Tuesday, March 29, 2016

User Error

Tex got away from me last night and it was my fault.  Fortunately, he has forgiven me.

When we do the evening chores, I give Tex his squirt of ulcer paste and then take him out of the pasture where he eats his bucket with his evening dose of magnesium mixed with a smidge of sweet feed.  I take him out so he doesn't have to worry about Flash or the goats hoarding in on his goodies.

Last night, when I went into the pasture with his halter, he stepped away and made a wide "safe" circle around me before deciding it was okay for me to approach.  Hmm, I thought, he hasn't done this in awhile.  I put the halter on and gave him his paste with no flinching or resisting.  Then we went out of the pasture.  As I led Tex to the gate, I felt some resistance and turned to see Flash nip at Tex's butt as we went past.  I shooed Flash away, and out we went.

I was curious to see how Tex was feeling in his hocks so I called to Brett that I was going to take Tex up to the dressage court and lunge him a bit.  My sciatica was bugging me, but manageable, so we hobbled up to the arena.  Tex was a bit worried when I picked up the lunge line but didn't do more than throw his head high for a moment.  He was a bit more worried about lunging than he has been since the clinic.  I had to insist that he go and then he marched around nicely; not totally relaxed, but good enough.  We went left first, since it is his easier side.  He was over-stepping nicely in the walk so I asked him to trot.  He was short-stepping and didn't work out of it so after a few times around I brought him back to a walk and we changed directions.

Going to the right, both his walk and trot looked good.  He had a lot of energy going in the trot and it was beautiful to watch.  We had rain, and snow flurries, earlier in the afternoon and it was cold.  I attributed his increased energy to the weather.  I kissed to ask for canter and took a stronger step towards him; increasing my energy to increase his.  Tex went into canter but he gave me the hairy eyeball and went sideways, away from me.  Normally, that wouldn't be any big deal but when he pulled on the lunge line it went straight to my sciatic and the searing, shooting pain caused me to drop the lunge line.  It hurt too much to hang on.

Tex took off at a dead run, out of the dressage court, past the donkey pasture, around the corner and straight to his pasture with the lunge line streaming behind him.  I limped over to the side of the arena and picked up his lead line, and then hobbled very slowly to where he stood watching me.  Flash was on one side of the pasture fence, Tex was on the other.  He had turned so the lunge line was laying on the ground, stretching up towards the direction from which he had come.  As I approached, he didn't run or flinch, although his head was high.  I was able to walk up to him and I stood next to him for a few minutes, without touching him, telling him that he was a good, brave boy to wait for me.  Then I snapped on the lead rope and unhooked the lunge line.  I walked him back with me to the dressage court so I could put the lunge line in its spot -- and I wanted to end on a calm, positive note.

I took him over to the mounting block and climbed to the top.  I asked him to please not freak out because I would topple off for sure, given how badly my leg hurt.  He was good and we practiced having him line himself up at the block a few times.  Then I climbed down and took him back to his pasture.  After removing his halter, I stood with him a bit.  I wanted to make sure our bond was still solid.

So, while I am disappointed in my lack of judgment while lunging, that resulted in pushing him over the edge mentally, I am pleased that he was easy to catch and his energy came right back to me.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Two Gimpies

That would be me and Brett.

Brett injured a ligament in his foot and has been slowly gimping around for a few weeks.  He wears a brace, which helps, but it hurts more often than not.

I pulled my hamstring muscle (thank you, Lucy, for that lovely buck when I asked for canter on Saturday morning).  So, I'm moving slowly as well.

The neighbors must think we are a pathetic pair as we limp around doing the morning and afternoon chores.

For those of you with garden/weather envy after my Easter post, just to make you feel better, we have rain and snow flurries today.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Easter in the Garden

I hated Easter sunrise service when I was a kid.  My parents would wake us up at the crack of dawn so we could sit in the pre-dawn grey, shivering under blankets, sitting on a cold hillside waiting for the sun.  I was so focused on my discomfort that I missed everything else.  All I remember is the cold, and the donuts when it was over.

I thought about that this morning as Brett and I did the chores; as the sun broke over the ridge and filled our little valley.

It was an Easter sunrise service that spoke to my heart.

That filled me with peace and hope and joy.

And, really, that's what Easter is all about after all; love rising to conquer all.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Random Friday

1.  We had the most amazing rainbow the other day.  It lifted from the ridge across the road, arched across the sky, and landed behind the barn.

2.  Tex is doing very well on his meds and supplements.  The first time I gave him ulcer paste (4ccs of gunk in a syringe that I squirt into the back of his mouth), he was not happy.  He threw his head high and ran backwards.  I stayed with him, remained calm, and rested the syringe against the side of his mouth until he lowered his head and stood calmly.  The second evening, he took two steps back and then agreed to accept the goop.  He's already responding so we will continue with ulcer treatment.  I did not have him scoped.  In the physical exam, he reacted at the pressure points that indicate ulcer.  The medication he is on now masks the symptoms - coats the stomach so it doesn't hurt - but doesn't cure the ulcers.  Our plan was to see if he improved with the ulcer paste, and he has, so we will switch him to a medication which will help with the healing process once he finishes his two week course of paste.  He loves his magnesium pellets and gobbles them down.  He will get them twice a day for a month, and then switch to a maintenance dose of once per day.  He's been very mellow the past few days.  Brett has started calling him "Dopey" because he is so relaxed.  I think he must have been in quite a bit of pain; in both his hind end and his stomach.  I spent some time in the pasture with him last evening; just being; no agenda; just standing next to him and hanging out.  He let out deep sigh after deep sigh, and nudged me with his nose.

3.  I am going to try magnesium with Lucy as well.  She was treated for ulcers when I bought her and is not in pain.  But, she is a hot head and it would be nice if that could be toned down a bit.

4.  JenJ commented that it will be interesting to see Tex's true personality come out, once he is feeling better.  I've thought about that a lot.  Sometimes, you end up with a completely different horse; and it isn't always an easy horse.  It's like peeling an onion: you take care of the pain and get a different horse; you take care of the stress/fear and you get a different horse again.  Right now, he is a more affectionate and gentle horse so I am hopeful that the inside of his onion layers is exactly that.

5.  Spring is my favorite time of year on the ranch.  The weather is still jacket-cold in the mornings, but the grass is green, daffodils are exploding under the trees and in the flower beds, frogs are croaking a symphony in the streams which gurgle happily, Canada geese add their honking to the melody as they fly overhead or waddle around next to us (you'd swear they were pets, they are so fearless) as we do chores.  We still need a fire in the wood-stove at night, with lows in the upper 30s or low 40s, but the afternoons are sunny and comfortable.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Tex Visits the Vet

We trailered Tex down to my favorite vet, a bit more than an hour away, this afternoon.  Tex walked right onto the trailer for me.

He received quite a work up, which is exactly what I wanted.  Our vet agreed that he is a bit reactive but she characterized it as "spooky" more than "reactive."  A thorough exam revealed soreness in his hind, particularly in his hocks.  His sensitivity at the poll is at a pressure point related to his hocks.

His eyesight is fine in both eyes so his being uncomfortable approached from the right is not vision related.

His line breeding is far enough back to not be a concern; although she did mention that Driftwood horses can be "challenging."

He does not exhibit classical symptoms of PSSM but we are running the test just to be sure.  We did not test for Lyme; it is not in our area.

It is very likely that he has ulcers.

She thinks Tex's spookiness is primarily pain driven but also has a component of mistreatment in his past; some fear that he can't let go of.

First, we addressed the pain.  Tex had injections in both of his hocks and a full acupuncture treatment.  He is starting on a regime of ulcer medication.  If he responds, we will put him on a maintenance regime of a supplement that protects the stomach.

He is also starting on a magnesium supplement, with a high dose to start and then leveling off after a month.  If this supplement doesn't help with the reactivity, she has another medication we can try.
Tex ready to load and go home

Tex handled everything very well.  He wasn't thrilled with the idea of walking into her treatment room, but he did it.  He didn't react to his blood being drawn, or the injections or the acupuncture.  He was sedated for the hock injections.

I was instructed to watch Tex for improvement  -- and she recommended that I start riding him whenever I want (after a few days off).  She said that Mark was probably concerned about liability when he advised that I not get on Tex, and his recommendation to get a full veterinary work-up before riding at home was sound advice.  She also recommended that I continue with the Masterson work since anything that helps relieve tension and soreness is good.

I'm not going to rush things, but I'm feeling very optimistic -- both about getting Tex to a happier place and about the potential of him being a solid riding horse for me.

Monday, March 21, 2016

In Sync

Sunday morning, we put Flash and Jackson in the top pasture to graze.  Normally, we would put Tex and Flash up there but I don't want Tex on lush grass until we rule out PSSM.  Jackson hasn't been able to partake yet because he's been gimpy, but he'd been sound on all four since Friday morning.  So, Brett got Flash, while I took Jackson out of the arena that has been his winter paddock.

Half-way up to the back pasture, Jackson figured out where we were going.  He immediately became very excited, pulling on the lead rope, prancing and even throwing in a half-rear when I told him to knock it off (which he did, barely).

Meanwhile, Tex was watching the boys leave and wasn't happy about being separated from his herd or about being left out of the fun.  He began galloping around the pasture, sliding to a stop by the gate, and then galloping off again.  Brett and I went into the house to have breakfast and I kept an eye on Tex, through the dining room window, who continued to run.  The goats were out with him, but goats don't count.  The girls were in the pasture on the other side of the driveway, but that wasn't good enough either.

After breakfast, Brett went started grooming the two arenas, since rain was coming in at noontime.  He wanted to have the arenas sealed and ready.  Tex had stopped running but he was covered in sweat, with steam rising off of his back while his flanks heaved.  I opened the gate and let myself in.  I didn't have a clear plan.  After all the Masterson work I did on Saturday, I didn't want to lunge or do much of anything with him.  My plan was just to keep him company and see if he would settle enough to eat.

Tex walked over and stood next to me with his face at my shoulder.  Hmm, I thought.  This is the correct position for liberty work.  I wonder what would happen if I started to walk.  Tex stayed with me, right at my shoulder.  We walked all over the place, straight lines, circles, and changes of direction.  We stopped, we started, we were in perfect sync.  Then I walked four or five paces away from him, stood facing him, and made a "come here" motion with my fingers while saying "Tex, come here."  And he did!  He walked forward, right up to me and put his head against my chest.  I walked backwards and asked him to follow; he did.  We stopped; I asked him to whoa, backed up, and called him to me.  OMG, I thought, this is incredible.  And so.much.fun.

I went to the barn and found Brett.
"You have to come watch me and Tex!"
(And then I prayed Tex would do it again).
I went back into the arena, and he did it all again.  I think he had as much fun as I did.  Later, I was pulling weeds in the garden and as I came out the gate and headed to the chicken run with my bucket of weeds, I saw Tex standing with his head over the gate watching me.  I tossed the weeds to the chickens and walked back towards the garden.

Tex nickered to me.  My head snapped up and I grinned.  I have a very strong bond with Lucy and with Jackson, but this bond with Tex is different.  And I love it.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Lucy Goosey

Yeah, that's her nickname.  Because she is a goose sometimes.

Saturday, after I finished working with Tex, Brett and I rode.  Given Lucy's antics the day before, I lunged her before getting on.  Specifically, I lunged her in the troll corner of the dressage court.  She had a lovely circle going on the side furthest from the corner but consistently scooted in towards me as she went by the corner.

We worked there until she relaxed, in both directions, around the whole circle.  It took awhile.  She was blowing hard and sweaty when I took her to the mounting block.  I tried the method I learned at the clinic, climbing to the top of the block and asking Lucy to come to me and line herself up.  She nailed it the first time.

We didn't do too much since she was pretty much out of steam by the time I got on.  The little bit of work we did, though, was very good.  Then we watched Brett and Pistol working on her trot.  Pistol was bracing a bit and Brett was working, using frequent turns, to break the brace and get relaxation.  Pistol threw in a few trot-a-lopes, but definitely improved as they went along.

Lucy and Pistol spent the afternoon in the top pasture, grazing on the grass that is growing deep and green up there.  We brought them back down in the late afternoon and put them in their regular pasture.  I took a side route; one that crosses over one of the streams flowing through our property.  We haven't had rain since last weekend so the stream was not very deep or very wide; I was able to step over it with no trouble.  Lucy reached the bank, planted her feet, gave it a hard look, and then sailed over the top.

Pistol stepped over like the solid trail horse that she is.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Another Good Session

This morning I spent some time with Tex.

We started by working on trailer loading.  When Brett bought him four years ago, he was reluctant to load.  But Brett used him regularly for trail rides and cattle work, and Tex got comfortable with the whole loading thing.  But, he balked going to, and coming home from, the clinic last weekend.  I've started working on this too -- I lead him to the trailer on a loose line and if he stops we back.  I'm not forceful about it, but I am firm.  Then we go forward again - which is much more relaxed.  We practiced Thursday after I got home from work and we worked on it until he had loaded four times.  After each successful time, I let him hand-graze next to the trailer for a few minutes.  Today he loaded on the second try.

After a thorough grooming session, which he is enjoying more and more, I took him up to the dressage court.  We reviewed having him line himself up at the mounting block and then I lunged him a bit.  He offered some lovely trot; soft and fluid.  When I do start riding him again, I'm going to have to make sure we figure out what makes him worry and brace.

Last, I took him back to the tie rail area and worked on him using the Masterson releases I've learned so far.  I haven't completed the course yet -- I'm a little more than half way through.

I again started with the liver Meridian release and noted that pretty much all his tension is held in his neck and withers area.  Excellent since I know most of the releases for those areas.  The goal of the Masterson Method of massage is to alleviate soreness, strain and tension.  The horse is an active participant in the process.  After applying a technique, it is important to step away from the horse and let them process and give the release.  Some horses lick and chew (Tex), some yawn (Lucy) and some shake.

After the liver Meridian, I work on the neck.  This involves bending the horse's neck around, like you would in a carrot stretch, but in small increments as you move along each vertebrae.  You also incorporate some gently movement at each step, to loosen the joint.

Next, is a head release.  Lucy hates this one; she is very protective of her ears and doesn't like me messing around up there.  She's getting better -- I only ask for a little bit.  I thought Tex would resist as well, given how head shy he is, but he was actually much better than Lucy.  He dropped his head for me and released.

Last, I worked on his shoulder blades.  This involves three different techniques to release the scapula and the C7-T1 junction.

I still need to learn the how to work on the withers, the hind and the back.

The releases are difficult to describe in a blog and you really need to get the book or take the course (which is online and involves the book plus instructional videos).  I think both this method and TTouch are good.  The important thing is to find a method that you are comfortable using.  For whatever reason, this method is a better fit with me.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Random Friday

1.  Thanks to those of you who provided me clarification on inbreeding v. line breeding.  My knowledge gap on the subject was glaringly apparent in my mis-use of the terminology.  Tex is line bred, meaning the same horse shows up more than once, but it is back enough generations to disqualify it from inbreeding.  Some breeds have line breeding more than others, and most of the time it isn't a problem.  But, it can contribute to behavior issues and is a factor in Tex's reactivity -- since Driftwood was a bit reactive.  I don't think it is the whole story, or even most of the story.  I'm mentally giving it a weight of 20%.

2.  One of the Masterson releases is very simple and a good way to start work on a horse, or check in with them.  It is called the Liver Meridian release and involves running your hand or fingers along the neck, then across the back and rump, and down the back leg.  It is done on both sides of the horse.  The movement of your hand is very slow and you watch the horse's face constantly to see if there is a spot that needs focus or release.  When Tex is "flinchy" in the pasture, I do this release.  He knows it and welcomes it.  At the end, he is usually standing with his head low and his lower lip slack.  It flaps a little bit.  It's very cute.

3.  While we were at the clinic, there was another big storm at home.  Our normal rainfall for the year is 40".  With the two weekend storms in March, we are over that mark a bit.  The locals call heavy rainfall in March, a "March Miracle."  The Northern California reservoirs are at, or close to, capacity.  The snow pack is good.  Southern California is still well below average and one good season in half the State isn't going to much of a dent in the drought.  But, at least it won't get worse.

4.  Brett's oldest grandchild, Andrew, had a big week -- a big two days, actually.  He had his Eagle Scout ceremony, he had his 16th birthday, and he passed his drivers license test.  Brett was able to fly to Colorado and be part of the celebrations.  We're very proud of Andrew.

5.  This morning we brought the horses into the barn so they would be easily accessible for our farrier.  I brought in Tex first.  He was calm, with no flinching in sight.  I slipped on his halter and led him into the barn with the lead rope slack between us.  Brett followed with Flash.  We left Jackson in the small arena because it is close by and he is a bit gimpy.  I'm hoping Greg can trim him in the arena.  After putting Tex in his stall, I went to get Lucy.  My plan was to bring Lucy and Pistol in at the same time.  They were at the far end of their pasture, by the road, where they had a clear view of us moving Tex and Flash into the barn.  When they saw me walking towards their pasture, they started ambling slowly up towards the gate.  When I reached the gate, they were only a quarter of the way up the pasture.  I picked up Lucy's halter from its hook and they both broke into a balls-out gallop for the gate, sliding to a stop in a mess of flying mane and flying mud.  They continued hopping, scooting and snorting while I opened the gate.  Lucy jammed her nose into her halter and I sent Pistol off since she was trying to charge out of the gate, ahead of us.  Lucy followed me out and then swung her butt around while I closed the gate, snorting and prancing.  On the walk to the barn she continued to snort, spun twice and reared when I told her not to rush.  Honestly, she is much more reactive than Tex in many ways.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Tex Has Been Reading My Blog

I'm feeling better about the situation with Tex today.  Much, much better.

First, I received a ton of feedback on his bloodlines and did a little research myself.  He has Driftwood once on the top (sire side) and twice on the bottom (dam side).  That isn't optimum but it isn't a death sentence either.  I've heard that Driftwood was reactive but I've also read that he was a good all around, kind horse.  He was one of the top five rodeo (cattle work) horses of all time so I can understand why his name shows up more than once.  Tex was bred to be a rodeo roping horse and that was his first job.

Second, I did some research on liberty work and watched a couple YouTube videos last night.  I think Tex and I could have a lot of fun with liberty work.  I'm excited about the prospect of building our relationship to the point where we are in perfect sync without any tack.

Third, Tex is very happy to be back home and was very relaxed this morning when I went out to feed.  When I gave him his bucket of vitamins, he didn't flinch at all as I stopped by his side and gave him a good-morning rub.  Later, I brought hay into the pasture and tossed it into the feeder.  He stood close to me as I did that and when I turned to leave -- he left the hay and followed me.  (shock, disbelief).

Tex, why are you following me?  

I stopped.  Tex stopped.  He positioned himself next to me and looked over with soft eyes.

I'd like another one of those good-morning rubs, please.

I walked over and started to rub.  He relaxed further.  He didn't flinch when I touched him.

Ahhhhhh.  That feels great.  He turned his head and nudged my coat pocket.  Is there a cookie in there by any chance?

I know that this morning was just one morning.  He will have good days and bad days but this is the best day he has ever had.  He showed me that he can relax and not react.  Obviously, being at home in his own pasture has a lot to do with that as well.

A couple more responses to comments over the last few days:  

A number of you have mentioned TTouch.  I'm familiar with it, think its great, and have used it in the past.  I have been working, over the past year, on the horses using the Masterson Method which is a combination of massage and release work.  It made an incredible difference in Lucy, who was quite tense when I started, and Tex enjoys it as well.  If you Google "Masterson Method" it will take you to the website and also give some YouTube links.  I have been working my way through the training course and have been very impressed with the results.  For me, it works more effectively than TTouch -- but they are both excellent body work methods.

Additionally, I have ordered Tex an herbal supplement that was recommended by Mark and his wife.  They've had good success with it on horses that are reactive.  They also recommended discussing magnesium oxide with my vet as it can also help settle the pathways in the brain that cause reaction.  One of the things that I like about Mark Rashid is that he doesn't push or endorse products.  He said, "Here are some things that have worked for me." and then sent me out to find them.  There are a few clinicians out there (you know who they are) who push their brand of this and their endorsed product of that.  To me, that is an instant turn-off.  While some of them are knowledgeable, they seem to be in it for the endorsement money/marketing of their own products and not for the horse.  I won't work with them and I won't buy their products.

(okay, stepping off my soapbox now)

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Tex: Thoughts and Reactions

I can't thank everyone enough for all the feedback in the comments section of my last post.  In particular, breeding/pedigree/lineage is not my forte.  It is so helpful to have those of you who are, weigh in.

I'll try to describe how Tex is reactive, since I don't think I was clear on that point and the question was asked: how can Tex be so solid and calm in what you teach him, but still be reactive?

The reactive part of Tex is almost like a reflex.  It feels disconnected from him.  I'll give some examples:

When I go into the boys' pasture, Tex always looks up and walks over to me in a relaxed and friendly way.  Then he stops a few feet away from where I am standing (I always wait for him to come to me).  I say "Hey Mr. Tex Mex, how are you doing today? " as I extend my hand, palm up in greeting.  He stretches out his nose and touches my hand, then I move to his left side and touch his neck, above his shoulder, firmly but gently; I don't tickle him but I don't pat him either.  Invariably, he flinches at the first touch.  "You goof; it's just me" I say.  I rub his withers, the way horses do when they are grooming each other, and he immediately relaxes.  But he always, always flinches first.

At the clinic, as I lunged Tex yesterday he was relaxed and tuned into me.  If I walked fast, he would trot.  If I slowed, he would walk (eventually).  To get a prompter transition, I worked on moving him onto a smaller circle while walking slowly until he came to a walk.  Then I praised him and we did it again.  We did the same thing with transitioning from walk to halt.  If I stopped walking, he was supposed to stop.  Initially, he just kept on walking - slowly and in a relaxed way, but still walking.  I reeled in the lunge line until he stopped.  He caught on pretty quickly (he is a smart horse), and after the second time when he nailed it, Mark said "go up to him and give him a rub; praise him."  So I did.  And he flinched when I touched him -- even though he was standing quietly, watching me.  He wasn't alarmed, but he reacted like it was the first time I had touched him.

Mark watched this happening, over and over, during the course of the three days.  He didn't say much until the end; I'm sure he was waiting to see if Tex would work out of it and stop reacting.  On the last day, Mark walked over to Tex (calmly, in a non-threatening way) and Tex ran backwards.  I laughed "stranger danger!" -- and Mark shot me a look.  He said, quietly (because he is a quiet guy), "I'm not a stranger to this horse."

At this point, Tex runs from everyone except me -- and sometimes not from Brett.  But even with us, he still flinches or steps away or reacts.

Mark did say that often horses, especially ones who are as easy to train as Tex, are often pushed too hard in their early training.

I think Tex has a couple of strikes against him.  Time will tell whether they can be overcome.  I'm not giving up on him, by any means.  He has a lot of lines going back to Driftwood -- being inbred is a problem to start with and Driftwood was a reactive horse.  Thank you to all who pointed that out (I didn't know anything about Driftwood other than that he was a successful competition horse and sire).  So, he's got a double whammy of reactive in his genes.  I'm quite certain he was treated roughly and it is very likely that he was overloaded in his early training.  The amazing thing to me is that he has remained sweet and kind, and that he tries hard to do what is asked.  There isn't a mean or aggressive bone in his body.  Just fear and reaction.

Mark said that I am doing everything exactly right with Tex.  I'm giving him clear instructions in a way that doesn't cause pressure.  He feels safe with me.  The reaction is greatly reduced from when I started working with him, but it still exists.  Until it is gone, it isn't safe to ride him.  If he reacts to something, he will flee and ask questions later.  And apologize.  But, I can't afford to be part of the reaction from his back.  He's tall and strong -- the chances of me getting hurt in the reaction process are too great.

I am going to continue working with Tex.  He is improving and he is becoming affectionate with me.  I'm going to research doing fancy ground work with him -- kind of like dogs on an agility course -- teaching him to weave through cones and such.  I think it will be fun and it will help me to have a goal in my work with him.  If he stops reacting, I'll ride him.  If he doesn't, I won't.  Mark said it would take at least six months for the reaction to go away and most likely take years.  That's fine.  I have time -- and I have the lovely Lucy to ride.

I'm also pursuing a full medical work up -- and I will include Lyme disease in the blood work.  My vet is very thorough and I am going to ask her to explore all possibilities.  We have an appointment next week.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Mark Rashid Clinic March 2016: Final thoughts

Today was the last day of the clinic.  Brett and Pistol did a review of their exercises from the previous two days and then spent a good amount of time working on trot work.

Brett's goal was twofold.  First, he worked on getting the walk-trot transition from thought.  Secondly, he worked on Pistol's trot.  Pistol has a tendency to throw her head in the air and hollow her back at trot.  And she tries to break into a lope -- trotalope, as Mark calls it.

Brett was able to get Pistol to relax and carry herself in a more balanced frame by turning her whenever she rushed or braced.  They had some lovely stretches of trot.

Brett said he's never enjoyed trotting so much -- no pressure and riding from thought.  Mark said that Pistol didn't look or act like she is 20 years old.

It was another very successful clinic for Brett and Pistol.

Tex and I reviewed our work as well.  I thought we would quickly lunge, I would take Tex to the mounting block, get on and work on whatever Mark felt we should do.

It didn't go that way.

We reviewed lunging.  Tex and I had great connection and he tuned into me, getting lighter and quicker and smoother as we went along.

Then we went to the mounting block and Tex nailed lining himself up (we had also practiced that some on our own earlier).

And then Mark said, "I don't want you to get on him.  He isn't safe."

My heart sank.  He was right, and I knew it, but I was disappointed nevertheless.

Mark talked to me at length about how reactive Tex is; even with me.  He still flinches when I touch him and he about jumped out of his skin when Mark approached him.  This was after Mark worked with him two days in a row and gave him nothing but kindness.

I am looking at three scenarios.

1.  Tex may have PSSM or some other medical condition that is causing him to be reactive.  I am going to take him in for a complete work-up as soon as I can get an appointment.  If the reactive behavior it tied to a medical condition, we may be able to manage it and he may eventually (say in six months) be rideable.  ...there's a lot of "ifs" in there and, I have to say, I'm not feeling very optimistic.

2.  Tex may be reactive because of his breeding.  Here is his pedigree.  I don't see any "repeats" but it also only goes back three generations.  If the issue is breeding, there is nothing we can do.

3.  Tex may be reactive because that's just how he is.  Mark held his hands out, shoulder length apart, and said "this is the range of normal re-activity in horses.  There is variation, but most horses fall somewhere within this range."  He stretched one hand further out, the arm almost straight.  "This is where Tex is."  If he reacts to something, and he will at some point, it would be dangerous to be on his back.  Tex isn't mean; he's a very kind horse with a ton of try.  But he's a flight animal with a hyper-sensitive flight reaction.

So, if we end up with scenarios 2 or 3, I will never be able to ride Tex.  I will still work with him of course.  There's lots of stuff we can do on the ground and we have a good, strong bond.  I don't want to lose that.  I just want him to be comfortable and confident -- at whatever level that may be.

I won't deny that I was pretty depressed on the drive back home.  Maybe we'll find some straight forward medical reason, maybe he'll respond to management of that condition, and maybe in six months (when all that has a chance to work), I'll be able to ride him.  Maybe.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Mark Rashid Clinc March 2016: Day 2

Brett was first up this morning again.  He and Pistol started with a review of their turns on the forehand and turns on the haunches -- and they nailed it.  So, they did a few side passes and nailed those as well.

Mark's approach to side pass is different, in an interesting and positive way.  Basically, Brett alternated the aids for turns on the forehand and on the haunches so that the front feet crossed, and then the back.  In this way, the horse (Pistol in this case) was able to understand the method/reason behind the movement and to think instead of just react.  She moved front, then back, and then the two movements merged into a fluid side pass.

The side pass work was interspersed with trot breaks.  Pistol was initially overly ambitious; trying to "trot-alope," as Mark described it.

To get Pistol to relax, Brett asked from thought followed by a whisper of leg -- she was really close to getting it completely from thought.  She transitioned into a beautiful, smooth, relaxed and balanced trot.  It was so beautiful, that I just sat and watched and completely forgot about the camera.

I had a few minutes before going into the arena for my lesson, later in the morning, so I walked Tex out to the obstacle course.  We had spent some time out there yesterday afternoon with Pistol, and Tex was stellar.  He didn't do everything but he didn't snort or spook either.  He studied the bridge, and the teeter-totter, and the logs.  He wasn't too sure about the cowboy curtain but did eventually follow me through.  We worked on it again this morning and he followed me through (rushing a bit, yes, but still).

For my lesson, we began by reviewing lunging.

The main focus this time was to get Tex to relax through the change of direction transitions.

When we got that going smoothly, I asked Mark to help us with the mounting block.  I demonstrated our "usual" mounting block method.  I walk Tex to the block, line him up,

then climb up the steps -- and if he hasn't swung away while I'm mounting the steps he does it when I get to the top.

So, I climb back down, line him up, climb the steps...

No, no said Mark.  You are teaching him that moving away is what you want.  When he moves away, you get down and lead him off.  That's a release.  You want him to come to you and to stay.

Mark worked with Tex first.  He climbed up on the block and sent Tex to the side of the block.

Then, from the top of the block, he guided Tex to where he wanted.

If Tex swung his butt away, Mark stayed on the block and moved Tex back over to the side - and started over.

Eventually, Tex stayed put and Mark gave him a lot of praise and rubs on his neck and butt.

Then Mark climbed down and led Tex off.

When he was being consistently successful, I worked with Tex.  Once he understood, he was more than willing to stand quietly at the block and get a massage.

The other thing that Mark mentioned is that I should consider having Tex tested for PSSM.  It is a genetic condition, common in Quarter horses, that makes them uncomfortable, reactive and to have hard muscles (almost like tying up).  He asked if Tex likes to roll or lay down.  I said laying down, not so much; but there isn't a horse on earth who likes to roll more than Tex.  He rolls back and forth seven or eight times; stands; goes back down and rolls a dozen times more.  This is apparently a symptom of PSSM; horses roll to try to get comfortable.  I called our vet and she said I can send a piece of Tex's mane to the University of Minnesota equine lab and they can run the test directly for me.  I will do that as soon as we get home.  There is no cure for PSSM, but it can be controlled with diet and exercise.

(Lytha, on your line breeding question, Mark suggested looking back five or six generations.)

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Mark Rashid Clinic March 2016: Day 1

Brett and Pistol were first up this morning.  The arena was pretty sloppy but, thankfully, the rain had stopped.  We came down yesterday, driving through torrential rain for five hours.  We were asleep by 8pm -- Brett exhausted from dealing with semi spray on the freeway and me fighting a cold.

Mark Rashid had Brett work on turns on the forehand and turns on the haunches.

He said that Pistol is a "been there, done that, solid citizen horse."  Brett struggled to get the timing and flow right for the exercises and Pistol kept her patient, willing attitude throughout.
Turn on the haunches; rock back to elevate the front and then turn -- smoothly
I don't know about everyone else, but I think that taking lessons/training/improving is 90% feeling like a dork and 10% getting it right.

Brett did get it all coordinated and they ended on a very good note.

I had time to put away the camera and get Tex ready; then we were up.  Mark remembered Tex from a year ago; Tex had a major meltdown and Mark saw the fear and flee that consumed Tex.  You can read about that here. We talked about the work I've been doing with Tex and I mentioned that Tex is unable to flex on a circle and can't figure out lunging.  Mark thought we should start with lunging and asked me to demonstrate what I've been getting.
Demonstrating our slow, small circle at walk.

He watched us for a few minutes and then walked over.  "I can fix that in five minutes," he said while taking the lunge line from me.  And he did.  Tex initially did the same thing with Mark, swinging his haunches away instead of going in a circle.  Mark fixed that in a minute or so; sending Tex around with his body language.

Tex initially went into "flee" mode, racing around like a demon.  Then he settled as Mark continued to give direction with his posture.  When Tex was able to do walk-trot-walk transitions calmly, Mark changed direction.  Tex fled again, but came back sooner.

Last, Mark worked on changing direction.  Then he handed me the lunge line.

He told me to walk with Tex instead of standing still and having Tex go in a circle.  Tex needs the feedback of me walking.  I was to regulate whether we walk or trot with the speed of my walk.  To halt, I stopped.

I started by walking with my body angled behind Tex, as Mark had done.  Mark corrected me, saying that Tex knows and trusts me so I could immediately connect with him.  Mark angled his body away from Tex, to give Tex space and remove pressure.  Tex remained relaxed when I connected and we worked in perfect sync.  I would have cried but I'm pretty sure that is bad form during a clinic lesson.

By the end, we were changing direction, doing transitions, and walking in and out of lunging v. leading.

Mark noted that Tex is very willing and tries hard.  He said that someone in his early training may have taken advantage of his trainable personality and over-loaded him with too much, too fast.  And, clearly, he's been roughly treated.  He said that I did a good job with Tex and that we may be able to work through Tex's issues.  He suggested that I check Tex's registration papers to make sure he hasn't been inbred; if so, we're pretty much sunk.  If the flee response is the result of poor breeding then there isn't much we can do.  I've looked at his papers in the past and I don't remember seeing the same name twice so I think we're good.

Besides, I believe Tex can get there.  I believe we can get there together.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

All I Want

Brett's been trying to figure out what to get me for my birthday, later this month.

I told him that all I want for my birthday is Tex (he is Brett's horse).

Brett said okay.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Silly Lucy

Sunday, after I finished working with Tex, I took Lucy out for some green grass grazing and a roll in the arena.  She was a wee bit miffed that I had been working with Tex and not with her.  She threw her head into her halter and I had to tell her to take a chill pill as we walked to the arena.  After her roll, she bucked and jumped and pawed the air.  Brett came out of the barn with Pistol and the two mares had a good time rolling and running around.

Lucy skirted the pond size puddle at the far end of the arena initially.  Then she waded all the way in.  She stood there, doing the Spanish walk in place.  She very elegantly, and forcefully, pawed at the water until it was splashing her entire body.  Pistol stood nearby, watching.  Lucy alternated splashing with one front leg, and then the other.

After she was thoroughly wet, she started circling in the water, nose down, making small pawing motions.  Brett and I looked at each other -- and then she did it: she laid down in the water.

And stood right back up with a very surprised look on her face.

Silly, silly Lucy.

(Once again, picture by Buffy.  She came out awhile back and took a whole bunch of photos -- and then made us a calendar with them.)

Monday, March 7, 2016

One Step Back, Two Steps Forward

I've been working with Tex two or three times a day, doing carrot stretches and just hanging out.  Instead of breaking off pieces of carrot ahead of time, I keep the carrot whole.  Tex stretches and I let him bite off the end of the carrot.  This gives him control over the "snap" and gives immediate positive feedback since the carrot piece is in his mouth.  He went from jumping to leaning away to flinching to no reaction.  He's also getting more comfortable with me being on his right and stretching on that side.

Sunday morning we had a brief break between storm fronts so I took the opportunity of working with him some more.  We spent some time hand grazing, some time grooming, and then I took him into the fenced arena.  I have a fairly long lead rope on his halter so used it instead of a lunge line to see if I could get him to walk in a circle around me.  I profusely praised every little piece of try, the halting steps forward instead of swinging to face to me.  He thought, and licked his lips, and tried some more.

He did it!  I'm not gonna lie; I almost started to cry.  He walked in a complete circle around me.  Sure it was a small circle and it was done very cautiously, with a ton of encouragement, but he DID IT!

I took off his halter so he could roll, which he did, and then he immediately came back to me.  I walked away, thinking I would give him the space to run a bit.  Instead he did that join-up thing.  He put his nose at my shoulder and followed me.

I did start to cry.  And I kissed him.  And he liked it.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Pistol Rocks It

This weekend, Windows to My Soul (the equine therapy group Brett and Pistol volunteer for) hosted a three-day training for therapists involved with this type of therapy.  People came from all over the country to attend.  Two of the three days are seminars and "book-learning" but Saturday was hands-on application.  Brett was asked to bring Pistol since she is the therapy horse for Windows to My Soul.  Of course he said yes.

Then the weather forecasts started coming in with predictions of heavy rain.  WTMS does not have a covered arena so they moved the venue to a barn in Placerville that does.  We had been to the barn when we first moved here and were looking for a dressage trainer.  It sits at the top of a hill, accessible by a narrow rutted road and then a steep, dirt road full of gullies.  At the top, there is no room to turn around a trailer larger than a two-horse.  

Brett talked to the director of the program who talked to the barn owner who arranged for Brett to park across the road, at the bottom of the hill.  Despite his misgivings about the pouring rain, Brett loaded Pistol into the trailer and drove off at noon on Saturday.  At five o'clock he sent me a text that he was on his way home -- and freezing.  

He told me that he walked Pistol up the hill, in the rain, and into the covered arena.  The sound of the rain on the roof was deafening but Pistol was unconcerned.  The instructor took Pistol's lead rope and demonstrated the exercise.  Then the class divided into groups, one of which took Pistol.  They took turns with one person leading her while another rode bareback.  Brett said he just watched from the sidelines.  Pistol walked and walked and walked -- and looked over at Brett periodically with a quizzical look in her eye.  

When they got home I had the chores done and hay waiting in Pistol's stall.  The rain came down in torrents last night, waking us up with its rattling wind and train rushing gusts.  This morning there was almost 2 1/2 inches in the rain guage.  

(Picture by Buffy)

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Carrot Attack

Thursday evening when I got home from work, at dusk, Brett mentioned that Tex had a scrape on his face.  It didn't look serious from what Brett could tell; but Tex wouldn't let Brett close enough to get a good look.

I grabbed a couple carrots from the big bag in the feed room and headed into the pasture.  Instead of coming up to me, as usual, Tex circled away nervously.  He stood behind Flash, resting his head on Flash's rump, and watched me.  I could see white around his eyes.

I waited and made sure that Tex saw the carrot.  He circled closer, stopping at a safe distance and then stretching his neck as far as it would go towards me.  His lips twitched for the carrot.  I snapped off a piece and Tex sat back on his haunches, then spun and ran.

You goofy horse.  It's a carrot.

He came back, cautiously.  Again the neck stretch and twitching lips.  He teased the carrot piece into his mouth, then pulled back and dropped the carrot.

Back he came, nabbed the carrot and crunched it down while I talked to him and tried to look at his face.  I was able to stand next to him and scratch his withers, then rub his neck, and finally his forehead.  He had a scrape above his eye and another, smaller one close to his ear.  Neither were bleeding.  I shook my head in disbelief as I walked out of the pasture.  Tex scraped his face on something and he thought he was in trouble.  And what the heck was the deal with the carrot?

Friday afternoon we brought the horses into the barn ahead of the whopper storm we are experiencing.  High winds, torrential rain and flash flood warnings are sounding on my phone every few hours.  It was already raining when we brought the horses in, water was dripping off of my hat.  Tex came over to me when we went into the pasture to get he and Flash but he was still nervous.  For the first time since early January, he pulled back when I put the halter on.  I let it slide off his face and hit the ground, as he ran backwards.  He immediately came back and stood quietly for round two.   I hung out with him a little while before putting him in his stall.  I waited until the tension was gone from his body.

Later, I started wondering if the sound of a carrot snapping reminds him of the sound of a whip.

I took two long carrots into his stall this afternoon.  I stood with him in the rain, in his run-out, so he wouldn't feel trapped in any way.  He was fine with holding the carrot in his teeth while I snapped off the end.  When he reached for another piece, I snapped it off in my hand.  He reacted by sitting and spinning and leaving; standing at the far end of his run with his head over the fence looking away from me.  I gave the piece of carrot to Lucy who had her head hanging over the fence into Tex's area, waiting for her share.

I continued snapping off pieces, at a distance, then feeding them to Tex.  I wanted him to understand that it was a carrot, not a whip.  He's still not sure but he's willing to give me the benefit of the doubt and I'll take that bit of trust as a start.

Thanks to everyone for their helpful, encouraging comments -- Kate, JenJ, Christian, Teresa and Linda.  I feel like pieces of the puzzle named Tex are coming together.  Understanding the why behind Tex's fear makes it so much easier.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Random Friday

1.  February was very dry.  We receive the lions share of our rain in the months of December, January and February.  The first two wet months gave us above averagerainfall and we were doing major fist pumping; hoping that a good dent would be made in our drought.  But, February was warm and dry and beautiful -- and the Sierra snow pack (which provides our water in late spring and early summer as it melts) fell from 130% of normal to 83%. I felt guilty enjoying the warm weather but now we have a series of rain systems moving through over the next week.  Hopefully, they will bring a good amount of rain to us and snow to the higher elevations.

2.  Kate left a comment on my last post, about roping horses not being able to bend to the right, that resonated in a big way.  She said, "...some horses are severely punished if they move to the right and particularly if they take the right lead, and horses that have been treated that way tend to be very fearful and reactive when asked to move or bend to the right -- they're being asked to do something they've been trained to never, ever do under penalty of a beating."  I read the post and thought to myself, that explains everything.  When Tex refused to lunge to the right for me, it was like he was scared to go right.  It seemed so strange.  He wanted to do the right thing, but he was afraid to go right and instead kept swinging his hips away from me and standing respectfully -- with a lot of worry in his eyes.  Poor, poor Tex.  I don't know if he'll ever be able to unlearn this; its going to take time and trust.  What a sad journey this sweet horse had before he landed in our pasture.

3.  I am a book lover and have amassed a ton of books over my lifetime.  I was a literature major and I kept most of my books from school; you can't toss a classic, right?  From there, it just grew and grew.  There were books about horses and gardening; books from my theology courses; books on learning French and French novels; cook books; and childrens books (I kept many of my childhood favorites -- some of which were my mother's childhood books); fiction and poetry.  At Aspen Meadows, we had ceiling to floor bookshelves that covered an entire wall.  Here at Oak Creek Ranch we had no book shelves so the books remained in their boxes, stacked to the rafters in the barn, two deep across the stall we use for storage.  A few weeks ago, we were gifted with a couple of old bookshelves, made of particle board and pretty ugly.  We bought some chalk paint and Brett turned them into beautiful pieces of furniture -- a soft green base color with a light wash of duck egg blue.  We put them on the upstairs landing and I started sorting through the boxes of books.  I put over 80% of them in boxes to donate to the local hospice.  The books that made me smile, or warmed my heart, or brought back memories;  I kept those.  I kept my mother's childhood books because they are part of her but also because they are part of me.  I read and re-read and re-read those books when I was a kid, cross legged on the floor in my room or under a tree in the backyard.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016


When I rode Tex a few weeks ago, I immediately noticed that he has no clue or ability to bend to the right.  On a circle, he travels stiffly, like a board.  His nose pokes to the outside, almost in counter-bend.  The idea of bending around my leg was completely foreign to him.  He's not Gumby going left, but is able travel with some bend that direction.  He never bent to the right for Brett either.
All photos in this post by Buffy (thank you!)
 Come to think of it, he can't lunge to the right.  He is totally flummoxed.  And then he gets worried because he doesn't understand.

When he's worried, he can't think and then he has a melt-down.  I've been very careful not to exert pressure when I work with Tex.  He is very pressure-adverse, very pressure sensitive.

I talked to one of the wranglers at Alisal about Tex.  She's a very solid rider with great horsemanship skills.  She started out eventing as a kid and then fell in love with Quarter horses while in college.  She has experience in all disciplines -- and loves them all.  I described the "can't bend to the right" issue to her and she immediately said, "Was he a roping horse?"

Well, yes, as a matter of fact he was a competitive roping horse.

She nodded and then explained.  There are different styles of riders in roping, but many of them train their horses to come out of the box and get the steer and that's it.  They never have to bend right; they bend left to be positioned correctly.  She said she's ridden a lot of roping horses that were stiff as a board.  "Hmm," I said, "kind of like race horses who are used to running in one direction and have to learn to go the other way?"

Exactly, she said.

This morning, Brett and I moved the boys up to the top pasture for the day.  Tex was willing and ready, meeting me when I came into the pasture with his halter.  I tried a couple carrot stretches.  Bending to the left, his muzzle brushed his side -- plenty bendy.  Going to the right, you could walk between the space between his nose and his side.  He's one tight pony.  I see lots of carrots stretches in his future.

And I plan to ask Mark Rashid for some guidance as well.  The timing of our clinic with him (in two weeks) is perfect.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Alisal 2016

Last Wednesday morning as Brett and I made the six hour drive to Alisal, we talked about how green it was going to be there; we wondered if the lake would be back to normal levels and how much water would be in the stream that winds its way through the ranch.  Afterall, we've had a pretty wet winter.  The snow pack was at 130% in January and rainfall is at normal levels.  Sure, February was warm and dry but our rainfall stands at just over 30 inches since last October.

Alisal is located in Southern California, inland from Santa Barbara and about two hours north of Los Angeles.  When we arrived, the ranch was quiet -- which is exactly why we chose mid-week in February to go.  It was also very warm, about 84F, and dry.  The stream was dry.  The lake level had dropped even further.  They are afraid it might dry up completely.  Rainfall on the ranch is only 6 inches.  El Nino has been a bust for Southern California.
All photos in this post are from Ana.
We had a wonderful time, of course.  The grass was short but it was green.  The cattle, young steers, were adorable and everywhere we rode.  They dotted the hills and blocked the trails and tried to join our rides.  We ate too much food -- even though we rode every morning and every afternoon, we gained weight.

Kyle, Camille and Ana arrived on Friday and stayed through the weekend.

Camille rode with Brett and I on the advanced rides.  We do a mix of loping, trotting and walking on the advanced rides, cutting across pastures, climbing the hills and going as far as we can.  I rode four different horses, all new to the ranch, while we were there.  When horses arrive, they are assigned to a wrangler who spends three months to a year (depending on the horse) getting them used to cattle, and gates, and riding in line, and all the wildlife.  The first horse I rode was looking for a reason to be naughty and buck.  I doubt he will be there when we return next year.  The other three horses were compact, fun rides.  Brett spent his time on one horse, a 17h grey, who was also new to the ranch.  He was a bit impatient but Brett got along with him fine.  I think he has a 50/50 chance of staying.  The big horses are purchased for big riders; often men who have little to no riding experience.
Ana and Camille

Kyle and Ana went on the intermediate rides.  Ana has ridden before but not in quite a few years and she wasn't ready to go loping through herds of cattle.  Smart girl.  Confidence is everything.  She did ride, every ride, and fit right into our Alisal routine (which is all about food and riding).
Ana and Kyle

We got back home late Sunday night.  The weather was dry in our absence. They keep promising us a wet March.  Fingers crossed.