Thursday, September 13, 2018

Progress report (a catch all post about feet + weather)

Here's the thing... I think no matter what part of the country you live in right now, the weather has been complete and utter bullshit for everyone. Around me (Area II) events have been cancelled left and right due to rain and riders are having to tempt fate by riding in temps in the 100s just to get an event under their belt. We've gotten something like 300% more rain than we should have for this time of year and while it could be worse (rock hard ground), it makes getting any sort of riding momentum near impossible.

Because it's either raining for days or it's like this:

Just, NO.
I've been pushing through and riding him even on the hottest days, but all the rain has messed up his turnout schedule and as a result not only is his skin getting funky, but his legs have all been taking turns blowing up. This doesn't alarm me like it used to and I usually just follow the protocol of working him to reduce the puffiness and then throw standing wraps on if he's going to be in for prolonged periods of time. Scout is typically the kind of dude that no matter how much time he's had off or how little turnout he's been getting he's pretty much the same, chill horse. However, he surprised me a little this week after a few days of little to no turnout by being a bit of a twit on the ground so we had a little refresher session on appropriate behaviors.

I got in trubs.
You see, his legs were fat and I hadn't planned on riding that day so I took him to the indoor to hand walk (because you guessed it, it was pouring, again) -- his next door neighbor was in there too (she's an adorable grey pony who just went to the pony finals!) so we did out best to stay out of their way by walking and trotting over poles together. When she left, Scout lost his ever loving mind and tried to bolt back to the barn after her and I was like HELL NO. So I grabbed a lunge line and the whip -- to which he took GREAT offense, as though he's beaten every day by one. Which led to ground work 101 for Scout. And you better believe he changed his tune (ahem, pic above). In the end, I wound up getting some very nice work out of him, even if I was ill-prepared and honestly, I think he needed to blow off a little energy anyway so we'll call it a win.

Even with big fat legs he can move

I am the wildest stallion:)

Anyway, all of this behavior at least let me see how he was moving and feeling after his first visit with the new farrier. He has been growing hoof at an alarming rate, and I was terrified he was going to lose a shoe before he could get seen and I was absolutely thrilled when the BO told me that the farrier said Scout has beautiful feet. I was like, "oh man, wait til I show you where we started."

I tend not to get on the bandwagon of "all OTTBs have bad feet" because that's simply not true, but what I can say with certainty is that any sort of major lifestyle change in a horse's career/life will impact their hoof quality dramatically. We didn't start with under run heels or excessively long toes, but we did start with scary looking event lines.

You can see that the new growth wants to come in at the proper angle but the rest of the hoof is just doing it's own thing, and looking quite scary. Watching these lines grow out was pretty horrifying, and I knew at some point we'd be nailing right into that crack and I thought for sure the rest of his hoof was just going to break off.

best farrier ever
That's some beautiful farrier work right there people. My previous farrier would painstakingly shape each shoe like this and while it was exhausting to hold horses for him, he knew how to create balance like no other. Also, just looking at the hoof on the left above makes me shudder. Remarkably his feet did not fall off -- because that's not how that works (hahahahaha). You can also appreciate a nice, strong hoof wall making it's way to replace the old, shelly remnants.

In between this farrier and my current situation, we've been at two barns, one with a highly regarded farrier and one with someone who was a bit greener. Sadly, Scout could not keep shoes on with the farrier with the big reputation -- he is a very nice guy, and quick at his work but he refused to hot fit or shape shoes and Scout lost several in the short stint that we were with him. The other farrier LOVED Scout and got his feet back into shape (thank god they grow fast), which leads us to present day.

post trim (and farrier's fix)
Those are some nice looking thoroughbred feet! Nice angles, beautiful walls, good breakover and heel balance! And as a result, I think he's moving the most confidently he has since I bought him. When you are giant and have spider legs having wonky feet makes you very clumsy! I'm also happy to report that he has not needed hinds since last fall either!

A good boy

Now if only I could get him to gain weight at the same rate he grows hoof!!!!

How are you guys handling the weather in your part of the country? Are you struggling with nonstop rain or oppressive heat and humidity? What do you guys do with your horses to stay sane when you can't ride?

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

The trouble with horses

My god, I've been a shitty blogger... my last post was May 10th? 

And I'm sure that after my last post everyone thought maybe I sent Scout to the Amish. Not to worry though, he's still eating $$$ like it's his job.

The truth is, we've had a couple months of bad luck. After my last post, we took Scout to Plantation for a schooling, which he really stepped up like a big boy and took in the terrain and sights and sounds like a champ.

View from the top of the hill (not for the faint of heart)

I guess he likes getting to the base!

Enthusiastic horse is enthusiastic

And he even conquered the water without a single issue:)
We had been scheduled for Scout to make his eventing debut just two weeks later at Fairhill but unfortunately he contracted Anaplasmosis a few days after this xc school. The poor guy spiked a 103.5 temp with hot front feet and legs and I'd be lying if I said I wasn't completely freaked out. We treated him very aggressively, and he responded wonderfully, but we lost 2 weeks of riding while he recovered.

Not long after this I decided to move him (yes, again) to a great facility with an indoor that had a few spots open up. For an additional $25 than what I was already paying, having access to three rings and an indoor seemed like a no brainer.

Day one at the new barn, looking fly


I think he's growing again and I can't even...

Awesome indoor

View of the outdoor -- there are so many cool jumps!
The new place is (again) mostly a hunter/jumper barn with great facilities. It's a family farm that's been in the area for a long time so while it has terrific amenities it's not snooty at all. Bonus is that Valley Forge Park is just a short hack away with 100s of miles of trails! The barn has it's own jumper series that they run and they have clinics and events throughout the year... despite all of that, it never feels busy or crowded.

And since we've moved, he's had a touch of cellulitis (the day before I went out of town for 4 days) and then had a bout of choking the day I returned from a 10 day vacation! The cellulitis doesn't even get me worked up anymore, we just treat it and it resolves very quickly. The choking was alarming because he's never had any issues like that before, but we're going to do an endoscopy to see if he's ever had a tie-back. He doesn't roar or anything, but he does make a little noise when he tense under saddle, so if he did have an old tie back I'd just like to know for the future.

Since the last time I posted, I've had some medical issues including herniating a disk in my back. To further add insult to injury, the entire brake system in my truck failed and needed to be replaced (that happened the day before I left for vacation) -- but we're back on the road again.

In some better news, we have started taking lessons with an eventer nearby and Scout's been going very well under her guidance. She rides him for the first 15 mins of our lessons (to save my back some pain) and LOVES him. He's been jumping out of his skin and looking quite fancy on the flat.

His canter is getting SO cool under saddle. Now if only I could actually sit it!

That hind step<3

Trot isn't too shabby either
He can get heavier in the eggbutt french link, but it also makes me ride more correctly
So fingers crossed we've gotten all the bad luck out and we can get back to the fun stuff! I hope after all this time I still have a reader or two left! I'll try to do better!

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Addressing bad behavior -- the Hard NO

Of the three horses I've owned, Scout is far and beyond the easiest in terms of training. Riley was extremely stubborn at times and had a bit of a mean streak. Nolan was hot and sensitive and needed a lot of busy work to keep him focused. Scout has been extremely straight forward in every aspect. But the the thing with OTTBs is that when start their retraining they are often going through lots of physical changes that allow you to mold them when they are at a weak point in terms of fitness. Typically during this let down period, OTTBs can seem very quiet, easy, and almost dull -- you can get lured into believing that they are just that quiet.

the face of innocence, clearly
Then as they gain new muscle and fitness their true selves start to emerge. When I first met Scout he was simply a sweet, giant gelding. He was curious and easy going by nature. Seemed to take everything in stride and even when he didn't understand what was being asked, he tried anyway. He was almost TOO easy. And if I'm being honest I've always been waiting for the other shoe to drop, for the hard NO to reveal itself.

So now that he's back in full work and roughly a year post-track he's feeling very good about life indeed. He's started to show us that he does in fact, have some sass! The work is getting harder, we're asking for a lot more under saddle, and he's got some opinions about working correctly. That's okay because it's just a part of the learning process and he's going to have some growing pains (literally and figuratively).

For the sake of this post I'm going to characterize attitude into three categories (leaving the PAIN category out).

1. Feel good sass: maybe it's a little buck after a line of jumps, or a head shake during a canter transition, or a squeal for no reason. In Scout's case, it's usually a tail swish:

Literally after every jump... someone was very pleased with himself
This type of sass needs no discipline or attention. He just feels good and it's not mean spirited.

2. Naughty/tantrum sass: bucks, spooks, scoots, kicking out, bolting -- these types of behaviors could fall into this category. They're generally brought on by an objection to an aid or environment.
In Scout's case, he like to kick out or buck at leg aids:

So sassy
Typically with Scout this behavior is VERY short-lived. It's an objection/opinion but he moves on quickly. As long as he does what's being asked (usually it's simply moving forward) then he doesn't get punished (and by punished I mean NOW YOU HAVE TO WORK HARDER).

3. Hard NO sass: this is unique for every horse. Scout's hard NO has just recently revealed itself and it comes from a place of insecurity. It only comes out when he doesn't understand something and gets worried. We first discovered it at Fairhill at the water complex:

Cue tail swishing, dancing, wanting to be anywhere but here

Even watching another horse, he just didn't understand.

A few minutes later, he started rearing. Completely uncharacteristic for Scout. I can say with some certainty that he does not have a mean bone in his body. He was trying to communicate to us that the pressure was too much and he needed to understand what he was being asked to do. So, we let him take a breath and I led him in. He initially tried to pull against me but I reassured him that we'd go in the water together and then he was okay. But, despite him going in and not caring about the actual water, he wouldn't go in without me leading him. We had pushed him just enough that he was left feeling very unsure. This was not because of anything we (the pro and I) did, it's just the first occurrence of the hard NO, and it caught us a bit off guard. It was clear that getting after him, or applying even more pressure might break his good nature. So we regrouped. We let him gallop around and jump a few more things and then we went back to the drawing board.

Because Scout has been so easy, I've taken for granted some basic groundwork training. And you better believe I'm kicking myself about it. Ever since Nolan, I've completely changed the way I think about training horses, and so I feel pretty stupid that I've let my easy horse get away with little things (because they add up to bigger issues -- duh).

So I broke down Scout's Hard NO reaction in terms of ground work, busted out my trusty rope halter and got to work. At a very basic level, I need to be able to control his feet, ALWAYS.

Clearly the face of a horse that's naughty
I was reminded pretty quickly that even though he's a quiet horse, I don't hold him accountable all the time. Usually I just let him saunter along with a big loop in the lead while I do a million other things. So I got right to work by making him walk WITH me, not in my space, not casually plodding behind me, right by my side. We played with stopping and backing to help sharpen his reaction to my body and it was clear that he reactions were dulled. I took him to the ring to work on some techniques I learned from my trusty Amish cowboy. I started with simple tasks like walking/jogging at various speeds with me, yielding to pressure, backing next to me and also while facing me. Circling and changes of direction with soft cues on the lead. And after a bit of an ugly start, he began responding extremely well. Lots of licking and chewing and tuning in to me. We moved on to some more advanced techniques incorporating "the box" -- the idea being that you put a horse in an invisible box and control the horses feet within said box.


The feets stay where I puts them
I played with him and this idea for quite a while asking him to yield his hind quarters in various directions and do turns on the forehand on the lead.

Then I took him on a walk behind the barn into the state park to see if we could find some things that might make him unsure.
Apparently none of this is even a tiny bit scary
Turns out, he's super brave and took my lead on everything. He's not really afraid of anything, which almost makes him more of a puzzle.

While this ground work is useful, I was curious to see how it would come into play the next time he met a Hard NO trigger (water). So I set up a two day plan to get him schooling at a stream followed by a day of xc schooling to further the lesson.

The first day, he went on a hack with a solid buddy and I followed on foot. We were prepared to pony him or lead him on foot if needed but the goal was never to let him get to the point where he was shut down. Naturally, he followed his friend right into the stream, but then shocked us all by throwing a bit of a fit IN the water. Tail wringing and backing up, but once his moved his feet again he was golden. He went in and out by himself without issue, even trotting through a few times.

Looking super earnest<3
SO the real test would be at Windurra the next day. The water there is a little more welcoming that the complex at Fairhill but there's A LOT to look at there. His farm is on a very busy road and they are actively doing a ton of heavy construction on the property. It's not for the equine faint of heart.

And I'll write up more about the schooling later, but the Hard NO made a very dramatic appearance, this time at the ditch. Boyd has a series of ditches in a row, right up against the busy road that are fully revetted and DEEP. He's never seen one before, and very nearly stepped right over it before he stopped to look into the abyss.

Don't look in there Scout!
Commence Hard NO sequence. Tail wringing, backing up, general worried behavior. My trainer pressed him a bit more, because he seemed so ready to hop right over and...

But this time we were ready. I jumped in, snapped my long rope lead on him and got right to work moving his feet with the trainer aboard. She sat chilly, urging him with only her legs and I led him up to the ditch. And wouldn't you know it, he hopped over... so they trotted around and we did the same thing all while on the lead. This is really where all the ground work comes into play. As you can see there's a big bush next to the ditch, so it's not like I could stand there and just lunge him around me. I had to get my timing just right to follow them around, without him feeling any tension on the line and keep his feet moving. We did this two more times and then I unclipped him while they trotted around and they did it alone. Piece of cake. Then he cantered it without any help. Success!

What we found, was that in order to shut down the NO, we just had to snap his brain out of it. That wasn't going to happen with a whip, or leg pressure, or by forcing him. He needed to move his feet, get his brain refocused and try again. In a weird way, I'd rather he have this kind of behavior that a dirty runout/stop. So when she moved on to the banks and water she was able to recreate this idea without my assistance. I helped him get his feet wet the first time, but he never got to the point of the Hard NO again.
More complicated than he seems
For right now, that's our goal. We're trying to engage him in challenging experiences without pushing him beyond his mental limit. Now that we know where that line is, we can figure out a way to set him up for success. It's easy to forget that this is all brand new to him and his naughtiness is truly coming from a lack of understanding and confidence vs. just being a jerk. While rearing is a very, very bad vice, there's plenty of warning and the whole thing happens in slow motion, so I'm not condoning it, but I'm also not super worried about it either. I think we're on track to building his confidence on the ground and under saddle and making him feel like an absolute superstar.

So tell me bloggers... Does your horse have a Hard NO or a way of showing their extreme displeasure about something? If so, how do you work with it, ground work, under saddle, utilizing professionals? Any advice for how you might handle my situation?

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Scout's big weekend (prep yo' self for lots of media)

Scout's first time in the start box!
Continuing with our theme from the last post, Scout had a scheduled XC schooling at Fairhill on Saturday. Fairhill can be a very busy venue for a young horse and with a cancelled schooling earlier in the week and the weather being near perfect I braced for a big crowd. Nevertheless, Scout stood on the trailer waiting for our trainer to arrive without a care in the world. Sadly for us, he pooped so much on the trailer that upon departure, he slipped in his own shit and fell down the ramp. So there I was with my horse on his knees covered in poop while our trainer was putting her pinney on. Turns out, he also cut his leg just at the coronet band on his RH and was bleeding everywhere (#onlymyhorse). Luckily it was just a scrape and far from his heart so I cleaned it up, sprayed some Alushield on it and they headed out to the course.

Warming up
Scout handled the wide open spaces and mayhem really, really well. There were people galloping by, jumping around in every direction and he just kinda took it all in. So they warmed up and he was feeling super. There wasn't anything super tiny around so she headed him at a little floating log for his first xc jump.

You just jump with all four legs at once, right?
So his first jump was not elegant and I think it caught him off guard, but he certainly cleared it! Not to worry, he quickly figured out that we were in fact JUMPING and continued on with gusto.

I love that our trainer is quick to move on once he's figured something out. She doesn't drill him or make him frazzled. He doesn't need to be perfect, but he just needs to go forward, up and over and land in balance. She does an amazing job of helping he find the best place to jump from but really just lets him do the rest. Mostly, she pointed him at the elementary fences and if they went well, she'd canter around over the BN option.

Turns out he actually jumps better over bigger jumps:)
Unfortunately, we weren't able to school the ditches since every serious combination on course was completely monopolized by trainers and their students (grrrr), but he hopped over a bunch of things and spent some time just walking or standing and taking it all in. And I was a very proud Mamma watching him run around. I think our trainer enjoyed it too, as she cantered by saying, "I'm going to steal him."

He even found his 5th leg when he got to a fence on a half stride!

And while I'd love to say that he was a star pupil for the whole afternoon, we met some serious resistance regarding the water. Keep in mind, he's never seen a water complex before and we haven't encountered any natural water crossings since last summer. He didn't understand what we were asking him and he threw a BIG tantrum (*blog post to follow about this), eventually I got him in by leading which we repeated a few times but it's clearly going to take some further schooling and confidence building.

Proof that he actually went in:)
When we finished up, our trainer said she feels that (aside from the water issue) that he's ready to go BN anytime! So, we're going to look at the schedule for the next few months, pick something and get him schooling a bunch more before then. She's take him around his first big event and then I'll take over!

He got stuffed with cookies and told he was a GOOD BOY about a million times and I packed him up and took him to spend the night at Emily's barn for the night. Sunday we had plans to go to our very first paper chase and her barn is just a few minutes from the meeting point so it made sense to let him hang there and get to know his buddy for Sunday's ride!

MOAR adventures!!!!????

I arrived to the barn Sunday to find a very tired Scout, who had spent the night out with his paper chase buddy (and to make certain his leg didn't blow up post-trailer cutting). Poor kid, tough life being such a go-getter. It was forecast to be an absolutely beautiful day over Chester County and a big turnout was expected. I've paper chased all over that area and also rented a barn about a half a mile from the start so I knew that Kat would be in for a treat being a Florida transplant!

Scout was anxious at the start including not being patient while I tried to climb on (needs further attention) and started to pull a little bit of his shenanigans from the day before (mainly, running backwards). But I was able to get him walking around a bit and that seemed to help settle him. Next thing I knew, we were trotting across a massive sea of green. He felt great, not even a bit of stiffness from the day before and I let him have a loop in the reins as he carried me confidently over the landscape. Both of our horses took to the idea of the paper chase very well and initially neither seemed bothered by horses in front or behind us. 

Heading out

This view does not get old

We ran into some friends of mine!

Scout will lead and follow, but he prefers cruise control at the walk

Heading up the big hill back to the trailers

Kat found a cool antler along the way
The terrain was super fun with plenty of rolling hills to canter! There were FIVE water crossings (and I'm sure you know where this is going) Scout gave the middle finger to 3 out of five of them. I can't blame him for two of those, they were not inviting AT ALL -- even for me to lead him through they were scary. And out in the middle of 100s of acres is not the place to work on schooling your horse. So my feet got wet, a lot. And I had to get on an agitated horse from the ground three times (thank you to the savior who gave me a leg up at the 3rd crossing) And while it would be easy to be very upset about the water issue, Scout proved to me that he still has the best brain. Our partner out on the ride became increasingly more upset about horses coming up behind us and leaving over the horizon. At first we didn't put two and two together, but every time a group of horses caught up with us, he would lose his marbles. And holy shit, Kat can ride. He pulled out all the stops of naughty behavior creating quite a spectacle and she just rode it out. This made using him as a buddy for Scout to get across water 100% impossible. Thankfully, Scout did not care at all about what his buddy was doing. At one point they came crashing through the woods and slamming in to Scout who was like, "what is he even doing?" He's solid gold this one.

This guy:)
It's always a little daunting the first time you take an OTTB out into wide open spaces. You have to trust that you've prepared them and yourself well enough to handle any hiccups that come along. We walk, trot, and cantered on a loopy rein in a loose ring snaffle and he never got cheeky or strong. He listened even when he didn't really want to (ahem, water) and showed me that he's ready for more adventures like this!

Overall, the weekend was a huge success! Scout got to learn some new skills,  I got to see my horse blast around XC and have some fun with him myself! 

What a way to spend the weekend!