The Very, Very Good: Busted!

I’m happy to report (thank you, hoo4hearted, for the heads up) that AC4H (remember the Clyde with the horrific back issue – Article: The Ugly: When It Rains, It Pours) has been raided by the FBI.

Let’s hope that the right thing is done in this case.

Adding: Here’s an update on that Clyde gelding

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The Good: Succinctly Said

My first mentor was a crotchety old man, who hardly spoke to me the entire time I worked for him and when he did the words usually came out as grunts and mumbles; mostly of approval, a couple times of disappointment. I couldn’t have asked for a better mentor, he was a brilliant horseman. I developed a basic set of equine philosophies that I still believe in today and I honed my skills of observation, as well as the ability to decipher Caveman talk.

My first (serious) riding instructor was a crotchety old German woman. She didn’t talk much either and when she did it was a mix of English and German.  I typically only understood every third or fourth word. The more German words in a sentence, the more frustrated she was with me. And when the entire sentence was German, well, that basically meant I was on my own; sink or swim. (I sank a time or two.)  I couldn’t have asked for a better riding instructor at the time; that was when I stopped being a passenger.

Both proved (to me) that you don’t have to write a novel or orate endlessly to teach effectively.  Indeed, that might not be the best way at all.  (It might also have proven that I was a willing student.) 

There are many greats, whom none of us will ever have the privilege of attending, but we can still learn from them because they have left behind gargantuan nuggets of wisdom about horses and horsemanship expressed in just a few words.

“When the human calls the horse dumb, stupid, stubborn, etc…, they are working from where they are, not where the horse is.” – Ray Hunt

Nothing drives me crazier than when a person labels a horse ‘lazy’. I want to smack them upside the head with something a lot harder than a baguette.  It seems, though, from Mr. Hunt’s words that I should be sticking a cattle prod up their derrieres instead.

“My horses are my friends, not my slaves.” – Reiner Klimke

I prefer to use the term partner to friend, but I definitely agree that a horse shouldn’t be viewed as a slave, and yet I see that all the time.

“It is the difficult horses that have the most to give you.” – Lendon Grey

This quote resonates with me more than any other. Two of the most difficult horses I’ve owned were, without a doubt, my greatest teachers. If you really want to learn, embrace the challenges.

“No hour of life is lost that is spent in the saddle.” – Winston Churchill

Clearly a man who understood the allure of horses and what they give us.

What are your favorite quotes or words of wisdom?

Fun And Games

There’s having fun and then there’s having fun.  When the latter involves horses, safety has to play a big role; safety for horse, safety for rider and safety for third party innocents.  I cringe every time I see a video like this one.  On the surface it seems harmless; a young girl jumping her pony, but the ways in which this can turn bad in a second make me cringe.  Plastic lawn chairs are not a suitable obstacle for horse and rider to jump – ever.  Neither are people.  Yes, I’ve seen a video of someone jumping their horse over people lined up lying on the ground (six or seven of them), like Evel Knievel jumping fourteen buses in a row – and of course I can’t find it now, but I did find this.  Pretty tame, but still.

What about this?

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It’s all fun and games until someone loses a testicle…

Here’s taking helmet safety to another level and I appreciate the foresight.

If you’re a car person, you’ll want to skip the next video.  Not sure if they were organizing for a parade or what, but this is one very busy and dangerous area to be assembling horses.  Poor car, but imagine how much worse this can get in an instant.  Perhaps something like this could have happened?  (I do wonder why cars continue to zoom alongside these horses.  Did the drivers think the horses would just suddenly come to their senses and realize they were on a road and get off it?)

My favorite video illustrating creativity, imagination, training evolution AND safety.  Simply an extension of long-lining and ground driving training, the equipment used on the horse is well designed and fits, the rider is helmeted and the skier is fully decked out in helmet, long sleeved shirt, knee pads and gloves, and is far enough behind the horse that an errant kick won’t make contact.  Check it out:  Fun, exciting, and with safety in mind.

I would have enjoyed this event a whole lot more if they’d been shirtless.  Or…  if one of them was doing a handstand in Speedos, while two others held his legs apart and the rest jumped over exposed testicles.

The Good: Flecha’s Human Seeks Guidance

We have our first sucker…I mean…brave and generous soul.  Haley, the human, has come with an open mind, willing heart and a passionate desire to do her very best by her horse, Flecha.  If anyone steps on her courage, even so much as a baby toe, I’ll rip them a new one…with a spoon (because it hurts more).

 

Haley has also offered to take all the input she gets from us, document her rides, and then do another video in about three months so that we can see her and Flecha’s progress.   How cool is that?

 

Haley writes:

 

Contact, Roundness and Correctness: What am I doing wrong?  How do I set my horse up for success?

 

I’m Haley, and this is my young mare, Flecha.  I’m currently training her in dressage and hoping to take her to a show mid-May.  We’re staying at intro level for now.  I want to move up to training level in the next year, but of course, I think we have some serious work to do before we get there.  Hence, crowd-sourcing The Hooves blog!

 

I would rate this video of the two of us as “okay”.  Then again, if she and I were perfect, there wouldn’t be much to evaluate!  I think the video demonstrates both some good, soft movement, and also some pretty resistant moments (especially through her transitions).

 

Right away I can see weaknesses in my riding that I need to fix: hands too low/uneven reins, rounding at the shoulders, and tenseness in my hip and leg that prevents me from following her trot.  After making this video and reviewing it, I had a session with my trainer and made a serious effort to pick up my hands, sit up straight and relax my seat.  These are things I technically KNOW I should be doing all the time; it’s not until I saw myself on film that I realized how often I lose my riding form!  A real eye–opener.

 

As for Flecha, I can see how much we have to work on in terms of 1) forward and 2) stretching.  Two days before this video we had a riding session where I kept her on a long rein and pretty much all I did was ask her to stretch down and hop over some trot and canter poles.  Flecha was VERY happy that night.  But in this video, on a shorter rein? Not so much.

 

Could the trick be to put in a month or so of riding in a longer rein and then gradually increase the time we spend on a shorter rein?  This is where I wonder about the physiology of roundness and being on the bit.  Is it too physically demanding for her?  Or am I confusing her by riding ineffectively?  I realize there are probably a myriad of different factors influencing this, so I’m very thankful to have some experienced horsepeople look at this video (and Flecha!) and help me help my horse.  Here’s some info about her to help complete the picture.

 

Flecha just turned 5 in March.  Her father was a young stallion with a gelding appointment scheduled, but who still managed to cover the two mares he was inexplicably living in a field with.  Later, all three of them came under the ownership of my barn manager, who quickly surmised the two mares were pregnant.  One foal she sold right away, the other was Flecha.  In spring 2009, the barn manager asked me if I’d like to adopt her, and being 20 years old and a little dumb, I said yes.  Fortunately Flecha was easy to start (under saddle about a year and a half now) and is a smart, sensitive sweetheart.  I think that with more time and physical conditioning, she could be a nice dressage horse.

 

She’s about 15.1 and lives in 24-hour turnout.  When she runs and plays in the field, she spends a lot of time with her head up, looking around like a telescope; so yes, staying low and round probably doesn’t come easily to her.  Conformationally, the greatest fault I can see is that she’s over at the knee.  I’m sure more experienced eyes can see other issues that might be affecting Flecha’s way of going.  She also used to have pretty square, balanced halts, and now tends to halt with her right hind stretched back (you’ll see in the video).  She was diagnosed with mild EPM last fall, which was cleared with a round of treatment.  Since then is when she started camping out that right leg.  Correlation? Causation? Not sure.  She is otherwise sound to the best of my knowledge.

 

I ride about three times a week on average, and probably we’d be farther along if I could ride her every day and see a trainer more than once every two weeks.  But this is what my budget and gas costs (I drive about an hour to the barn) can handle.  Maybe someday I’ll be able to ramp things up.  I love her and want her to be calm, interested and willing in her work.  Any advice on how to get her there is much appreciated.  Thank you all!

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Ride Video

I’ll start us off since Haley originally contacted me for an article on the topic before I asked her if she’d be a guinea pig for the blog.

It’s important to start by knowing what we can expect from the horse in terms of athletic potential, as well,  what areas we might expect to encounter resistance or difficulty.

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Keeping it in terms of the question posed, the traits we are most concerned about would be:

1)      LS joint placed a bit behind point of hip
2)      Back as long as we ever want to see it
3)      Ribcage doesn’t carry back as far as we’d like to see
4)      Withers don’t carry back as far as we’d like to see
5)      Loin longer than we like and lacking depth
6)      Downhill build
7)      Low neck set

The LS joint would be better served if it was located further forward in line with the point of hip, however, Flecha possesses a good length of hip to help compensate.  She loses a bit of coiling ability, but that nice length of hip, and the fact her femur is as long as her tibia (and I believe her hind limb angulation is at least adequate)…the LS joint placement isn’t a deal breaker and the potential for engagement remains quite good.

Her back is at the higher end of medium, right about 49%.  Unfortunately, she doesn’t get any added longitudinal strength from her withers or from her ribcage.  We might also expect her to struggle a bit with lateral flexibility through her torso with that shorter ribcage and longer loin.  The loin also lacks depth (perhaps broadness too) and therefore strength.  This combination of traits adds difficulty to training and riding.

The yellow line represents the spine, and as we can see Flecha is downhill built.  Note as well where the yellow line crosses the scapula line…just above 50% (around 52%) indicating that Flecha also has a low/medium low set neck (though structured well, which is a big plus).  These two traits are the ones that are going to present the biggest training and riding challenge in terms of the question posed to us.  Flecha will have to work harder to shift weight to her haunch and engage.  Lifting her base of neck will also require more strength from her scalenus muscle than if she had a higher set neck.

One other thing going on in this photo is that Flecha is standing with her front feet too far underneath her and thus is ‘leaning over her point of shoulder’.  This adds to the ‘downhill’ effect and also serves to close her shoulder angle.   This is not a ‘normal’ or ‘proper’ way for a horse to stand and if this is something that she does regularly, then there’s a deeper, bigger problem.  For starters, I don’t believe her front feet are balanced and are in part contributing to the stance.  I also note that her back is too tight and lacks fullness, but then her abdominals lack strength and her loin lacks depth…all indicating that Flecha doesn’t move with much engagement – ever, but rather travels hollow on a regular basis. 

When I consider her as a whole, the potential to move better (more correctly) and the potential to reach the set goals is definitely there, but it’s going to require a conscience (and consistent) effort on the part of Haley.  That she’s put herself out there and is asking the questions, tells me that the chance of success is very high.

Haley seems to have a really good grasp of what she needs to do as a rider and I think just the few changes that she’s already mentioned upon viewing her video will definitely make Flecha a happier camper.  The hands, currently, while quiet are too quiet.  They need to follow the horse’s mouth.  Yes, they are too low and yes, they are often uneven, but it’s mostly that they are ‘dead’ that is annoying Flecha.  Haley’s instructor should immediately insist on a hand correction.  On her own, Haley should walk her horse with her eyes closed, feel the motion of Flecha’s mouth in her hand and follow it.  Tying a couple of pieces of baler twine/ribbon in Flecha’s mane, Haley could grip a piece in each baby finger to help her regulate the unevenness of her hands.  Ultimately, she needs to ‘memorize’ a new feeling, which at first will feel wrong and awkward, and it needs to be done right off.

Additionally, riding from her core will correct the shoulder and hip issues.  Again, her instructor can physically position her correctly so that Haley can memorize a new body feel.

In some of my initial conversation with Haley, she was happy with her ride and Flecha’s response at 5:23-5:38 of the video feeling it represented ‘acceptance of contact’.  I disagreed and offered that the only time Flecha ever sought contact was at 3:30-3:32, and that what happened later  was just Flecha finding a combination of bracing and evasion that gave her a break.  I noted that for most of those 15 seconds Flecha tilted her head, which is an evasion.  She’s also taking itty bitty steps behind and the canter depart from the forehand at 5:39 clearly indicates that what was happening before it was incorrect. 

So here’s my advice:  Back up.

Neither horse nor rider is quite ready for ‘contact’.  Before all else we must have ‘forward’.  There are multiple times in the video where there is a distinct lack of forwardness.  Once that is established then we need rhythm and relaxation, followed by suppleness.  It isn’t until we have all of that, that we can have ‘acceptance of contact’.  And here’s the next thing that needs to happen; the rider needs to wait for the horse to indicate that she can take up the reins by ‘seeking’ contact – that is; stretching the topline, swinging freely and regularly through the back, lifting the base of neck and telescoping it, opening the throat, and physically and psychologically ‘looking for’, ‘wanting’, ‘seeking’ the support of the rider’s hand.  Only then should the rider pick up the rein and shorten it to the length which the horse indicates.  It is in that moment that you have ‘acceptance of contact’.  When a rider ‘takes’ rein before a horse ‘seeks’ contact, or takes up more rein than a horse has to give, the horse responds by inverting then shortening its frame, followed by either bracing against the unwanted hand or twisting to evade it.

So, how do you get to that point?  Haley needs to incorporate more transitions in her riding and at this point I’d particularly have her doing transitions within gaits and playing around with forwardness; shortening and lengthening the gaits while maintaining forwardness and without speeding up or slowing down.  Certainly she needs to do more transitions between the gaits, but I think within the gaits serves her and Flecha better in this moment.  Haley needs to learn about preparing Flecha better for gait changes and so transitions within the gaits teaches her the nuances of aids and communicating.  She can build on that and move onto transitions between gaits.

I also want to see Haley change direction more frequently and alter her circle size.  I’m not suggesting she do a volte, but playing with 15-20m circles would be beneficial, as well, adding some subtle spiraling in and out paying particular attention to the inside leg to outside hand.  Haley should be able to drop her inside rein at any given time and Flecha should remain on the circle.

The use of groundpoles and cavelletti consistently at this stage would also be beneficial.  It can act as a way to get Flecha to look down, thus causing her to stretch.  It also increases joint articulation that Haley can use to encourage a more engaged step from Flecha.  

I also thought that Haley should praise more during her ride.  Identify behaviors she wants Flecha to repeat and make sure that she offers positive reinforcement in those moments so that Flecha is more apt to try again and to try harder.   Some more spirited conversation between the two would be nice to see.

There are several other options that can be implemented to progress horse and rider that I’m sure others will suggest.  

This is a pleasant horse/rider combination.  They have accomplished much as a team and are close to having a major breakthrough that will propel them to the next level.

Thank you, Haley, for putting yourself out there and being such a good sport.   *Arming myself with a spoon…*

The Long And Short Of It – Part 2b – Ribcage

There isn’t a lot of range of motion between the equine vertebrae, a lot less than people think. I mentioned in part 2a of this series that a long back isn’t necessarily more flexible than a shorter back; sometimes it is, sometimes it isn’t. And here’s why:

The back is made up of thoracic vertebrae and lumbar vertebrae. The thoracic vertebrae have more range of motion between them than the lumbar vertebrae. Indeed, the lumbar vertebrae are all but fused in the adult horse to help add stability and strength to that section of the back, which is the weakest and most susceptible because it’s a freespan having no ribs to support it. Youngsters show more flexibility and ability to ‘twist’ than an adult because their vertebrae aren’t done growing and ‘setting’. Think of it like a baby’s skull that is soft and still in ‘pieces’ and then as the baby grows and matures the skull hardens and fuses. This is just one of the many reasons why riding young horses can be detrimental to future soundness and it’s also a main reason why so many racehorses hurt their backs, but that’s a topic for another day.

If a horse has a medium length of back, but a loin that is proportionately long, then that horse will have less lateral flexibility than a horse with the same medium length of back, but with a loin that is proportionately shorter. Let me phrase it another way: the longer the loin proportionately, the longer the freespan of relatively immobile vertebrae, therefore, the less  lateral back flexibility.

So now we want to take a closer look at our six horse’s backs and determine how much potential flexibility they possess. First we want to see how far the ribcage carries back. (I’m saving the loin for our final part of the series.) The further the ribcage carries back, the more strength it adds to the back (similar to withers that carry back well), AND the more potential for lateral flexibility because that means the more thoracic vertebrae length we have proportionately.

There are two methods for determining how well the ribcage carries back; one is a ‘quick and dirty’ method and one is our trusty measure and calculate method. We’ll start with the latter.

  • A horse with the maximum potential for lateral flexibility (which, btw, is the ability to perform a volte or 6m circle) will possess a ribcage that exceeds 100% of its back length.
  • A horse that possesses an average potential for lateral flexibility will possess a ribcage close to 100% of its back length.
  • A horse that possesses a below average potential for lateral flexibility will have a ribcage well below 100% of its back length.

Remember, though, that all other things would have to be equal. For instance, a horse with a medium back that had a ribcage of 95% would have less lateral flexibility potential than a horse with the same medium back length that had a ribcage of 110%. BUT, a horse with a medium back that had a ribcage of 110% would have more lateral flexibility potential than a horse with a short back and a ribcage of 110% because the medium back possesses more thoracic length to start with than the short back regardless of having the same ribcage length. Still with me?

To determine the ribcage length we start by measuring back length (highest point of wither to LS joint).  Then we draw a body length line (point of shoulder to point of buttock) and a second line from highest point of wither to the last rib.  Where that second line intersects the body length line is the end point of our ribcage.  We then divide the ribcage length by the back length to get our ribcage percentage.

Our skeleton with the points and lines marked:

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Horse #1 – 10yr old QH Stallion

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So, you’re staring at our first horse and maybe wondering where is that last rib?  This is another point on a horse that can sometimes be hard to identify in a photo.  It is always best to look at a horse in real life, make a guess, and then palpate to determine how close you were.  Over time your eye develops and you start to be able to pick up the nuances of muscle, skin, shading and lighting that can indicate, not just in real life, but also in a photo where such a point is.

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Without even measuring we can see that the ribcage line is almost as long as the back line.  My measurement is about 97%, so that’s a ribcage that carries back well, adding strength and flexibility to the back.  But remember, this horse had a short back, so even though the ribcage length is very good, that overall shortness does bite into potential lateral flexibility.

Horse #2 – QH Gelding

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This horse doesn’t have the same muscle definition as our first, so judging where the last rib resides is more difficult.

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Here’s another one where we can see the ribcage line is very close in length to the back line.  This horse measures almost 95.5%, so close to horse #1.  This horse also had a rather short back (just a touch longer than horse #1), so we can conclude that both horses are likely to have similar lateral flexibility potential.

Horse #3 – 4yr old QH

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The sun helps a little bit here to locate that last rib.

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This horse’s ribcage measures pretty much right on 100%, so carries back well and with a good amount of lateral flexibility potential.  This horse also measured at the longer end of the medium spectrum, so there’s even more potential for flexibility.

Horse #4 – Arabian Stallion

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Another horse with a ribcage that carries back well at 95%, but with a back length that falls on the short side.

Horse #5 – TB Gelding

How does this horse’s ribcage measure up to the previous ones?

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If you guessed that this horse’s ribcage carried back the furthest, then good eye!  Finally, we have a horse with an exceptional ribcage at 104%.  Our TB and our grey QH had similar back lengths, being at the higher end of medium in range, but our TB has a ribcage that carries back further, so should possess a bit more lateral flexibility potential.  Indeed, this horse should have the most potential of any of the other horses in that area.  And lastly, remember that the further the ribcage carries back, the more strength it adds as well.

Horse #6 – Paint Mare

How far back does this horse’s ribcage carry?

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Our poor Paint mare takes another hit with a ribcage that carries the least distance back at just under 91%.  She also possessed our longest back of the group right at 50%.  So here is a situation where longer is NOT more flexible.

Now that you’ve got the hang on the measuring method, I’ll tell you about the ‘quick and dirty’ method.  Place your hand between your horse’s last rib and point of hip.  More than a ‘spread’ hand’s width (8”) is a ribcage that doesn’t carry back very far.  A ‘spread’ hand’s width is a ribcage that carries back well, and less than a ‘spread’ hand’s width is a ribcage that carries back very well.  You cannot have a ribcage carry too far back.  The further back it goes, the better.

The Good: TWH Soring Issue – New Amended Bill Being Introduced

Thank you E.Q. for bringing this to my attention.   Some of you may remember the uproar last year when a certain ‘behind-the-scenes’  video was displayed on Fugly (and all over the Internet)  in regards to abuse against Tennessee Walking Horses for the purposes of winning in the show ring.

There was a cry of outrage, but as with many things in life, not a whole lot came of it as the proposed Bill 6388 died in committee last September.  Fortunately, tenacity exists in some people and a new amended bill: HR 1518, sponsored by U.S. Rep. Ed Whitfield, R-Ky is being introduced.

Both the AVMA and the AAEP are supporting this bill and here’s a link to the particulars of that:  Veterinary Practice News  There is an opportunity to submit a comment at the bottom of this article.  Show your support!

Link to the Popvox:  HR 1518

And another write up by:  Horse Canada

Stand up for the horses and lend them your voice.

Oopsy Daisy

I’ve always known that Thoroughbreds are loopy.  You’d never see a Standardbred pull a stunt like this.  🙂  Having said that, I’m so betting a massively big chunk of money on this one in his next race.  If he can run in any sort of a semblance of a straight line, he’ll win by a mile…literally. Make sure you watch the replay and pay particular attention to the head-on stretch view.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FbH3N5VJzBE