Thursday, December 31, 2009

*Snort* GONE

The vet came out again today to check on Shorty. He's still not 100% sound (which is to be expected) but he's surprisingly chipper. Dr. Wade put the hoof testers on him and found him to be sore in the very toe, rather than at the apex of the frog, indicating that SOMETHING ELSE is making him sore now.

Make no mistake about it, he did have laminitis but has progressed beyond the acute stage. While the laminae in his front hooves are still healing, the vet beleives that Holly, my farrier, also trimmed him too short. Radiographs confirmed that Shorty's sole is very thin, especially when compared to the radiographs I had done in September to check the progression of his arthritis.

Of course, the only time I've ever had a problem with Holly is the day Shorty has laminitis... go figure. As pointed out by Andrea, it was weird that Holly didn't catch the laminitis or even think of it until I walked in the barn, but then again Shorty is a stoic horse that tolerates pain like a champ. Shorty grows out a lot of beautiful hoof to work with, even during the colder winter months, so it is alarming Holly took off too much. Perhaps she had an off day, but she picked a hell of a day to fall off the wagon. I'm very thankful that I got to the barn when I did to prevent her from putting shoes on. Otherwise, his laminitis might not have been caught in time, and Shorty would have suffered a great deal more than he's already had to handle.

Dr. Wade tentatively cleared Shorty to start up on grain again. I'm avoiding Ultimate Finish altogether. He doesn't need a high energy feed while on stall rest, and, to be honest, I'm wary of using it again. Instead, he got 1/4 of a cup (a small handful) of Grow N Win today. It was the first time he's had grain since last Wednesday, and he inhaled it in one snort!

I will say that through all of this, Shorty's personality continues to impress and amuse me. When I first met him, he was as bland as brown rice. He'd stand at the back of his stall and take no interest in the world around him and didn't care to have his personal bubble invaded by anyone. In high school, I'd gone through severe depression that lasted over three years, so I knew how he felt. At the time, I couldn't afford to purchase him, but I did go out of my way to improve the quality of his life. One of the first things I bought him was a padded halter with a breakaway because his old one chafed his nose and didn't have any sort of safety option. I showed it to him, let him sniff it, put it on him and let him wear it for a while. That was the first time I'd seen Shorty take an interest in something other than food.

Four years later, he's my boy and he's into everything. He must see, touch, smell, taste and hear everything. He simply cannot walk past the garbage can in the barn without at least sniffing it, if not sticking his entire head in there so see if anyone threw out something good. Christmas decorations are constantly in danger of being nibbled on. He's been especially curious about everything because he's been cooped up on stall rest. Today, while Dr. Wade was looking at him, he wanted to nibble on my sleeve, chew on his blanket, pick up the vet's bucket of tools, eat the end of his leadrope, say hi to his neighbors, drag me down the aisle for no apparent reason, and so on. Although I was firm in telling him to refrain from biting, chewing, bragging and engaging in other naughty behaviors, I gave him a break because I know he's bored out of his mind. Honestly, I'd rather have a horse that is into everything than the depressed horse who is in pain. The fact that he's so excited about life makes me feel that he's feeling much better and healing rapidly.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Secret Slaughterhouses and Racehorses

This video comes from Here's the link to the article.

Miami, Florida (CNN) -- Freedom's Flight is a beautiful thoroughbred with an impressive pedigree. His bloodlines can be traced to two of the greatest race horses of all time, Seattle Slew and Secretariat.

But, unlike his kinship, Freedom's Flight's racing career ended before it had even started. It was almost two years ago when the thoroughbred's leg snapped right out of the gate at Miami's Gulfstream race track. The animal's days as a cherished racehorse came to an abrupt end.

"He came from the famous Clairborne farm and ended up on one of the worst farms in America," says new owner Richard "Kudo" Couto.

That "worst" farm in America turned out to be an illegal slaughter farm in Miami-Dade County, Florida. Couto, working for the South Florida Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, participated in a raid on the farm and rescued Freedom's Flight. The timing of that rescue may have saved Freedom's Flight's life. The horse was limping around on his broken leg, he had sores on his body, and you could see his bones protruding from his dirty coat.

Some 18 months since his rescue, Freedom's Flight looks more like the stunning race horse that was worth thousands of dollars than the injured horse that was sold for $50 to an illegal slaughter farm.

"Prior to his rescue, I didn't know that illegal slaughter farms existed in the country -- let alone under my nose in my own county," says Couto.

This new knowledge has motivated Couto. "It really made me buckle down and basically dedicate my life to shut this industry down. It's become personal for me," he says.

Couto suspects that there are more than 100 illegal slaughterhouses in the area. There is only one slaughterhouse that operates legally, Cabrera's, and there the United States Department of Agriculture inspectors are housed on its property.

Many of these illegal places are concentrated in an unincorporated area of Miami-Dade County. The roads are dirt, the vegetation thick and uninviting. This is the western fringe of Miami along the rim of the Everglades, an area considered a sort of no-man's land.

There are signs in English and in Spanish advertising animals for sale. Tarps are put up to hide what is behind the chain link fences, but most of these businesses are open to the public. "You don't have to be a rocket scientist after walking the properties and seeing the dead carcasses, the guts in the trash bins, the slaughter tables, the knives -- all of the tools of running this type of operation is right in front of you," says Couto.

CNN visited several of these establishments. At one location where a pig was being carved on one table and a chicken on the other, we asked to film on the property. "This slaughterhouse isn't as clean as you can see, try Cabrera's," said the unidentified man behind the slaughter table. Like several places we visited there was blood on the floor, dirty butcher knives and an overwhelming stench.

Couto says it isn't the slaughtering of animals that has put him on this mission. It's the way the animals are treated.

"These animals are living in extreme filth. They're beaten. The way they're slaughtered is inhumane," says Couto.

Couto has been on a one-man crusade to shut down illegal slaughterhouses that are operating without licenses and without oversight by the health or agriculture departments. He was first exposed to what he calls the "dark underbelly" of the area when, with the Florida SPCA, he was investigating the slaughter of horses for their meat.

Motivated by Freedom's Flight, Couto left the South Florida SPCA to form his own organization called ARM -- Animal Recovery Mission.

For the past year he has used a video camera to collect evidence. Couto has simply walked right into dozens of slaughterhouses and has filmed bloody slaughter tables.

"I go in acting like a customer," he says, "I ask them, 'How much for the pig?' And they'll say 120 dollars. 'How much for the kill?' '20 bucks. We'll slaughter it for you for 20 bucks.' It's that easy."

One local agency that spends a lot of time in the area because sections of it are considered protected wetland is the Miami-Dade Department of Environmental Resources Management. Carlos Espinosa is in charge of enforcing the county's environmental regulations.

"When we come across other issues relating to other departments, we pass that information on to other departments," says Espinosa.

Couto took his story and his videos to every local agency he could think of with oversight responsibility. He tried to set up a task force with agencies in charge of violations such as animal cruelty, illegal structures, illegal businesses, permit problems and zoning issues. A sign-in sheet from one of these meetings shows many of the agencies attended the meeting, but Couto says nothing came of it.

CNN contacted Miami-Dade Animal Services Department, an agency that had a representative at that meeting. Spokesperson Xiomara Mordcovich said the agency does not deal with issues involving farm animals and directed us to the Miami-Dade Police Department.

The Police Department declined an interview. "We are not actively investigating any incidents involving illegal slaughterhouses," the department said in an e-mail. Then it referred us back to Animal Services and also to the code compliance department.

Charles Danger, director of the Miami-Dade Building and Neighborhood Compliance Department, admits that it was because of Couto's persistence that it is now putting together a multi-agency task force he called "Operation Miss Piggy and Mr. Ed."

According to Danger, part of the reason nothing has been done to clean up this area is because of fear for the safety of inspectors.

"Every time we go in there, we have to go in there with the police -- and even the police don't want to go in there," says Danger.

Danger says the Miami-Dade Police Department is now on the new task force, which also includes agencies such as the state health department and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. "It comes from a lot of years of illegal operation. We have to do it together because it's not going to be easy," says Danger.

One organization that will keep tabs on the progress is the Animal Recovery Mission. Couto says he will not go away quietly. He calls his mission "redemption and revenge for Freedom's Flight and what he went through."

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Beware the Funky Grain!

Merry belated Christmas everyone!

Most of my Holiday season was somewhat expected. Eric bought me two pairs of riding breeches, and, especially for a non-rider, my husband has excellent taste. One pair is cammo, which I'm not totally in love with, but the other pair is navy blue with gold checks. Perfect! More importantly, i got to spend a little time with family, watched Sherlock Holmes on opening night (RD Jr is sexy as!) and enjoyed sitting on the couch for the first time in a very long time.

But alas, more of it was spent at the barn with a worried pit in my stomach. Shorty was quiet on Tuesday. I thought perhaps my boy was colicy, so I handwalked for about thirty minutes. He was completely sound and bore weight equally on all four hooves. He pooped during his walk and again in the cross ties. I listened to his hind gut with my stethoscope and heard sounds in all four quadrants. He was eating fine and drinking. Thinking perhaps his arthritis and the weather was to blame, I wrapped him with his back on track wraps, kissed him on the nose and bid him goodnight with his usual handful of cookies.

The next day, Holly the farrier came for a visit. It is not uncommon for Holly to do Shorty's hooves while I'm at work. I often leave her a check, and she's given me nothing but great service and good shoeing. I got off work a little early and headed straight to the barn to find Shorty with his shoes off, getting trimmed. Holly noted that he was a "touch lame" on his left front. Shorty's never had hoof issues, so I was immediately alarmed. I picked up one of the pieces of trimmed hoof and noticed blood in the laminae, known as sub-surface hematoma. I looked at the piece of trimming and back at Shorty, who was standing in the crossties slightly parked out and putting more weight on his heels. He had a strong digital pulse and a slight amount of heat. My stomach sank... laminitis.

I immediately called the vet and told Holly to put Shorty away without putting his shoes back on. The vet had a four hour wait, so I went to Tractor Supply and bought ten bales of shavings (my car was packed to the ceiling, including the passenger side front seat) and put every single one of them in his stall to give him a great cushion (after picking it out of course). I cold hosed his front hooves, dried them and wrapped them with several diapers, vet wrap and duct tape), wrapped all four legs with standing wraps, took his TPR and changed all of his stall signs to "No treats, no grain, no turnout until further notice."

Once finished, I decided to let Shorty rest quietly in his stall. He was very interested in his hay, so I gave him a big pile of soaked flakes. He laid down several times, but did not trash, so I knew that colic was not my concern... his hooves were the primary source of his discomfort.

I still had time to wait for the vet, and in thinking back to my time in equine health and equine lameness and conditioning, I realized that I should look for the cause. Shorty is not on any medications, and he only gets two and a half pounds of grain twice a day... hardly enough to cause a 1,200 pound horse to develop laminitis. I hadn't switched grains in several months, and I always take a long time to make the switch.

I came down to two possibilities. Scenario one: a well-meaning student passed out too many sugary treats and triggered a GI upset in Shorty. Scenario two: Shorty was given toxic grain. I'd already checked Shorty's grain bucket and knew it to be empty. I checked Shorty's bin in the grain room. The bag of Grown N Win looked and smelled normal. It was about halfway consumed, so if it was the culprit I would have noticed it a while ago. The Ultimate Finish was recently opened. I often leave extra bags of grain in the grain room for the farm owner to replinish as needed, and he had recently opened this new bag. It looked normal, but, surprise surprise it smelled AWFUL. It smelled like cat piss, actually.

The vet showed up and confirmed my diagnosis on laminitis. Luckily, the case was caught early, and radiographs revealed that no rotation of the coffin bone occurred. He is expected to make a full recovery and to go on living a happy, useful life. It should be noted that horses who experience one laminitic episode are often prone to getting it again later in life, so I must be careful in how I manage him. However, the vet believes that a week of stall rest, bute twice a day, cold hosing, wrapping and deep bedding will provide a sound horse.

I made the decision to pull Shorty off his grain completely, although the vet seemed to think Shorty could eat the full amount with no adverse effects. Even if I did return the grain and get another bag of UF (which I will eventually do when I have the time), I would not give a laminitic horse grain. I've always remembered lots of lower quality hay as the primary diet for the laminitis case, and there's plenty of crappy hay at the barn, so Shorty has a constant hay pile in front of his nose and will not get grain for quite a while. Plus, Shorty would go nuts on stall rest with the extra energy. Although he's the master of giving me his cutest face, he's been a trooper about the lack of grain, and I love him even more for that.

I also made the decision to quadruple the vet's estimated date of going back to work. The vet said a week, but I think I will give him the month of January off from work. I will gladly take him for handwalks and put him back on turnout as soon as he's approved, but there's no rush. I'd like to give him time to let his hooves grow out and his gut to recover without the added stress of working. I'll also be getting a second opinion from the veterinary hospital before I officially put the saddle back on. Even one month seems rather short to me, even for a very mild case such as this. Hmm... we'll see.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Its a Damn Shame

I work with school horses that are more than obliging when it comes to slowing down. They may not be refined and athletic movers, but they're more than happy to walk and stop when asked... until now. I noticed this issue when some of the best school horses wouldn't halt at X when my students were preparing for a dressage show. It got to the point where I had to tell my student K to start thinking about the halt at A, when she entered the arena. Yeah, it's that bad. They still missed X at the show, and I could not figure out why. At home, several other horses have been plowing through the bit, taking half the arena, sometimes more, to stop. From a walk, mind you.

I took over the Wednesday night lessons because B* is pregnant. On Wednesday, I spent a lot of time getting to know what my new students know, where the holes are, what their goals are, etc. That night, one of my students demonstrated her "emergency stop."

"You mean 'emergency dismount', right?"

"No. The emergency STOP."

"Okay, show me this emergency stop."

My new student trotted a few steps, viciously ripped the reins back over her thighs and stood up in her stirrups. The horse, an old veteran named Tilly, gaped her mouth open and continued walking through the rider's heavy hand.

Sigh. I have discovered the reason why the schoolies are not stopping, and I'm once again appalled by the piss-poor riding instruction that is allowed at the barn. I hope B never comes back!

Needless to say, my new students took turns on the lounge line riding without reins. When not on the line, they were told to practice the following: SIT down in your saddle, EXHALE, light REIN pressure. I also had to re-teach how to turn because I can't stand it when riders haphazardly rip their horses heads away: LOOK, LEG, light HAND.

These kids are cantering. B allowed them to jump 18" and barrel race at what they called "full speed." (For me, "full speed" is sixteen seconds, and I doubt that any schoolie can pull that off, plus the kids have no clue what a lead is or how to change it.) What that reall means is, B told them to go as fast as they could, which usually ends up being a painful extended trot that is heavy on the forehead and poorly-balanced.

I don't blame the kids. I blame B and I blame my boss for hiring her on her sunny personality alone without testing her equine background. Someone whose claim to fame is showing 4H in high school is not riding instructor quality! I'm ARIA certified with a degree in equine studies and I take joy in riding some of the rankest, most misunderstood and aerodynamic horses in the barn, but I consider myself to be a beginner instructor. I'm not dissing 4H either; its a great program and I was once a member myself, but I would hope that an instructor would ride at a level that is higher than her students.

I do feel bad for my students though. They're going to have to re-learn everything from lesson one. That means no cantering for a while, and now that they've learned it they don't want to do anything else. However, with their riding as shaky as it is, I feel that I must put them through the basics before they can go on. The rider that deomonstrated her "emergency stop" has been B's student for eighteen months! That's a lot of time and money wasted. Its a damn shame.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Shorty's Special Ladyfriend

A few days ago, I blogged about the various transgressions of my boss.

When I mentioned that I was thinking about moving Shorty, and told him about the heaves diagnosis, he freaked out. I half expected it, to the point where I was ready to move that day if needed. He's done that before, and it isn't pretty.

I my surprise, he freaked out in a good way. He wants to fix up the run-in shed on the property for Shorty and put one of his horses with him. We've been trying horses out to see which would get along with Shorty. He didn't like Annie the pony, Oliver is too old to go out in the cold (he's thirty three), and the other pony, Bubba, is an escape artist. I haven't put Shorty out with his special lady friend, Tilly, but we will try it tomorrow.

It would take work, but there's a possibility that we can turn the shed into a cool place for Shorty and a turnout buddy to enjoy the outdoor life with a dry, but well-ventilated shelter. I already own two electric water buckets and wouldn't mind buying a blanket for Shorty's turnout buddy for the really chilly days.

Ultimately, I will do what is best for my horse. If I suspect that the wool is being pulled over my eyes, I will not hesitate to move Shorty. On the other hand, it is convenient to keep my horse where I teach, so I'm willing to give it a shot.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Fall 2009 Recap: Because I'm Bad About Blogging On Time

Before I launch into a whole huge tirade about Shorty's living situation, I have some good news! At a hunter pace race at Southfarm, we got first place out of twenty eight teams. We also got a fourth place at the Chagrin Valley Hunt Ridestrong Hunter Pace. Yay! Here's a picture of Shorty hanging out with his new girlfriend, Tilly, at Ridestrong.

Also pictured is me talking to my two teammates, Heidi and Barb. They are also my adult riding students. They loved both paces. I'm the one in the blue breeches. :)

And now on to other things.

Namely, I am looking for a new place to board Shorty. After four years of working with a boss who is occasionally insane, I have decided enough is enough.

The funny thing is, it all started with a window. I cannot tell you how many times I've put up with him using my flyspray on his horses, stealing my first aid supplies, losing my halter, failing to feed my horse correctly, "forgetting" to put the fuzzy protective sleeves on Shorty's cribbing collar if they fall off and him refusing to turn on Shorty's fan in the summer, even when it is legitimately hot and I pay extra for the luxury. I've come to the barn to see Shorty with a stovepipe leg that went unnoticed. I've come to the barn to find my blankets gone and my horse with poop in his waterer.

Before I purchased Shorty from this boss, Shorty lived in a piss-soaked stall with a light dusting of bedding, a dirty waterer and feed bucket and was fed crappy hay and not enough grain. I was initially hired to train Shorty to prepare him for sale. When the horse didn't sell, I was told I would no longer be paid to ride the horse, but could continue working with him if I wanted to. Since the Shorty was too hot for the lesson program and no buyers lined up to see a generic OTTB, I continued working with the horse for free.

Over time, the two of us bonded. I started supplying Ultimate Finish to boost his weight. I bought blankets for him to keep him warm in the winter. I bought a new halter for him because the old one was too small and chafed him. I started adding bagged bedding at my expense. When my boss refused to get him vaccinated, I paid for the services out of pocket (had his teeth, sheath and shoeing done too). I showed him a few times to boost his marketability; that's how we got started with the hunter pace races.

Last November, my boss gave me the ultimatum. "Shorty's going to the auction next week. I can't afford to keep him anymore. I just thought you should know." My heart sank. Where do OTTBs like Shorty end up? Honestly, they go on double decker trailers to Canada to become dog food. Knowing this, and sensing that my boss wasn't kidding, I went home and weighed my options. Yes, I am student with limited funds. Yes, I drive the world's crappiest car. Yes, I have student loans. But no, I cannot let this horse slip through the cracks. I showed up at the barn the next day with a check in hand.

For the past year, I have kept Shorty at the same barn, but have provided the majority of the care. I do all of the cleaning; he does the feeding. I measure the feed out and supply the grain, so it isn't that hard. I've put up with the aforementioned with patience, often correcting the issue (like moving the flyspray bottle back to its rightful place) without complaint.

It goes without saying that horses need fresh air. Knowing this, I do my best to get Shorty outside and try to keep clean air in his stall by keeping the window open. Since early November, I have been opening his window, only to find it closed the next day. I confronted my boss about this and asked that he leave it open. He refuses because, "the horses will be too cold." I have explained before that really, the horses don't care about the cold. They handle it very well. Just ask any Icelandic enthusiast. A friend of mine owns fifteen Icelandics- they live outside 24/7 without blanketing, and they do just fine as long as there is food and unfrozen water. We're the ones that hate it. So, I can't open my window and my horse's lungs suffer because my boss gets cold and is too cheap to buy a better coat and actual barn boots.

I ignored my hatred for the situation until I heard a single dry cough escape from Shorty's lips during a warm-up a few days ago. I had a horse with heaves (basically equine asthma) before, and it was devastating. The disease usually shows up in older horses and can be identified by labored breathing, wheezing, flared nostrils and reduced tolerance for exercise. Horses that have had it for a while will have a line of muscle on the underside of their ribcage called a heave line. Its usually triggered by living in dusty environments, and let's face it: almost all barns are dusty.

So, knowing this, I immediately hopped off, untacked and grabbed my stethoscope. Sure enough, I could hear a slight whistle as he exhaled, which is an indicator of the disease at work. I called the vet with Shorty still in the crossties. She came out today and confirmed my suspicions. Indeed, Shorty has heaves, probably from living on racetracks for five years during the early part of his life. However, it is very mild at this point and was caught in its early stage (thanks to my paranoia).

The best thing for a horse with heaves is to live outside, they way they were intended to live. That will not be provided at my current barn: fifteen minutes of turnout in the indoor is the standard for all of the horses (except mine, who gets hours of it everyday because I come up everyday and put him out with his geriatric turnout buddy). Even the four hours I give him everyday isn't enough.

For those who are wondering, the symptoms of heaves can be alleviated with medications. Typically, prenisolone can be given to open up constricted airways. However, long term use of the steroid has been linked to founder. Also, the disease is progressive. Considering that Shorty is only 11 years old, I need to do more than pump him full of drugs. We're talking soaked hay, pine pellet and cardboard bedding, watered riding areas and outdoor living. It is clear that this will never happen at my current barn, so I am shopping around for a new place.

If you are in the Northeast Ohio area, do you have any suggestions? Criteria are as follows:
Ten or more hours of turnout daily
Indoor riding arena nice, but not necessary
Must be able to soak hay
Must be able to handle splint boots and blankets
Well-ventilated stall

I can clean said stall, provide pellet bedding and high quality hay for soaking.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Just a Short One

A lot has been going on my life, with three jobs, classes full time, a horse and a developing business. I am very behind on providing updates, and I promise I will in the near future.

In the meantime, I recieved this in my email and was appalled. Uncut Scandic Blue Tounge

One look at the horse, and you know he's not comfortable. Take a closer look at his tounge. The pressure of the bit is so harsh, his tounge is blue!

Here's something we can all do about it: sign this petition.

Here's something else: check out the Natural Dressage Website and notice how the horses look well-fed and happy on the ground and under saddle. I wish more people would embrace this methology and approach to training animals.

That's all for now, but updates are on their way. I have some good news regarding a certain spoiled OTTB! :)

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Equine Germaphobia

Truck owners lament that they get a lot of people asking for their help when moving. As a trainer and instructor, I get people asking to use my tack.

I'm an equine germaphobe. On my horse's behalf, I do not share saddle pads, girths, bridles, bits, buckets, brushes, or any other items of that nature with any other person in the barn. To me, these items are as personal as my underwear. Too often, these items are carelessly passed through the barn, causing transmission of disease and bacterial/fungal infections.

Sure, I've cleaned my fair share of stalls and enjoyed a delicious cookie without washing my hands, but I will never share something as intimate as my horse's girth with another rider. I often shrug and accept my dusty, dirty hands and face, but I use baby wipes to clean my horse's brown spots in between baths. I often disinfect Shorty's feeder, waterer, brushes, buckets, and bits with diluted Listerine.

That doesn't mean that I don't get throngs of people asking to use my stuff. The purpose of this blog entry is not to engage in a penile listing of all of my stuff, but to illustrate. For example, my Matha Josey barrel racing saddle is one of the best saddles for the sport, and I have a rare collector's edition model. Do people want to use it all the time? Yes. I have an Albion dressage saddle with leather so soft and cushiony I feel like I'm riding on a pillow. Do people want to sit in my delicious dressage saddle? Absolutely. Do they want to borrow my Supra Cor pad or try out my Tom Thumb bit? Do they marvel at Shorty's awesome new splint boots or ask to borrow my Back on Track wraps in lieu of using poultice? All the time!

Do I let them? I let a student of mine borrow my western saddle on the condition that she acquire (borrow) a different girth and pad. I'll never let someone use my dressage saddle on another horse because it is flocked specifically for Shorty and the seat is padded specifically for me and my balance issues (the right side has a tad more padding due to an irreversable issue in my hip that causes it to sink unless propped up). I don't, as a rule, share brushes, buckets, scrubbies, sponges, girths, saddle pads or similar items. I will allow someone lacking in first aid supplies (I have two huge trunks of first aid stuff for one horse!) to use a dab of novalssan or some guaze, particularly in emergency situations. One of my students used my bute, 2 grams a day, for ten days. The horse needed the bute, and she didn't have the money to purchase her own (which baffles me- 100 grams is $40!), and I ended up giving her the drugs.

A purchased a pony pad by mistake. Yes, A is the another RIDING INSTRUCTOR at the farm and should be able to pick up a pad and say, "This looks like a pony pad; I should get a bigger one." Nope. The pad didn't even completely fit under her saddle, so she asked me if I would lend her one of my "many saddle pads." Yes, I do have four English pads and two western ones. That way, if one gets sweaty or hairy (usually both), I can fold it up, stick it in my laundry basket, and take the basket home when the thing is full. I usually get one, maybe two, rides from a saddle pad before I decide it needs to be washed. Shorty's back is so sensitive that a dirty, hairy, itchy pad will do us no favors, so I'm somewhat anal in that regard. I routinely switch out polo wraps and splint boots for the same reason, as well as the fuzzy thingies on Shorty's cribbing collar.

I felt greedy for sticking to my usual germaphobia when A asked for a pad, but I did decline to lend her one. Her horse has rain rot because she doesn't brush the mud off of it routinely, and I don't care to expose my horse to it. I straight out told her, in no uncertain terms, was she allowed to use any of my horse's equipment for herself or her horse. I felt bad for turning her down, but there are plenty of extra pads in the school horse tack room that she could use, or she could simply go out and buy a larger pad. Even a cheap baby pad would work.

Yes, I am a germaphobe when it comes to Shorty's tack. I feel like an asshole for it, but I also feel I have to protect my horse's health in every way that I can. I want to help others, but I won't sacrifice the frgaile well being of my special guy. Am I a bad person? Probably. Were we taught in grade school to always share? Yes. I'd straight out open my wallet and fork over all of my cash to a needy person (and usually end up doing so when I see a collection can for Last Chance Corral), but I still can't bring myself to share my tack.

Is anyone else in my wonderful readership also an equine germaphobe? Speak up! I'd love to hear about your ideosyncracies and minor lunacies when it comes to your horse's health.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Angry Student

Yesterday, after my lovely walk with Shorty, I taught lessons for my fellow instructor, A. I've talked about A before- she's the one that used a rusty bit for her horse and punished the mare for not holding still.

Anyways, her students are, for the most part, obnoxious and unaccustomed to greulling equitation work. Don't get me wrong; I'm all for playing games, going through obstacle courses, and having fun on horseback. However, I also believe in correct positioning and balance for maximum enjoyment. Are you having fun if your upper back hurts because you are stiff? Do you think the horse has fun when you hang on the reins? The answer is no.

So, I decided to introduce them to equitation class 101. Of course, they rolled their eyes when I asked them to drop down into their heels, bring their shoulders back, and look where they were going. One girl, whom I've mentioned before, whined when I asked her to soften her death grip on the reins. "But A TOLD me to do it THIS WAY."

"Do you think Jazzy looks happy right now?" I asked. "Earlier, you complained that Jazzy isn't listenining to you. She doesn't want to turn because there's too much pressure in her mouth. It hurts her to turn because there's nowhere for her head to go. When she leans on the reins, she is asking you to soften your hand. Your rein length is fine, but your hands are too rough."

The student continued to whine. "If I give Jazzy too much, she will buck me off."

"I seriously doubt that."

"You don't know Jazzy at all!"

"Ummm... excuse me? I've been teaching here for four years, and I've ridden Jazzy many times. She is a total sweetheart, and would never hurt one of her riders. If she bucked with you, its because she's telling you to be gentler with your hands."

After much whining, I got the student to loosen up... a little. I even got her to follow Jazzy's head with her hand a bit through an elastic elbow. Sadly, that all came to a halt when Jazzy, an old Arabian mare, stumbled a bit. Instead of absorbing the small stumble, the student ripped the reins, not once, but FOUR TIMES.

I can't remember exactly what I said, but I made her dismount. I will not have an abusive student in my class, and I'm more than happy to entertain phone calls from angry parents. I stick to my guns, and, strangely, my boss trusts my judgement.

I sent the student out of the arena and had her sit in one of the lawn chairs nearby to watch the rest of the lesson. Two minutes later, she asked to come back in.

"Not unless you promise to be nice to Jazzy. If I see you pulling too hard on the reins, I'll take you right back off again."

Instead, the student decided to make phone calls on her cell.

The rest of the lesson went well. One of the students, who is a bit older and more mature than her classmates, asked to switch to my lesson day to learn more. As for the angry student? For the sake of equine everywhere, I hope she learns to be more patient.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Back in the Saddle Again...

It felt great to sit on my horse again after so much time off! The vet declared Shorty ready for light riding, which is good enough for me. We started very slowly, due in part by Shorty's stifle arthritis. Today, I hopped on with my trusty bareback pad and hackamore and we walked in big circles in the arena.

Normally, a horse that had five weeks off, particularly an OTTB, would be breathing fire. But truly, Shorty didn't have his time completely off. We did lots of ground work, got out of the stall often, and even had the opportunity to put him back on turnout with SMBs, provided he was cold hosed/iced before and after his romp outside. Certainly, he did not spend five weeks couped up in his stall, but instead got out just as much as he would if he were completely sound.

However, his activities were monitored closely, and the swelling, heat, and tenderness is completely gone.

Last week triggered a chain of events that led me to think about a new way to help Shorty. Bear with me: on Thursday, I broke my glasses. They're flexon, apparently indestructable, but I've broken five pairs of them in twelve years. All weekend, I had duct tape, and later plumber's putty, holding the fragile frame together. On Tuesday, my eyes were checked, I picked out a new frame (since I break flexon no matter what, I opted for cheap plastic frames this time), and they told me to come back in a few hours to pick up my newly-made glasses.

Normally, I would have gone home and come back, but the starter on my car is shot. I try not to start the old girl more than is absolutely necessary. I hold my breath when I start my car if I'm running errands or filling up on gas, because I never know when it will refuse to start.

Anyways, I decided to walk around downtown. I walked over to Borders. After browsing through the literature and historical non fiction sections, I headed over to the horse section. There, amid titles of "My First Pony Book" and "Horsekeeping for Dummies" was a spiral bound manual on equine massage. Massage you say? Intrigued, although slighly put off by the steep $30 price, I ended up purchasing the book and a few others, including "Centered Riding 2." Heck, my Managerial Economics book was $230.

I realize that one book will not give me the tools to practice on other horses, but I am comfortable with doing some of the lighter stuff with Shorty. Effleurage, or gentle, downward strokes, is meant to warm up muscles and encourage proper drainage. The idea is, the light touches slowly increase circulation before and after exercise. So, before hopping on today, I spent about fifteen minutes switching between superficial and deep effeurage. I didn't feel any knots or hot spots, but found a few sensitive spots (or rather, re-discovered them because I've found them while grooming many times). As I did this, Shorty looked worried that I would try to pull his mane (I don't anymore because he knocks me off the chair gladiator-style and gets very aggitated), but eventually he started to fall asleep in the aisle. I also did some stretches. Shorty loves carrot stretches from side to side, and I gently shook hands with him and stretched out his hind legs as well.

I rode around at a walk for twenty minutes. He seemed very stiff to the right, but moved nicely off my leg. Many joked that Shorty would be a ball of nervous energy after so much time off, but he was completely quiet and, actually, somewhat bored with the whole thing.

After our ride, I groomed Shorty very well, did more stretches and another fifteen minutes of effleurage. As I get a further in the book, I may try some of the other princples as well. Again, I would never administer massages to other horses without a lisence, but I feel comfortable giving Shorty's muscles some attention before and after rides to increase his comfort.

We will probably work at the walk for the remainder of the working week and hopefully start trotting again by the weekend, maybe as early as Friday. We'll see how Shorty feels.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

American Riding Instructor Certification

I figured I would pass this along, since I've received a lot of questions about my ARIA certification in dressage. For one, I was primarily a western rider for twelve years, and have only truly ridden dressage for four; why did I go after dressage certification first? Well, the answer is simple: dressage applies to everything jumping, western, barrels, reining, trail riding... you name it. Maybe I'm being a little cocky here, but I didn't feel challenged going after western certification, because I knew I would probably be able to get it, but obtaining dressage certification would require me to work a lot harder. So, that's what I did. Plus, I really want to work towards high certification with the United States Dressage Federation.

Here's some more info on ARIA, for anyone else interested. There are several degrees of certification, much like BHS.

What is ARICP?

Established in 1984, the American Riding Instructor Certification Program (ARICP) is a program offered by The American Riding Instructors Association (ARIA) to recognize and certify outstanding teachers of horseback riding who instruct their students in a safe, knowledgeable and professional manner.

Who is it for?

ARICP Certification is meant for the serious, above-average instructor who teaches safely and in a professional, competent manner, with high standards of honesty and integrity. Minimum age and experience requirements apply for each level of certification.

How does the certification procedure work?

ARICP certification is an important aspect of an instructor's career and requires that candidates make it a priority. The certification process is accomplished by evaluating the instructor's qualifications and teaching ability through written and oral testing, and, at Levels II and III, by a video submitted by the candidate. Instructors meeting the standards for a particular level will earn certification at that level. ARICP offers certification to instructors in three levels of experience and in 14 teaching specialties. To ensure that ARICP-Certified Instructors' standards remain high, re-certification is required every 5 years. This also gives the instructor an opportunity to upgrade his/her level of certification and to add new teaching specialties.

Where is the certification testing held, and what is the fee?

The testing is conducted at one-day test centers held throughout the year at different locations around the country. The fee is $595.00. When a group of at least 6 instructors at a single location desire ARICP Certification, special arrangements can be made for testing at their site. It is also possible to test individually by appointment at ARICP's office in Bonita Springs, Florida. The fee for private testing is $795.

What are the advantages of being an ARICP Certified Instructor?

ARICP Certified Instructors have nationally recognized credentials. Their employment prospects are improved. ARICP Certified Instructors are listed in the nationally-distributed ARICP Directory of Certified Riding Instructors and on our Web site.

ARICP Certified Instructors may obtain insurance discounts through several major insurers. ARICP Certified Instructors also receive the quarterly magazine Riding Instructor.

How do I apply for Certification?

Program size is limited, so it is important to apply early in order to assure yourself of a place. You should register at least 30 days in advance. Late registrations will be charged a surcharge for mailing materials overnight. You may register online or mail in a form or call 239-948-3232. You may charge your fee to your Visa, MasterCard, Discover or American Express card.

So, what has my ARIA certification done for me? Well, when working with inexperienced, distanced, and arrogant colleagues, its good to have a certification to back you up. My Saturday lessons are packed, and even my miser boss is giving me more free rein to make decisions (my boss is a subject for a whole different post... maybe a series.) Even though I went from the top of the game, NBHA world finalist, Quarter Horse Congress champion to a lower level dressage rider, I feel like I know more about riding, and teaching, than ever before... and this is just the beginning. I do hope to go for advanced level certification with ARIA in dressage, maybe western too, and possibly jumping. We'll see.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Long-Awaited Update

Shorty's leg is getting better, slowly.
For the past week, I've been spending even more time than usual with my horse. Every morning, before work, I've been getting to the barn during AM feeding to take off his wraps, cold hose, and put ice packs on while Shorty eats. Before trucking off to work, I would put Shorty's splint boots on and take him for a handwalk in the arena.

After work, I go to the barn to clean Shorty's stall and buckets, groom him, go for another hand walk, hand graze for as long as possible, cold hoze/ice pack his legs again, dry him off, and poultice wrap him up for the night. I've been trying to make Shorty still feel loved and cared for, so I've been doing one extra little thing each day. Yesterday, I clipped his whiskers, which is something he actually enjoys. The day before, I gave Shorty a super-bath, complete with whitener and conditioner.

I also surprised Shorty with a number of stall toys to play with while he is on stall rest. He loves his lik-it, but didn't really play with the Jolly Ball. He thought highly of the treat roller thing until he figured out how to pin it in the corner of his stall and dump out all of the treats. He's getting extra hay, soaked beet pulp, and lots of treats, too! I did reduce his grain ration since he is a TB out of work (which usually ends up looking like a sugar-high toddler unless you take some preventative action), and he hasn't been out on grass much, so I've had to beef up the forage. Plus, it gives him something to chew on.
I hope to start lightly under saddle again by the end of next week with the vet's blessing. Fortunately, she felt that the swelling was a the result of a very large bruise and lightly strained tendon. She said the cold hosing, bute, poultice routine that I has already employed was exactly what she'd prescribe, and there's not a whole lot more I can do. I did shell out some $500 for ultrasounds, but knowing that Shorty isn't permanently damaged is worth every penny.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Shorty's Injured Tendon

When I got to the barn on Monday, Shorty had a small, but deep, cut on the inside of his front left leg. It was swollen and hot. I cold hosed, pulticed, and wrapped it. I usually give these things three full days to heal on their own or at least make significant progress before calling the vet.

I have an appointment with the vet this afternoon. I'll update soon after. Please keep your fingers crossed!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Bat Crazy!

Yesterday evening, I was giving a lesson to one of myadult students. A small object fell from the rafters of the indoor (it was starting to rain outside, so we had gone in). At first, I thought it was a baby bird, but as I walked closer I realized that it is too late in the season for chicks to be falling out of the rafters. The tiny little body that greeted me was one of a baby bat, later identifed as a male little brown.

My adult student was, as many people are, totally freaked out by the little guy. Once, an adult bat nesting in one of the barn doors that is open all summer fell out when I closed it during a big thunderstorm. Once the storm passed, I was able to take him outside on a large dustpan and put him in a tree, where he could wait for a good breeze and fly home. Bats cannot fly on their own, they rely on a good gust of wind to take off.

It was raining, and the little bat had taken quite a fall (over forty feet) To make matters worse, the barn cat was aware of the bat as well, and had already decided that the bat would make a good dinner. I went up in the loft to see if I could put him in the rafters near his family, but he wouldn't stay in the rafters. He fell out and landed on me, clinging his little hind legs to my shirt. I put him in a small box I rustled out of my car and put him in my tack locker, where the cat couldn't get him.

Once my lesson was over, I again turned my attention to my newly acquired friend. One should not keep a bat, they should live outside, and I knew he probably needed medical help from his long fall. I took him home, looked up bat sanctuaries on the internet, and called a local rescue operation for wild animals.

So, at 11 pm last night, the little brown bat was safely delivered to a sanctuary and into knowledgeable hands. The actual sanctuary was closed, so I delivered the bat to a rescuer's home. Her house was decorated with Halloween decorations of bats, identifying that I was in the right place. She looked him over, told me his gender (male), age (about a month old), and type (little brown). As her husband readied baby bat food, a type of formula, the woman informed me should do everything in her power to save the little guy.

I called this morning, and he made it through the night, but he ate very little. I do hope the little guy makes it! Bats area valuable part of insect control, eating up to 400 bugs a night (which is awesome at a horse farm), and no creature should go without proper care. The woman seemed surprised that I would drive an hour to drop the little guy off, and said that most people just kill them. Poor bats.

By the way, I did not take any pictures of the little guy. I briefly considered snapping a few photos, but figured the bat was in shock as it was and I wanted him to get medical attention immediately. Thankfully, the internets are full of bat pictures.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Rocks and Rock-Like People

Yesterday, Shorty and I went for a trail ride with my friend Barb. Barb owns an adorable Quarter Horse named William, and are two horses are simply awesome when it comes to trailering and going to new places. They load on, ride quietly, unload nicely, and quickly settle into their new surroundings. As a trainer, I am often asked to work with horses that have trailering issues, so it is nice to have a horse that is very no-fuss about such things.

The trails were beautiful and well marked, and the day was gorgeous. We saw joggers, bicyclists, dog walkers, fishermen, deer, blackbirds, a huge pond filled with bullfrogs, small bridges built for horses and other would-be scary stuff. None of that affected Shorty. The only thing that Shorty spooked at was a random rock of red marble that was about knee high and two feet wide and sat next to the trail. Shorty came up to it, snorted and stepped sideways past it, never taking his eyes off the offending rock, and then attempted to bolt down the trail. We circled it a few times before moving on. On the way back, he was very tense going past it, but maintained straightness and tempo.

The trailer lot itself was terrible. One woman decided to park her trailer, a huge 4 horse gooseneck, in the middle of the turnaround for trailers, effectively blocking the rest of us from turning around to get out of the lot. To make matters worse, there was a huge picnic for Weight Watchers participants going on and there were hoards of people running around the park. When we got back from the trail, the woman with big trailer was still there and people had parked their cars right next to my horse trailer. There was less than a foot of space between the trailer and the cars, completely blocking us from tying the horses up, giving them water and hay, and being able to untack and load up.

Barb and I rode over to the picnic and had to track people down to move their cars. I was nearly kicked out by a park ranger for riding in the pavilion area during my pursuit of others. People were in a rush to come over and pet our horses (which Shorty hates) but they were reluctant to walk to the parking lot to move their cars. One very heavyset woman said she would only move her car if I would give her a horseback ride back to the parking lot. *Eye roll* "Umm... no. I can't do that." Let's list the reasons why: 1. Shorty hates new people 2. LIABILITY 3. I don't have a helmet big enough for her 4. I am not legging up some three-hundred pound woman onto my nice, well-trained horse because she's too lazy to walk 5. Her audacity to get a free ride was totally rude and could feel my blood pressure rising as she insisted adamantly that riding my horse was the only way for her to get to her car (which was about a thousand feet away).

I was proud of my awesome horse for being such a good boy and a real trooper with the overly-enthusiastic people, who often say things like, "I once rode this horse at the YMCA camp, and I swear, they gave me the really stubborn one," or "I was riding before I could walk, but I don't ride anymore, I would love to ride again." If I got a penny every time someone told me about their stubborn horse at the Y, I'd be able to buy a Starbucks Venti Java Chip Frappuchino by now. When it comes to rocks, I was a little perplexed by Shorty's dislike of that chunk of granite, but hey, it could have been worse. As for his strong dislike of rock-like people, I don't blame him. Those people were downright rude.

Friday, July 17, 2009

I Need Your Help on This One: Where Do You Draw the Line?

Yesterday, Shorty and I took the day off from riding. Instead, I took him for a walk around the field. I let him hand graze for about twenty minutes near the "scary car zone" as a sort of reinforcement that cars will not jump through the trees and eat him. We explored the property (about 12 acres in all) and made frequent stops for nibbling grass. Shorty found a jackpot of white clover and was so excited he grunted as he furiously tore into the little patch. While he grazed, I groomed the itchy spot under his jaw. If we was a cat instead of a horse, he would have purred.

All of that came tumbling down in a matter of minutes when we walked over to riding arena, where a group of summer camp students were riding in their lesson. I managed the 2008, 2007, and 2006 summer camp seasons and taught an average of ten hours a day. This year, I have a full time job that offers more opportunities and much higher pay, plus I'm not getting burned out on kids peeing their pants and throwing up their sandwiches while riding. The instructor, we'll call this one B, was praising one of the students for her great hands. Great hands? Hardly. Her hands were about a foot too high and yanking back with ferocious pressure. I had to take Shorty back to the barn and put him away because I was getting so upset.

The worst part? The riding instructor encouraged her to "half halt" the horse if he went too fast. She described a half halt as a "sharp, upward jerk back on the reins." If I were a cartoon, steam would have errupted from my ears, because my brain basically fried when I heard that. The student's posting was absolutely awful; the girl pulled up on the horse's mouth as she rose, causing the poor, old, loyal school horse to hollow, invert, and chew the bit furiously. When she came down, she SLAMMED down on the seat, and she was not a lightweight girl. The cherry on top was when B praised the girl for being on the correct diagonal, and she wasn't.

When the lesson was over, one camper's mother praised the girl for "great seat" and the student beamed. B chimed in with "Yeah, and great job posting today." Meanwhile, I'm over at my locker, furiously scrubbing dirt off of Shorty's cribbing collar because I want to say something, start something, do something but I can't because there are so many kids and horses around. In my head, I imagined myself putting a bit in B's mouth and having her student with "great hands" rip her around for an hour. I wanted to give the old loyal school horse a hug and a cookie (I teach lessons on him, and depend on his good nature to give my students a good start in their careers).

The girl doesn't deserve praise for her riding. I found out she's been riding for four months now and is A. just now learning how to post, B. still hasn't been told not to pull too hard on the reins, and C. worse equitation-wise than the student I started last week in her first lesson ever. She's also 12. At that age, deep down, I feel that she should at least feel that something is wrong with her horse's head, and that horses don't typically choose to pop above the bit and suck behind a rider's leg the way old JT did. I admit, there could be a mental issue there that prevents her from reasoning correctly, but if that is the case she should not be riding in a group. I would put her in lesson on her own and stick her on a lounge line for a while, and I would give her reins with elastic inserts (or reins made of string that will break), and get a fat rubber snaffle for the horse. While I believe that horses can teach us powerful lessons about patience, quiet equitation, confidence, balance, etc. and offer TONS of great exercises for physically and mentally handicapped people, this issue isn't being addressed the right way.

So here I am. And, as I type this, B is finishing up with her campers for the day, and she'll spend tomorrow with them as well. I do have a bit of sway with the barn owner, and, after three years of employment and several degrees/certifications/times I was proven right, he has expressed that among his staff I am the senior instructor. Addressing the B situation will be difficult. She's not a good instructor, and unlike A she doesn't listen well for learn from her mistakes. For example, I've had to teach her how to put polo wraps on three times now, and yet, when I walk in the barn, horses she wraps have velcro around their coronet bands and there's a tail of extra material at the top (*headdesk*). I've already recommended that the student not ride on her own any more. If she wants to continue, great, but she needs constant attention whenever she is around a horse- that much is clear. Now, do I go for the jugular and recommend that B gets fired?

I'm really at a loss on the whole situation. On one hand, I have ignorant B, who has proven she's stuck in her old ways, not that I'm not either, but at least I have an education and you'd best believe I listen attentively when someone with more credentials/credibility/professionalism/proven track record has something to suggest to me. On the other? B is the only teacher available for the summer camps, and I know firing her will put my boss in a bind because A and I work during the day. Plus, some kids have really grown to like her and she'd probably take them with her. I'm not in charge of the business, but, as a business person, I know it will hinder my boss's meager earnings, which have already suffered due to the recession.

Readers, I am asking for your comments on this one. What would you do?

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Total Freakout!

Yesterday, while riding along peacefully in the field, Shorty freaked out. This wasn't the garden variety, "let's look at snuff and snort" kind of spook that I've become accustomed to in Shorty. Shorty had a long career on the track, so few things phase him. Car, trucks, motorcycles, brooms, hoses, plastic bottles, garbage bags being dragged down a gravel driveway... these things are fine with Shorty as long as he can get a good look at the offending noise/movement.

Not yesterday. In the open field, one side is dominated by a line of trees. On the other side of the tree line is Hosford Road, where cars traverse between the busy Route 44 and the slightly less busy Ravenna Road. Normally the cars do not pose a threat.

I was trotting large circles and practicing my steady outside rein, open inside rein maneuver. As I passed by the treeline, a car sped towards Shorty on the road, making a loud acceleration noise. Shorty took the open door opportunity to run through my soft inside rein and blast off in a series of bucks, spins, and crowhops. Shorty finally lived up to his Jockey Club name of Spicy Devil. As I attempted to reel my inside rein back in and regain my balance (I'd lost my inside stirrup as well) Shorty bolted for the barn. Thankfully, a big exhale and a strong half halt, followed by plenty of circles, brought Shorty back. I got my stirrup back. The blasted leather had twisted three or four times thanks to all of the twisting break-dance moves on Shorty's part, and I took a moment to thank the Lord for thigh blocks and giving me long legs before continuing back towards the offensive tree line.

Sure enough, every time Shorty heard a rustle or thought he saw something move, he'd pop up above my hand and blast off like a rocket. Did I strap on Air Jordans instead of bell boots? Did someone fill Shorty's waterer with Amp Energy Drink instead of water? After lots of circles and half halts, Shorty started to settle down. For the rest of the ride, a solid 45 minutes, I kept Shorty close to the treeline and praised him for not bolting when a car went by. I had to hold his little hand like he was just started under saddle, not the veteran that he is.

In the aftermath, I realized a few things:
  • I've ridden some cantankerous horses in my life that could throw a mean buck. However, most of them were Quarter Horses. I learned that a horse with long legs can really throw himself in the air like no short-legged horse can. If Shorty were human, he'd be the next LeBron James.
  • Even horses that can handle F-15 planes and air ballons without much care can spook at something he's seen nearly everyday. Heck, I once had a professional barrel horse that spooked at a BARREL in the middle of the arena.
  • Long legs and thigh blocks are awesome. I love my saddle, I love my full seat breeches, and I love my grippy half chaps. I love my helmet, too, and my gloves.
  • When opening your inside rein, be aware of your surroundings. Don't get caught, as I did, in midair when your horse suddenly becomes the next Challenger Space Shuttle and propels himself to the moon. I'll take the blame for a lot of this one, not because I think that I caused Shorty to somehow spook, but because a more aware rider wouldn't have been caught so off guard. I sometimes get tunnel vision and block out my outside surroundings, but alas! when climbing on top of, and attempting to control, a 1,000 pound plus animal, it pays to be observant.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

The Opening Rein

I had an AWESOME lesson yesterday with Shorty. Shorty has difficulty picking up his right lead canter. As a typically do, I went through the checklist:
  • Saddle fit- I purchased an Albion dressage saddle with a TB tree and had it flocked to him
  • Back soreness- The chiropractor was out a few weeks ago, and Shorty has had several massages. Upon probing, no tucking or flinching has been noticed.
  • Arthritis/Joint Pain- Shorty has been evaluated by two different vets, including the highly regarded Dr. Genovese, who specializes in racehorses. We did everything from radiographs to flexion tests. Yes, Shorty has arthritis; with over 100 starts, that was almost guaranteed. However, both vets felt that Shorty's joint damage is not so far gone that, with proper management, there's no reason why he can't canter on both leads.
  • Management- Teeth are done, trimming and shoe resets are done every four to five weeks in the summer (Shorty grows hoof really, really fast, especially in the summer, so I have the farrier come out once a month May to September), he wears splint boots and bell boots on all four, BCS of 5 (probably for the first time in Shorty's life, he has fat deposits), and Shorty is fit for moderately strenuous exercise.
Where does that leave us? The problem hasn't been solved, although Shorty's life has significantly improved since I purchased him in November. I know that Shorty is capable of doing the work. I also know that, as a lower-level dressage rider, I found myself unable to get the results I wanted to see.

Rather than perpetuating the ugly, vicious circle of me being unbalanced in the saddle, Shorty being unbalanced underneath me, which then makes me more unbalanced, and Shorty is more unbalanced underneath me, etc., I decided to get help. I'm glad I did.

Yesterday, I was reintroduced to the wonders of the opening rein, thus riding off my outside turning aids. On a circle, the instructor, Chelsea, had me take up the slack in my outside rein and hold it steady. I also followed through with my outside leg, closing it when I felt Shorty going beyond my rein and becoming over bent. That part was relatively easy for me because I am familiar with using outside turning aids to push a horse away from me.

The harder part was opening my inside rein. The natural tendency for a lot of riders is to squeeze and half halt the inside rein, which actually causes a horse like Shorty is resist the tug and evade the bit with an open mouth and a hollow back. Instead, Chelsea had me gently pull my inside rein towards the center of the circle, a motion much like the opening of a door. After a few seconds, I would gently bring my hand back. When Shorty started to tense up on his right side, I opened my right rein, keeping my outside aids constant and my inside leg long.

Although there were a few ugly moments where I ended up getting a movement similar to a shoulder in, I was able to spiral in and out of the circle using leg yields and opening my inside rein. Although Shorty did not pick up his right lead, he was more sensitive to my outside aids and he was more flexible to the right. It is difficult for me to break my old barrel racer habit of flexing my inside rein to get inside bend, but I was pleased with the results.

When I first started with Shorty, I was told to counter bend him and force him into the canter. I resisted using that method because it doesn't solve anything; the horse remains unbalanced and no dressage judge would respect that as a clear canter depart. This method takes more time, but overall, Shorty will be more comfortable and flexible as a result. Also, as a result of yesterday's lesson, I've decided to continue my weekly lessons with Chelsea and I have set a goal of riding a training level test at a USEF show held in November. I don't care what score I get, but I want to canter to the right in front of a judge. I shared this goal with Chelsea, who feels that gives us ample time to build, strengthen, and communicate our way to success.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

The Dressage Training Scale

Pictured above is the dressage training scale. Although several variations exist, the idea behind the visual is a foundation of training eventually leads to upper-level ability in the horse. Much like a world-class athlete, a certain amount of genetics, fitness, nutrition, and other contributing factors lend themselves towards greatness in horses. I love the Fugly Horse of the Day blog, and the author clearly demonstrates the negative effects of poor breeding and ignorance in equine husbandry that leads to an unprecedented amount of "fuglies" born every year.

That said, even talented, awesome horses have bleak futures with bad training. Here is a well-documented case of a stellar Tennessee Walking Horse that was ridden to the ground and is now in constant pain. One look at the picture to the left indicates that Mr. Biggs is uncomfortable simply standing in the sun on even ground.

That's where the training scale comes in handy. Long before we can expect collection and gorgeous upper-level movements from our horses, we must strive to build a strong foundation. This is especially important for OTTBs; these horses have no sense of rhythm, and they certainly are never asked to be supple and bend beyond the sloping turns of the track.

Sadly, and all too often, emphasis is placed on collection of the horse before the horse is fit, elastic, and willing to truly accept the bridle and come onto the bit. I adore the Sustainable Dressage blog, and I highly recommend that anyone rehabbing OTTBs or a rider interested in dressage training should follow the blog and read this post about true and false collection. One of the reasons I love the blog is because the author, Theresa Sandin, advocates practical training methods that do not force the horse in a particular frame, but instead opts for training that slowly strengthens, balances, and increases the flexibility of dressage horses for long, healthy, and successful careers.

Compare that to the racehorse industry, where, at least in the United States, thousands of horses are used up and basically tossed out every year. Although the exact number is tricky to nail down, some sources indicate that 1 out of every 1,500 racehorses will suffer from a fatal injury while conducting racing activity, while others simply breakdown or retire and are quietly disposed of. Thankfully, the sad plight of many of these horses is sometimes intercepted by a group like CANTER and eventually adopted to private owners.

My point is this: ex-racehorses are not performance horses served to trainers, owners, and competitors on a silver platter. They are diamonds in the rough. There's heart, there's drive, hopefully there's good confirmation and a healthy body, but rhythm, relaxation, suppleness... these things take a long time to teach. I printed out the training scale as presented to me by a professor at my college and I taped it to my tack trunk. Every day, I look at that scale, and I know that one day, after lots of training, long days, and patience, I'll strut my stuff in the show ring with a bounding bundle of elastic equine underneath me, but in the meantime, I'll be happy with that nice, rhythmic, balanced trot.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Shorty's Hero

This is Shorty's hero. The horse is named Just Right, ridden and owned by Paula Wong. Paula purchased this horse as a four year old for $2,500 after the horse sustained a compromising, and very painful, quarter crack. Fortunately, he had healed and is sound, and he competes 3rd level.

Here's another hero of Shorty's:

This is Just Fun Stuff, ridden and owned by Melissa Hunsberger. She also rides and shows another OTTB named Expedience. Melissa was named to the USEF developing rider list in 2006 for her awesome work with these horses.

See? It can be done.

While our goals are not so lofty as FEI level, I'd love to make it through first level, maybe even work in second level. While it is difficult to recognize that Shorty does have a few issues and chronic lamenesses that will likely prevent him from doing certain dressage movements, I'm doing my best to be realistic.

One thing that cannot be accounted for is Shorty's heart. He puts a lot of effort into what he does, otherwise he wouldn't have raced for five years on three different racetracks. (Santa Anita, CA, Presque Isle Downs, PA, and Thistledown, OH). However, I do not want this horse to be uncomfortable when he is under saddle, so there's a delicate balancing act. Fortunately, I'm getting a lot of great feedback in my lessons, and riders more professional and experienced in the world of ex-racehorse rahab are setting some great parameters. My newest instructor feels there is no reason why Shorty can't work in second level and beyond once his spine alignment was addressed (and it was on Sunday).

I'm off to the barn to go ride now. I didn't ride yesterday due to Shorty's chiropractor appointment (I needed to give him some time off after being poked, prodded, and pushed around), so we start anew today! I'm excited!

Sunday, June 28, 2009

The Chiropractor Is In!

Shorty had a visit from an equine chiropractor today. At first, he wondered why the heck she was up on a mounting block, pushing his neck around, but when she brought out hay to get his head to stretch, he decided he really liked her. When she first touched his tender left stifle he tried to kick her, but eventually he settled down as she continued to work with him and started to enjoy himself as she eased some of the really tense spots.

She made some major adjustments- even I could hear bones creaking. There were a few moments were it looked like Shorty was enjoying himself; licking, chewing, sighing, stretching his head out inquisitively. All and all, it wasn't a bad experience and Shorty seemed none the worse for wear. Time will tell if it was a worthwhile experience.

Truth be told, I was warned by my veterinarian about the "evils" of chiropractors. According to my vet, one person "pushing" on a horse will not influence the bones to move; even band saws barely get through the muscle! I see her point; Shorty has a very thick neck, but pushing on a live muscle is probably very different than sawing through a dead horse's muscle during necropsy. When I asked if hiring a chiropractor would be a good idea for Shorty, she responded, "Well, it won't HURT him to have it done, but don't expect any major results. Just don't let anyone hammer on your horse's head."

I decided to search around and ask some of my horsey friends about who they recommend. I finally called a woman that came highly recommended by a fellow certified riding instructor. I'm glad I called her out; she didn't slam my horse against a wall and hammer on his head (which is basically how my vet made it sound). If you are in the Cleveland area, feel free to contact me through my email address for her contact information.

I'm tentatively scheduled for a "check-up" in four weeks. According to the chiropractor, it is pretty common for the alignment problems to resurface after a few weeks because the muscles will pull them back. A tune up will reshape the horse as the muscles adjust to the new alignment. Shorty will have tomorrow off from riding (but he will go for a nice handwalk) and then we start fresh on Tuesday. I'm not expecting him to suddenly start picking up his right lead canter, but I do hope he will be more comfortable to the right and able to bend a bit more without falling in on my right leg. I'm exited! Yay progress!

Monday, June 22, 2009

Le Sigh

Friday was an interesting day. My car picks very opportune moments to randomly, yet quite effectively, die. I decided to rename my car from her former She-Ra the Princess of Power to the manly man John McClane from the ever-popular Die Hard films. My car died hard, died harder, and died hard with a vengeance. I'm waiting for the final installment; the inevitable live free or die hard moment where the car finally reaches its final resting place, probably in the middle of a busy intersection, on the highway, or at a drive through.

The reason the moment was so unfortunate was because I had just purchased grain for Shorty and was expected to drive back to the loading dock to retrieve my order. I, the triumphant fool, strolled out of the feed store and into the parking lot, thinking "Yes, I bought grain. Somewhere, probably in a city, some girl paid $120 for shoes, but me, I bought GRAIN. I'm COOL." I happily hop in my hoopty, only to to hear the ultimate sound of fail. After three pathetic whines, all I got was a click from the ignition.

"What? How could this be? Surely, I did not leave any lights on and the radio was off." I searched around, looking for a cause to my effect. None were to be had, and that's bad news. That means
it is time to shell out $120 on something other than GRAIN; a car battery. But first, I had to call my husband and asked him to drive over to the grain store and jump my car.

Once the car was running, I drove over to the barn and was careful to remind myself not to turn off my car. Instead, I let my battery recharge with the running alternator while I unloaded grain, turned Shorty out, cleaned his stall, waterer, and feed bucket, measured out grain, brought Shorty back in, rode Shorty, gave Shorty a bath, and gave Shorty his "good boy" cookies at the end of the night. I left John McClane running for four hours. To avoid overheating, I turned the heat on full blast in the passenger compartment to draw hot air out of the engine. While the engine did, in fact, remain in the safe temperature levels, my seats, the steering wheels, and the air in the car was stale and hot.

A new battery later, all seems to be well and good. Hopefully my only convenient means of getting to the barn to see my horse and do my work will not abandon me in the near future. Here's to wishful thinking *raises Dr. Pepper bottle in toast.*

The fine piece of machinery pictured to the left is not my car, but very similar. If the fake wood panels were taken away, it would basically be my car: a 1991 Cutlass Cruiser Supreme, mostly powder blue. Yes, I realize this is a Buick, but back then, they were basically the same thing. Sometime in the near future I'll take a picture of my beauty and post them for giggles. The rust that goes through the wheel wells is particularly amusing.

That said, I did purchase my car for $400 out of a junk yard and have since enjoyed five years, roughly 100,000 miles, of relatively pain-free driving. My horse, on the other hand, has an Albion saddle that cost $1,300 used (these saddles are over $3,500 new - yikes), and right after I got the saddle I had it reflocked and shaped to his back (another $400). Heck, Shorty's two bridles, one Tory leather and the other Courbette, cost more than my car. But, as a dedicated horse owner, driving around a POS while buying the best possible tack for my horse is A-OK with me. :)

Tuesday, June 16, 2009


Last night, while teaching an adult group lesson, I watched one of the new, less-experienced riding instructors struggle with getting her horse to hold still. Exasperated, she grabbed on to her horse's withers, pulled hard, and slammed down on the horse's back. I grimaced and the horse didn't look happy about it either.

For the sake of confidentiality, I will refer to this rider as "A." A started taking lessons because she is interested in dressage and knows that I ride the discipline and work it in to all of my lessons in some form or another. She wanted to work on getting her mare on the bit and said that the mare resists her hand.

I walked over and asked if A wanted to work on some training issues with her mare during the lesson, and she agreed. When I looked at what the mare was wearing in her mouth, I wanted to cry. The brow band was two inches lower than I would put it, the throat latch was too tight, and the noseband was buckled over the cheek pieces. The worst part of all was the bit: a loose ring snaffle that was 1. too tight and pinching the mare's mouth, and 2. really, really disgustingly RUSTY. I held the horse and sent A into the barn to get Shorty's bridle, a full-size Tory leather bridle with a nice, fat full-cheek snaffle (complete with keepers). I adjusted the size of the bridle a bit for her more petite head, put it in, and readjusted, all the while talking to A about things like the 2 finger rule and wrinkles at the corner of the mouth. The horse was relieved to get that rusty bit out of her mouth but she thankfully did not have any rubs or missing skin as a result of A's lack of judgement. (Who the fuck doesn't realize that RUST is a bad thing to put in a horse's mouth?)

A moved to grab the reins from me again, but I didn't give them up. Instead, I took the mare for a walk. As I walked around, I stopped and gave her praise when she held still. If she moved, I lightly corrected her, waited for her to settle and stand, and went right back to pets and praise for being a good girl. After three stops, she had the idea; this mare is no dummy. I walked her over to the mounting block, asked her to stop, and again petted her. Then, I walked away. I walked around to the block again, this time standing on the bottom step, all the while reassuring her. I hopped off and walked around again. I went to the block one more time, asked her to stand, went all the way to the top step of the block and made a big fuss about how awesome she was. The process took no more than five minutes, all said and done.

I handed the reins to A, and told her to do the same thing. She had observed me making light corrections to prevent walking off. For a horse that is accustomed to following me the way Shorty is, I simply place my hand on his chest and he stops. For a horse that is being intoduced to the concept of hanging out with humans, a "whoa" and soft tug back on the reins should suffice. After a few stands, we introduced the mounting block.

Before A was allowed to swing a leg over, I warned her about the evils of flopping onto the horse. "Have a heart," I told her. "You wouldn't want someone slamming something onto YOUR back, would you?" Wouldn't you know it, the horse held still while A got on and we both petted and praised her.

Next, we talked about halting while astride the horse. I told her about what I call the "halt position" where the rider is completely centered deep in the saddle and does not move. "Movement from your leg, seat, even your hand and mean 'Move off' to the horse," I told A. "When you ask for a stop, exhale and settle down deep into your seat. Sit quiet."

The horse danced a little, and A was quick to kick the horse hard on the side with a sharp, "Cut it OUT!" I honestly feel that using leg to teach your horse to stand is a conflicting message; leg means "go" and I told A that. "If she moves, I said, "Gently exhale and halt again, wait for her to settle, and go back to petting and praising her." A few minutes later, the mare stood beautifully for over a minute.

"Okay, that's enough for today," I told A. "That's a great victory for today, and you should be very proud of that mare."

"That's it?!" A retorted. "We didn't trot, canter, or work on getting her on the bit. We just did stuff on the ground."

"What we did today strengthened your communication with your horse. Over time, she should be able to follow you when you walk and stop and stand when you stop without a tug on the reins. In the meantime, these little improvements add up to a healthier, safer, and more balanced horse."

A stomped off, probably feeling like she was cheated out of becoming a brilliant dressage rider in one lesson, but I feel like taking it slow was the best thing for A and the mare. I truly feel bad for the mare. I wish I could find her an upgrade, and it is sad to think that A IS an upgrade from her last owner.

The whole lesson made me think about Shorty and ex-racehorses. The few times I've been on a racetrack, I've witnessed grooms legging up jockeys while the horse is in motion. Many racehorses do not learn to stand still for mounting. When I first started with Shorty, that was one of the first things I had to do. Before I hop on a horse and ask for walk, trot, or canter, I need to know that he/she understands my cues for standing still.

Just like my lesson with A, I had to start from the ground and "earn" my way up, and by "earn" I mean I had to have Shorty's trust, and be able to trust Shorty, before I felt that I was ready to put my foot in the stirrup. And trust, my friends, isn't initially earned by galloping in a field. That kind of work is acceptable for a horse and rider that already has an established partnership, but I wouldn't recommend it for an amateur rider with a new horse. Trust comes from those quiet moments where you and the horse can stand peacefully, side by side, enjoying the peace and sharing, not invading, eachother's space. I love those moments just as much as I love nailing a lateral movement or getting an awesome canter depart.

For the first two weeks, my training methods with Shorty were very simple. Observers would have probably switched over to watching the grass grow. That's okay. We spent most of the time standing still or walking around in big circles. We built an awesome foundation for trust, and even when Shorty spooks he stays near me. Without or without a leadrope, he will follow me and he's a breeze to bring in from the field. And he certainly does not move from the mounting block until I give him a light squeeze to let him know (if he does move too soon, 99.99% of the time it is because I shifted my leg and accidentally gave him the cue, the other .01 is usually because he was off balance and moved up a step or two to be more comfortable).

Too bad the barn is closed. I want to go do some ground work. :)

Friday, June 12, 2009

The End of the Lounge Line

One of things Shorty struggles with is bending and going forward at the same time. He will stand still and allow me to gently guide his head from one side to the other, and he has mastered going straight on the racetrack, but clearly my horse is not a multitasker.

Today, I free lounged Shorty for a few minutes at the walk and trot in both directions. Normally, at this stage, I would have the horse in his bridle, reins removed, with the lounge line through the inside of the bit, over the crown piece at the poll, and clipped to the other side (clip facing out, of course). Even that is too much for my large and stiff friend. So, we started with the basics.

I attached the lounge line to the center ring of his halter, put on my riding gloves and asked Shorty to walk. He almost immediately stopped and questioned what I was asking, so I encouraged him to continue walking out on the circle with clucks and a wave of the excess lounge line in my hand (whips are too much for Shorty and I get tangled up in them anyway). We walked for minute one way, turned around, and walked the other way. Shorty started to get the hang of walking and looking to the inside, which made me happy.

I started to think about some of the other uses for lounge lines. Here are some of the ways I've employed my 25 foot friend:
  1. Putting timid or inexperienced students on a lounge line for their first time trotting or cantering allows me more control of the horse and lets my student concentrate on feeling what the horse is doing.
  2. The benefits of balance exercises and stretches while working on a lounge line are amazing, especially in developing your seat or working on maintaining or correcting your equitation. It helps to have an instructor holding the lounge line; he or she will see some of the minute asymmetries and tense points in your body that could use a bit of attention (if said instructor knows what he or she is doing).
  3. This probably sounds awful, but I once put an unruly camper on a lounge line. I clipped it to his belt loop and told him to pretend he was a racehorse until he was so tired he didn't have the energy to kick at me or slap the little girls in the camp. I lounged that kid harder than I've ever lounged a horse.
  4. The first time I taught safety to my campers, I sat them down and lectured them on horse behavior and barn rules. They fidgeted, didn't pay attention, and didn't learn a damn thing. Now, I pull the kids in the arena and do role playing before they get to work with the horses. My tacker is great at pretending to be a horse and gently kicking at the kids when they go behind her. To teach spacing in the arena, I took a few frayed, awful looking lounge lines that were sitting around and clipped them together to make a 100 foot line. Using my trusty tape measure and a sharpie, I marked 15 foot sections with a black band. I then lined my campers up and had each one hold the long line at the black marks. I then sent them off around on the ring, and the kids had to maintain the slack in the rope- if it was on the ground, they were too close. Its a great way to get your students to look up and pay attention, and they understand what 15 feet looks like. During lunch breaks, the kids would ask if they could keep playing follow the leader with the long line!
  5. Getting horses in the trailer. Sometimes, a 12 foot leadrope isn't enough for the horse that pulls back suddenly. One horse nearly dislocated my shoulder before I figured that one out.
  6. Rope gate practice. The first time I set up a rope gait for my students to work through, I found they quickly ran out of rope and got discouraged. Before I realized that could buy 15 feet of nylon rope at Wal-mart for a couple dollars, I used a lounge line and bundled the excess line to the "gate" with a bungee cord to keep it out of the way.
  7. Blocking off a driveway for a horseshow. My lounge line is a brighter shade of green and made an excellent barrier across the driveway between two jump standards. To complete my road block, I taped signs to the standards and hung one off the line itself. It was very effective and required all of two minutes to set up.
  8. Diagnositics. I use lounge lines to evaluate lameness, especially when I'm on my own. I like to lounge all of the school horses and observe how they move. I've learned a lot about the schoolies I work with and know when they're moving normally, when they're thinking about bolting, and when they're feeling arthritic and sore. (I like to ride the schoolies every now and then as well, but observing them on the line has really helped me understand them from the instructor's viewpoint on the ground). Some lamenesses are more prevalent on a circle as well.
Here's what I don't use lounge lines for:
  1. Wearing out the energy of a horse. Yes, I've lounged to take the edge off a horse that I know has a lot of extra energy and is considering bucking me off, and I've used it to build communication with a horse, but I never lounge a horse down to totally tired and dripping in sweat. I feel that the horse doesn't learn anything, and it sure as shit doesn't improve your image in the horse's eyes when you wear them down like that.
  2. Long lining. The few times that I've long lined a horse, I used real long lines, although they did suspiciously look a lot like a pair of lounge lines. :)
  3. Ground work. There's too much of a possibility of getting tangled up when you are working closely with the horse.
  4. Tying up the barn manager and locking him away where he can never touch a horse or "clean" a stall again, although I've been tempted at times. He's the only person my horse truly hates, and there are many reasons for that.
On a related note, I never use a lounge line with a chain. Ever. Period. How does using a chain teach a horse to come forward?

Also, if you lounge in a saddle, don't subject your horse to pain via stirrups banging on his sides. Remove them or, if you can, run them up. A western trainer of mine used to flip both of his stirrups over the seat of the saddle and put a short bungee tie around them and the saddle horn so they would not come down and hit the horse's ribs, although Cashel makes a stirrup keeper for western saddles and it really shouldn't be hard to take the fender, or at least the stirrups, off your western saddle (if it is, you might not be cleaning your saddle enough).

Also, for Pete's sake, wear gloves. Rope burn is a bitch and really slows you down when you work with your hands. Some of those nylon lines will chafe right through your skin, sometimes causing a deep, four inch gash along the palm of your hand.

Above all else, use common sense and take it slow. Loungeing is a wonderful training tool, but don't use it as a regular substitute for riding and don't overwork and overburden your horse with it.

P.S. I've seen a lot of ways to spell "lounge" and "lounging." I'm not entirely sure which spelling I've used, so forgive me if I spell it differenly.