Monday, March 14, 2011

Horse Training: Sometimes Slower is Faster

With my slow horse, Fezzywig, going faster is better because he needs to have enough "oomph" to get going. On the other hand, with my speedy Shao Yang temperament mare, Samantha, slower is better.

Samantha (picture to the left) is apt to hit Mach-1 with a light tap of my leg on her side. I fact, if I just wiggle my leg accidentally against her side she tends to take off. Everything is fast with her-her feet, her mind, her soul.

Getting Samantha Low and Slow
Jumping is no big deal for Samantha. Even though she is technically a large pony (around 14 hh) jumping 3'3" is nothing for her. She can do it without a second thought. It's the loping in between the jumps that is sometimes troublesome. She wants to GO!

Asking Samantha to slow down by pulling on her face is ridiculous because she just goes faster. About the only thing that works is to sit down deep in the saddle and sort of wiggle your booty. That slows her down but takes a lot of effort and isn't always possible in complicated in-and-out jumper lines.

Instead, I want low-and-slow to be something that comes more naturally to Samantha so we don't spend much time jumping. We spend a lot more time walking and trotting, with me encouraging her to stretch out her neck and body long and low. We also do lateral work with the focus also being long and low.

The funny thing is that Samantha always tries sixteen ways to get out of slow work at first, but after a while she settles down into it. She drops her head down low, licks and chews, sighs, and breathes deep. Her stride gets longer and slower. And then we quit.

In between, when we do a jumping session, Samantha is a lot less spooky and tends to bolt a lot less. She remembers to breathe between jumps, and it all works out a lot better.

Two Supplements for Getting Low and Slow
For horses like Samantha, who tend to be like speedy Gonzalez, there are two supplements that tend to get them slow and relaxed. One is Eleviv (see the link at the end of this post), an herbal supplement that keeps horses and humans out of their "fight or flight" nervous system. The other one is Relax Blend, which also keeps horses relaxed, especially if they are high-strung and have to be kept on stall rest or otherwise confined.

Samantha is a picky eater and turns her nose up at anything that isn't "good for her" in her opinion. She eats both the Eleviv and the Relax Blend easily, and I trust her to know what is good for her. I give Samantha a couple of Eleviv capsules when we have a jumping session, and before hauling out to a show. It seems to work well. Samantha, a short little pony mustang, has been known to beat six to eight fancy warmbloods in the hunter ring, even in a hack class!

I like it ... and so does she!

The stuff I use and recommend in this blog works for me. Want to learn more? Go HERE!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

When a Moose has Wings!

The usual expression of disbelief is, "When pigs fly!" but I have to say that it is just as amazing to watch a Moose fly ... in this case, Fezzywig (named Moose by his former mother). Yup, that's right, he can fly.

If you have been following my blog then you know that Fezzywig is my roach-backed warmblood gelding. He suffered an injury when he was quite young (he is now a coming 5 year old) and developed a roach back as a result. Although is very well-bred for dressage or jumping, his injury has limited his athletic ability during the time he has been with me.

Now he has wings!

From Stuck to Soaring
How did Fezzywig learn to fly? Literally via "trial by fire." Although I had done a lot of bodywork on him, and equine veterinarian extraordinaire Dr. Madalyn Ward had done a deep bodywork session on him last September, he was still stuck.

When I rode Fezzy he was stuck in his feet and could not move out well. He walked and trotted slowly, and getting him into the lope was a challenge. Internal adhesions and his funny roach-backed posture seemed to be hindering him.

I decided to try jumping him over some significant jumps to see whether stretching his body over jumps would break loose some adhesions and free up his gait. It turns out that jumping Fezzy is no easy task. He knocks over every movable jump and delights in taking them apart and dragging them into the ditch at night.

The solution? Jumps made of concrete blocks, barrels, heavy poles, and other similar immovable objects. Aha! Now here are some jumps that Fezzy has to really try to get over since they don't come down so easily!

The result? He has learned to soar, and his gaits are getting much freer with each jumping session. Being a pretty big galoot, it took some good-sized jumps to get his attention. We started at 2'3" and moved up to about 3' because he didn't bother picking up his front legs over the 2' jumps.

What's Next for Fezzywig?
Now that jumping has freed up his body, I am going back to doing a lot of the lateral work that I could not get him to do previously. He simply didn't have enough "steam" to do side-passes, leg yields, or haunches in. Now, after having jumped quite a bit, he does.
The ability to move freely forward at the walk has made those lateral flexing exercises so much more possible!

In addition, Fezzywig continues to be on his program of Horse Goo (made up of blue-green algae products and this healthy juice) to keep him limber. I've been giving him double doses on the days I jump him so his muscles and joints don't tighten up. It seems to be working well for him, as he moves better after every jumping session.

Stay tuned for more on the Flying Moose!

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