce treats and induce him to feel better about the road. Hmmm, I’ll just have to see, next weekend…..

On another topic, I saw the movie Secretariat this past Friday with my sister and several other horse lover friends. I thought it was a wonderful movie – very inspiring, very suspenseful, and a very impressive horse. To watch Secretariat run the Breeder’s Cup races so commandingly was breathtaking. I thought the human characters in the movie were pretty good overall. His owner, Penny Chenery, was inspirational in the choices she made and the financial risks she took. The moment in the movie I most remember was when the trainer said to her that she was a wonderful owner for Secretariat, and I was touched by that, coming from a rather brusque trainer. Overall, I give the movie a big thumbs up!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Equine Extravaganza Comes To Virginia

Uh, oh. I’m getting that feeling. Deep in the back of my mind, I’m getting the rare urge to spend money. I know what is causing it. In a few weeks, we will have a huge and wonderful horse convention in Richmond, Virginia. It is called the Equine Extravaganza, and it is a terrific convention. There are three days of clinicians teaching in half-hour or hour sessions on every horse topic under the sun. Some are quite famous clinicians; others are less known. There are tons of horse vendors, with tons of wonderful things to buy! There are breed barns, and stallions, and outdoor demonstrations, and a three day competition of startup training of green horses. This year all three trainers are women! I’m intrigued by that. I’ve been to several of these conventions and have loved them.

I don’t think I’ve been to the Extravaganza since I got my own horse, and I think I am about to…… buy Buckshot some things!! I may even officially spoil him!! But that’s okay, it’s time to spoil him a little. You see, when I first got Buckshot, I outfitted him in used tack- used English all purpose saddle, used bridle, even a used bit! I did buy him a new, inexpensive saddle pad, and girth. I didn’t have to buy much in the way of grooming tools because I had been slowly buying them during my years as a riding student, hoping for my own horse.

Since those early days, I have bought a new high quality western saddle, and an excellent new saddle pad, and two winter blankets. But overall, I am pretty frugal, and haven’t spoiled him. (I mean, a used bit!? At the time, I thought, is this okay? It was exactly the type of bit Buckshot used: a D ring French link snaffle. But a used bit? That has been in some other horse’s mouth? However, when I showed it to Buckshot’s previous owner, he said, that’s fine, if it is in good condition, a used bit is fine. Just like used leather tack- if in good condition, used is fine. So Buckshot has been using the used bit ever since. I do check it for wear and any pinching when I clean it.)

So now I’m thinking, it’s time to spoil Buckshot a little bit (no pun intended). And I have the urge to spend, so look out!

However, I don’t actually know how I’d spoil him…. I don’t think he’d like cubic zirconia on a bridle, or flashy boots or leg wrappings. I don’t need any (more) Breyer horses (yes, I have a few….). A brightly colored halter wouldn’t do. I don’t braid his mane or tail so hair ornaments aren’t the ticket. The only thing I can actually think of is to buy him some new treats or cookies- he loves to eat!

Maybe a vendor will sell blue ribbons! For the best, most patient horse of a new horse owner. Or for the horse with the kindest eyes. Or for the horse with the most endurance for new and confusing groundwork exercises. Buckshot deserves all those, and more, blue ribbons!
Or maybe a bridle disc (that hangs on the bridle) personalized with his name. Or a personalized halter- that would be nice! Or perhaps a new lovely bridle. Oh, I’ll have to find something a little extravagant just for him!

Because I know what I will be like when I see him after the convention. I’ll have sat through several clinics, getting inspired, taking copious notes, and I'll have lots of new things I’ll want to try with him. I’ll come back to the barn excited and inspired, and he’ll have to put up with me and my enthusiasm! What a trooper he will be, maybe chuckling slightly behind my back, but he’ll gamely try out the new techniques I learn, and he’ll let me learn that some of them won’t work for us. How can I not love a horse like Buckshot, with his forgiving and patient personality. All he really wants is for me to not forget the treats!

Monday, October 11, 2010

Interpreting the Horse, or, I Feel Like Such a Beginner

This past weekend was interesting. Saturday I found Buckshot laying in the sun (the daytime temperatures were in the mid-80’s- very hot), and at first was worried about him. Colic? Uveitis? Although laying down is not a symptom of uveitis. But he wasn’t opening his right eye much. He was calm, not pawing at his side. But still, I worry when I see him laying down.

(The reason for my instant worry is that last December, on a sunny day with snow on the ground, I found him laying down. I thought it was normal. I thought he was fine. Beginner horseowner here. I mentioned it to the BO. Then we went on to clean stalls. Then we had to round up two horses that after free-grazing, decided to walk to the next county LOL. Then back to Buckshot and he was still laying down. The BO was alarmed at this, but I, beginner horse owner, didn’t know better. It was a mild case of colic, and we gave him bute and watched him carefully for all of his pooping and peeing, which wasn’t happening, although he wasn’t terribly agitated. We put a barn blanket on him as he was wet from laying in the snow. Still, my worries grew. The next day he pooped a huge poop ball – biggest I’d ever seen come out that end – and got better after that. But I can’t get rid of a bit of worry if I see him laying down since then…..)

So Saturday, I listened to his sides- heard very faint gurgling noises – and went to get the penlight to check his eye pupils. As I moved away from the pasture, I saw him stand up. Returned to the pasture with penlight, led him into the stall (can’t see pupils when outside) and his pupils looked fine. Listened to his sides – still slight gurgling. The BO came to see him, observed he was looking alert and interested, heard same sounds in gut. So I determined he was fine. Good.

Went back to barn to get tack ready, back to pasture, he was laying down again! I squatted by him, talking to him. He was alert, but kind of sleepy. When is it sleepy and when is it lethargic, I thought to myself. They look the same to me. But since I had checked him, I thought that he was fine. I got him to stand up, and we did some of our groundwork games. He was very interested in the mints after each exercise. So by then, I knew he was really fine. Oh, gosh, sometimes I feel like such a stupid beginner at horses! But I was also glad I had the penlight, and know the symptoms of uveitis, and a bit of the symptoms of colic, and maybe, I am just a tiny bit less of a complete beginner….

I took him to the barn to groom and tack up. In the stall, he was calm and normal, but he didn’t eat any hay. Hmm. He did take a few long drinks of water from the stall bucket. Hmm. Both of those behaviors were unusual for him. I continued to observe him as I brushed and cleaned, and he wasn’t agitated or nervous. Perhaps somedays he doesn’t want to eat hay, I thought. Perhaps that is fairly normal, in the big picture. I wondered, what is the normal range of behaviors for a horse. When does a new behavior mean, something is really different vs it doesn’t happen often but it is not alarming, it is within the range of normal for him. I don’t know the answer (feel like complete beginner again).

We rode in the arena a bit later, and had a pretty good ride. Buckshot was definitely low energy, but it was a hot, sunny day, and he has quite a bit of winter coat so I couldn’t blame him. We did our patterns and exercises and he would have a good bit of energy for one pattern, but not the next one. We stopped a few times and did some “looking around” (as Kate, from A Year with Horses, wrote about lately J). We tried a new routine which included walk, trot, backing and about eight strides of canter and he did well at that. So while it wasn’t a great ride, it was good. Again, and sorry for so much philosophy here, even riding occurs in a range, from great, to, well, not great. And this was a solid, okay ride. A “B” I think. Or was it a “C?” I feel guilty that I can’t give it an “A.”

On Sunday, Buckshot seemed fine in every way, and even ate hay while we groomed. We did groundwork in the pasture, and rode in the round pen, as the arena was used for something else.

And then we walked down the road (in hand). Several times he stopped and didn’t want to go forward, but no snorting, no agitation. I tapped his shoulder with the crop a few times. Once I stopped by his head and said, yes, we’ll just think about this for a while. We’ve come further than the last time, so maybe we will just go with this success. And then he started walking again! He went another twenty feet or so, and stopped again. This was his limit for the day. But it was about fifty feet further than last weekend! Part of me feels deflated – will I ever get this horse all the way down this road? – and part of me knows that fifty feet more is a success! So I’ll take the success – Buckshot’s success, really – and be glad for it. I need to be more grateful for the small steps of progress! And see it as Buckshot’s bravery is growing, just a few steps at a time. Hooray to you, Buckshot!!

Sunday, October 3, 2010

A Few Small Steps of Progress!

Today, Sunday, I can say that Buckshot and I made progress going down the farm road to a hay field.

I want to be able to ride him to the grass/hay field for occasional rides there at the walk and trot. But this is the hay field where, 2 weeks ago, he fell, under me, as we cantered during a reining clinic. Luckily he wasn’t hurt that day (nor was I) but I don’t plan to canter there again. The footing is too uneven for us.

Last weekend he didn’t want to walk down the farm road at all, but showed it only by turning his legs to cement and not going any further (after which I turned him around and didn’t make an issue of it). Later that day, when on a trail ride which went through the hay field, he didn’t want to stay there when I asked. Since there were other horses there, it wasn’t about being the only horse. At that time, I asked him again, and he acquiesced and we rode at a walk and slow trot for only ten minutes. Then we walked down the road – alone – back to the barn, without incident. So I have been wonderng if he remembers his fall and he doesn’t want to go there for that reason.

I assured him yesterday that we won’t canter there again. I don’t want to risk an injury to him (especially since he is 25 years old- not young) so it is not worth it to me to canter anywhere that the footing isn’t good. I hope he understands me (smile). I also wanted to try and walk him down the road again, so I tried it before we rode.

As I led him from pasture to barn for tacking up, I went to the start of the road. Smooth as silk, one minute we were walking forward and the next, he had executed a perfect 180 degree turn without my knowing it. The aids he gave me were invisible to the human eye! (smile) So I got the message and kept him going in the direction he chose. Not going to make an issue of it. Boy, he was smooth in his maneuver, too!

Later, after we had had a good ride in the arena and a nice trail ride, he seemed relaxed. I thought about trying again. But I decided not to, with the thought that if I try it more than once per day, it could become an obsession with me, and that wouldn’t be good for either of us. So I didn’t try it again, but thanked him for a great ride. He really did a super job on the trail – he alternated as the leader and as number 2 horse, both roles done calmly and well. I was very proud of him!

Today, I decided to ride him first, and then see about asking for a walk down the road (in hand). We had a good ride, doing primarily exercises and patterns at the walk and trot. He seemed relaxed, so I decided to try walking down the road. Acting as if it was the most natural thing in the world, we headed down the road! He stopped after a few feet, where I asked again (with a little tug on the lead line and the word “walk”). And he did! And he didn’t stop! He crossed the road a few feet down (the road itself has large stones on it, so he likes to stay on the edge where the ground is stone-free and softer), and I got us turned around a bit as I switched hands. But he was walking! I chose a tree about ten more feet down as the point we’d turn around, and did so without any problem. I guess we got about fifty feet further than we last tried! That is progress!

I wonder what caused the change today. I wonder if he felt a bit more confident after our ride today (as opposed to before the ride), and the confidence made him more open to walking down the road. I don’t know. I can’t identify anything different today (when he was willing to walk down the road) from yesterday (when he did a smooth 180 to turn me around), other than when we did it, in our routine. I’ll keep you posted to see if that seems to be a factor in our progress. I am really proud of him that he went as far as he did, without any problem, other than the one initial stop. As Grey Horse Matters said, little steps are good to form a basis of trust. (Very good insight!) I hope that he is beginning to trust me more. I’ll try to keep taking little steps, not big ones.