Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Hoof Work 4-25-09

Last week I noticed that Halo's hoof wall was starting to get a little long, especially her heels. Time for a trim! Her front feet are growing noticeably faster than her hinds, so I decided to just focus my attention on her front feet for the day. I should also note that due to a barn management mix-up, I did NOT do her last trim - the barn farrier did. I was a bit upset when I found out about it, especially since I have to pay for it. However, the barn owner said that Halo was well-behaved. I restated my request to have her removed from the farrier's list.

Here is a view of her front hooves before the trim. I see some flaring on both hooves on the outside. Her toes are looking rather pointy - she doesn't have a good mustang roll.

Right front sole view:

Her heels look especially long to me here. You can see how much depth there is in her seat of corn. She'd already broken off the bar on the left side, but the right hand one was very long.

Right front flat view:

Again, the heels look long, and I also feel like the left side is a little longer than the right. That's also the side that flares out.

Left front sole view:

Even from the sole you can tell that there's some flaring on the right side of this hoof. She's also got a funky hole near her toe on the right side. Nothing serious, but I want to take that spot down so that she doesn't break off a big chunk of hoof.

What I do like about all these pictures is that she has a nice shape to her hoof. While she has a few things that can be corrected, overall her feet are well-shaped, strong, and look healthy.

Left front flat view:

Holy heels batman. They look very long to me, and unbalanced as well. The right side looks noticeably longer than the left. I think this is something I will continue to battle with her. It suggests to me that she may be bearing more of her weight with the inside of her front feet when she travels. I will have to be vigilant about watching for stress there, especially quarter cracks.

Here are the after trim photos.

I think I probably could have been a little more aggressive with the flare on the outsides. It definitely looks reduced, but perhaps could have been reduced more. I'll let the experts weigh in on this one.

Right front sole:

Right front flat:

Left front sole:

Left front flat:

Overall I was happy with my trim job. There are a few things I think I could do better, like addressing the flares. This time I think I did a better job trimming her heels. I was less afraid of doing so, and did it more aggressively than before. Hopefully it will continue to encourage her heels to grow straight and not become underrun like they once were. My mustang roll could still use more definition. I think the issue there is that I'm afraid of being too aggressive and taking off too much hoof. She's in soft ground for the most part, and I think that is probably the only reason I am not forced to do better with the mustang roll. There's not much in the pasture or arena for her to chip up her feet on.

I'd love to hear thoughts on my trim job, or her feet in general.

And here is a bonus cute pic for those of you tired of looking at hooves!

Friday, April 24, 2009

Halo Shows Her Dark Side

What more appropriate occasion for bad behavior than when you have a visitor?

Tara and her husband Josh sold Halo to me almost a year ago now, and she's been following my blog since then. Recently Tara acquired her own 2007 baby - a colt named Tex. She's starting the exciting process of rehabilitating and training him, which you can read about on her blog at Adventures with Tex. She's also a professional wedding photographer who does beautiful work, so I was excited to have her visit with her camera! You can see some of Tara's professional pictures at her photography blog.

In honor of Tara's visit last Sunday, Halo decided to pull out all the stops. She was fussy while she was tied, and then a total nutcase in the round pen. It didn't help that a trail ride of about 15 people were arriving back home while we were working her - the commotion had much more of her attention than we did! Here are two great shots Tara got of Halo being naughty:

If you click on the images you can get a closer view of her facial expressions, which I think are priceless. I shouldn't admit it, but when I first saw these pictures in my email inbox, I laughed out loud. I can't help but find Halo's antics hilarious, especially because she is usually so sweet and cooperative. We weren't asking much of her in these pictures. She's just young, fit, and full of energy. She did eventually settle down some, but definitely wasn't even close to angelic. So much for showing Tara how much progress she's made in the past year!

So for those of you who think my filly is always's proof to the contrary!

Monday, April 20, 2009

A Mostly Picture Update

Saturday and Sunday were sharp contrasts at the barn this past weekend. On Saturday I was the lone soul out there post-thunderstorm, the only person crazy enough to come out and groom and work my horse in the lung crushing humidity. On Sunday as I drove in, there were 15 people on a trail ride just arriving back at the barn. Chaos ensued!

I expected Halo to be bratty on Saturday since I hadn't worked her in a few days, but she surprised me by being thoroughly mellow. She seems the most relaxed when it's just me and her out there. There are fewer distractions, which may be part of it. She was muddy, so I spent a long time grooming off mud and shedding hair, and then we went up to the indoor pen for a few pictures and some light exercise. It was still a little too muddy on one side of the pen to work her very hard. I got three pictures that I like in particular:

Isn't she pretty? I'll have details on Sunday later this week, hopefully with pictures to prove that Halo really IS naughty sometimes!

Friday, April 17, 2009

Spazfilly Lives Up To Her Name

Her blog name, that is. It was a wild Tuesday this week at the barn. Over Easter weekend I traveled to Louisiana, so Halo got nearly a full week off since her last session. Fortunately she's been getting turned out in the big pasture, so she at least gets to kick up her heels more on a daily basis.  Unfortunately it also means more bonding time with her new buddy Coral, from who she is now inseparable.

I pulled her out of the pasture on Tuesday evening with the intention of doing some light longeing. I didn't want to put too much pressure on her after a week off since I knew she'd have some extra spunk. I like to go back to the simplest tasks she knows best if it's been a while since I've worked her. While I had her at the hitching rail, the barn owner let me know she had some clippers set up in the barn that I could use if I needed to. Fantastic news! I've been wanting to work with Halo more on clipping for a while. But Tuesday did not turn out to be the ideal day.

The punk behavior began immediately at the hitching rail, where Halo insisted on pseudo-pawing during her grooming. Not really pawing, per se, but trying to put her leg up over the bottom rail. She does it out in the field and will actually stand on the gate sometimes. I corrected her each time she did it, but she was very persistent and fussy. Her next transgression was a mini-explosion while leading her up to the round pen. I'm not sure if something set her off, but I don't believe there was anything worthy of her behavior. She didn't get away from me, and was then made to lead quietly through the same area where she just freaked out. Once on the other side of the gate, she had another mini fit, but I was much more prepared. Again, she was corrected, and made to walk quietly through the same area. She was wound tight as a spring, prancing around and calling to Coral out in the field.

At this point I decided that it would be asking for trouble to throw her on the longe line and expect good behavior. She was still going to get worked, but we needed to deal with a little of the piss and vinegar first. I didn't want her running at warp speed in the round pen because it's hard on her legs, and I knew that's exactly what she would do if I went straight to longeing. We went out to the big arena and I set her loose. Off she flew! She bucked and ran with a great deal of exuberance all over the arena. After a few circuits, she calmed down a little bit and started to eat. I called her over, and led her back to the round pen.

She was definitely still energized as I put her on the longe line, and she whinnied for her pasture buddies several more times. But there was no time to be herd bound! I put her straight to work. Because of her energy level, I had her canter a few circles each direction to the point where she was paying attention to me and actively seeking a cue to whoa or slow down. Then we moved on to trot work, and finally walk. She worked up a bit of a sweat, as it was a warm night. We spent a long time walking, and cooled off with some showmanship work. I've been neglecting my showmanship work lately, and her spazzes in-hand on the way to the arena were indicative of that.

Back at the tie rail, the pawing started all over again. I was surprised, because usually she gets over her spazziness pretty quickly. It must be spring fever. Not one to let her off easily, she got her legs hosed and then we moved on to some clipping work. I didn't want to turn her out until she was giving me her attention, and not so concerned with impatience for food and returning to her herd. Her behavior was out of character enough that I wanted to make absolutely sure it wouldn't be encouraged or perpetuated by any of my actions.

The clipping was actually uneventful, though she did go wide-eyed on me. Her response was to stand absolutely frozen in place with an alarmed expression while I trimmed some of her whiskers - a response I didn't mind one bit since she wasn't fighting me. I only did her jawline on the near side and a few muzzle hairs before letting turning her out. No need for perfectionism - it was more about behavior than grooming results.

When I went to turn her out, it was time for round 3 of the spazzing. She wanted to fling her head up as I removed the halter, and I wasn't having any of it. She had her attention on the other horses out in the big field, and wasn't paying attention to me at all. That behavior earned her a circle walk in front of the gate, some sidepassing, and having the halter removed only when she relaxed and put her head down.

Overall, I view Tuesday as a good reminder that even a generally mellow horse will have a spazzy day.  Also, it's important for me to maintain patience even when she's doing everything she can to frustrate me. I know that in her little walnut-sized brain, none of her behavior has anything to do with me. She's busy fantasizing about sweet feed or what her friends are doing, and the human on the end of the rope is the least of her concerns. It's my job to have the patience to work with her until her attention comes back to me. Some days it can be very hard, but I enjoy the challenge.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Learning to Give

I mentioned in a recent post that Halo spooked herself while tied the other day. She got her head caught under the rope and panicked, pulling back. Because she hadn't had any incidents with tying recently, I'd become complacent. Fortunately there was no wreck (other than a sore neck), and I knew I had some work to do.

The weekend before last I decided that it was time to do some rope training. Halo does not like it when you raise your arms above your head in front of her, especially if you have a rope in your hand. Here is a perfect illustration of what she does when confronted with the scary rope!

Note how her head goes straight up into the air, her ears are forward, and she is leaning her weight back onto her haunches, even to the point of taking a step backward with her off hind foot. Instead of this response, what I want to cultivate by the end of our lesson is for her to put her head down when I raise the rope above my head. I also want her to give to the pressure of the rope when applied to her head, neck, or even her face. It sounds ambitious for one lesson, introducing these concepts can take as little as 15 minutes.

Step #1: For now, I ignore the fact that she flings her head in the air when I raise my arms. I put the rope over her neck from the side and reinforce a lesson she learned before I bought her - yielding to poll pressure. I should note here that she was halter broke when I got her, and her former owner also taught her to yield her poll to pressure in order to help with her tying issues. This is a familiar lesson to her. I ask her to lower her head by putting pressure on her poll with the rope. The minute she "gives" by lowering her head a few inches, I release pressure. If she raises her head again, I ask once more for her to put it down. In the picture below you can see that after a few tries she remembers this lesson and gives readily.

Also, note how her posture is now more relaxed. Her weight is on all four legs, maybe a bit more on her forehand, ears no longer pricked.

Step #2: To expand upon the poll lesson that she already knows, I put the rope between her ears and over her face, and then ask her to give. I do not recommend doing this unless your horse already fully understands giving to pressure at the poll. Halo is quick to understand, and puts her head down for me again. I repeated this several times with the rope in different positions over her face and neck.

Step #3: Next, I want to apply giving at the poll to what happens when I raise my arm above her head. In this picture, I am raising my hand above my head, but I keep my hand on the lead rope. I ask her to give her head to poll pressure with the halter, keeping my raised hand in the same position. Look how her posture is much more relaxed already than the first picture. She is still alert, and has raised her head and put her ears forward, but not to the extreme as she did in the first picture.

See, here she gives to the pressure, while my other hand remains above her head. She looks very relaxed now, and her ears are even slightly lopped. As with every other iteration of this exercise, as soon as she gives to the pressure, I release my cue.

Here's an instance of the release of pressure. We just hang out for a minute, she gets a few pats, and she is allowed to lick my hand. (I don't ever feed treats during training).

Step #4: After a few more times practicing Step #3, we graduate to the final step - lifting the rope above her head without using poll pressure.

Look at that - even without my hand on the rope asking her to lower her head, she immediately responds. Good girl!

As I mentioned, this series of photographs was taken in less than 20 minutes. It may take longer to do these exercises if you are starting from scratch. Step #1 is the most important - giving to poll pressure. It may take several sessions just to teach that. Once the horse understands giving to poll pressure, you can move on to the other steps. With a rope looped around the horse's neck, you can also ask for the horse to yield his or her head and neck to the side in addition to down.

The reason I wanted to teach Halo not only to give to pressure, but to lower her head when I raise the rope is for the following reasons:

a) It will make her easier to halter, especially for a short person or child.
b) She will put her head down to be bridled.
c) She will put her head down when someone puts the reins over her head.

I feel that training a horse to give to pressure and lower the head are valuable skills that will make for ease of handling for the rest of the horse's life. For the best results, this series of exercises should be repeated regularly until giving to pressure and lowering the head when asked is second nature to the horse. And best of all, it only takes 15 minutes per day!

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Happy Birthday, Halo!

Today is Halo's 2-year-old birthday... though not exactly. When I bought her, they told me she was born sometime in April of 2007, probably around Easter weekend. So I just picked Easter as her birthday, and it's what I put on her registration papers. The breeder didn't offer me an alternate date of birth. Since he signed the breeder's certificate, it's pretty much official. There has to be a day to celebrate! For her birthday she got a beautiful Dale Chavez show halter, and a piece of carrot cake which she promptly spit out and proceeded to smear all over the hitching rail.

Poor Halo also got a swollen eye for her birthday, but the barn owner helped me treat it with some antibiotic/steroid ointment, and we also gave her some bute for the pain and swelling. Hopefully she will be better soon, but they'll medicate her in the meantime. 

She's come a long way from the scraggly little filly I bought last year!

Monday, April 6, 2009

Mane Taming & Picture Day

Saturday was a lazy day for me and Halo. As you've probably seen in all the most recent pictures of her, her mane sticks straight up. I was hoping it would lie over eventually, but no luck yet. And it looks awful. I decided to wash it out and band it on Saturday in hopes that letting it dry that way would help it lie flatter. Plus, I need banding practice for when I show her later this year. Although I am the master of hunter braids, I've never banded a horse before.

I longed Halo for a short time, but she was so good that I only worked her for about 15-20 minutes. I truly feel that it's important to keep training sessions short and sweet with young horses. Work 'em until they're good, and then be done whether it takes five minutes or an hour. That way she is rewarded for good behavior. Also, by limiting the length of a training session, you're limiting the amount of time in which things can go wrong. The longer it's dragged out, the higher the probability becomes that the young horse will get ADD and start causing trouble. The only exception to this is when training to tie. Once they don't set back, it will not hurt a baby to learn patience by standing at the hitching rail for a good length of time, preferably with the companionship of an older, quiet horse who ties with no fuss.

Anyway, off the soapbox and on to the pictures!

Punk poneh!

She found banding exceedingly boring. When she wasn't fussing about having her mane messed with, she was persistently yawning.

Here's mom's finished work (nowhere near show quality):

I let her pick for about 15 minutes and then we went back into the arena to get some pictures. No real work was done here - just goofing off!

Invisible cow:

Big trot!

If only she were clean...

Flaring nostril of disdain.

One of the nicest headshots I have of her:

And last but not least - Halo's giraffe impression!

Look at the difference that food, exercise, and a year of growing makes.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Back in the Saddle

Yesterday evening was the perfect night for a ride. I went out to the barn with the intention of riding Cash, but he got an eye injury this week. The barn owner let me ride a cute little Appaloosa instead. She warned me beforehand that he would want to go where he wanted to go, but he wouldn't hurt me or do anything spazzy. Well, that's just Appytude for you.

I got on bareback and rode for about half an hour in the outdoor arena. He did pull some when he wanted to go back toward the gate, but it was nothing I haven't dealt with before. I did what I usually do, and made the right thing easy and the wrong thing hard. As long as he went where I wanted, he got nice relaxed rein contact and me quiet on his back. If he started to barge off in his own direction, he got a gentle leg aid to block him from barging. If he didn't listen, he got a stronger leg aid and a rein check. As soon as he quit, back to me being gentle and quiet.

Overall it was a fun ride. He's a mellow horse who has a been-there-done-that kind of attitude. I just walked and trotted, but spent a good amount of time working on my sitting trot. I was very pleased to notice that I didn't get nearly as sore or tired as I expected. In fact, I still feel great today! I guess the gym is helping more than I thought.

Anyway, here's a picture of the view from Caddo's back:

After my ride, it was time to work with Halo. She whinnied and came when I called, which made me a happy horse mom. I was thrilled to see that the barn owners have finally opened up the bigger pastures for the horses during the day. Halo had spent all day enjoying fresh grass and more room to run and play with her buddies. She also made a new friend, a cute chestnut arab with a flaxen mane and tail. The benefits of having spent the day out in a bigger field were evident in her workout. She was very relaxed, and had less spastic energy than she usually does during her mid-week workout.

Though she was fantastic on the longe line, there was one setback last night that is going to require some work. While tied at the hitching rail she usually stands relaxed with her head down, or tries to eat grass on the other side of the rail if she can. Tonight she was doing that, but managed to get her head caught under the lead rope. What ensued was a panicked spazzing, backing up, and sliding on the mats until her head came free, and then she continued to set back for a few more seconds. Thank god that hitching rail is rooted in cement, or it could have been a huge wreck.

She quieted quickly after the episode was over, but she now has a big welt on the side of her neck where the rope was caught. Poor filly. Ideally, it would be nice to have somewhere to tie her above her head where something like this couldn't occur. However, there isn't a safe place like that at my barn. What I am going to do instead is spend some time teaching her a cue that Tara, one of her former owners, worked with her on before I got her. Tara taught Halo that pressure on the poll means "put your head down." Halo still responds to the cue, but it is time to take it to the next level. I plan to start working with her with the rope until she will give to pressure anywhere on her neck, head or face. She also needs practice with ropes being tossed over her face as would be done with reins. Right now she's still a little head shy about that. With how good Halo has become about longeing, I guess I should be glad she's given me a new project to work on. I just wish she hadn't had to injure herself to let me know that I needed to work on it.

At the end of the night it was time for worming, so I weighed and measured her to make sure I was giving the right dosage. Halo weighs in right now at about 800lbs according to the weight tape, and she is 14h or so. What she lacks in height, she is definitely starting to make up in width. As soon as she finishes shedding out, I'm going to post some new conformation pictures.