Monday, February 6, 2012

Weekend Rides

This weekend, winter weather returned and it was cool, cloudy and damp. But I had good days with Buckshot despite the weather. And, most importantly, my foot didn’t hurt!! More on that in a moment. Saturday was cool and cloudy, threatening to rain. But we got our rides in before the skies opened up. The arenas were newly groomed and fluffy with dense, but soft sand/dirt. Buckshot was in a good mood and we had a great ride.

I started him on an exercise to shorten and lengthen our strides which I read about on a website for Equine Biomechanics. To do the exercise, you pick two points in an arena and walk from A to B, counting normal walking strides. I counted one stride each time my right leg moved down. From A to B, we had 17 strides. To cue Buckshot that I wanted a shorter stride, I made up the following cue: I say “short” and tap him on his withers one time. “Short” and one tap. “Short” and one tap. I then shuffled my feet on his side, in quick little movements, just for a moment. Then we walked from A to B, and he did 18 strides (which meant he had used a shorter stride)! Good boy! We did that several times and he even achieved a 19 stride walk.

To cue him for a longer stride, I say “long” and tap him two times on his withers. “Long” and two taps. “Long” and two taps. Then I stretched out my legs long and rubbed them momentarily on his sides. And we began the walking. We achieved only a reduction of one stride, to 16 strides. But that was progress. We did this three times.

The reason for the counting is that you can determine the progress without someone having to watch you from the ground. That is very practical. You might ask why I made up new cues, and how effective can tapping and a word actually be. I didn’t want to just use rein cues – shortening or lengthening my reins- because we do so much else with reins. I didn’t want to confuse him. I think that horses are very smart and are possibly capable of a much larger vocabulary than we think, and possibly, of a much larger cue vocabulary than we think. So I wanted to try a word and an unusual touch for this. I’m hoping that when we get to shortening and lengthening at the trot and canter, I can use the word alone, without any tapping, and he will understand what I am asking for. So, for now, the tapping is serving as a reinforcement, almost making the cue more exaggerated, until he learns it. I’ll keep you posted on my never-been-tried-before cues! LOL!

We had a great ride on Saturday, and with wonderful footing, we practiced a lot of trotting and cantering. Buckshot did very well, even some good cantering patterns in the smaller arena. I am amazed at how challenging a seemingly simple figure-8 pattern is, with trot at certain sections, and canter at other sections. It is a real study in my focus and being about to steer and cue him with precision. He did great at the pattern. I look forward to practicing it more.

On Sunday, the rains had turned the arenas into mud pits, so we rode on the trail and around the perimeter of the large hay field. Although the day was very cloudy and gloomy, riding Buckshot lit everything up for me! He stayed calm and responsive as we explored areas we had never ridden in before. We were with the BO and BOH and their horses.

The cooler temperatures seemed to give the horses an extra helping of energy. The few times and places that we could trot, Buckshot took off like a rocket. On one section of grass, with us bringing up the rear, as we trotted, we were going much faster than the horses in front of us. I thought I heard Buckshot think: Those horses are trotting? Going that slow? Let me show them what trotting really looks like!! But, alas, there wasn’t room or footing to really let him run like he wanted to, so I calmly slowed him down. LOL! (And this from a horse who is twenty-five or so years old!!)

After our wonderful ride, I decided to clean his rear end of the cruddy, dried, yucky stuff stuck to him. I don’t yet have the process for getting the cleaning gear set up, so I improvised. I got a bucket of water heating up (I wanted warm water for the job), and as it heated, I walked him over to some grass to graze. After a few minutes, I walked him back to the wash stall, tied him up, checked the water, then untied him and took him back to the grass. We did this a couple of times as the water heated up.

When it was ready, I tied him at the wash stall, put some grain in a bucket for him to eat, and washed him. He apparently got impatient with all the time this took, and pawed at the bucket, and when I turned around from putting something on the ground, his foot was caught in the bucket! It was between the plastic bucket and the metal holder and he couldn’t get it out. I went over and immediately, without panicking, pulled his foot this way and that and finally got it out of the bucket. Phew! Problem averted. I’m glad he didn’t panic about it. But what was he thinking!!?!! I’m sure we all have said that about our horses at some time, right? LOL!

Now, onto the most wonderful part of the weekend – my foot didn’t hurt!! I am so glad to report that I did the following things and the result was: no pain in my ball of foot while riding (or anytime during the weekend). I bought and have used three things from The Walking Company, a specialty comfort shoe store (they have stores and a website and they do ship in the US and to Canada): two pairs of orthotics called The Walking Company Premium Customizing Orthotics TWC1205 for my size 8. They are about $70 per pair (I know, it’s pricey, but they are wonderful) and they have special metatarsal support.

I also bought a pair of Dansko Professional XP shoes. The new XP model has a removable/exchangable footbed and the clerk installed a set of Dansko metastarsal support footbeds in the shoes. I wear the Danskos to work and they feel great.

Here is what I have done with the orthotics. I put one set in a pair of work shoes that lace up – it’s a pair of Munro shoe booties that lace up the front. The special orthotics won’t fit in just any shoe, since they take up some room (even when I remove the shoe’s original footbed), but the orthotics will fit in these lace up shoes that I then lace up looser than normal.

I put the second set of orthotics in my Ariat horse boots, which are lace up as well. I removed the original Ariat footbed. I didn’t have to loosen the laces on my boots; there was plenty of room in them for the new orthotic and my foot. While riding, with my foot in the stirrup, the orthotic gave such support that I didn’t feel any discomfort, nor any pain at all. I credit my results with also wearing the new Dansko shoes and the other orthotic during the week at work, as both steps protect my foot from the condition I have (metatarsalgia).

I highly recommend these orthotics and these particular Dansko shoes with the orthotic footbed inserted.

Lastly, I still wear a little callous cushion on the bottom of my foot. It is the type shaped like a donut. I hope it is helpful to report all of this.

I hope you had a great weekend with your horses!

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