Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Horse Training: How Well Does Your Horse Try for You? Getting More Try

I hear horse trainers talk all the time about the level of a horse's "try." Most trainers like horses with a lot of try. In fact, one trainer I know will choose a horse with a poor comformation but a lot of try over a horse with super talent and very little try.

A lot of "horse try" can overcome many obstacles ... including lack of innate talent or poor comformation.

This is all well and good for the horse with a lot of try, but what about the horse who doesn't try? How do you get more try out of that horse?

Horse Try: Finding the Right "Hot Button" or Motivation
For the equine with little or no "horse try," the horse owner's job is to figure out why the horse has no try. The reasons could include:
  • fear of punishment or pain
  • fear of new things or concepts
  • boredom
  • dislike of his current career
  • physical inability to do his job
  • sheer laziness
  • a competitive streak
  • lack of understanding of the task
Lack of Horse Try: Some Examples
I have three horses in roping training now (I'm learning with Mary Duke and Dusty Healey of Stirrup Cup Farm), and each horse has experienced at least one bump in the road ... a place where he or she had no "try." The interesting thing was that, knowing each horse personality type, I was able to figure out the reason behind the lack of try, and solve the problem. (Learn more about horse personality types here and test your horse's personality type here.)

Lack of Horse Try Because of Fear
Walker, the gelding I've written so much about (and pictured above), lacked try because he had been roped as youngster, and was traumatized by the lariat. As a Shao Yin horse personality type, his main goal is to please his human, but his fear kept him from doing so. He would try and try to bear the rope exercises until he just couldn't. Then he would bolt at Mach-1.

Solution: Because Walker was still suffering from the trauma of being roped earlier, that meant he was stuck in his "fight or flight" sympathetic nervous system and literally could not think rationally. My solution was to start feeding him Eleviv, an herbal supplement that shifts horses (and humans) back into the normal parasympathetic nervous system. From this nervous system, horses can think rather than react. Another herbal supplement that works well is RelaxBlend from Equilite. Feeding probiotics can also help, since probiotics like acidophilus and bifidus produce B-vitamins, which can keep a horse calm.

Now Walker gets 2 capsules of Eleviv before roping practice, and has all the horse try in the world. He is, in fact, one of the star students of our little beginning roping clinic.

Lack of Horse Try Because of Misunderstanding
The second horse I introduced to roping training was Reyacita, a five-year-old mustang mare. Being a Metal horse personality type, Reyacita's primary goal in life is to understand her job clearly, and do it well. Once she understands her job, she will do it unfailingly. If her job description changes, she will demonstrate a lack of try.

When I first introduced Reyacita to roping, she lacked try because until then, her job had been "trail horse." Roping was not part of her resume.

Solution: To integrate roping into Reyacita's job description without having her buck me off, I started out slow. By introducing roping to her in several logical "chunks," she was able to understand her new job relatively quickly. For instance, we took it in these small steps:
  • practice the rope exercises (created by Stirrup Cup Farm) at home
  • introduce Reyacita to the Robosteer
  • have her follow the Robosteer in the correct position, rewarding her each time she does
  • practice throwing the lariat with the Robosteer at a standstill
  • practice throwing the lariat at the moving Robosteer
These small steps, introduced over several sessions, allowed Reyacita to add roping to her job description. She also demonstrated much more horse try than she had before. I also gave her Eleviv before each session because Metal horses are among the slowest learners of all the horse personality types (but once they learning something, they never forget!). Eleviv helps Metal horses learn new tasks more quickly while being less resistant.

Lack of Horse Try Because of Boredom
The final horse I put into roping training was my big mustang jumper mare, Valentine. Valentine is the prototypical Wood horse personality type: super talented, super competitive, and easily bored. Valentine has the talent to jump around super big jumper courses ... but getting her to do it consistently is another story. Jumping bored her to tears. After 2 seasons in the jumper ring, I was exhausted by Valentine's lack of horse try ... and I had the bruises to show for it.

Solution: Since Valentine does enjoy chasing things, like cows, I decided to try her at roping. She loves to do ranch sorting and team penning, but once she cuts her cow out of the herd, she just likes to run, whether she keeps the cow in control or not. Thus, I don't take her penning much.

But roping doesn't require rolling back on the fence line and going back after the cow if you lose it, so I thought roping might just be the perfect niche for her. She has never been afraid of the lariat, having pulled steers, posts, and all manner of other items with the lariat, but when I started working with the lariat at Stirrup Cup Farm, Valentine was a mess! Talk about lack of horse try! She spun in circles, she snorted, she acted silly. She wasn't afraid, just bored and acting out.

Dusty came up with the brilliant idea of moving the Robosteer, which she liked to follow, while I swung my rope. As soon as Valentine saw the Robosteer move, her competitive instinct kicked in. She flattened her ears and went after the steer like crazy. The lariat became of no importance. Suddenly, we had horse try. I was able to easily position her in the heeling position, and rope both hind feet. Presto! Horse try, at last.

What Will Increase Your Horse's Level of Try?
Every horse has plenty of "try" if you find the right motivation to awaken the horse's desire to try. The lazy horse with a sweet tooth may have more try when offered treats. The competitive horse, like Valentine, may need to redirect her competitive nature toward the steer instead of toward her rider. The fearful horse may need plenty of reassurance and slow introductions to new things. He may also need herbs like Eleviv or RelaxBlend to help him deal with stress.

Your horse's personality type often says a lot about why he won't try. Here's a short rundown of the types and the reasons they won't try.

Fire Horse: lack of attention from their human, knowing they can't do the job for physical reasons

Wood Horse: competes against the rider or trainer rather than against the clock or the steer

Earth Horse: too lazy; needs to be motivated by food treats or rewarded for effort with short workouts

Water Horse: fearful; needs slow introductions to new lessons in a safe environment, and lots of praise

Metal Horse: needs consistency and routine in training until he knows his job; if his job description changes, the change needs to be introduced slowly, in small chunks

I hope that helps you understand why the horse try may be lacking in your equine friend. To type your horse, visit the Horse Harmony Test website. To learn more about each type, read more or buy the book on the Horse Harmony website.

If you enjoyed this post, please consider leaving a comment or subscribing to the feed to have future articles delivered to your feed reader. Also, check out my ebook for wacky horses and humans, or holler at me if you want to know how I fund my horse addiction ... and you can, too!

Photo credit: Mary Duke of Stirrup Cup Farm

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Horse Health Care: Sunflower Seeds and More ...

Here's a guest comment/post from Garth, one of my readers in response to my blog post about hay testing.

It was so good that I just had to post it! I so dig great new information, especially about horse health care, nutrition, bodywork, and horsemanship.


Here's what Garth says:

I liked the blog. It's a good introduction to hay analysis. You could expand on it in the next issue.

I've been asking and getting a hay analysis for as long as I can remember, Our fields up here can vary so much from one farm to the next, and even one field to the next. I of course get my hay from the same farmer all the time and the same field: 15% to 20% alfalfa the rest orchard grass since my horses don't do to much but stand in the field all day.

It's to icy this year to ride cause we're having such a mild winter and very little snow.

The hay I get is deficient in selenium, always has been, so I buy a 5 pound bag and feed about a teaspoon a day per horse. Most supplements advertise they have selenium in their feed but the quantities are not adequate. You would have to feed 20 pounds of supplement a day to get an adequate amount of the mineral. Besides 5 pounds is cheap and it lasts for years. This is always a problem with supplements, the quantities are so benign almost to the point of making them ineffective because they have to cover such a broad spectrum of feeding situations. The base ingredient in supplements is grain so I have a bag of grain that I only feed if the horse works hard for a day and then not more than a cup.

Sunflower Seeds
The most important feed I give my horses is one cup or sometime two cups of sunflower seeds. They are cheap and the horses gobble them up like candy. Johnny Cash (pictured above) gets right upset if he doesn't get his seeds. This will supplement your carbo-deficiency. I feed 1/3 of a 70 lb. bale of hay per day per horse and if they get any fatter I'm going to cut that back. You will find that the seeds will make a huge difference in their coats. My horses never get blankets. Actually I don't own blankets and they have such lush coats their starting to shed already. It's going to be an early spring.

According to an equine nutritionist friend of mine there is everything in sunflower seeds that a horse needs in the way of supplements. I think so to, at least both my horse's have always been health and happy.

The last time I bought sunflower seeds the feed store was out of the straight sunflower seeds so I bought a big bag of the bird seed mostly sunflower but has some other seeds in there to. Johnny thinks he's getting an extra treat with this bag.

Looking forward to your next blog



Thanks for your feedback about horse feed, Garth. Sounds like you've got your horse health care and feeding program down pat. I love to learn about different feeds, their nutritional value, and how to feed them.

I appreciate you taking the time to write and share your information! Stephanie

Friday, March 19, 2010

Horse Health Care: Hope for Those Helping Horses in Pain

This article is dedicated to all those equine addicts who are also the patron saints of horses in pain.

This article is for those kind people who take in ill, injured, or otherwise hurting horses, and try to help them regain health.

If you are one of those people, I hope this article gives you the faith and patience you will probably need to nurse an ailing horse back to health because it's a marathon, not a sprint. And along the way, we horses lovers can become impatient, frustrated, and downright cranky about the process.

This article is to give you hope.

Helping Horses in Pain: Diagnosis
The first step in the journey is, of course, figuring out what's wrong because there may be multiple causes of pain. Take Fezzywig, for example, my adopted warmblood gelding (picture above from mid-March, 2010) who came to me with a roached back in November of 2009. The initial diagnosis, made with the aid of my holistic veterinarian Madalyn Ward, was that he had:
  • stomach adhesions
  • sore stifles from moving around with the roached back
  • a stuck sternum
  • stuck withers
  • overall poor muscle development
  • an injured left hind leg from a fall
All of these factors were contributing to his roached back. That was a lot to deal with. To alleviate these problems, I did the following:
  • bodywork almost daily
  • fed him double doses of my horse goo
  • backed him daily to help him develop his hindquarters
This program alleviated the stomach adhesions, sore stifles, and some of his muscle development issues. However, he still looked and acted like many horses in pain. He would not move around much, and had difficulty lying down and getting back up. Like any horse owner, I was starting to get impatient!

Helping Horses in Pain: Peeling the Onion
Luckily, Dr. Ward reminded me that healing horses in pain was a marathon, not a sprint, especially with horses like Fezzywig, who had had a chronic condition for a few years. To deal with his sternum and withers, which were still stuck and lower than his rear, we used the trailer to literally stretch him out.

I would walk him into the trailer, turned him around, and have him step his front feet on the ground. His hind feet remained in the trailer, which gave him a big stretch in his shoulders, withers, and sternum area. It literally "broke something loose" in those areas. He gave huge releases, with licking and chewing, and after a few sessions his withers actually rose by two inches or so.

Now I felt I could start ponying him and giving him short workouts. I ponied on a local trail, and did some short hill work. Fezzywig was shockingly out of shape, and became winded very quickly.

Aack! At this point I didn't know what to do with his horse health care regimen. Another call to Dr. Ward produced a further diagnosis. Now that we had fixed his hind end, withers, and sternum, we could see that he was still stuck in his diaphragm. In fact, Dr. Ward noted that his diaphragm was probably one giant adhesion. It was so stuck that he literally couldn't catch his breath.

More Horse Health Care Exercises
To deal with Fezzywig's diaphragm adhesions, I started backing him down a fairly steep hill, which he loved. This exercise shifts the weight of his organs off his diaphragm and down toward his tail. In turn, his diaphragm is freed up and he can take deep breaths, which he does. He loves walking down hill and does it with his nose on the ground, breathing deeply and licking and chewing.

The net effect of this horse health care exercise is that Fezzywig is breaking up the adhesions on his diaphragm with each deep breath he takes. After three days of this exercise, Fezzywig felt so good that he literally bucked, reared, ran and spun when I turned him back out. Now I know I'm on the right track.

To speed his recovery process, I also added 2 Eleviv to his diet. This herbal supplement helps bring horses back into their healing, or parasympathetic, nervous system. This supplement is especially important for horses who have been stuck in a chronic health condition for a long time.

I felt the Eleviv would help Fezzywig "get over the hump" and move through recovery more quickly. I know he needs this supplement because he eats it straight out of my hand. I also see an overall improvement in his attitude, hair coat, and more. Read more about how to use Eleviv for humans and horses in the free Natural Solutions ebook.

Helping Horses in Pain: The Ongoing Journey
Fezzywig sure looks a heck of a lot better than when I got him, but he still looks like a funny, lumpy giant horse. Sometimes when I see him in the pasture, I can't believe that anything has changed because he still looks so strange. But people who do not see him regularly are shocked at the changes in him. And when I see him running and playing now, I know that he is no longer one of those horses in pain. He still has health issues, but he's not in major pain.

If you are trying to help a horse in pain, don't worry if the journey seems to be taking longer than forever. Here are some lessons I've learned along the way with Fezzywig ... maybe they will help you, too:

1. Horses are Great Self Healers
You are just a channel. Don't worry about fixing your horse, just be a channel who delivers supplements, lays on hands, or simply comforts a horse in pain.

2. The Healing Methods Will Keep Changing
As soon as you think, "Aha! I've got the solution," your current healing approach will stop working. Don't panic. It usually means you've healed one layer of the problem, and now need to "peel back a layer of the onion" and deal with the next layer. You may go through 15 different healing modalities before you can truly heal horses in pain.

3. Get Help from a Professional
Chronically ill or unhealthy horses can be difficult for the amateur owner to treat alone, so you might need help along the way. While you may not be able to afford to have your vet or bodyworker out every week to work on your horse, try getting help every 6 months from a professional. You can do a lot by yourself, but sometimes the help of a professional can move the healing process forward by a quantum leap.

4. Listen to Your Horse's Native Wisdom

If your horse absolutely hates a certain supplement, chances are that he doesn't need it. This isn't always the case, but is mostly true. Fezzywig wasn't that interested in Eleviv early on in the process, but now he scarfs them down. Horses will tell you what they want if you pause long enough to listen.

5. It is Working? Document the Journey or Ask Someone Else
You see your horse every single day so sometimes you miss the progress that is occurring right before your eyes. If you don't trust that the healing process is at work, take pictures and write notes along the way to document your horse's progress. Look back at your old notes and pictures, and try to see differences.

Then check in with your buddies, the ones who don't see your horse everyday. They will be able to see marked changes even when you can't. Getting this kind of external validation will keep you from getting frustrated during the long healing process.

Helping Horses in Pain: It's Never Too Late

I like to think that it's never too late to have a happy childhood. I also think it's never too late to heal horses in pain. A good horse health care regimen, a huge dose of patience, a hunger to learn more about healing, and pure love can work miracles on these horses.

Most horses in pain want help but are somehow "stuck" in their illness. If we can do little things here and there to shift them, even half a degree, we have started the healing process. A half degree here, a couple of degrees there ... and voila! You've got healing. One more item of note: just about any change in pattern is a sign of healing for a chronically unhealthy horse. Movement is life, so a shift from one pattern to another is a sign of progress.

Good luck, have patience, and just love your horses. It's good for them ... and so good for you!

If you enjoyed this post, please consider leaving a comment or subscribing to the feed to have future articles delivered to your feed reader. Also, check out my ebook for wacky horses and humans, or holler at me if you want to know how I fund my horse addiction ... and you can, too!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Horse Training: Taking Advantage of the Horse Herd Instinct

Horse herd instinct works to your disadvantage when you are working with a herd-bound horse, but you can definitely use it to your advantage in horse training when introducing a new and possibly scary concept.

Call it group think or the hundredth monkey principle ... or possibly just the tenth horse principle.

Whatever you call it, the horse herd instinct can help you train a horse faster than in a solo environment. With herd instinct always at play in the background, a "newbie" horse can quickly learn something new by watching one or more experienced horses do the very thing you want to teach.

The Roping Clinic: An Example of "Group Think"
A classic example of horse "group think" was a session of a roping clinic, a while back, with my sometimes "freaky" horse, Walker. Just for a little background, this was the first session of the clinic where horses were involved. The first two sessions of this clinic focused on teaching us wannabe ropers to swing the rope ... and avoid hitting unexpected objects and people.

During this third session, the horses were introduced to the Robo-Steer, a mechanical steer on wheels guided by remote control. The Robo-Steer is covered in cowhide and looks kind of like a steer, but makes funny noises when moving ... and moves its hind legs back and forth, up and down as it moves. It also creaks. A potentially scary object for any horse.

To help ease the horses into working with the Robo-Steer, Mary and Dusty of Stirrup Cup Farm had invited Walker and I to come up and work with the Robo-Steer prior to this session of the clinic. Walker and I played with the Robo-Steer a couple of times before the clinic, until Walker was familiar with the machine and actually liked chasing it!

During the clinic, with all horses present, Mary and Dusty had me and Walker follow the steer along with my neighbor (Katee) on her mare, who had never seen such a machine. All the other horses watched. At first, Katee's mare snorted and would not get close to the Robo-Steer. However, after seeing Walker walk calmly beside the steer and touch it with his nose, she gradually got into the game.

As soon as she touched the machine with her nose, Dusty would stop it. This became a game of "cat and mouse," and the mare became fascinated with the idea that SHE could control the machine just by touching it. That got her interested in chasing the Robo-Steer, fast!

Using Herd Instinct: The Rest of the Group Joins In
Once Katee and I had followed the steer for three circuits of the arena, the rest of the horses "ganged up" on the machine in pairs. It was amazing to see how each pair of horses learned to accept the Robo-Steer. Each pair showed progressively less fear than the pair before. In other words, by seeing other pairs of horses chase the machine and return to the group unharmed, the remaining horses learned to be unafraid. What was interesting was that the horses that were watching actually licked and chewed as they watched ... a sure sign of learning and acceptance in "horse speak."

The "group think" idea worked great until the last pair of horses. One of these horses was a spooky young colt, and despite the fact that his partner horse was fine, he himself refused to get close to the machine. So Walker and I, along with another horse and rider, joined the pair up by the Robo-Steer.

Now we had a "herd" of four horses ganging up on the machine, three of whom were unafraid of the machine. With the addition of two new horses to the "herd," the spooky colt quickly learned to touch the steer. In fact, it took only two circuits of the arena for this horse, who was truly scared, to accept the machine. Once the colt lost his fear, the two of us who had joined the group peeled off and returned to the end of the arena. Then the original pair of horses made a couple more loops around the arena, touching and stopping the machine easily.

It was amazing! Even though we needed to introduce seven new horses to the Robo-Steer, the whole process took less than an hour. And each new pair that approached the machine, with the exception of the scared colt, was progressively less and less fearful.

Horse Training and Putting the Herd Instinct to Use
This example of "group think" probably explains why many horses do so well learning at clinics, in a group or herd environment. The herd instinct allows them to learn through the experiences of other horses at the clinic. It works the same for humans, too. Have you ever been to a workshop and literally leapt up a learning curve, almost effortlessly? That's because you are tapping into the pool of group energy.

The good news is that you don't necessarily have to have an entire "herd" to use the herd instinct for your horse training program. This herd instinct phenomenon works well with just two or three horses.

For instance, Mary and Dusty often put young colts in their round pen, which is right next to the arena, while they rope the mechanical steer with more experienced horses. The colts get the watch the older horses schooling, and learn that neither the steer nor the rope are to be feared. When these colts go into training they are tractable and very easy to teach, having already "previewed" the lessons many times.

In fact, this herd instinct is so powerful that they can literally rope off colt who has never been roped off of, almost from day one. Not only that, but the colts go into training already tuned into the idea that it's fun to chase the mechanical steer. Now that's pretty cool! It saves you, the cowboy or cowgirl, a lot of time and effort, not to mention decreasing your chances of getting bucked off or run away with.

Using Group Think with Traumatized Horses
The herd instinct is a particularly powerful tool for horse training for traumatized horses. Walker is the perfect example. Having been repeatedly roped as an almost-feral three-year-old, Walker associated the rope with all things bad, including castration, vaccinations, and intensive training.

Two things helped Walker get over his fear of ropes:

1. Standing in the arena (with me on the ground or in the saddle) watching Dusty rope the Robo-Steer. This taught him that we were never going to rope him, only the mechanical steer. Watching Dusty rope over and over, edging closer to him all the time, Walker finally realized that no matter how close the rope came to him, the loop was never going to end up around his neck.

2. Getting 2 capsules of Eleviv herbal supplement before starting the lesson. Since Walker would immediately go into his "fight or flight" sympathetic nervous system whenever he saw the rope, the Eleviv was useful to keep him relaxed in his normal parasympathetic nervous system. When operating from this nervous system, he was able to be receptive to the lesson and watch Dusty rope without fear. Without the Eleviv, I wasn't able to get Walker into the arena when Dusty was roping. With his herbal "helper," Walker was willing to try new things. It helped him think rather than react.

So there you have it. The 100th monkey principle works great on horses because they already operate from their herd instinct. Throw in some Eleviv for horses who have been traumatized, and you now have two new tools for your horse training tool box.

Awesome! I love anything that saves me from getting tossed in the dirt!

If you enjoyed this post, please consider leaving a comment or subscribing to the feed to have future articles delivered to your feed reader. Also, check out my ebook for wacky horses and humans, or holler at me if you want to know how I fund my horse addiction ... and you can, too!

Photo credit: Mary Duke of Stirrup Cup Farm

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Horse Health Care: Using the Trailer to Help a Roach-Backed Horse

Roach-backed horses can be very difficult for the average owner to treat, especially if they want to use a do-it-yourself approach. These horses have a "hump" in their spine, usually where the hips join the rest of the ribcage.

This hump is usually caused by some sort of accident or traumatic event, and is difficult to resolve because so many parts of the body are involved. The necessary adjustments can often be difficult for a horse owner to perform.

Fezzywig: A Case in Point
Fezzywig is my roach-backed adopted horse. He jumped out of a tall corral as a youngster, and thereafter had a hump in his back. Although his horse health care program involves a lot of daily bodywork, I still could not free up some of his lumbar vertebrae myself. He would also get continually stuck in his withers, so that in addition to his roached back, he had a downhill posture with a large dip behind his withers.

Adjusting him so that he stays in the correct posture is extremely difficult. For one thing, he's 16.2 hands and not always very cooperative when I want to adjust him. Second, he is so stuck that even if I do manage to adjust him (using Equine Touch, Bowen, network chiropractic, or stretching), his muscle memory flips him right back into his roach-backed posture within an hour or two.

Talk about frustrating!

Enter the Trailer for Horse Health Care Bodywork
At the height of my frustration, I called Dr. Madalyn Ward to help me. We decided that we needed to use some "tools" to shake his muscle memory loose ... and we needed to do it in a way that wouldn't cause my body to be too sore. She suggested that I continue my backing exercises, but also start backing him up a steep hill.

While we do have a steep hill in the neighborhood, it's about a mile away, and I needed some horse health care approaches I could use daily that were easy and convenient. I had tried to use some of the Linda Tellington-Jones approaches, such as having Fezzywig walk over poles of different heights to shake loose his muscle memory, but being a Wood horse personality (learn more about horse personality typing here) he just knocked them over and walked through him. No use.

Then Madalyn came up with the brilliant idea of using the trailer as my "hill." Instead of backing Fezzy up a hill, she wondered whether I could back him into the trailer. I decided to give it a try, since I don't have access to a chiropractor here, and I love to do my own horse health care.

The Trailer as a Bodywork and Body Awareness Tool
Our first attempts at backing into the trailer were less than useless. Although Fezzy understood what I wanted, he couldn't seem to manage it. So I broke the exercise down into smaller pieces to see what was getting in the way.

Walking In and Backing Out
First I walked Fezzy into the trailer so that all four feet were in. Next, I asked him to back out of the trailer, which is different than how we normally exit the trailer front feet first. It took him quite a while to get organized enough to back out. At first, he could not seem to hold his weight on one hind leg while stepping to the ground with the other. After about 5 tries, he was able to so, although his muscles quivered a bit. We did this exercise several times successfully, and he showed many releases. He licked and chewed, yawned, and moved his tongue around.

Then I tried a different variation. I walked him into the trailer so that only his front feet were in the trailer while his back feet remained on the ground. I praised him. Next, I asked him to step one foot at a time into the trailer. I was surprised that he had a lot of difficulty doing so.

He grunted and had to sort of "launch" himself into the trailer to get in. This told me that his stifles and hindquarters were still quite weak, despite the backing we had been doing. That was a good diagnostic piece of information. When he was able to do this exercise successfully a few times, I stopped and moved on. I did not want him to strain his stifles, which had been quite sore when I got him (though they are not sore anymore).

Walking In and Walking Out
Next I tried the opposite variation. I walked Fezzy into the trailer front feet first and with all four feet in the trailer. Then I turned him around so that he was facing the back of the trailer. From there, I asked him to step only his front feet to the ground and halt. This left his hind feet in the trailer.

This posture achieved the same kind of position I would look for had I been backing him up a steep hill-the position that would free up the stuck lumbar vertebrae. The posture also clearly knocked some of muscle memory loose. Fezzy was happy to stand there for 5 minutes or more. He licked and chewed and dropped his head straight to the ground. I had him rest alternate hind feet on the toe so that his pelvis would shift back and forth a bit, too. He was fine with holding his hind end on one leg while resting the other leg, both ways.

Finally, I asked him to back up and bring his front feet back into the trailer. This was considerably more difficult for him than stepping out of the trailer. He had to spend a few minutes getting organized and thinking through how to accomplish this. He finally managed to do so, with a bit of stumbling and bumbling. I showered him with praise. We then repeated the exercise several times. I can see that this maneuver works his core muscles ... a lot! This excites me because Fezzy has always appeared pot-bellied with a bulging bottom line. I believe this maneuver seriously engages his core abdominal muscles and will help him build strength in his hind end as well.

Wow, what a tool for my horse health care toolkit!

What I've Learned from the Trailer Exercises
Based on the responses Fezzy gave me during these exercises, I concluded that he does not have the strength in his hind end yet to back into the trailer by himself. However, I do think that the intermediate exercises that he was able to do will make changes to his posture and start engaging the correct muscles for movement. I also believe that daily use of this exercise will shake free some of the stuck lumbar vertebrae, as well as the areas stuck between his sternum and withers.

Fezzy certainly likes these exercises, and I noticed a great deal more movement across his hips after I turned him loose. I will continue to work with these exercises as a form a chiropractic adjustment and muscle retraining. Using a big immovable object like a trailer forces Fezzy to think about where his body parts are placed, and how to use them in a coordinated manner to complete these exercises. While he normally looks quite balanced in pasture, his inability to properly engage the right muscles in his back, abdominals, and hindquarters due to his injury means he is actually quite unbalanced.

I love the continuing journey of bodywork. I love the innovations, the learning, the growth, and the increasing bond I have with Fezzywig, who, despite being a Wood horse personality, tries really hard and fights me very little. Amazing. More updates to come, of course!

If you enjoyed this post, please consider leaving a comment or subscribing to the feed to have future articles delivered to your feed reader. Also, check out my ebook for wacky horses and humans, or holler at me if you want to know how I fund my horse addiction ... and you can, too!

Photo credit: / CC BY 2.0

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

A Letter of Thanks from a Zen Cowgirl to her Parents for NOT Buying a Horse

This is a letter of thanks to my parents for not buying me everything I thought I wanted (translation: a horse!) when I was younger. Now that may not sound like big news because every parent knows that they shouldn't buy their child everything he or she wants ... unless they want a very spoiled child.

The Child's Point of View
But what about from the child's point of view? It doesn't always make sense from a child's point of view why our parents won't buy us the very thing we most want. It seems unfair. It seemed unfair to me when I was growing up. It's not until now, when I'm in my 30s, that I realize what a favor my parents did for me by not buying me the thing I thought I most wanted as I was growing up: a horse.

I have been horse-mad since I was four years old, when my mom took me to my first riding lesson. Love at first sight. And of course I saw tons of other girls riding, too, many of them on their own horses. I soon began asking my parents for a horse of my own. I really hoped I would wake up on Christmas morning and find one in the driveway ... no dice and no horse.

But my parents did get me lots of lessons and lots of opportunities. They gave me the privilege of once-a-week lessons as well as often paying so I could rent a horse for an hour on the weekends. Later on they paid so I could lease a horse and really do some serious riding. I always thought that they were buying me riding lessons instead of buying me a horse. I didn't appreciate the difference at all. Little did I know that they were giving me so much more by not buying me a horse. Here's what they gave me by NOT buying me a horse:

1. A Desire to Learn "How To"
Because my parents didn't buy me the perfect horse right away, I rode lesson horses. Lesson horses, those poor, patient, and benighted animals, are often sour, tired, and kind of cranky. But since they represented my only chance to ride, I wanted, by golly, to make every ride count.

So I learned to make those poor tired lesson horses go, and I developed a deep thirst for learning how to work with lots of different horses. If my parents had bought me "the perfect horse" I would never have appreciated it. I would have just assumed that riding was easy and probably gotten bored with it. Instead I now have a great desire to "crack the code" on how best to ride every horse ... as well as how to solve life problems.

2. A Work Ethic
Even though my parents never bought me a horse outright, they gave me lots of opportunities to increase my riding time through bartering and work (in addition to giving me lessons outright). I remember my mom agreeing to trade dishwashing services for riding lessons (and overlooking many a still-greasy pot!).

I have to say that there was probably no greater motivating force in my childhood than a riding lesson, so by trading work for lessons they taught me how to have a work ethic, even though it didn't feel too much like work. They also loaned me the money when I wanted to buy my first horse (that's me and Marcus in that pic up there) and gave me extremely generous payment terms of $100 a month!

3. The Ability to Think It Through
Every time I asked my parents if I could have a horse, they would ask me lots of questions I couldn't answer. They wanted to know how much a horse cost, how I would know whether a horse was good, how to keep a horse in good health, how to find the right horse, how much it costs to keep the horse per month, and so on.

As a youngster I couldn't answer those questions at all, but I did find out. Later on, when I knew the answers to those questions, my parents taught me the budgeting and analysis skills necessary to buy and keep my own horse, without getting into financial trouble. Since my first horse I've had over a dozen and always known exactly how to plan for their care. The same applies to everything else I've ever wanted in my life as well. If my parents had just bought me the perfect horse, who knows? I might have ended up on skid row!

So Thank You ...
Although I probably pouted when I was a kid instead of saying "Thank you!" for not buying me a horse all those years, looking back now I realize what a huge favor my parents did me. Yes, I was green with envy back then watching those girls on $50,000 horses kick my behind in the show ring but now I can kick almost anyone's behind in a show ring on a $125 horse.

Mummy and Bubby (that's Mom and Dad in Chinese-English), you gave me that. You gave me the desire to learn, the confidence to know I can do anything I want in life, and the skills to take me to any goal. I didn't tell you "Thank you" back then, so I'm telling you now. I'm no longer that young girl but I'll always be your child and I so appreciate everything that you've done for me. Looking back this is just one of the ways you both allowed and guided me to be the happy person I am today. There are too ways many to write them all here.

Postscript ...
If you are a kid and you're reading this, I hope that you have the same opportunity I have had to really grow into knowing what I really want. I hope somewhere along the road your parents don't give you everything you want right away. I hope they hold something back, make you work a little, make you see what you're made of. It will be a priceless gift beyond any money or thing they could give you. And I hope you see and appreciate that gift somewhere along the way and say "thank you" to your parents, too.

Thank you and love,