Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Trail Ride at Canyon Lake with my Daughter...

This is going to be a hard story to write, and I've purposely let myself have a few days to absorb everything that happened before I tried to tell it. But here goes...

Breathe organized a trail ride at Canyon Lake to take place on a Sunday morning. I had convinced (basically mandated) that my daughter V attend with me on her horse Lola. I wanted the father-daughter bonding time, and I also wanted to "push" V into riding the horse that she had me buy her. To this point, her riding has been rare and for short rides.

The day before, V and I went on a trail ride in my neighborhood, where Lola had cantered for a short burst and sent V into a total panic. But after she recovered, she admitted it had been kind of fun. But V had never really cantered before that time, and I've been frustrated at her reluctance to even TRY to canter. Mainly because I know a rider can't expect a horse to NEVER canter, and the longer she puts it off, the bigger her freak out is going to be when the horse DOES canter. V is a very beginner rider, and doesn't always accept instruction well. She's my daughter, so I can say this, but I KNOW she has to be pushed sometimes.

Her attitude was bright on Sunday morning. We joined the riders at the trail head, and tacked up. Lola was being very good and relaxed, and V seemed relaxed as well, but with some of the nervous tension that we all have when riding with new horses. We headed out and all went well for much of the ride. Several times, Lola and V were walking SO slowly, they fell way behind, and I had to circle back and encourage her to trot.

Lola and V (in front), along with Sharon bringing up the rear

Woody, my Azteca mount, was a handful, and very much wanted to be in the front of the herd, which I could NOT allow him to do because I had to keep an eye out for V and Lola. In fact, he was being a huge pain in the rear, and I was regretting riding him in the snaffle I had chosen for the ride, because I was having a hard time rating his speed.

It was a perfect trail ride, and we were well on our way home when we came upon a nice, long, clear stretch of the trail. The front of the herd loped/trotted through the area, and I stayed back with V.

I then had the foolish notion that ended in disaster. Even though I almost NEVER lope when headed back to the trailer, I felt we were far enough away from the end of the trail ride that perhaps a lope wouldn't be out of the question. By this point, V had been trotting aggressively and seemed more comfortable with speed. I grabbed her lead rope with my right hand, kept her on my right, and told her we would go a little faster through this area. I had been ponying she and Lola at several points along the trail in an effort to encourage V to trot with me and keep up, and that had been working well, with me using Woody to keep Lola going.

We started off at a trot, and went into an easy lope. V was getting nervous, but was also smiling, so I thought I had made the correct decision to push her. Then it got ugly.

Woody accelerated, and Lola responded in kind. In a heartbeat, we were in a flat out out run. I hauled back on Woody's reins, but he had the snaffle out of his way and he was off to the races. V was hauling on Lola, but the two horses were in a competition, and they were both hard headed horses that wanted to win at all costs. We were nothing on their backs, and they had forgotten we even existed at that point. It was my worst nightmare; V was on a run away horse.

I realized at this point that the only way to stop Woody or Lola was a one-rein stop. But I had my right hand occupied with the lead rope, and I couldn't perform the maneuver. V had no idea how to do a one rein stop, and so she couldn't rate Lola down.

We were fast approaching the herd, and I hoped Woody and Lola would slow as we approached and allow me to regain control. But it quickly became apparent they intended to run through the herd and continue the race back to the end of the trail.

I started to circle Woody to the left, the only clear spot available, although it was marked by heavy grass and low brush. I figured that circling him to a stop was my only option. He did circle, and started to slow, but we were circling at a canter, and I knew this move was going to be tough for V to handle. I tried to make the circle as gradual as possible, hoping she would be able to ride through it. Lola only circled because I still had hold of the lead rope, but she was circling very wide, and the pressure for me to hold onto the lead rope was intense.

What happened next was told to me, as I was too busy with my task at hand to see it all. Apparently, the saddle started to slip off Lola as we went into that circle, and V started to slide off Lola with the saddle. At some point, she realized the situation was hopeless, and she lept off Lola, landing in the only clear spot of grass around. Lola continued on, and then started to kick at and destroy the saddle as it slipped underneath her body. At that point, I knew V was off, and the burn and pain in my hand told me I was losing flesh on my hand from my grip on that lead rope, and I released Lola and the lead rope. Lola finally ground to a halt, the saddle in pieces underneath her and the lead rope wrapped around her leg.

I can't begin to tell you the feeling in my stomach as I saw V on the ground. But I heard her starting to cry, and I knew that was a good sign. An even better one was when I saw her struggle to her feet. I jumped off Woody and handed the reins to another rider, and rushed to V, trying not to reveal the concern in my voice.

She was OK. Obviously she was shaken up, but she had no broken bones and no head injuries. Immediately, the other riders present, all female, told V that "these things happen", "oh, you should hear some of my stories about falling off a horse", "you didn't do anything wrong, it was the saddle", and so on.

I knew V was going to come off a horse sooner or later, and I knew it was going to be sooner, because her balance is bad and she hasn't been pushing herself to be a better rider. But I sure hadn't wanted it to be indirectly because of my actions. But I could NOT have asked for a better environment for V to be in when she did come off Lola. The riders were SO supportive, and not at ALL babying. In fact, after she had gotten most of her tears done with, they MADE her get up on another horse, a tall Tennessee Walker, and had her ride him to end of the trail. By the end, she was smiling and felt all the love and encouragement from the "girl power" that was infused into her.

I tied up the horses, and then left V to change into her bathing suit. Despite her fall, she wanted to "swim with the horses" as all the other riders were preparing to do.

I removed the broken saddle from Lola, tacked her up in my gear, and proceeded to ride the snot out of her back on the trail, and leading AWAY from the other horses. I wanted to kill both she and Woody, but for now, I was going to let her know that she needed to pay attention to signals. As suspected, she tested me a little bit, but she otherwise rode well, and after a few tries, was stopping so hard she jammed my spine. In other words, the situation was a difficult one, and she didn't have the rider to control her in that set of circumstances, and that's how I got us in the pickle that developed.

I changed into my swim trunks, and V and I "swam with our horses" leading them into Canyon Lake until the water was to their backs. V LOVED it. I couldn't get her out of the water. She enjoyed the entire experience, and delighted in cavorting with the other riders and their horses in such a unique treat of lounging in the water with the horses.

We finally got out of the water, and tied up the horses, letting them eat hay and dry slowly with the sun. The rest of the riders set up a picnic. V and I joined in, and were glad we had packed a healthy lunch. The stories went round and round the table, with many riders recounting their disasters and triumphs with various horses. V definitely felt she had experienced her own adventure.

We rested at home, and then V and I headed out on another trail ride that same day, and I taught V the one rein stop. She grinned wildly when she felt how quickly Lola stopped when she just used one rein rather than both. You could tell she enjoyed knowing how to use this "emergency brake".

V and Lola on a trail ride AFTER the fall...she's smiling!

Notice also the loop rein, breast collar, neoprene cinch, tight rear cinch, tie down, and bit with long shanks; I wasn't going to leave my baby defenseless again.

Since this past Sunday, V has shared her story with all her relatives and friends, and the story is getting better and more embellished with each telling. I am sorry V had to fall, but I actually feel the experience has helped her to grow by leaps and bounds, and has improved her horsemanship immensely.

As for Dad, well, you know I learned a lot, too. And I'll be scaling back on cantering on the trail, but I WILL be pushing V in the round pen; and I think she'll handle it just fine.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

A Quick Ride on Woody

I haven't had much time to ride this week, but I did squeeze in a ride on Woody, my approximately 17 year old Azteca gelding. For a number of rides, when I ride in the front pasture, I've been circling all my horses in the same direction around two cones, and cueing for the correct lead while doing so. The idea was to be consistent, and see if this would help the horses learn correct lead departures. I hoped to be doing figure 8's at the canter, and eventually see if I could get some flying lead changes.

I put Woody through his paces, and he IMMEDIATELY picked up the correct leads going around both cones, right one way and left the other. Not a single misstep. He knew which direction I was going to ask for, and was ANTICIPATING the lead even before I could ask for it.

I then tried a few figure 8's, but slowing to a trot between circles, and again he was consistent. That was enough for me for the day, and I eased him out to do some trail riding.

I was riding him in a German martingale, to re-train him to keep himself in a bit more collected state. I don't think I had to get in his mouth more than a half a dozen times. I used my body to do all speed transitions and stops. It was amazing. He was a bit dull in the first 10 minutes, but the less I touched him with the reins, the softer and more responsive he became. It was like he was judging me as rider, trying to decide how "on" he needed/could be, and responded appropriately. In other words, as I've described him many times, he adjusts to his rider.

He only has a few faults: his trot is rough and requires a vigorous post, he raises his head more than I'd like when he's excited, and he can get energetic when he's headed home. I can't fault him for his trot; that's just how God made him. I can control his energy headed home. And the German martingale has done well to remind him to keep his head collected with use about every third ride.

But short of that, I'm always amazed when I ride him. This was even more obvious after riding the young filly over the weekend. It's such a contrast between a horse who knows everything and one who is just learning everything.

Thank you Woodrow, for such a great ride!

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

A Noteworthy Ride on a Young Horse...

I had occasion to go to South Texas and the ranch this past weekend. Unfortunately, I was already hauling a tractor, so I wasn't able to take any of my horses, and didn't anticipate getting any riding time. But as luck would have it, I did ride!

I went to James's ranch in Ramirez, TX. The soil there is sandy and fertile. It's good for growing grass and watermelon. He and my cousin had taken their horses to the vet to have Coggins' tests pulled, and James had managed to convince my cousin they should ride later that day. I drove over from the JAG Ranch in Benavides, TX with the friend who had accompanied me from San Antonio.

James was going to ride "Sugar", his older, grade QH mare. She's a solid mount, and usually offers no foolishness. My cousin was going to ride his red roan grade QH, aka "The Red Roan or Nacho". That horse has one heck of a smooth trot. The plan was to pony my cousin's filly, a grade QH/mustang cross about 3 years old, named "Mustang Sally". No one really wanted to mount the filly, as she hadn't been worked in about a year, and her training even up to that point hadn't been exactly solid. She'd been ridden, but when pastured a year ago, there were still a lot of issues left to be worked out.

I offered to handle the filly on the ground a bit. I made her lower her head, yield hindquarters, longe a bit, did some desensitization with the lead rope on different parts of her body, touched her all over, and generally just worked her until she licked and chewed and I felt had her attention. Now I knew I didn't have her RAPT attention, but I had more than when she was caught in the pasture 30 minutes prior. Maybe it was pride, because my cousin had been giving me grief about my blog that he teased me was self-serving. Maybe it was foolishness. But I announced that I would ride the filly.

I got a few stares. I think someone even called me crazy. But I tacked her up anyway. I wasn't going to be using a bit I would prefer to use in a young horse like her, but it was a bit with which I was familiar. I snugged up the cinch and rear strap well, lest she start bucking and throw the saddle. I half-mounted her several times, partly because I wanted her to stand still for mounting, partly because I wanted her to get used to the weight in the stirrup, and partly because she's damn near mutton-withered and I needed a good jump to mount her properly!

Finally, I was on her back. She wasn't quivering underneath me, but I could definitely feel tension. I worked on flexing her laterally from the saddle. She did very well. My cousin told me later that this was something the charro that had trained her some had worked on extensively. nice to see some of the lessons had stuck.

We headed out, James on Sugar, my cousin Frankie on Nacho, and me on Sally. Sally followed willingly, a little too willingly. It was obvious she was following them not because I wanted her to, but because SHE wanted to. This was obvious when I tried to stop her, and she resisted the bit and wanted to follow after the other two horses. I asked James and Frankie to stop for a moment, and then worked on stopping her. I knew she was stopping because the herd was stopped, but I wanted to at least cue her some to stop in case I needed a better stop down the trail. She had absolutely NO back up, I mean NONE. Pressure and cues to back up were just met with a lock down - no movement in any direction, a total "freeze". Frankie then told me that she had never learned to back up with the charro either. Hmm, this was going to be weird. I tend to really use the back up to settle a horse. That option was gone.

I did a lot of circling while the herd moving forward. That way, she would get used to turning away from the others, but then immediately get to turn back, a source of security for her. But each circle was bigger, and her turn AWAY from the herd a little longer.

We rode to a back pasture, where James had the idea we would work the cow herd back through some corrals to another pasture. Ordinarily, with three horses, I'd say that should be a reasonable task. But I knew I was going to be virtually worthless with Sally. As we walked, she wandered like a drunken sailor stumbling home, and I was constantly tweaking her to get her to walk straight. She also had a habit of wanting to walk next to the other horses, in such close proximity that she was TOUCHING and rubbed up on the other horse. Again, Frankie told me that this was one of her habits. Well, not with me! That felt absolutely dangerous to be letting her do that, so I started to anticipate her movement, and tipped her head away as soon as she started with this behavior. She still wanted to sneak her rear end over to touch the horses, however, so I had to put some leg pressure on her to get her hind end over. I was pretty nervous applying leg pressure to her - I didn't know if she'd blow up! But I came to realize that her problem is not one of "blowing up" but rather the "freeze". She is virtually dead to anything but extreme cues. When she feels pressured, she just stops dead in her tracks and won't move.

So on we rode to find the cow herd. James then informed me that Sally had never really seen cows, been in the same pasture with cows, and certainly never worked cows. Hoo boy, this was going to be interesting. Sugar had seen cows plenty. The roan had been a roping and sorting cow horse. But Sally was green.

We spotted the herd, and started to slowly move in. But necessarily, this meant that we had to split up some. As the other horses got further away, Sally's anxiety level increased. I could feel it. At one point, the other horses were out of sight, and Sally and I approached one particular cow that was reluctant to move. She started to freak out. She whinnied as loud as she could for the other horses. Her head was straight up in the air. She wanted to know where the other horses were and was calling for them to join her. The roan answered back from the brush just as loudly, only adding to Sally's anxiety and pretty much convincing her that she was indeed about to die.

Well, at this point, it was obvious that what little connection I had with Sally was gone. I was NOT in control and she was going to do whatever the herd dictated. I tried to move her forward, turn her, anything, but she was locked down and "frozen". "This is when the buck is going to happen," I thought. What to do?

I dismounted, and started to longe Sally. I had left a lead rope and halter attached in case I needed to do this, so I was prepared. It took some effort, but I got her unfrozen and started her moving in circles around me. About the same time, Frankie rode over with the red roan. He didn't say anything, but I suspect he was nervous with the red roan calling out so forcefully to the filly. I doubt my longeing had much effect, but the filly did settle down. But I think that was a result of her being close to the roan again, more than my efforts to get her to connect with me.

We rode on, but I was content to just keep Sally moving along the general direction of the cow herd, and with the roan close by. She obviously didn't have the confidence or number of rides needed to do much more than just walk a bit.

We caught up to James, who had abandoned his efforts at moving the cow herd. There was no way he was going to be able to do that solo and without riders on the wings of the herd, and Sally and the roan had proven they were not going to do much to help this ride.

We settled in and rode on together for a few more miles. Sally did start walking straighter, and gained some confidence. I rode her ahead of the others at a trot at times. She kept looking back, but I kept her moving and anticipated the "freeze" better. I was trying to build up her confidence. I think it worked some.

The same number of riders that left, came back, and that's the mark of a good ride any day. The horses got a work out, and I got my adrenalin fix for the day, for sure.

At the end of the ride, Frankie complimented me on the size of my "guts" (another term was used) for even attempting to ride Sally.

Sally has a long way to go, but like a lot of young horses, she has promise. Whether she'll reach her potential remains to be seen. But it was great to be riding, chasing after cows, down a long trail, with friends, as the sun faded and set, in the glory of South Texas.

Monday, August 23, 2010

A Nighttime Trailride...

With all the focus on riding Lola into better condition, and keeping Woody (my Azteca) ridden and tuned up, my paso fino Vaquero has been languishing back at the barn. But last ride out I used my new Myler snaffle bit with the mecate rein set-up, and he rode reasonably well. He was high strung and over anxious, but I was impressed how much better he rode in the snaffle versus the Myler bit with shanks I usually use with him. With the snaffle, he was much more calm and less prone to over-react when I asked for simple movements.

I got home late, but I talked James into riding a few trails with me and Vaquero. He mounted Frosty. I reasoned that it was a full moon and already up, so we would have that to light the way home.

Frosty and James

Right away, I had to deal with some extra energy from Vaquero as I tried to position him to allow me to open a gate. He's never been good at relaxing by a gate. But with some patience, we succeeded. And then we were off. I was hoping to ride hard and fast, but James had reservations with Frosty, his 2 year old colt, because Frosty's stop is not very good. As it was getting dark fast, I agreed to ride slow, and set a goal to use this ride to keep Vaquero as calm as possible.

It was a great success. Vaquero gave me his flat walk, and responded well when I cued him to relax. The snaffle bit is NOT a fluke. This is the second good ride in a row with this set-up. What I think is that Vaquero has a lot of brio (read try) and engaging his mouth just gets him more fired up than he needs to be. He's already ready to do anything I ask, so to ask harder just gets him OVER excited.

In fact, I doubt he needs a bit at all. I think he would ride just fine bit-less. The snaffle gives ME the security I want, and it's easier to ride him because it's like the power steering is OFF and he's not so touchy.

James even commented after the ride, "I think that's your trail horse". And the truth is, he is a great trail horse when he is able to relax. Maybe I've found the key with this bit.

By the way, riding with the full moon was awesome. I was very proud of both horses for not spooking at all the shadows and deer that kept popping up on the trail like ghosts. I think I was more spooked than they were several times...

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Trail Ride with Breathe....

Breathe and Smokey

Woody and me

I had an awesome trail ride with Breathe today. I hauled over to Canyon Lake and we had a nice 7 mile trail ride along the shoreline, on the Old Hancock Trail. It was hot, but enjoyable, and capped off with a swim with the horses. I can't show you pics of that because I was scantily clad in my black boxers, but it was the best end to a trail ride I've ever had. The horses genuinely seemed to enjoy getting in the water and cooling off. At one point, I rode Woody bareback while he swam underneath me. It was quite a feeling. Neither the people nor the horses were anxious to get out of the water.

Breathe's stable owner joined us at one end of the trail head. She breeds for Aztecas, and she looked at Woody and agrees that he is probably Azteca.

Definitely going to be heading out to Canyon Lake again soon.

Monday, August 16, 2010

A ride on Frosty...

Frosty is my friend James's horse. He's a grade quarter horse mix. His sire was a mustang, and his dam a grade QH. He's all of 2 years old. James has done a lot of work with him since he was a foal, and he brought him to the ranch this Spring with the express goal of breaking him. Well, it went just great, and James has been riding him rather regularly. I have stayed off Frosty's back...mostly because I don't want to interfere with the bond James has with Frosty, but also because I was a little nervous about getting on such a young horse!

Lately, James has been really struggling with getting Frosty to make a circle. I mean ANY kind of circle at the trot or canter. Frosty goes all over the place, and will swing wide and James can't turn him. He'll have his head bent around and Frosty will still be going straight through the turn, until he runs into a fence. There's been a lot of swearing going on when this happens.

Well, I've just about bit my tongue off to keep from saying much while I watch these episodes. But I've been studying how James rides more intently lately, to try to spot the problem.

Today, my nephew and I rode with James and Frosty in the front pasture. The usual spectacle began to unfold, followed by frustration on James's part.

I got brave, and asked James if I could ride Frosty. I had been wanting to anyway, and here was my chance to see what I could do. Now the pressure was on to see if I knew a damn thing about anything.

I asked them to position themselves in the usual spot where we sit mounted while a rider works the cones. I wanted all the same distractions that Frosty usually deals with. Frosty and I argued a little bit about standing still for mounting, and then I was up in the stirrups. We did some walking, and I was careful to use direct reining with the snaffle in which he was being ridden. I worked my way around the cone, gradually building up energy to the trot. My circles with him were pretty darn good, better than anything James had done with him up to that point, in my opinion. James yelled, "He's OK at the trot. It's at the canter that he falls apart!" Well, I thought that was baloney, because I'd seen how poorly he circles at the trot too, but I kicked him up to the canter. Now Frosty is VERY left lead dominant, and cannot sustain the right lead for very long at all, and I was doing a clockwise circle asking for the right lead; but he did get into the canter and the circle was just as good. I stopped Frosty, and handed the reins to James.

What had I done differently than James to get these results?

When I watched James ride Frosty, I noticed a lot of outside rein pressure during turns. That means Frosty had a pull on the inside AND outside rein. That's not a very clear signal, especially to a young horse. That's going to get a lot of sloppy turns and build confusion and a lack of confidence in this young horse. When I rode him, I was careful to use only INSIDE rein pressure and keep the outside rein quiet and out of his way. I also did a lot of slight pressure and RELEASE as soon as he tipped his nose for me. It didn't take long before he knew that the fastest way to get the release was to give to the bit and tip his nose. Already, he was feeling more confident and sure of himself.

Frosty tends to turn wide. Well, his motor was running but his body wasn't positioned properly. He needed a little help to know how to turn with a rider mounted. So when his turn got a little wide, I used my inside leg to re-direct his hindquarters over so we could then use that motor to complete the turn.

So the combination of more clear reining signals and using my legs to move his hindquarters over kept us turning a pretty circle around the cone. I also tried to focus on keeping my shoulders level. A few times I dipped my inside shoulder, and he cut the circle short. That was MY fault, not his. Shoulders level, and we were fine again.

We circled several times at a fast trot and short bursts of controlled canter. (Remember, he can't sustain a right lead canter yet). It was getting late, and I had to get my nephew inside, so I rode away from James and left him trying to canter circles in the dark.

Later, at supper, James stated some observations he had made that evening. He stated that as a rider, he is unbalanced. That is to say, he has an easier time riding when his right leg is the inside leg, than when his left leg is the inside leg and he has to apply pressure to Frosty. And, he had underestimated how much Frosty needs leg pressure to move his hindquarters over and make a better circle. Remember, this horse is only on about his 30th ride. He's still figuring out this riding stuff. He NEEDS guidance to make a good circle. Also, he admitted that he may be using more outside rein pressure than he should. That is to say, he needs to focus on his reining cues to make things more clear to Frosty.

Honestly, James never circled all that well on his other horse, Bullseye, either. I think what we've really discovered are holes in James's riding abilities.

Now James has taught Frosty a lot of great things, and way they round pen together is amazing. He also loads well, and has a solid foundation in MANY aspects. But eventually, the best ground trained horse has to be mounted, and if the rider's skills are not up to snuff, the great ground horse will not show up when ridden.

I really like these moments: when you finally realize something is amiss, you identify the problem, and start a course of action to correct course. I think James had one of those moments today, and I think Frosty will soon be riding better.

What's that saying? Oh yeah...there are no problem horses, only problem riders.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Family and Horses...

Will and Lola, me and Woody

My niece and nephew are in town and staying with me for the week, and I have my kids for the next week as well, so this evening was the start of some fun at my place.

My nephew is trying to be a cowboy, and my mother helped him today by buying him some jeans, a hat, and some boots. I was more than willing to comply by getting him on a horse. But first, he watered the horses and helped muck stalls, a little. I outfitted him on Lola and we did some riding, with me ponying Lola on Woody. After a few pointers and several safe laps, and within the confines of the front pasture, I turned him loose. We walked, and he did a really good job with Lola. He just might be a natural. No fear and he was not upset when he had to bring her around to keep her from walking to the gate that she thinks is the way out of work.

I parked my nephew and Lola in a corner of the pasture and worked Woody. Just nice circles around the cones. He picked up both leads well, and only needed correction from counter-cantering one time. He worked up a nice sweat, and it was about 15 steady minutes of canter/trot. His stop and back up were much sharper. This is my second ride in a row with him without an intervening beginner on his back, and he's already sharpening up.

Hopefully, there will be a lot more riding this week...

Saturday, August 14, 2010

New Tack

I was able to stop by one of my favorite stores in the area, D&D. For the first time in about 10 visits, they were well stocked, and I made some purchases.

I bought a new Myler bit. Myler bits are my favorite, and seem to be easily accepted by my horses. I was impressed that the trainer Breathe and I met recently used a snaffle, and this one in particular.

It's a Myler "C" Sleeve Ring MB 09, Size 5.

Description as follows: Myler Loose Ring Bit with C Sleeve. The C Sleeve bits are loose ring bits that slide through a sleeve rather than directly through the mouthpiece.

Function: Sleeves help keep the bit from pulling through or pinching the sides of the mouth. Without rein pressure, loose rings with sleeves move freely, allowing the horse some play with the bit. With backward rein pressure, the loose ring with sleeves applies the same amount of pressure to the mouth. However, with outward and backward rein pressure the ring locks into position on the sleeve. The mouthpiece is then fixed. This offers a more direct signal to the mouth as well as keeps the ring from flipping to the front. 4" ring

Now I don't know for sure that the trainer was using a Myler bit, but I do know that he was using this C sleeve design. I wanted to use it with mecate reins and slobber straps, for a really classic rig that would be my "training" rig. I used it today on Lola, and this is what it looked like on her.

I think it looked really sharp on her, and it was very functional. I really took advantage of the "get down rope" to do some teaching from the ground when she wasn't getting the side-pass. This is definitely my new favorite trail rig.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Tuning up Woody

Woody is my guest horse. The horse I can put a rank beginner on, and know they'll be safe. But he's also the most advanced horse, if you know how to ask him for his skills.

But beginners get on him, pull the reins across his neck like they're riding a horse out of a western movie, and fail to ask him to be honest. After several rides, he starts to get undone. And then I have to get on him and remind him of his skills.

We started with circles. I swear, and I'm not exaggerating, I can canter a circle around a cone on this horse and you'd swear it was a perfect circle. Go ahead, use a string and his hoof prints will mark a perfect radius from that cone. All done in a soothing, easy to ride, slow canter. Most that ride him can't get him to canter, because he won't canter if he doesn't feel you balanced on him. But with me, he gets into the canter right away.

His trot is awful. I mean, rough, a definite post of trot required. And when I ride him often, we don't trot. We go to canter from the walk. But with him out of tune with me, we had to bump through the trot to get to canter until he warmed up.

His stop was sloppy. So we worked on that a lot, and did a lot of backing up. Probably a few hundred yards worth if I added it all up. That's the first thing to go on him, and the last thing to come back. But it's so important, I really work him doing that.

He was reining well, so no problems there. Nice and soft everywhere. Yielded front and rear well. Side passed incredibly well.

He was popping his head up, one of his weaknesses. Every head lift was met with bit pressure and a release when he lowered his head. Beginners always let him get away with that.

Then the walk back to the barn...oh brother. I hate a horse that gets too energetic headed back to the barn. It took us half an hour to travel the last 100 yards to the barn, I kid you not. I circled him to a stop, backed him up repeatedly, and just worked him unless he was walking calmly, head down and flexed at poll, back to barn. After a lot of work, and several deep sighs from both of us, we finally managed to get back to the barn in a relaxed manner. Mind you, he's never out of control, and beginners don't even notice that he's high-stepping back to the barn, but I don't like it because I know it doesn't represent his best behavior. When I first got him, I worked for about 2 months to try to keep him from "jigging" on the way back to the barn. His previous owner thought it was pretty how he raised his legs so high and "pranced" back to the barn. But I knew it was just extra energy and an improper mind-set that was the issue.

Woody's a great old horse, but like a lot of them, he can get undone with the wrong kind of riding and if he isn't kept honest. Woody's faults are: loses his stop, picks his head up too high at times, and can be too energetic going back to the barn. But he tunes up quickly, and I hope to get him back into the shape I know he's capable of, with a few more rides.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Trail ride...

Yesterday, I was able to get in a trail ride at my former stables. I was joined by C and Breathe. I rode vaquero, my paso fino, C rode Lola, and Breathe rode Woody. I spent most of the afternoon cleaning my tack and making adjustments so as to be able to have everything needed to get all 3 horses ridden in the bits and reins I wanted to use. Before I knew it, I was late to the 6pm start time of the trail ride.

I hate running late, especially with horses. Just when you need to rush and get all the horses loaded perfectly, you can be sure one or all of them is going to be a problem.

Everybody loaded well, this time, and we arrived about 10 minutes late. I hurried to get everyone the tack they needed. Immediately, I knew Vaquero was going to be a problem. My crazy paso fino hadn't been worked in about 2 weeks, and he had LOTS of excess energy. There were new horses everywhere to get his attention. Also, Breathe grabbed Woody to tack him up and moved him out of sight of Vaquero, and this was VERY worrying for Vaquero, as Woody is his barn buddy and herd leader. I spent a few minutes longeing Vaquero, but I knew I didn't have his complete attention and that this ride was going to be spooky. But there was no more time for me to work him, as the call went out to mount up and move out.

About 100 yards into the trail ride, Vaquero's legs were moving like pistons, furiously pumping up and down, a sure sign he is WAY too revved up. I asked him for a side-pass to go around a tree, and he blew up, paso fino style. He gave two little bucks. I brought his head around to my boot on the right,and then to the left, a few times. The I gave him a few seconds to gather himself and calm down. And then we proceeded to continue on down the trail. I continued to ask for the side pass, and now he yielded willingly.

The rest of the trail ride went well. Actually, he did very well. I repeatedly asked for the side pass, both sides, as I maneuvered him around tree branches, bushes, etc. He performed admirably.

When I trail ride, I challenge myself to look well ahead on the trail and identify obstacles. I then try to position my horse with reins and legs to best negotiate the obstacle. I challenge myself to NOT have to lower my head or crouch over the horse's neck if there is ANY way to stay well mounted and avoid tree branches. I like my horses to be ready to move laterally if indicated. I like to imagine that my horse has "4 wheel steering" and ride them accordingly. I think it's a good way to improve my horsemanship.

Vaquero has a lot of "brio", that term that paso fino lovers surely made up to describe this breed's fiery little personality. Sometimes, I hate it, and wish I could dial it down to about a 2. But this horse will do anything I ask him to do. He's jumped fallen trees, logs, creeks, anything. I think he'd be the perfect trail horse if he could relax a bit more. He's vastly improved with me since I purchased him over a year ago, but I'd still rate his brio level 9/10 some times. But he has really improved my horsemanship, and he was a joy to ride, me mounted and moving fast with just a jiggle, no bouncing trot, side passing through openings in the branches just wide enough for my big head and hat.

Pretty cool stuff.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

We interrupt this story for a live update...

A great sunset. You can just make out James on Frosty at the far end of the pasture.

While the pitiful story of a boy hopelessly lost in the ways of horses is fascinating, we need to break away for a moment to more current events.

I got a great ride in on Lola this evening. While we rode in the front pasture, thunder was softly rolling all around us, and thunderclouds were slowly dissipating as the sun's heat started to wane.

I continued with my plan: walking and trotting to warm up. She didn't stumble once. I then approached the cones. I've been very consistently circling the cones in the same way every ride, the same cone clockwise and the other counter-clockwise. We start at a walk, build energy to a trot for a few circles, and then I cue GENTLY for the lead departure I want, while increasing my energy JUST enough to get her to break into the canter. It's been working like a champ.

We did both cones, and hence both directions, about 4-5 times, with about 3-4 circles at the canter each time. She is taking the correct lead just about every time and she is much stronger in the right (direction) lead than she was just several rides ago. She has consistently given me a nice slow canter for a few rides now, so I feel I can safely say, this isn't just a fluke.

Her stop has improved dramatically, and I almost went over the top of her today because I wasn't braced for such a good stop. I was sloppy, and led the stop with my reins instead of my seat and legs, and I damn near cracked my spine and was over her neck before I knew it. I was better after that miscue.

I then got a little ambitious with her, and instead of stopping after circling one of the cones, I led her out of the circle, brought my energy down to get her in a trot, and then led her to the next cone where we would circle in the trot, but then quickly (but still trying for smooth and slow speed) go to the canter. This is all in anticipation of doing figure 8 work with her in the future. Also, I'm building up to eventually asking for a flying lead change when we go from one cone to the next. But that's several rides away. She still needs conditioning and to build strength.

She seems much more relaxed, and may be more affectionate than I thought. She seems to enjoy pats on her neck and soft words. I almost thought I had her completely when she came and watered while I was filling her water bucket, looking at me cautiously but with less apprehension than her usual; but then she later gave me her hind end when I wanted to reach through her stall panel and touch her face. So she's not done playing hard to get just yet. But I sense there's a crack in the veneer....

Monday, July 26, 2010

A story of a boy who wanted a horse....(Part 2)

So here I was with a horse that I wanted to ride, but was woefully ill prepared for anything to do with horses. I didn't know how to properly care for a horse. I didn't know how best to feed them. I knew nothing about vet or hoof care. I mean, I was in the dark. As far as my parents were concerned, they had bought the horse and the rest was up to me. They didn't know anything about horses either.

As it was obvious to everyone in the stables where my horse was boarded that I knew nothing, people began to shower me with advice. Even the greenest of riders knew more than I did, so I got good advice AND bad advice, and I had no way of filtering any of it. I barely knew how to saddle my horse. Somehow, I muddled through, and started riding in the arena that was located on the stable grounds. But Tuffy Danger didn't ride straight. He liked going sideways, and it was a little unnerving. And he just got worse and worse, and started running me into the arena rails, fences, gates, you name it. He would sidepass into things to brush me off, and I was getting pretty beat up in the process. I found out later that side passing was what had unnnerved his previous owner, and she had given him up because he was too dangerous for her to ride.

"Ride him hard. Put some spurs into him. Ride him easy, don't use spurs." Every one had advice and none of it made sense to me. I'd try something, expecting it to work in 15 minutes, and then get frustrated when it didn't. I learned to longe my horse, with the direction of others. But I didn't know what I was doing, and most of my goal was to round pen my horse into a lather with the hopes that he would be too tired to run me into things when I mounted him. But it didn't work.

Pretty soon things went from bad to worse. My horse started to offer little rears in protest when I was riding him. That usually got me off him pretty fast. So then he learned to do bigger rears. I nerved up and rode him anyway, but at this point he was rearing to nearly vertical at the slightest ride! Someone told my mother, and that same someone convinced her that was dangerous, so she agreed to send the horse to a trainer.

So Tuffy Danger went to the trainer, a cowboy trainer. There, he was ridden hard by some pretty tough guys. After about 45 days, they invited me out to ride my new, improved horse. As soon as I saw him, I knew he'd had it rough. He was scarred all over from the hard use of spurs. He had fresh scars barely covered with dried blood, and old scars he must have received shortly after his arrival. I mounted him, and he did seem different. He was very wired but had a great neck rein and would trot and canter effortlessly. But he sure didn't seem calm or at ease. I rode him with the cowboy trainer, and we rode hard through the South Texas brush, and Tuffy Danger jumped cactus and plowed through anything I accidentally steered him into. He didn't offer to rear. My only instructions on the way home were to ride him hard and use the spurs.

It didn't take long until Tuffy Danger was rearing again, even more viciously than before, and it was just a matter of time before he was going to fall over completely and send the saddle horn through my chest.

I admitted defeat, and my father and me loaded him up and took him to the auction. My father had an "I told you" look on his face the whole time. I felt defeated, but I pretty much hated that horse by that time, and when he was rushed into the stock yards, I didn't care if he was sold to ride or for meat. I was just glad to be rid of him.

My first foray into horse ownership had lasted about a year. I had a few good rides on Tuffy Danger, but too few to mention. Most were on the ranch, working a few cows and with some wide open spaces where he couldn't run me into things. My first horse, a 7 year old registered Quarter Horse purchased for $750 dollars in 1985, was gone, and so was my dream of owning a horse and being a horseman. Whatever horsemanship skills I had inherited from my Grandpa Chuy must have been diluted, because I was a failure at this horse thing.

I rode horses on occasion over the years after selling Tuffy Danger, but I was never easy around them. I maybe rode 3 or 4 times over the next 21 years, but thoughts of horse ownership never entered my mind. I figured I had my chance, and horses were for people of different stock.

I graduated high school, and went to Austin for college, and then entered medical school and residency, so horses were nothing but a bad memory for me for a long time. But the longing to ride horses in a good way must have stayed way back in my brain, because events would bring me back to them.

A story of a boy who wanted a horse....(Part 1)

I've been thinking about my first horse experience. I think some of the successes and failures I've had recently have caused me to reflect. It's been a long journey.

When I was about 15 years old, I got the horse bug. I don't remember exactly how or why it started, but it was a raging fever when I did contract the disease. I'd been exposed to horses in one form or another all my life. When I was a kid, my Grandpa Chuy, would rent and sometimes own, various Shetland ponies for me and the other grand-kids to ride. I've got a picture of me with him on top of one of his quarter horses when I was still in diapers. He always had horses, and over the years, I've heard stories about his horse training abilities and exploits. I can't speak first hand about any of this, because he died when I was 9 years old.

But I do remember one Shetland Pony, Milky Way. And I remember being led on him one Easter when I was about 7, with my uncle leading, and Milky Way started bucking. I wasn't afraid and I was staying on fine, but my Uncle Frank was yelling "jump off, jump off!" so I did. I dusted myself off and that was that. I don't remember crying or being more than mildly upset. The adults inspected the saddle and concluded he has a sticker under the saddle that had caused him to buck. With the insight I have today, I doubt that. I think he was just a pastured pony who didn't get much work until we were around and he was showing a little barn sour behavior when he was being led away from his herd. But the explanation was more than adequate for all the grand-kids, and of course, after that we were hyper-vigilant about asking about stickers before ever getting on him again.

I continued to ride horses off and on during my adolescence, and always enjoyed it. So sometime around age 15, I started to hit my mother up for a horse. I knew nothing about horses, other than that I liked to ride them. My father was a city slicker, so he was of no help. But I pestered my mother until she started to ask around. A guy my mother knew told her about a horse that was for sale. It was a 7 year old gelding, registered quarter horse named "Tuffy Danger". He was being sold by a woman that just didn't have the time to ride him. Was I interested?

I told my mother "yes" and we headed down to South Texas to view the horse at a friend's place. I jumped on the horse and rode with the daughter of the man's ranch we were visiting. I had no fear at that age, and I was happy to walk, trot, canter: anything the horse wanted to do. I did notice that he seemed to ride sideways some times, but I didn't know what that meant and didn't care. He was a horse and he could be mine. We bought him on the spot for $750 dollars, not a small sum for a horse in circa 1985. I don't remember how we got him home, but before I knew it, he was being stabled at a place about 5 miles from my house in Corpus Christi, TX, and I had been outfitted with a new saddle, tack, and spurs. I was a horse owner.

I was living the dream...What could go wrong?

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Evening ride on Lola..Best yet!

I know I was pushing my luck a bit to try a ride on Lola again this evening. She had done well on the morning trail ride, but I just felt she could do more and we could keep working on her conditioning.

I brought her to the front pasture and warmed her up with walks and trots. Just a quick stumble in the beginning, but none after warm up. I trotted her around the cones and brought the energy up very slowly to get her into the canter. First attempt was 2-3 beats of counter-canter while going to the right, so I brought her back down to the trot and tried again. Success! This time she took the correct lead and she was smooth. What's more, she wasn't running, but was doing the nicest little slow canter. I kept her at it for about 4-5 wide circles, mindful of her stifle and paying attention in case she seemed to be having difficulty. I stopped her, and she gave me a nice stop and then a nice back up.

We went to the next cone and repeated the exercise, but going to the left, her strong side. She went into the correct lead easily and a nice SLOW canter. BUT, she did have trouble sustaining it, and stumbled twice. I took it easy on her, and let her walk it off around the pasture. She seemed OK, so I tried the right circle again. She took it up correctly and stayed with the SLOW canter. No stumbles in this direction, and another 5 or so wide circles.

I kept repeating the exercise, first one way and then the other, and there were no more stumbles and no more incorrect lead departures, and her canter stayed slow and controlled throughout.

Let me explain, I am ALL ABOUT THE CANTER. That's what gives me the greatest joy when riding, and I really like the slow controlled canter. To me, it tells me a lot about the horse's mindset, willingness, and it's the speed I like to use when I need to safely, but quickly, get something done. Who doesn't like the canter, right?

Well, this was the slow canter I've been trying to get for a while from Lola. I didn't enjoy her previous darty, charging canter with no control. This controlled canter is what I like to get from all my horses, and it was getting frustrating that I wasn't getting it from Lola. This day made up for a lot.

I concentrated on being a particularly good rider today. I was using split reins, and Lola seems to work better with them versus the loop rein. Or maybe I was just having a good day with them. I rode with my hands VERY independent from my seat so as to stay "out of the way" of her movements. I also concentrated on "staying out of my stirrups". I wanted to feel like my seat and legs were keeping me very centered and balanced and that there was virtually no pressure from my feet pressing on the stirrups. I wanted it to feel like I was riding bareback. Maybe that helped, because she was very balanced circling in the canter.

After the pasture work, I rode her a ways from the house and worked on going up and down some small hills. All told, I rode her about 30 minutes, but it was a very focused, successful 30 minutes.

I quit on a good note, and she seemed pleased. She even let me rub her head while she was in her stall, something she doesn't let me do too often. I felt we had a real connection out there today. It was a great ride.

Ride with Frank and Tony...

Tony on Woody, Frank on Lola, me on Vaquero

My cousin is in town, and I had a chance to ride with him today. He's the cousin that alerted me to Lola when she became available on Craig's List. He had yet to ride Lola, and had missed riding the trails in my neighborhood by circumstance of weather on his previous visits. He brought his son Tony, so after a nice evening at the Cibolo rodeo nearby the evening prior, we were primed for a Sunday morning trail ride.

Frank rode Lola, and his son Tony rode Woody. I mounted Vaquero. After a warm-up in the front pasture, we hit the trails. We did all three, and by the last mile, Tony was released from the lead rope and allowed to ride solo.

Tony and his Dad mounted and ready to start the trail ride.

At the end of the trail ride, Frank trotted and cantered Lola. I am happy to report her trot and canter for him was easy and controlled. She only stumbled a couple of times during our warm-up session, and not at all late in the trail ride or after, during trotting and cantering.

Frank was very pleased with how she rode, and really liked her height and conformation.

As the morning had warmed up to a hot day, we jumped in the pool after the ride to cool off and spent the rest of the afternoon making BBQ and talking.

Good times.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Victoria rides Lola...

James on Frosty...

It was a nice evening for a little pasture work and a trail ride afterwards. Victoria, my oldest, consented to ride, and so it was a 3 horse adventure. Victoria on Lola, myself on Woody, and James on his 2 year old gelding Frosty.

We started with some simple walking and trotting in the front pasture, in both directions, to get them warmed up. Victoria was all over the saddle, and she needs to ride more to keep her balance and muscles up. Lola stumbled maybe twice, and only in the beginning.

James and I did some relaxed work around the cones, at the trot and then at Woody's slow canter. It really helped Frosty to be following behind, as it rated his speed considerably and made him focus on his circle. We did this in both directions, and James noted that the left lead dominant Frosty was much smoother in the left circle.

I remember when I first got Woody. His previous owner hadn't worried too much about his balance, and he was terrifically left lead dominant as well. By concentrating on cantering on both leads, he became and remains, a very balanced horse in either lead.

Lola and Victoria stayed on the sidelines during our drilling. Victoria hasn't been riding enough for me to be comfortable letting her join in this exercise. But I think I'm going to be encouraging her more strongly this weekend. It's good for her and it really helps me get the horses exercised if she rides.

We finished up our exercises and then hit the trails. Frosty was much more relaxed this ride. Everyone rode well, and we finished with the sun setting and the horses in a light sweat. Honestly, we could have worked them a lot harder, but this was a nice change of pace. And my daughter rode, so that was all I needed for this ride to be memorable.

Victoria on Lola...

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Lola's conditioning continues...

Another good ride on Lola, on a very sticky, muggy night. She stumbled about 2-3 times at the start of the ride, but then perked right up. I did a lot of extended trotting. She has a wonderful trot for a quarter-horse, and it requires very little effort to post.

I tried her a little at a straight canter, with the idea that I wouldn't turn her very hard. It was a disaster. But not because of her injury, I don't think. See, she takes off and doesn't want to do anything but haul ass in the canter. I brought in her chin with brute force, to see if that would rate her, and it only achieved minimal success. I gave her her head, and she wanted to just tear around the front pasture. Well, that wasn't going to work, as she was bouncing me all over creation and I felt as if she had little control.

I brought her to a halt and just sat on her thinking. I used that time to call out for James, to let him know when his 2 year old gelding was in the correct lead. "Yes", I'd yell if he was in the correct lead for the circle he was trying to get his inexperienced horse to take. But more often I was yelling "No", to let James know he was in the incorrect lead. His horse is very left lead dominant, and he's trying to balance him. Not much success thus far.

The pause let me see James try to manhandle his gelding and not get very far. After he finally got frustrated, he walked his horse over to me and we sat and talked. "This isn't working for either of us, is it?" I asked. He agreed. I said "Hold my horse", and with that I went into the house and brought out two orange training cones I had bought several weeks back and forgotten to use. "Let's set these out and play follow the leader", I said.

Well, I took Lola and guided her into a big circle around the first cone. Not too tight, so as not to further injure her. I just let her trot her smooth trot in as perfect a WIDE circle I could make with her. She seemed to get the idea, and kept circling at a fast trot. When I had done this about 3 times, we moved to the other cone and circled the opposite direction. At one point, without my asking for it, she broke into the nicest little smooth canter on the correct lead, and she repeated this when we went back to the other cone in the other lead. Now, these were big circles, and I hadn't asked for the canter, but I suspected she would find the canter a lot easier than the fast trot she was trying to maintain, and I guess she agreed, because she did it effortlessly. The whole time, James was following me with Frosty, and when we stopped our horses, he reported a similar positive experience on his horse. And the energy during the exercise was palpably more relaxed for horse and riders. Except for when we first started, and Frosty got close to one of the cones and it spooked him, so he bucked two bucks until James let him calm down.

This is definitely an exercise worth repeating, and it will allow me to let Lola tell ME how much her stifles will take without pushing her too hard.

After the exercise, we embarked on a little trail ride. It was hilarious watching Frosty get spooked at every little thing on the trail. The black line that marks the edge of the roadway was like a chasm. The darker surface of freshly paved asphalt was surely a deep pool of water. The horse silhouette that held the numbers of a street address was the smallest, full figured horse he'd ever seen, and he kept waiting for it to jump out at him. James handled him well, and everyone survived the ride.

I think Lola can work through this "fixed stifle" if I can keep devoting time to riding her. Of course, I've got Woody and Vaquero that are languishing now. I may have to shift to them for the rest of the week. But I am really enjoying Lola's trot and fast walk. We'll see...

Monday, July 19, 2010

The rides with Lola just keep getting better...

I tried to stick with my plan to keep conditioning Lola, so despite being tired and post-call, I got on the riding boots and headed out to catch Lola.

Remember, Lola hasn't always been the easiest horse to catch. But I'd been reading the book Breathe lent me, "Whole Heart, Whole Horse" by Mark Rashid, and I entered the pasture with a little different mind set. I went after catching Lola with absolutely no hurry to my work. I just hung out a bit and approached her slowly. She barely moved. I didn't rush to halter her, but stroked her and let her just be next to me for a while before I haltered her. It was easy as falling off a log. Victoria, my oldest and the one who SHOULD be riding Lola, broke into applause at the easy catch.

The kids mounted their bicycles and I mounted Lola and we headed off to the park. I kept Lola to a walk/trot. She stumbled softly two times, maybe three, at the start, and never stumbled again. We did a few trails, horses and bicycles together, and worked up another light sweat by the end. We spent more time on collection at the trot, and she is holding her flex at the poll with less complaint.

Well, I guess it's working. The "locked stifle" she was having trouble with seems to be responding to more frequent riding. I didn't lope her very much and I think it'll be some time before I work her in the canter significantly, but she is definitely showing improvement in many aspects.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Better ride on Lola...

I had the farrier out on Friday, July 16th. He found no evidence of hoof abscess. I had looked her over carefully for the three days preceding his visit, so it was gratifying to know my exam was consistent with his.

He did suggest a possible diagnosis for Lola's issue, and that will be detailed below. I have placed in bold the symptoms that I think fit Lola's case.

I decided to ride Lola today, as she was showing no signs of lameness while in the field. In fact, I had been watching her trot and canter freely in the pasture for 2 days without a hint of trouble. Upon the first 50 steps of walking out, she was dragging her left toe and stumbling. I kept walking her, and she started to smooth out. After about 5-10 minutes of walking, her clumsiness was gone and she was using her fast walk, a wonderful walk that kept Woody in a slow trot to keep up.

I proceeded to ride her for about 3.5 miles on all three trails in my neighborhood, up and down inclines, at various speeds. Mostly, we stayed in a fast walk, but we did some extended trotting and some bursts of canter, with circling in both directions and in both leads. She never seemed to pull up gimpy. In fact, it was one of the best rides I've ever had on her. I worked on collecting her during the periods of prolonged trotting. She finished with a nice sweat, but not lathered. The temperature dropped as thunderstorms ringed my neighborhood, but it never rained. A rainbow was present throughout the ride. A perfect evening, really.

Upward Pateller Fixation
Intermittent upward patellar fixation is a condition whereby the horse's pelvic limb temporarily "locks" in extension. As a result, there is a delay in flexion of the limb. The delay in flexion can range from milli-seconds to over several minutes. A short delay in flexion may manifest only as a subtle pelvic limb asymmetry or lameness; severely affected horses (with a long delay in flexion) may be unable to flex the affected limb without assistance.

What is the "Patella"? The horse's stifle joint is analogous to the human knee. Just like humans, horses have a patella, or "knee cap", which slides along the distal aspect of the femur (thigh bone) during flexion of the joint. The patella slides within a groove (called the trochlear groove) and serves as a fulcrum for the extensor muscles and their tendons as they course over the front of the stifle (or knee) joint. The patella is attached proximally to the quadriceps and biceps femoris muscles and distally to the tibia. In humans, the patella is attached to the tibia by one distal patellar ligament. Horses have 3 distal patellar ligaments: the medial patellar ligament, the middle patellar ligament, and the lateral patellar ligament.

How does the horse 'lock' the pelvic limb? Horses have the ability to lock (or fixate) the pelvic limb in extension. This is possible due to the unique anatomy associated with the horse's stifle joint. The proximal aspect of the medial femoral trochlea is shaped similar to a hook or ski jump. By placing the space between the medial and middle patellar ligaments over this hook, horses can "lock" their pelvic limbs in extension. Once locked, minimal effort is required to maintain limb extension. A similar locking apparatus in the thoracic limbs allows horses to sleep while standing. Therefore, patellar fixation while standing is a normal process in the horse.

What is 'intermittent upward patellar fixation'? Although patellar fixation is normal in the standing horse, it can produce pelvic limb dysfunction if it occurs during exercise. Inadvertent locking of the patella over the medial femoral trochlea prevents normal flexion of the affected limb(s). Consequently, pelvic limb asymmetry and lameness frequently become evident.

What causes upward patellar fixation? There are 3 primary causes of upward patellar fixation in the horse:

a.. Lack of fitness: Lack of quadriceps and/or biceps femoris muscle tone results in an inability to quickly pull the patella up and off of the medial femoral trochlea.

b.. Straight or upright pelvic limb conformation: This places the medial femoral trochlea further distad in closer proximity with the patella, facilitating patellar fixation.

c.. Excessive distal patellar ligament length: This places the patella proximad in closer proximity with the medial femoral trochlea, where it can inadvertently "catch" or "lock"
It should be noted that the factors which cause upward patellar fixation are often interrelated. For example, an unfit horse will generally have increased laxity (and therefore increased length) of the distal patellar ligaments. Furthermore, if unfitness is secondary to another disease process (such as neurologic disease), intermittent upward fixation may also occur secondarily. Therefore, it is important to assess the horse as a whole prior to determining the cause for upward patellar fixation.

What are the clinical signs? Horses with intermittent upward patellar fixation will exhibit clinical signs during their attempt to flex the pelvic limb from an extended position. In acute severe cases, the pelvic limb may stay locked in extension. The horse may not be able to flex the stifle and tarsus without assistance. In some instances, the condition may temporarily resolve only to recur after taking a few steps. These signs are quite obvious and diagnosis is relatively simple if the condition is severe. Most of the time, however, there is only a "catching" of the patella as it slides up and over the hook and the limb does not truly lock in extension. In this situation, there may only be a mild pelvic limb asymmetry or lameness. This type of lameness can be easily confused with other problems and therefore may present a dilemma in regard to accurate diagnosis. Following are common clinical signs associated with mild to moderate forms of intermittent upward patellar fixation:

a.. Non-weightbearing pelvic limb lameness
a.. This may be distinguished from tarsal (hock) soreness which is usually weightbearing in nature
b.. The horse will frequently drag the toe of the affected limb(s) during exercise
a.. Visible wearing of the dorsal aspect of the toe/shoe may be apparent.
c.. The foot of the affected limb(s) will have a low-arc flight pattern
d.. The horse will usually exhibit a shortened cranial phase to the stride
b.. Resistance in the canter
a.. The horse will resist the canter, particularly if circled toward the more affected limb
b.. Resistance may be most noticeable during the transition between the trot and canter, when the horse is forced to extend the pelvic limb for a prolonged period
c.. Many horses will toss their head, rear, or stop when asked to canter. This may be due to their "anticipation" of impending upward patellar fixation.
d.. The horse would rather trot than canter (which is harder for the normal horse)
c.. Consistent lead changes or cantering on the wrong lead
a.. The horse avoids prolonged pelvic limb extension with the affected limb. This is particularly apparent when cantering in a circle towards the affected limb.
d.. The canter is very rough or "bouncy"
a.. This occurs as a result of consistent delay in pelvic limb flexion from the extended position
e.. Swelling, heat, and/or pain may be associated with one or both stifle joints
a.. Upward patellar fixation causes patellar instability which in turn may result in femoropatellar synovitis
f.. The horse drags his hind toes during exercise
g.. Resistance and/or difficulty when walking up and down hills, or when backing up
a.. These situations force the horse to extend the pelvic limb for a prolonged period
b.. Rather then fully extend the pelvic limb(s), the horse may "crouch" while walking
c.. Rather than flex the pelvic limb(s) normally, horses will often swing their limbs to the outside
d.. This may cause the lameness to be confused with neurologic disease (such as EPM or stringhalt)
h.. Lameness is most severe when the horse is first taken out of the stall
a.. Many horses will improve as the workout progresses
i.. Lameness becomes more obvious following an extended period of stall rest
a.. Loss of muscle and patellar ligament tone exacerbate the upward patellar fixation
b.. The horse does not improve (and may worsen) as a result of taking time off
j.. The horse does not respond to anti-inflammatory (e.g. Phenylbutazone) therapy
a.. Intermittent upward patellar fixation is a mechanical problem and is not inflammatory-mediated
As with many cases of pelvic limb lameness, secondary abnormalities such as thoracolumbar ebaxial (back) and proximal thoracic suspensory ligament soreness are also present. These are generally detected during the passive lameness evaluation and are suggestive of chronic pelvic limb asymmetry/ lameness.

How is upward patellar fixation diagnosed? Clinical signs are characteristic and, if the limb is locked in extension (i.e. the case is severe), diagnosis is simple. As previously mentioned, however, most cases are mild and diagnosis may be more difficult. A detailed history and careful clinical evaluation are essential parts of a proper workup. One helpful diagnostic aid involves placing the horse in one or more situations where prolonged pelvic limb extension is normally required. Such situations include walking up and down hills, the trot-to-canter transition, and backing up. When confronted with these situations, the affected horse will either 1) demonstrate upward patellar fixation by temporarily locking the pelvic limb, or 2) cheat by switching leads, swinging the limbs to the outside, avoiding pelvic limb extension, etc.

Many times, a slight hitch or "catch" is visible as the pelvic limb begins to flex from an extended position. This "catch" is most easily detected by visualizing the point of the hock as the horse picks the limb up to advance it cranially. Infrequently, an audible "snap" or popping sound is also evident during exercise (particularly walking).

In many instances, upward patellar fixation can be produced in affected horses by manually forcing the patella upward and outward. The examiner may actually be able to keep the pelvic limb locked in extension using minimal effort.

Since the problem is usually secondary to conformation and/or level of fitness, it is almost always bilateral. However, affected horses historically exhibit clinical signs in one pelvic limb. It is not until the more affected limb is successfully treated that a problem in the contralateral limb is manifested.

How is upward patellar fixation treated? Currently, there are 5 forms of treatment for intermittent upward patellar fixation:

a.. Exercise: Lack of fitness results in decreased thigh muscle and patellar ligament tone. With decreased supporting muscle and ligament tone, it becomes easier for the patella to lock on the femur and harder for it to replace within the trochlear groove. In subtle cases of upward patellar fixation where conformation is relatively good, increased exercise alone may result in resolution of the problem.
We frequently ask the client to grade the level of their horse's current level of fitness on a scale of 1 to 10 (1=very unfit; 10=extremely fit). We suggest achieving a fitness level of at least 7-8 (if possible) prior to pursuing other forms of treatment. This will rule out unfitness as a major contributor to the problem as well as increase the effect of other therapy.

b.. Corrective Shoeing: Since fixation of the patella occurs when the pelvic limb is extended, prolonging the extension phase of the stride can make "unlocking" more difficult. Alternatively, shortening the amount of time the pelvic limb spends in extension allows the horse to unlock his/her patella before the distal patellar ligaments become excessively tight. Since the conformation of the distal pelvic limb and/or the toe length is intimately related to pelvic limb breakover, the farrier can frequently alleviate the problem via corrective trimming/shoeing. Rolling and/or rockering the toe of the shoe, applying a full (egg-) bar shoe, and/or the use of wedged pads (when needed) are commonly used techniques. In many cases, we are able to help the pelvic limbs break over before intermittent upward patellar fixation occurs.

c.. Hormonal Therapy: The administration of estrogen has shown to prove benefical for some horses exhibiting intermittent upward patellar fixation. The presence of estrogen within the body of the horse may increase tension of various supporting ligaments. These include the collateral, suspensory, cruciate, and distal patellar ligaments. Increasing distal patellar ligament tension helps to relocate the patellar further distad, thereby making upward patellar fixation more difficult. This in turn may alleviate clinical signs.
d.. It should be noted that estrogen is also a powerful behavior modificator in the horse. It is often used for stallions and geldings that are excessively difficult to handle, aggressive towards people or other horses, or overly anxious at shows and other events. Estrogen is very effective at reducing anxiety and resistance as well as improving overall behavior in these horses. Treatment usually consists of 2 injections of estrogen (25mg) in the muscle twice weekly for 4 consecutive weeks, then as needed therafter.

Administration of estrogen to mares usually causes them to exhibit clinical signs of estrus (heat). Since this change in behavior is generally undesirable, we do not recommend its use in mares.

e.. Intraligamentous Infusion of Counterirritant: This form of therapy is usually referred to as "blistering". Blistering involves the inject of an irritative substance into soft tissue(s) in an attempt to create an inflammatory reaction. The irritative substance usually consists of iodine 2% in an almond oil base. This substance can elicit an inflammatory response for up to 30 days depending on the amount used and the location of injection. It is important to remember that fibrosis and scar tissue formation within normal soft tissues will occur as a result of severe inflammation. As you know, scar tissue does not function like normal soft tissue. Therefore, blistering in certain areas may inhibit proper function of associated soft tissue. It is for this reason that The Atlanta Equine Clinic typically does not institute blistering as typical form of treatment for soft tissue problems.

However, in the case of intermittent upward patellar fixation, we gain a biomechanical advantage by replacing normal tissue with scar tissue. The infusion of counterirritant within and around the medial and middle patellar ligaments results in the elicitation of an intense inflammatory reaction by the horse's body. With inflammation, fibrosis and scarring of the patellar ligaments occur. During the scarring process, soft tissues will contract (shorten). As the patellar ligaments shorten, the patella is pulled up and over the hook of the medial femoral trochlea and into its normal position within the trochlear groove. At this point, it becomes more difficult for the horse to lock the patella and easier to flex the pelvic limb from an extended position. In our hands, this from of treatment has been extremely effective in a vast majority of cases involving intermittent upward patellar fixation.

f.. Medial Patellar Desmotomy: The medial patella ligament is one of the key structures (along with the patella and middle patellar ligament) that is required to lock the patella on the femur. Since the problem represents the horse's inability to quickly disengage the patella from the medial femoral trochlea, surgical resection of the medial patellar ligament results in complete resolution of the problem. Once the medial patellar ligament is resected, upward patellar fixation becomes impossible and the clinical signs associated with this condition disappear. Consequently, this has become a very popular form of treatment for horses with intermittent upward patellar fixation.
It is extremely important to note, however, that the medial patellar ligament also performs another function: stabilization of the patella within the trochlear groove of the femur. Without tension from the medial patellar ligament, the patella becomes unstable within the femoropatellar joint. Femoropatellar synovitis and frequently osteoarthritis result. Since the stifle is high-motion in nature, chronic inflammation within this joint poses a significant concern in regard to future performance soundness. Persistent femoropatellar joint inflammation typically needs to be addressed on a continual basis and often requires considerable maintenance therapy. It is for this reason that The Atlanta Equine Clinic views this form of treatment inappropriate except for the most severe of cases that have proven refractory to the other forms of therapy.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Lola is lame...

I rode Lola, the newest addition to my remuda, yesterday. During a previous ride about 2-3 weeks ago, she was stumbling and dragging a rear leg. I gave her some bute and kept her to a walk to complete a trail ride we had embarked on. I put her away and let her rest, hoping things would heal themselves.

Yesterday, she was dragging her left rear leg IMMEDIATELY, even at a walk. I worked her fairly hard, and she kept stumbling and was just terrible through all her gaits, choppy and rough. She was pawing at the ground with her left rear leg and holding it in unusual positions while tied up after the ride. She is OBVIOUSLY hurt. I gave her some bute after the ride, and I'm likely going to visit the vet in a few days. I'm not sure what the problem is, but I'm praying it'll be a quick fix and involve low cost. But you never know with this stuff.

Below are the photos of how she was holding the leg.

Monday, May 17, 2010

New Round Pen...

This weekend, I purchased a round pen. And after having it up for all of 2 days, I don't know why I waited so long to buy the damn thing.

I postponed the purchase because I wanted the right round pen. You know, the right metal material, the right dimensions and height, etc. And the price of my dream round pen ranged from 5K on up. So I delayed the purchase, figuring I'd save the money and buy the round pen I really wanted.

Enter my Craigslist searching cousin, who emailed me about a dealer who was offering a 50ft round pen, complete with gate, for $640. I called the dealer, but that price was for 5ft high panels, made of their "economy" metal. But could they build me panels for a 60ft round pen, all panels 10' long and 6' high, with a 6' entry gate, and 14GA metal? Yes, but it was going to cost me. But nowhere near the 5K estimate I had received months ago. Fine, it's a deal. So Saturday I headed to HWY 16 and Loop 1604 and met the truck.

As soon as I could enlist some labor to help me, I had those panels on the ground and the pen was assembled. Thanks to my 13 year old daughter for helping me lift panels and place them. It took us about 3 hours, but it was all in place over the red sand that had been prepared there by the previous owner.

I quickly threw Woody in the round pen and worked him out. Yes, this was going to be cool! I am eternally grateful to my neighbors who have always let me use their round pen, but this round pen is on my land and easy to get to. It also lets me work one horse in one round pen while another horse could be worked by another horseman in the other round pen. No more lines for the round pen. And my round pen area has some light near it, so I can get use out of it at dusk/night.

Well, Sunday after hospital rounds (I worked an extra weekend to pay for the darn round pen), I worked Vaquero and Lola in the round pen, BECAUSE I COULD! The proximity to my stable makes it so easy to grab a horse to work.

Vaquero and I worked on speed transitions, over and over again. Walk, trot, canter...then back to walk from canter...then canter from walk, then trot...back to walk again. I worked on really controlling his speed enough that I could sustain any gait, including and especially the walk, for as long as I wanted. What a difference from a year ago, when I couldn't get him to walk for even a single step!

Vaquero was well soaked in the humidity after we finished. But I really felt a great connection and some real learning HAS occurred between us. He is such a joy to work in the round pen, but you have to be very subtle in your body language, because if you just THINK about the next gait, he responds. Don't believe me? Come try him some time. I'm serious, he's that freaking sensitive. No whipping the ground with your lunge whip required, and you'd better not fall asleep while working him, or he'll be changing direction before you've even realized that you drifted in front of his driveline by 1 inch. I've heard this from other paso fino owners, so I know it's just part of the breed. But after a year of working with him, I can really appreciate it now.

Lola was next. 5 minutes later, and she was in the round pen. Same drill of frequent speed transitions, with emphasis on the walk. She, like a lot of other horses, hasn't really been taught that it's OK to just walk in the round pen, and so we spent some time letting her do just that: a nice focused walk a few laps around.

I worked her up into a nice sweat and then invited her in to me using my body language. She just stopped and stared, but made no step towards me. So I whipped her up and moved her around again! Later, I re-invited her. Just a stop and stare, with maybe a shift in weight suggesting she MIGHT join up with me. Not good enough, so I sent her moving around the pen again. I did this several more times, finally really moving her butt out, and invited her in again. This time, she dropped her head, licked and chewed, and moved all the way towards the center of the round pen. She had truly joined up with me for the first time since I bought her. It had taken some time, and a lot of work on her part, but it felt like my best connection with her to date. She is cantering easily now, and her transitions are much faster.

I worked with both horses on yielding hind end from the ground, and I plan to do this more, eventually moving their front end and working in a side-pass from the ground for both.

The round pen has made a world of difference. The proximity to my stable will let me work horses more quickly, since I won't have to walk so far to change horses, and the footing in my round pen is ideal. I'll be adding a bit more sand here in the future, but it's very usable as is.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Lola is improving!

Lola has been making steady progress. We really haven't had a step backward yet, and every day I've worked with her, she has gotten a little bit better (knock on wood).

She is a big pain in the rear to catch, however. Emma, my trusty mutt, helped me herd her into a back paddock, and from there she gave in to being caught easily. But she will not be easily caught on my back 2 acres. I resorted to giving her a treat after I caught her today, and hopefully, that will help me catch her the next time. The frustrating part is that all the other horses were habituated to coming in when called. But Lola is infecting the herd with her reluctance to be caught, and bringing in the herd is proving to be a challenge.

Once caught, we headed to the round pen. We did some light longeing and some round pen work, concentrating on speed transitions and maintaining gait. After some work, she was walking, trotting, and cantering, up and down through her speed transitions, easily and with little energy from me. What a difference! Just a few sessions ago, I was working like crazy to get her canter and maintain even her trot for one complete turn around the round pen. Now she is cued into me, and we are communicating more effectively. I made sure to be able to walk her around the round pen for a few revolutions.

Time for the trail, and I was looking forward to her first trail ride with me. She was just great, walking and trotting EXACTLY when I asked for it. I avoided the canter on the trail this time, just to ensure a successful trip, but she will be asked to canter on the trail next time. Her only reluctance was in leaving the barn initially, and she kept looking back. But once we were a good 100 yards from the barn, she settled in.

She's not butter yet, but at the pace she's learning, we should be right on track to finishing her out in a few months. Still lots to do, but I'm very encouraged by her steady progress.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Lola is catching on...

Monday, I rode Woody. Just enjoyed some smooth cantering and the enjoyable ride of a super-broke horse.

Today, it was back on Lola. I did some ground work, longeing her and keeping pressure on her to get her to lope more easily. She did much better, and was going into the lope with less energy required. I then moved to the round pen and did some more. I then mounted her, and the lope was much easier. Success!

I still need a lot more round pen time with her, as she is not consistently turning in on both sides. And she's still stiff and needs flexing. But she's loping more freely, and that will be something to build on.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Lola update, and rain...

Rain, rain, and rain. I am looking forward to sunshine and clear skies. But at least the rain has forced me to slow down and do some ground work with Lola.

Working with Lola is reminding me just how well trained my other horses are. Lola is very stiff, and it's going to be back to basics for her, working on flexing her neck and being more willing to back up. She's improving daily, but it needs a lot of repetition. I also worked on backing her up straight from the ground, as she has a tendency to move her hips over to the right when backing up. She's a smart girl, and has been catching on fast, without getting rattled.

I remembered that it took me a few months to get the excellent ground manners and flexion that I have in my other two mounts, Woody and Vaquero. Thank goodness I have this blog to review, and remind myself where I started with those geldings.

Lola is very predictable, in that whatever she can or can't do from the ground is EXACTLY what she can or can't do under saddle. Thus, I feel confident that my time spent doing ground work will really pay off.

The rain is a blessing in more ways than one. If the weather was better, I'd be blasting off on Lola, riding her too much and ignoring her holes. Thank you God, for sending me a slow down cue.