Acceptance by Stephanie Hart

The following opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the blog owner.  *BEG*  (I’ve always wanted to use that line, plus it’s a true statement.  I still stand where I stood in the discussions of Tao of Equus.)

Hi there!

First off, thanks so much to Mercedes for letting me blither a bit about a topic that is very near to my heart!

Let me introduce myself; My name is Stephanie Hart (MA, for those who like to know these things, and heck, it looks good on a business card ;)), and I am an Equine Psychotherapist.

I usually get asked at this point, “Like for kids with disabilities?”

Well, no, that’s physical or occupational therapy (which is also super important and tends to have many emotional benefits). What I do is take clients who struggle with all sorts of mental and emotional illnesses including anxiety, depression, trauma, eating disorders, addictions, attachment difficulties, and many more, and I bring them into a space with my equine partners where we promote healing and the development of new relationship and life abilities. If you want to learn more about what I do (or check out our blog and hear from the horses!) our website is www.svetc.webs.com.

Horses bring so much to the table that, to be honest, sometimes I feel like the horses are the “therapist” part of the equation (so remind me what I went to grad school for…). Horses bring many, many (many, many…) things to therapy (for more info see the website [‘scuse my shameless self promotion]), but today I would like to talk about the one that drew me into this work to begin with: Unconditional Acceptance.

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Vicky accepts my ridiculousness and I accept her refusal to pose for pictures.

The basics:


 – Horses have few expectations of humans, nor do they hold prejudices against them, making the human-equine relationship a place of emotional safety and trust

 – Through biochemical feedback and subtle body language horses can sense tremendous amounts of emotional information, and they will react to it accordingly. It is impossible to hide emotion from a horse, and as a person comes to realize this they find that the horse’s acceptance is not conditional on their projecting a certain front, as the horse sees through the mask anyway.

So yeah.

I’m going to tell you about the coolest experience I have had with acceptance. Back during my rather less secure days (aka my teenage years and on into my undergrad) I was very anxious and had little inner source of self-esteem, which eventually came to a head in a fairly nasty depression. A lot of this was rooted in my inability to accept myself and my actions, constantly expecting more of myself and being totally crushed when I inevitably failed to measure up.

I’m sure this sounds familiar to plenty of people.

This is when I met Sally.

Sally is a very sweet black and white pinto mare; she was born a wild mustang in Alberta and was rescued from a meat lot at age 9 (yes, she’s Mustang Sally. I had nothing to do with it, I promise). I have never ridden Sally, nor done any work with her beyond giving her a pat in the field. Horses don’t need much of an opportunity to work their magic.

One day while feeling particularly rotten I went out to get my own horse and stopped to pat Sally. It was winter and getting on into the evening so the air was crisp and clear, and together we paused for a moment to look out over the adjacent hay field. As we stood there I got the sense she was scanning me. Being born wild Sally has remarkable instincts and reads people even better than most horses do; she also tends to take a little more careful of a look before relaxing in any given situation. She heaved a big sigh and lowered her head, and as she did I felt deep in my heart that she saw all of me, every little thing that drove me crazy or made me so sad I had to push it down, and that she was perfectly fine with what she saw.

And if she was fine with it, then I was fine too.

In that minisculte moment of connections she lifted a huge weight off my shoulders.  In 10 minutes she had done what therapy can take months to accomplish: then she moved off and went back to the usual business of bossing her herd away from her hay.


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This is what they do. They take our troubles and carry them for us just enough so that we can heal and do it on our own.

They are truly remarkable, these animals that we love.

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Another Glue On Shoe Option

I’ve never had a need to choose a glue-on or plastic shoe for a horse, but I can think of some possible scenarios in which one might be a good choice.  Here’s a new glue-on steel/plastic combo shoe coming out of the U.K.

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2287987/Crocs-horses-Plastic-slip-hooves-making-nailing-horseshoes-thing-past.html

Some pretty basic questions pop into my head immediately.   Starting with the title of the article.  Crocs for horses?  Nail on shoes becoming a thing of the past?  Yeah, right.  Give me a break.  I understand the idea of a catchy title to get people to read your article, but I dislike when it purposely misleads.

The next obvious question; besides little girls, who’d buy these in pink (or whatever gaudy color)?  Then I wondered; that’s a whole lot of glue being used.  What sort of time frame are we looking at until it starts to breakdown and I can get that sucker off, or is there some kind of quick acting compound that will eat away at the glue (and not the hoof) so that I can get that sucker off – should I need to?  And what happens if the back edge of the shoe gets caught and the horse rips it off?  Is the whole hoof going with it?  Or is the glue just not that…um…sticky?  I know what can happen when a regular nail on shoe comes off that way.   Then I had a question about traction.

As I read further down the article it became apparent that this really seems to be aimed at therapeutic applications.  Phew!  I was having a hard time envisioning a performance horse of any level in these.    Look at the hind legs of our horse-in-pink.  Can we say stove pipe?  And looking at the video at the bottom of the article and seeing the trim jobs, I could understand why these horses might be having some foot issues.  Finally the video ends with a crippled horse.  If these can help him, I’m all for it.

Any of our U.K. readers have experience with these?

Stretches – Part 2

…continuing on with the front end…

A reminder:  It’s best if someone can show you the stretches the first time, or oversee and make corrections.  Do not pull the horse’s limbs, instead, guide.  You do not bounce the stretches or hold them.   Keep limbs properly aligned, twisting and crooked stretching is frowned upon and more importantly can hurt the horse.    Make note of differences between limbs or any stretches that seem unusually difficult for the horse to perform – that means there’s an issue.

Shoulder Lift

Cup the back of your horse’s knee and lift it straight up.  Make sure the forearm stays in alignment and that you don’t pull the leg crooked.  This will drop the scapula down and back, open the point of shoulder joint and stretch the back of the elbow.   Be sure to gently place the leg back down – don’t ‘drop’ it.

Horses with short and/or horizontal humerus bones, or those horses with closed shoulder angles will not be able to lift their knees as high as horses with long and/or vertical humerus bones, or those horses with open shoulder angles.

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Front Leg Stretch

With your outside hand, grip the toe of your horse’s hoof.  Place your inside hand on the horse’s knee.  Gradually straighten the leg.  Again, make sure you aren’t pulling the leg to the side, it should extend straight forward and all the bones be in alignment.  The inside hand does NOT push down on the knee, it is merely there to prevent the horse from bobbing the person in the face with it should the horse pull away or attempt to paw.

Horses that are very front leg oriented; those that like to paw, strike or climb will often finish this stretch on their own, so be careful and stand off to the side slightly so you don’t get nailed.

Again, gently place the foot back on the ground, don’t ‘drop’ the foot, that’s a good way to give a horse a stinger and can even cause a fracture, if like with this horse, you are stretching on a hard surface.

Typically, I will move directly from the shoulder lift into this stretch, reaching down with one hand to grip the toe, while slipping my other hand on top of the knee.  In fact, once I start the front leg stretches I don’t put the foot down until I’ve completed them all, making the stretches a seamless exercise.  This isn’t, however, a requirement and some horses struggle with balancing on three legs for that length of time.  It’s something you can work up to, but don’t expect it the first time around.

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Extensor Stretch

For this stretch place you outside hand just above the horse’s knee and grab the front of the horse’s pastern with your other hand.  Lift the foot up and then very gently ‘guide’ the knee back, stretching the front of the leg.   Keeping the foot low to the ground will make it an easier stretch.

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Like with the hind leg, if you once get to a certain amount of stretch, the horse will often finish the stretch for you and fully extend the leg.

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Another variation giving a deeper stretch is to hold the lower leg parallel to the ground.

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Knee Bend

This stretch is simply folding the horse’s front leg up tight so that the bottom of the hoof touches the horse’s elbow.  Horses with arthritic knees will have a hard time with this one.  Also, if the horse is experiencing inflammation in any of the joints of the front leg, they’ll also find this hard to do.

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Circles And Lateral Humerus And Scapula Stretch

Circles: Grip the pastern with both hands and hold the leg directly under the horse so it remains straight.  Allow the horse’s foot to hang freely.  Start by drawing small circles with the toe of the foot in a clockwise direction.  Then reverse and draw circles in a counter-clockwise direction.  Repeat by drawing a larger circle.

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Lateral: I unfortunately don’t have a picture of this stretch.  Hold the cannon bone parallel to the ground (create a 90 degree angle at the knee).  Place the horse’s knee (bent one) slight behind his other knee (knee of leg horse is standing on) and then use the outside of your knee to gently press the knee (bent one) toward the other knee – as if the horse was taking a lateral step.  Release, and then move the knee (bent one) directly in line with the other knee.  Press again and release.  Finally, move the knee (bent one) slightly in front of the other knee and press then release.

The final part of this series will cover some neck and body stretches.

Stretches – Part 1

Stretching is an important part of any athlete’s life.  Heck, it’s important in everyday regular life.   I know that all of you never get on your horse without first limbering up and stretching out any tension and tightness in your body, knowing full well that that would automatically be translated to the horse, just as I know that all of you never begin working your horse without fully stretching him/her out as well.  *wink*  But, on the off chance…here’s a review of some basic equine stretches.

BELLY LIFT

I believe this is the single most important and effective stretch for horses.  It simulates what you want to happen under saddle with engagement and takes only a few seconds.  I do it on horses whether they are in work or not, and I do it several times a day; feedings, before exercise, after exercise, when turning out or bringing in.

The stretch can be down with your fingertips, but is easier with a hoof pick, end of a pen (NOT ink end), pen cap or needle casing.  Find the mid-line of your horse (there’s a natural indent along your horse’s midline) just in front of where a girth would sit.

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With the tips of your fingers – use both hands – (or with your apparatus – one hand) gently press up.  The horse should immediately react by lifting the wither slightly.  If the horse does not, then a) you’re not pressing upwards firmly enough, so press harder until he/she does react, and/or b) you’re pressing plenty hard enough, but your horse is so tight  through the wither that he/she is locked down – do some wither massage to loosen, then try again.

Now slowly drag your fingers (or apparatus) along the midline maintaining the upward pressure.  As you do so you should see your horse’s back rise.  When you’re about ¾’s of the way down the midline, stop and hold the upward pressure for a count of 10-15 seconds.

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What you have done is trigger the abdominal muscles as would happen with a horse that has engaged to a high degree, and stretched the topline.  Here’s a snapshot of this horse’s back before the lift and after the lift:

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The horse will hold this stretch for a few seconds after you stop, but as you repeat this stretch over several weeks you’ll notice that the horse holds it for longer periods of time and eventually the horse’s posture will change permanently.  If your groundwork and riding are complementary, as in they are correct and also encouraging engagement, then you can quite quickly change the horse’s posture using this stretch in conjunction with exercise.

When checking saddle fit, you should also do a ‘soft’ belly lift and make sure that the back of the saddle doesn’t lift off the horse, if the saddle lifts off the horse’s back, then your saddle does not fit because it does not provide room for your horse to lift its back into it while being ridden.  What you’ve got is a saddle that fits a hollow-backed horse and will press down, triggering the back muscles to stay in a contracted state when ridden.  A horse cannot engage its haunch if its back muscles are triggered in perpetual contraction.

If a horse is tight anywhere through the length of its back, you can expect reactions from ear pinning to tail swishing to teeth gnashing.  These reactions should lessen as your horse’s back loosens.  More violent reactions such as swinging the head around to try and bite you or cow kicking are a sure sign your horse is in significant pain that requires immediate further investigation.

Once the horse is supple in its back to easily do this stretch, and its posture improves, you’ll start to notice that when you begin in front of the girth that not only does the wither easily lift, but you’ll also start getting lift in the base of the neck.  Bringing the stretch more between the front legs will encourage the base of neck.

BUTT SCRUNCH

This is another topline stretch, only deeper and more complete.  Make sure that your horse can freely walk forward a step or two.  If you have a holder make sure the holder is standing to the side of the horse, and if the horse is crosstied, that there is plenty of length to the crossties.

Again you can use the tips of your fingers or one of the objects I listed earlier.  Place your fingertips or instrument about two inches on either side of the sacrum and press moderately firmly down and then begin to drag down the line of the horse’s haunch and down the hamstrings, while continuing to press.

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Some horses are particularly sensitive to this stretch and will literally ‘sit down’ on their haunches; others will tuck their pelvis and walk forward.

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Note:  Horses that are very sore through their pelvis have been known to double barrel kick when this stretch is applied.  *raises hand*  Been there, done that.  Fortunately, this stretch puts the horse’s momentum forward and the stretcher’s momentum backward.   If your horse was particularly cranky and cowkicking during the belly lift, I highly recommend NOT doing the butt scrunch, until you’ve found out and addressed the issue that your horse possesses.

Hind Leg Forward

For this stretch you need to cup your hands and then scoop up your horse’s hind leg at the back of the pastern, lift the leg and then gently ‘guide’ the foot forward toward the outside of the horse’s knee.  Most horses should be able to stretch to a point where the hind foot is directly beside the knee.   Over angulated horses can often get beyond the knee, while post-legged horses typically can only get to the back of the knee.

The lower you hold the foot to the ground, the easier the stretch for the horse.  This is where I suggest you start.  As the horse gets more stretched through the tendenosis muscles and hamstrings, you can then raise the foot a bit.  Massaging the back of the haunch and hamstrings prior to the stretch will help increase the stretch.

Note:  DO NOT PULL!  Guide the foot forward, SLOWLY.  Do not ‘bounce’ the stretch.   Keep the leg straight, as in on the same angle as the stifle angle.  This angle generally has the hind foot just to the outside of the corresponding knee, but some horses have a little less stifle angle and some have a bit more.

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Using a towel is easier if you have a bad back, but you don’t get the same ‘feel’ as if you use your hands.

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Hind Leg Back

With your outside hand, grab the front of the horse’s pastern and place your inside hand gently on the top of the horse’s hock.  The hand holding the horse’s pastern ‘guides’ the horse’s leg back.  The hand on the hock is only there to prevent you from getting smacked in the mouth or face by the hock if the horse jerks its leg.

Again, the lower the foot is to the ground, the easier the stretch is for the horse, so start low.  Also, make sure to bring the leg back straight from the hip, not pulling it to the side.  Once you’ve stretched the leg to a certain point, some horses will finish the stretch for you and fully extend the leg out.  If that happens, awesome!

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Note:  DO NOT PULL!  DO NOT PUSH DOWN ON THE HOCK!  Gently and slowly guide the foot back.  Do not ‘bounce’ the stretch.

Part 2 of this series with cover front leg stretches.

The Possibilities Are Endless

I stumbled across a cool video that horse owners and trainers should see, if only to remind them of what’s possible without all the restraints.  We always have such awe and high praise for the few individuals who do bridleless or free work.  And if they can do it in front of a crowd, even more praise worthy.  Most have seen Staci Westfall’s freestyle reining tribute to her father.  A lot have seen the One-Armed Bandit and his Paints, Mules or Mustangs.  Some have seen shows like Cavalia.  And I know every single one of you knows who Pat Parelli is and have to at least seen some bareback, bridleless jumping, or his famous lady-in-a-wheelchair Friesian demo.  But how many of us have actually taken those shows to heart and gone back home and committed to training, working or just being around our horses without restraint?

One of the many flaws that we humans have is that we’re control freaks.  Some are control freaks in every aspect of their lives, others hone their control freak streak and direct it at a single purpose or target, as the rest of their lives roll uncontrollably down a hill at full speed.  Take a moment to think about what you are always trying to control in your life.  Is it your weight?  Your spouse?  Your kids?  Or your horse?

I’ve always had fences to keep my horses ‘in’, because that’s the responsible thing to do to keep them safe and off other’s property or away from dangerous situations like a road.  But despite that I’ve had several escape over the years.  Sometimes boards were kicked down, gates left unlocked, or hotwire shorted out, but none of the escapees ever left.  They did laps around the house, ripping up the lawn, or went to visit other horses in another pasture on the property, or just wandered about investigating things, leaving behind a trail of poop piles for me to clean up.  I have had, though, the occasion to leave a few horses entirely loose without fencing for days on end.  It was the only gift I could think to give them before they passed on.

I have been reminded recently of the control freak in people as I rehab a horse.  A horse who explodes without warning when tied, crosstied or single tied.  So, I don’t tie her.  I know that the approach for most people is to fix the tying issue by using breakaway ties, or bungie/rubber, or to tie her tight to an immovable object, like a tree, and let her fight until she gives up (or kills herself).  When was the last time you brushed your horse, picked its feet, and tacked it up without having it tied, AND the horse just stood quietly the whole time content to have you around it, and content in the knowledge that when you were done it was going to have to work for you?

Here’s one more question for you to ponder at various times during your next horse interaction.  Given the choice in the moment, would your horse choose to stay with you or leave?

The video is long, but try and stick it out.  There are some really cute moments when a horse or two decides to ‘improvise’.  The second video is much shorter and represents snippets of a similar show, but there’s foals involved.

2013 Breeder’s Cup

Welcome to the first Hooves Blog Breeder’s Cup Roundup!

Might as well get the bad news out of the way first.  In the Juvenile Fillies race, Bob Baffert’s Secret Compass was euthanized after suffering a lateral condylar fracture and a dislocation.  Her jockey John Velazquez took a hard fall and was taken to the hospital.  A number of hours in, the doctors detected internal bleeding and just before the last cup race of the day, he was in surgery to have his spleen removed.

http://www.thehorse.com/articles/32807/secret-compass-euthanized-after-suffering-condylar-fracture

This first race wasn’t shown on TV as coverage hadn’t started yet, so I missed the race.  I was able to catch a replay on livestream, but didn’t see the injury or fall take place.  Just as well.  We can argue all day long about racing two year olds, but I’m having a harder and harder time remembering a ‘big televised racing event’ happening WITHOUT a tragic end.  I imagine what keeps people coming back year after year is that despite the tragedy the end of this race was thrilling.  After leading the whole way, She’s A Tiger, hung on by a nose to win only then to be placed second behind Rio Antonia for a very minor bump in deep stretch.

The Filly and Mare Turf race went to the English horse, Dank.  Who charged from the back in the stretch and then held off other hard charging horses.  The time of the race was a new race record.  I noticed after the race that Dank was bleeding from her mouth.  I’m guessing she bit her tongue.  She really fought her jockey through much of the race.

Groupie Doll and Wise Dan were both repeat winners in their respective races; Filly and Mare Sprint and The Mile on the Turf.

The post-race interview that irked me the most came from the owner of MizDirection, who was also a repeat winner in her race, The Turf Sprint.  After a long layoff last year and after a long layoff this year, she came into both Breeder’s Cup races to dominate.  She was to get on an airplane shortly after her race yesterday to be entered in a sale, presumably to begin a career as a broodmare.  The owner was asked in the winner’s circle how he felt about the whole situation.  To paraphrase; he said he was going to miss her, but it’s business.  I admit, I yelled some obscenities at the TV screen.

The 1 3/4 mile Marathon was won by the UK horse London Bridge.  Funnily enough, London Bridge is a New York bred.  It was the first time the three year old colt had raced on Lasix.  The days leading up to the race saw him struggle with the race surface, so his shoes were changed.  The day before the race he was put in the starting gate and allowed to break.  He came from way back and though he looked like he was flying at the end and an easy winner, I assure you, the rest of the horses were staggering badly for most of the stretch run.  I could have out run them.  London Bridge is apparently on his way to Australia next for a race.  The Argentine horse, Ever Rider, was pulled up in this race by his jockey Gary Stevens.  This horse was touted as the best conditioned horse prior to the race by all the race announcers.  Pfft!  The horse walked off on his own and it was later reported that Gary pulled him up because he tired badly.  No injury reported.

One of the best looking horses on the day was the Goldolphin two year old colt, Outstrip.  He came from way behind to win the Juvenile Turf race.  Bobby’s Kitten was the heavy favorite in this race and his jockey put him out front in blistering fractions.  He battled hard with Giovanni Boldini in the stretch, but Outstrip ran them both down.  All the talk for the rest of the day and next was how upset the trainer was of Bobby’s Kitten’s jockey, Javier Castellano, who he felt blundered by setting fractions of 22.27, 45.70 and 1:09.53.  Javier said the two year old broke well, felt good, but then ran off a bit and wouldn’t settle.  Duh!  It happens, especially when you’re racing immature horses.  Maybe put a bit more training on them and wait for them to mature?  At least he didn’t run sideways the entire race like Bob Baffert’s Tap It Rich.

Which brings me to the second most annoying interview of the event.  When Bob Baffert was asked (in reference to his talented two year old colt, Tap It Rich) if he’d prefer having a horse that shows moments of brilliance or one that’s just plain tough, Mr. Baffert announced brilliance without hesitation.  And that, sir, is exactly why the American TB is in such dire straits nowadays.  When prolific trainers such as yourself put importance on characteristics that last a moment, instead of the stuff that matters for a lifetime.  What good is a flash of brilliance, if your horse doesn’t have the brain to run straight, or if your horse doesn’t have the substance (Secret Compass – remember her?) to stay sound?  But then what should he care when he can simply pull out another horse, like New Year’s Day, and win the 1 1/16 mile Juvenile and let Tap It Rich finish fifth running sideways most of the race?

Goldencents had a phenomenal wire-to-wire win in the Dirt Mile.

And now we get to the big race, The Classic.  I should have taken that bet with blondemare.  She was so sure Game On Dude was going to win, and I was so sure he was not.  I put my virtual bet on Mucho Macho Man.  Both horses broke well and were on top with two others.  My fifty year old out-of-retirement jockey, Gary Stevens, took Man back a bit and placed him fifth on the outside, while the all-time winning jockey of Breeder’s Cup races, Mike Smith, kept Dude near the front with the other two horses, three wide.  Three quarters of the way around the final turn, Man stuck his nose in front on the outside and put the pedal to the metal.  Dude gave it up at the top of the stretch and started to fade, while Man trucked on.  Coming late and hard were Declaration Of War and Will Take Charge.

Here’s the  Photo Finish:  Mucho Macho Man on the inside, Declaration Of War in the middle, and Will Take Charge on the outside.

Video of the race: Race Replay

Western Dressage Revisited?

I don’t particularly want to rehash this topic, but Zanhar found a video that represents what Western Dressage should really be all about, in my not so humble opinion.  There are some mistakes in the movements on the first part of the video in the ride, mistakes often made in Dressage as well (and Western riding in general), but still far more representative of what Western Dressage should be all about if we require such a discipline.  The second part of the video is near flawless.

I could get behind the discipline of Western Dressage if it looked like this.  Anything else is hogwash.