The Force of the Horse®

I follow RT Fitch's blog, Straight From The Horse's Heart, and he recently posted this:

SFHH Update: Often, on this blog, we speak of the atrocities of horse slaughter and continued distortion of the facts by pro-slaughter advocates. But we have yet to explore the complexities that intertwine the fate of our American Wild Horses with those same bloody crimes that threaten our domesticated equine partners and companions. Today, we will make a sincere effort to bridge that gap.Good friend and fellow member of the Equine Welfare Alliance, Sonya Richins, has produced the in-depth documentary “Mestengo” in an effort to clear the air and put all of the facts surrounding the wild, American Mustang before the people of the world. The story will astound and infuriate you as the details of a government agency, out of control, is unfurled in vivid cinematography before your leaking eyes. How did we let this happen? How did it get so far out of hand with no one noticing? In this country, things like this are not supposed to happen! But they DID and it is still going on.Stimulate your sense of dignity by being aware of the injustice; take a moment and view the trailer.The day of “Mestengo” is coming and you can be a part of it.Watch, learn then act.R.T. Fitch Author – “Straight from the Horse’s Heart“The Force of the Horse®, LLC1-800-974-FOTHThe Force of the Horse®, Jun 2009

Please visit this blog, see this moving video and read the whole article. After that, get angry, very angry. We cannot allow this to continue.

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Can This Last?

What can I say? Nothing but good news to report. How 'bout that?

First, I rode Indy last Sunday - the last good day we've had for riding incidentially - and he was fantastic. He did look in the window a couple of times, but other than that he was his usual self again. No tension, no bouncing, just good ole Indy. Ami was quiet as well. Whatever it was that was bothering them, it's either gone or they don't care about it anymore.

Not only was Indy his calm cool self, the first time we rode up the "playpen" he stopped and started an attempt the stretch into urinating position. Since he's never urinated under saddle yet, I tried to encourage him as much as I possibly could. No dice. He straightened up and continued walking.

Now, you may be asking yourself why I bring all this up - and I couldn't blame you. LOL! It's just that many geldings have problems urinating under saddle. It's not that they can't, but I guess they don't think they can, or, maybe they think they're not supposed to. In any case, some geldings NEVER learn to urinate while being ridden, and others only after witnessing another gelding doing it. Needless to say, on a long trail ride this can become extremely uncomfortable for the poor horse, so I wanted Indy to catch on even though he didn't have another gelding to "set an example."

So, I kept taking him back there where there were lots of old shavings to tempt him. Finally, he stopped and tried it again. This time he did the Deed! I praised him to the skies and stroked his neck and everything else I could think of to let him know that this was a goooood thing he was doing. Sure glad there was no one else around though...

Hopefully, this will carry over. Like I said, I haven't had a chance to ride again, but maybe tomorrow.

The only "bad" note is that I'm sure now that Indy does not like the French link bit. After observing him with different bits now that he's more used to the idea of bits in general, I'm convinced that he still likes the Myler bit the best. Maybe it's the thinner mouthpiece. Or the slots it has for the headstall and reins - this may hold it more steady in his mouth and give his tongue more freedom. Whatever it is, it's his mouth so he gets the bit he prefers.

I'll use the Myler for our next ride and see how it goes.


A Tale of Two Rides

I usually make a separate post for each ride, but, given that I'm having trouble typing right now - more about this later - I decided to combine two rides. These particular rides are probably best discussed together anyway.

I had tentatively titled the earlier ride "An Interesting Ride," because interesting it was. There was a lot going on - field work in both of Lowell's fields, Mike mowing, Bernadine mowing, so that might account for some of the excitement. Still, both Indy and Ami seemed as high as kites, especially Ami. She acted like she couldn't find Indy, and he was right there, in the small paddock just like always.

I've never seen Indy so worked up, and certainly not when I was riding him. It was really strange, especially when he started insisting on turning and racing for the entrance back into the barn, both he and Ami seeming close to panic.

I didn't have a clue as to what was going on with them, except that I couldn't let Indy quit on such a note. Now, if you've read many of my posts, you know that I'm not the boldest rider in the world - even before I had my hip replaced and smashed the heck out of my rib cage, I wasn't the world's boldest rider, much less now, even with a helmet and rib protector.

Still, I could not quit, so I took most of the slack out of the reins - enough to maintain some control but not pulling - held on to the saddle horn with both hands and kept going. Indy never tried to buck, but some of his turns made me glad I had that saddle horn! We trotted and cantered back to the barn, then we went out again, came back, went out... Actually, staying on was easy, Indy's trot and canter being lovely and smooth.

I never got either of them to calm down, but when I decided we could quit, I got Indy away from the barn to dismount. As always he stood still as a statue as I eased off trying not to stress my left hip joint any more than necessary. Then I walked him around the paddock a bit. He was ill at ease, but he never attempted to pull away or anything like that, so I felt it would be fine to end here.

Our next ride was last Friday. I again used the Myler bit, pulled snugly into the corners of Indy's mouth. This is definitely what he prefers - he hates for the bit to flop around in his mouth even a little. He also seems much happier with the thinner mouthpiece of the Myler over the thicker Happy Mouth. I think that, with Indy, less is definitely better. He hates having his tongue restricted, so whatever takes up less room and stays off his tongue is always going to be his preference. And, since it's going to be in his mouth, his preference is the one that counts.

Friday's ride was much better. Ami didn't seem much calmer, but Indy was. I could feel it not only through the reins, but his entire body felt different - softer. He still wanted to go back over to Ami, but he wasn't nearly as extreme about it.

I kept just a tiny bit more contact this time. There was still a loop in the reins, but not as much as last time, and if I closed my hands, I made very light contact. Indy has never been ridden on contact - until now! - and again, I didn't want him to feel trapped or punished. And all I asked of him was to keep his cavorting within bounds.

Not only did he keep himself within bounds, when I used the light contact to ask him to "easy," I could feel him not only obey, but actually accepting the contact and softening his jaw. It was brief, but it was real, and it was the first time. I feel that we had a real breakthrough.

A training breakthrough is always cause for celebration of course, but even more so for me here is that I, as they say, "did it my way." By that I mean no pulling, no punishing. I just keep him going when he's not doing what I want, and I praise him when he is doing what I want. Indy is so intelligent - really, he is - that I had to spend a lot of time figuring out the best way to handle him.

He's more than willing to offer his opinion about everything, and I didn't want to squelch that, while still having him understand that there were times when he just had to do it my way, period. I wanted him to respect me, and I always knew that I would definitely have to earn that from Indy even more than one usually does with any horse. But, I also wanted him to trust me and mind me out of that trust - not fear. And besides, Indy is not easily intimidated. With his smarts and self confidence, the "do it or else" type of handling would probably lead to disaster.

Fortunately, all my noodling over him seems to have paid off. I know he isn't afraid of me, but he's is very respectful and does what I ask - and I do ask, not demand. I really don't think he's been testing me the past couple of rides. I don't think that's what this has been about, but I think I did handle it the right way for us. I always said that if I ever had another greenie to train, I wouldn't make the same mistakes I did with DJ. Of course, I never intended to have another green horse. But, such is fate.

Being totally dependent on the weather is a severe handicap when you're trying to train a horse as green as Indy was. Consistency is hard to come by when training sessions are weeks apart sometimes. I don't even have a place to do useful ground training when it's wet, very cold, and/or very windy - not to mention all three at once. Around here the winter is pretty much a total loss without some sort of indoor facility. And it's not only the cold - which can be very cold. It's also the wind and the footing. Even on relatively nice days, the footing is nothing short of impossible - hard, slick and extremely uneven.

It's also hard training such an inexperienced horse without the benefit of other horses giving him confidence by example. On the other hand, I don't have a dozen well meaning friends advising me to do things that I would later wonder about. Tight nosebands, not letting him "get away" with anything, whacking him instead of taking time to figure out why he was doing what he was doing, etc. I was pretty green myself then, and I knew it. Now, well let's just say that since then, I've developed my own ideas about training - with a lot of credit to John Lyons - and they are quite different from the style I was using in the 1980s.

The two most important things I learned from John weren't techniques, but matters of attitude. The first is that my idea of patience was woefully inadequate. That's the mistake I regret most with DJ. I thought I was being patient with him, but I wasn't - not nearly, no matter what I was hearing from other "Monday morning trainers," or even seeing with other horses in the hands of other pros.

The other thing is equally important, especially for someone like me. And that is that it's okay to love your horse. It's even okay to love on your horse. I have to admit, other pro's I'd seen/read made me feel like an idiot because of the feelings I had for my horses and the way I loved to pet on them. John took an approach that was totally different. I'll never forget the first time I saw John kissing his beloved Zip. Maybe that's why John's methods work so well for me both in the saddle and on the ground.

Oh yeah - about my finger. When I was putting the saddle back on the rack after that last ride, I guess my grip slipped a little with my right hand, and somehow I caught my left pinkie between the full weight of the saddle and the metal rack. Yikes! I really smashed it. It turned a deep purple and even with iceing it, within hours it was so swolen I couldn't even bend it - or straighten it for that matter. Guess a few days of rain that we're supposed to be getting won't be so bad after all - this time.

John Lyons and Bright Zip

John Lyons and Seattle, by Bright Zip

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Another Ride!

I can hardly believe it! I actually did get to ride today, just like I planned. This doesn't happen - when I make plans, something always comes up. Not this time though. Indy and I had another super 30 minute ride.

I used the Myler snaffle again but raised it a bit in his mouth. It seemed more comfortable for him this way, but he still much preferred having it out. Next ride, I'm going to try the Happy Mouth D-ring again, and see if I can detect any difference. Indy responded very well to the Myler, but he certainly didn't enjoy it. We shall see. I doubt he'll ever like going with a bit as opposed to bitless, but I'd like to be able to train with a bit because I just think it gives a more understandable, clearer signal than the sidepull, below.
Indy And His Favorite Bridle

The only bad note of the ride was my left leg/hip. It hurt. It hurt worse than on Monday's ride in fact. I just hope that it was only slower to recover from out of shape muscles that my right leg and that it will be better in a few days when the weather clears up - at least the weather's supposed to clear up over the weekend.

Hopefully, it won't rain a lot and will dry up soon so we can ride again. Having a few days off for my leg to recover probably isn't a bad idea, but too many days off and I'll just be starting over. Even though my hip did hurt worse while riding, I wasn't in nearly as bad shape the over night and the next morning as I was Tuesday morning after Monday's ride - not even close. So, I'll write that up to progress - rather than mere chance - and hope I'm correct. I'll know for sure next ride, whenever that is. Soon, please.............


An Actual Ride!

I can hardly believe it! I actually got to ride Indy today! It was our first ride since last fall. That is a bummer I know, but I can't feel bummed when I get to ride by wonderful partner.

Indy was fantastic - especially considering how the bugs were bothering his face and ears. I sprayed his body, but it didn't occur to me that his face and ears would be a problem. It didn't seem that bad, but it was. Poor Indy was flipping his head all over the place sometimes, trying to rid himself of the nasty pests. At one point, I leaned up his neck and cleaned out the insides of both ears. He did appreciate that, but they just came back.

As far as not having been ridden for months, well, you'd never know it. He stepped back into the routine as if I'd been riding him every day. I worry about his training so much because I don't get to ride nearly as much as I'd like, and I fret that he's going on 11 and is still so green. He sure didn't act like a greenie today though. I've seen some experienced horses that had to almost start over after not having been ridden for as long as it's been for us. Not Indy. He is such a special boy, maybe he's getting enough "saddle time" after all.

I thought I would see a difference in the way the saddle fit, and I sure did. It wasn't that I shortened the girth that much, but last fall, when I tightened the girth it sank into the blubber, and there was fat bulging on either side of it. OMG! Now, that fat is completely gone. I knew he'd lost weight, but I didn't realize he'd lost that much. I still can't feel his ribs though, so we must keep on keeping on - whether we like it or not.

Since I've been having so much trouble with my left leg, I had wondered how it would feel riding. Well, I did notice it, for sure. On mounting, it hurt as I pivoted on my left leg when throwing my right leg over Indy's back. It was even worse dismounting. I had to hang onto the saddle and very slowly slide down Indy's side. He looked back at me, wondering "what the heck?" but he did not move a muscle. Good Boy! Indy has always stood perfectly still for dismounting, and it's a darn good thing, especially now.

Dear Indy - We'd only ridden for about 30 minutes, but I was limping badly going back to the barn, but he stayed with me, walking very slowly all the way back to his stall, and I wasn't even holding onto him! Is he a doll or what?

I'm not at all sure I'll be able to ride tomorrow, but if not, it's supposed to be nice on Tuesday too, and I'll be hoping to ride then. Wait and see. At least I got to ride today, and nothing can dampen my spirits after a good ride!

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Weighty Matters

First, the good news: Indy and Ami have both lost a significant amount of weight. There is still a ways to go for both of them, but it's a visible start. Both of them even seem to feel more energetic, especially Ami. Not only is she sound, she's cutting up almost as much as Indy. And that's saying a bit since he's been pretty hot to trot himself - even more than usual I mean. It's wonderful to see them tagging each other up and down the paddock!

Now, the bad news: This is so damned hard. They are hungry. And we had to start keeping them in the paddock early as well. Having been an "easy keeper" all my life myself, I can really empathize with them. I know they would be able to eat more if they got more regular exercise, but that's easier said than done.

They know so much more about maintaining easy keepers these days. There has been an explosion of knowledge in just the last few years, but the bottom line is KEEP THE FAT OFF. If allowed to become or remain obese, these horses can develop a metabolic syndrome similar to Type 2 diabetes in humans.

Of course, not all fat horses fall into the high risk category, but those with, among other signs, a cresty neck like Indy and Ami, are among those that do. They are at high risk for developing insulin resistance because this was an advantage to their ancestors, allowing them to survive on very poor forage. That advantage has become a liability for today's horses because of the high sugar grasses in modern pastures. These grasses were developed to fatten cattle, not graze horses. Even cattle can easily founder on it though, so imagine what it does for horses.

Anyway, Matt and Tyler were here yesterday and they both noticed Indy and Ami had lost weight. In fact, Tyler was staring at Indy in disbelief, "Wow! He's lost weight!"

I guess a bright spot in all this is that Indy's saddle should fit really nicely - if I ever get a chance to try it that is. I still haven't gotten to ride even once so far this spring. If it's not cold, it's raining and/or windy enough to blow me off Indy's back. It's beginning to be extremely frustrating.

Another problem that's bugging me is the pain I'm having in my left leg. It's hurting worse than the right one ever did. I guess - I hope! - it's coming from my back and that my left hip isn't going on me. That would probably push me over the edge into total insanity.

I don't plan to have hip replacement surgery again - at least not the same kind I had before. If they can improve on the post-op pain and rehab time I might, but the same thing over again? No way. My right hip is great, but going into that one I didn't know what lay ahead - now I do. Nope. Not unless it gets so bad I can't ride at all will I even consider such.

If it's my back, they still can't do anything about it, but it probably won't hamper my riding any more than it ever has. I've had lumbar stenosis all my life after all. Sure, it's getting worse over time, but it's never been a real factor in riding. In fact, a reasonable amount of riding seems to actually help. I think it's because much of the pain comes from spasms in the muscles in the area, and when I'm riding is the only time I must relax those particular muscles, and they seem to benefit from that, as well as the general rocking motion of following Indy's back. Good for his back and mine. Now, I ask you - who could ask for more?

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"From my earliest memories, I have loved horses with a longing beyond words." ~ Robert Vavra