Friday, March 26, 2010

Harder Faster Stronger

First 2 photos to go with Grey Horse Matters Spa Day. Bodhi was in the spirit of beautification and was given a wonderful mask by Pokey the TB.

Right now Pokey is offering buy one get one half way up your legs. Limited time only!

Yesterday we tried the trot under saddle. Just to see. Just because I am so bored with walking already. No good. I figure as long as he drags at the trot I should not try it under saddle as I don't want to habituate him to dragging his toe under saddle. I want that floating feeling back!

One of the boarders has been begging me to jump her pony Dusty for just about forever and I have been resisting ( I am not sure why). I haven't jumped over 2 feet in I don't know how long. Years. Maybe 5 years? Well I finally hopped on her pony and jumped up to 2'6. She begged me for 3 and I was feeling pretty good but I still declined. Maybe next time. Man can that pony jump. I thought my old jumper was point in shoot but this little guy is amazing. Just don't stop at the gate. He rears. So cute.

Anyways I want to re do my goals. This is more for my documentation then your entertainment I guess so bare with me.

Under Saddle
  • Softness on the bit
  • Lateral steps at the walk
  • corners
  • Duration of work on the bit
  • Bend
  • Transitions
  • Bitless work (if my bridle EVER comes in the mail!)
  • Bridless work

Clicker Work
  • Ground Tie- I have had a hard time figuring out how to shape standing as it is almost the absence of behavior. I read this post and now I am ready to give it a shot
  • Head lower on cue
  • Spanish walk- I have this idea that teaching Bodhi to pick up his feet high and teaching him to sustain it would be really perfect for shoulder rehab. Also I have been meaning to put picking up feet on a cue for a while now. He is always offering the behavior and I have just been lazy about it.
  • Generalize the back and the liberty work cue with the three D's (Distance Duration and Distraction)
Me Time
  • I want to ride more horses- There is Dusty, Pokey, and at Anna's there is Abby, Sneaker and her new pony. I have rides I am just being nervous and not utilizing them!
  • Jogging- I started with 1/2 mile. My first goal is to get up to 2 miles.
  • Yoga and Pilates- once a week or more to build those core muscles
  • Work on my riding position ( elastic arms, even seat bones, loose hips that move with the horse, neutral pelvis, siting on my inner thigh not my butt, toes in etc etc...)

Tuesday, March 23, 2010


As in EPM Test negative!

I am so relieved. We still have a long road of rehab to go but our future is much more certain. I am still afraid that he won't heal up correctly but my fears are probably unfounded. So here's to a slow but complete recovery for Bohdzilla!
Rehab so far has gone like this...
Weds-Walk 10 mins
Friday-Walk 15 mins
Sat- Walk around the barn with lots of breaks 20 mins
Mon-work on the lunge at the walk and trot (me walking with him so the circles were giant!) 10 min
Thurs walk work (tried a trot not ready for it)
Sat 15 min lunge, 15 mins ride some clicker work. (He looked great!)
Sun(10 mins of riding only)

So far he has been really good. I am never sure if I am challenging him enough or pushing him too far. He has been 100% willing to do all of it and never seems very taxed. I guess it will take a while to find where the sweet spot is.

So obviously no more show season for us so I guess I should change our goals a bit. I want to work on...
Golden Goals
  • Being lighter on the bit.
  • Having more impulsion in upward transitions
  • More responsive to all aids
  • Working off my body and not my hands for turns and downward transitions- working towards bridleless
  • Work on softness in the bitless bridle
  • Work on lateral work on the ground
  • Perfecting Liberty work

I need to work on
  • giving very precise cues
  • my delivery of both - and + reinforcement
  • Being limber and loose (especially by lower back and hips)
  • Core muscles
  • Cardiovascular

So if you were forced back to square one what would YOU work on?

Sunday, March 21, 2010

OT: The Other love of my life...

My dog of course! Meet miss Stella B (AKA miss thang, B-dilly, Stella Bella, Goat Dog, Stink, or just B for short!)

What is it with horse people and their dogs?

I was commenting to Rachel about how our dogs seem to be very similar in build, breeding and temperament. I thought I would take this opportunity to introduce you to her and all of her wonderful glory.

Stella is a 7 (almost 8!) year old Catahoula Leopard dog/Aussie/goat cross. She weighs about 38-40 pounds and is very intense and full of energy. I often describe her as aggressively friendly. She is very dominant, hard headed, and a one person only kind of dog while still managing to be very affectionate laid back and trust worthy. I honestly never did spend too much time with her on formal training. She is the kind of dog that just naturally follows, comes etc. Not spending enough time laying down the law has really gotten me into trouble with things like destructive behaviors, other dogs, and house training. She is now a well behaved canine citizen but I took the long way around to get to this point for sure! I am currently taking a clicker training agility class to get pointers on my training technique and to spend some much needed time with my little dog. She is doing scary well in the class. She is one smart cookie! It is amazing what can be accomplished when you harness her energy for good instead of evil.

Alright enough gab here are some photos of The wonderful Stella B!

She has one blue eye and one light brown eye. She always has red eye in pictures!

If you look closely you will notice my hair matches Stella's collar. I dyed the tips of my hair a dark blue this weekend.It is subtle and the picture is bad lighting but it is there. Dying my hair always cheers me up

Stella hiking with us in the mountains.

Friday, March 19, 2010

What did you get into this time?

I just wanted to let you guys know that all of your comments on my last post made me feel so much better! Wow thanks. They were helpful, and thoughtful, and positive and supportive. The opposite of one comment I got at the barn on Wednesday...
Boarder: "So what did the vet say about Bodhi?"

Me: "She said it was either a bad tweak or possibly EPM"

Boarder: "EPM! That's horrible! He will be stuck being a walk lesson pony forever now!"

In all seriousness I know she meant well but she almost gave me a panic attack!

Wednesday was our first Rehab session, and when I went out to get him I noticed something else horribly wrong. There was this smell, a horrible, putrid and sweet aroma wafting from my equine...

Bodhi had been skunked!

I wish I could say this was the first time....

It was cold and rainy so no bath. I did not want to get any of my brushes stinky. I was determined to start our rehab so I put a towel over him and rode him bareback. Once on board I forgot all about the smell though. I was so happy to be riding again. Even if it is only for ten minutes at the walk only. I got off after ten minutes and played with him at liberty. He was happy and willing for all of it.
The rehab is going to make me feel so much better about this situation. It is something tangible I can do to help. Am I still flipping out? Yes, but I am trying not to. I am trying to just focus on today when I start day two of rehab on my very.stinky.pony.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010


The vet came out and took a look at Bodhi on Monday. His left shoulder definitely is the culprit.

He has muscle degeneration along one band of muscle in his shoulder. She has two hunches for the root of the problem. One was a turn out injury where he banged that shoulder hard enough to hurt the nerve that runs along the muscle which then causes the muscle atrophy. Another is much more sinister (EPM). She drew blood and will have tests back in a week.

With either one Bodhi needs to go on a slow rehab of walking walking walking (then trot trot trotting etc) to regain the muscle back in his shoulder. She estimated that it will take around 3 months to heal.

With either diagnose she says that his case is very mild and she thinks he will recover 100%. I am trying not to cry, or despair, or anything until the tests come back. It is really difficult though. How can my jovial youthful little pony be so sick? How can life be this unfair?

Anyone have rehab advise? I know I will be re-reading Grey Horse Matters' post about it! Anyone dealt with muscle/nerve injuries or...

Mostly I am in denial. I really can't believe that this is happening.

I mean look at this face!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

The long road to wellville

Bodhi Says : "Hey guys! check it out. Tie is feeling better!"

Tie has been at Greener Pastures now since December 1st. He has had to battle many obstacles to his rehabilitation such as constant diarrhea, neurological symptoms(shaking, wobbling), fungus, worms, severely cracked feet, swollen legs etc. When he got here he would hardly move faster than a shuffled walk and he would just stand there with his head hanging down.

I am happy to report that all of that has gone away and he has finally been gaining weight! He gallops, bucks, rolls, and sleeps curled up in the sun. He kicked Bodhi HARD today. He escapes from his pasture and reeks havoc in the barn. In other words he is back to normal.
He still has a lot of weight to gain back.
Kathy is wonderful! She has taken care of him so well since he arrived on her farm. She stalls him when it is cold or rainy(he is on pasture board), gives him extra blankets if it is really cold, and feeds him 3 times a day! She is also graciously putting up with his antics now that he is feeling better.

I did not share pictures of him when I found him in such an alarming state because I did not think that it was necessary. To me they were a little gratuitous and depressing. I feel like now though in the context of his recovery process they are useful.

Here are some pictures of Tie the day I first saw he some needed help(Late November).

The black dots all over him are flies. I had never seen so many flies just sitting there on a horse.

Here is a picture of him in early February. We had only had him on probiotics for a few weeks and so he had just recently stopped having diarrhea.

Here are photos of him I took today(March 14)...

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The Canadian Horse

So I have Canada on the brain since I am moving to Manitoba this summer. Through my web browsing I have discovered a new favorite breed; the Canadian Horse (note: discovered like Columbus discovered America, I am sure this is old news to some of you)!

I really like baroque breeds of horses so this breed is right up my alley.

here is a little information taken from a Canadian Horse website

"The Canadian Horse or Le Cheval Canadien originated from horses sent to Quebec by King Louis XIV in the late 1600's. These horses, the best from the King's stable, were of French Norman, Breton, Arab, Andalusian and Spanish Barb descent.

Under conditions of hard use, sparse feed, and extreme weather conditions, the Canadian eventually developed into the easy keeping and hardy animals that they are today. It is said that the Canadian is capable of generating "more power per hundred pounds of body weight than horses of any other breed." Traits such as these earned the Canadian their nickname "The Little Iron Horse

The Canadian Horse typically stands 14-16hh. Most commonly black, they may also be chestnut, brown or bay. They are recognizable by their finely chiseled heads, arched necks, and long, thick, and often wavy tails and manes. They have sturdy legs with good bone, and have exceptionally hard, strong feet. They are renowned for their kind, sociable natures, intelligence and willingness to please. "

I don't know about you but it sounds like they have a lot in common with my other favorite breed. What breed is that you ask? The Haflinger of course!

Drafty build in a small package? Check

Renowned for their temperament? Check

Wavy manes and tails? Check

First bred for driving work? Check

I could go on...

Ok Ok I am being a little facetious about this.

In all seriousness I will keep this horse in mind if I ever have the time and money for a second horse though. I do like that they are slightly larger then the Haflinger ( I am tired of all the short jokes already! ). Also color variation is always nice though check out this Canadian Horse.

I am simply smitten with that flaxen mane and tail!

So have any of you Canadian or not gotten to see, ride, own, pet etc a Canadian horse? What did you think?

Here are some sites to check out on the Canadian horse:

The photos were from : Cherry Creek Canadians

The Canadian horse stats : Canadian Horse Breeders Association

Monday, March 8, 2010

A tribute to my sliver horse

Velour and I at the age of 13

It feels like I am a long way away from my silver horse on my golden pony. He has been gone two whole years now. I did not think I would be able to even live without him but I guess I have been managing. It still hurts, and I still miss him. A ton.

I have been scanning a few pictures and thought I would share them with you. They are of my first horse that I ever loved; Velour. I rode him from the age of 10 and on and actually got to realize my dream and own him at the age of 18. He had a 5 year retirement with me before he died at the age of 23. Here are some photos of him and our time together when he came home to live with me.

Clicker Carnival

My recent post about Poisoned Cues was featured in the Stale Cheerios Blog

Clicker Carnival # 6

Thanks Mary for featuring us! I love reading her blog as she has so much great information about horse training. She also shares great articles about other animals, other trainers, and the science behind training.
I have had several commenters lately asking questions about Operant conditioning, clicker training, etc. I love to discuss and will continue to do so but I also want to emphasize that I am new to many of these concepts and by no means an expert! The cool thing about operant conditioning, behavioral shaping, and clicker training is the wealth of scientifically tested and verified information there is about it. Here are some great places to find more information about it for those curious readers...

Karen Pryor
- She is one of the original scientists that brought the science to the public. Her book "Don't Shoot the Dog" is now used in many educational and psychology college class rooms. That is where I first heard about her; during my bachelors. Her website has great articles.

Alexandra Kurland
- She (as far as I know) was the first really well known "clicker" horse trainer. She has collaborated with scientists and has done great work for applying behavioral concepts to equines. She also publishes great introductory books for the non professional trainer.

But I would highly suggest on one of these rainy days to skim through some research manuscripts! Head over to Google Scholar for instance and search away! For an example search you could go to my favorite journals; Applied Animal Behavior and do a search for Equine Behavior. See? A ton of fun stuff!

You can find real scientific research being done on so many topics relevant to horses! Not just training either, but nutrition, breeding, genetics. Horses are big business so you name it someone has researched it. Don't forget to read carefully and be a good skeptic. Did they make any unrealistic assumptions? Was their sample size n=1?

On days I feel like everyone has their own opinion and it is so hard to separate the facts out of all the jargon I enjoy doing a little "Light research"

Saturday, March 6, 2010

This is what weekends are for

Having a great time with Bodhi!
I borrowed a measuring tape and measured out a little course of jumps; two diagnals and two lines along the rail. the diagnals are 5 strides and the rail lines are six strides. I determined a stride length the other day by setting up ground poles and seeing where Bodhi is comfortable taking them. I determinded 9 feet. I know that normal horses are 12 but I guess Bodhi is not normal!

Much to my dissapointment Bodhi is still a hair off! He had been following me around while I set up the standards and I left all the jumps as ground poles. I decided to just play with him at liberty and call it a day for him. I wanted to see how long I could keep his interest in his pasture where his hay and buddies are.

We started by targeting at the trot. We did the whole course I just set up targeting and it was so much fun! Then I tried asking him to leave my shoulder and do a 20 meter circle around me which he did. Over ground poles with halts and change of directions. what a good pony!

Today I played with him again for a few minutes just to make sure yesterday was not a fluke. He did every thing he did yesterday plus offerd a canter. He NEVER wants to canter during ground work. He even did a flying change when he picked up the wrong lead.

I feel so in sinc with him right now. He walks, trots, canters, turns, halts, rein back, all while being very light. All at liberty. I guess that is the big thing for me. He is being so light and responsive which is what I have been working twards.

I guess sometimes it is a good thing when your horse can't do real work. You have no choice other than to spend some quality time with your equine.

I will definitely need to come back to this post when things get difficult again as they always do and naturally so. I can't wait to get back in the saddle!

Thursday, March 4, 2010

The school of hard knocks

I have had my thinking cap on today and in the mood to summarize as I have been working on a manuscript for work. Scientific writing always puts me in the critical thinking mood. So for my 60th post I wanted to try something different.

I was thinking about my life with horses so far. What I have learned through trial and error, what I have gleaned from trainers, magazines, books, videos, blogs, osmosis, diffusion, and of course the primary source: the horses themselves!

I thought I would make a list of my personal discoveries and maybe you guys could share some of yours? There is a ton of information out there so tell me what have you discovered? What has the school of hard knocks taught you?

  • Use positive reinforcement-We are working with one of the few species that actually responds to Negative reinforcement at all but every animal on the planet (including whales, elephants, clams, fish, and humans) responds to positive reinforcement! Reward is the mechanism that makes work play.
  • Be predictable- I think being a "leader" means the student can count on the teacher to react the same way every time. Confidence means you have a plan. In order to create a learning environment you have to be predictable in your cues, your rewards, and your releases. Trust is built when your horse can predict your response and you can reasonably predict theirs. It is not magic it is repetition.
  • Keep it simple- Keep your cues simple and work on one thing at a time. I need this tattooed on my forehead because I am horrible at this!
  • Be creative- There have been so many times that I have been stuck in one mind frame/discipline/trainers' philosophy. If you have a problem then find another way to look at it. There is no one right answer and horses are individuals just as much as humans are. Be an open minded skeptic.
  • Have a plan for every ride- When I was younger you just got on and went through the gaits in circles. I think that really bores our equines. Same with lunging for the sake of exercise or blowing off steam. Same with throwing tarps in their faces all day. Have small objectives for every ride and when they get it right tell them! If you want a horse that likes to work make sure they know what you want them to do.
  • Bad days are normal- Actually that has been scientifically proven( see illustration). As new behaviors are acquired and old behavior extinguishes there are always extinction bursts. They are like clock work.
  • Find a yes- an answer to a bad day! If you are experiencing one of those nasty extinction episodes then ask your horse a question you know he will say yes to. That is how you build confidence.
  • Consider biology- Training is a science, but don't factor out of the equation of horse's innate behaviors. Work them into your training regiment and don't fight them. I think this is what natural horsemanship is trying to say but I do wish they would use a little more scientific dialog and a little less magical thinking

And on the other side of the coin...
  • Don't be afraid of being afraid-fear is nature's way of telling you something may not be such a good idea. We have a stigma against being afraid but it really is a good thing. Take it down to where your comfort level is and work from there. Horses really do pick up when we are nervous.
  • Punishment does not work- it doesn't! It makes our animals fearful and is almost impossible to administer correctly. It only shows the animal what you do not want not what you do want. It also has the side affect of relaying to the animals that the behavior is appropriate when it is not punished. which increases the likely hood of re occurrence. Not fun, though we have all been there for sure!
  • Don't use force- I know this seems repetitive but I am not talking about punishment but I mean when using an irritant in negative reinforcement. First they are bigger than us. If you use force you are playing a game you can't win. Also if you use force you are illiciting a prey response. We use force and punishment because we are primates. If we get angry or scared we aggress. We all do it from time to time, and most disciplines and training methods excuse it or condone it, but it is not productive or necessary in training. We do sometimes stoop to that level, but don't make excuses for it and see it as a mistake not a victory.
  • Anthropomorphize- Horses do not think we are horses! They do not think you are their alpha or leader. It is not fair to them to think about it in this way. The horse responds in a way that reflects his biology and his repertoire of learned behaviors. "Trust" comes from generalizing your cues so that he reliably responds to them including when he is scared, excited or saucy, not because he thinks you are his herd leader.
So there it i!. So far this is what I have learned.This is not what I have perfected of course! In fact I think these things are what I have learned to think about because I make the same mistakes a lot.
I have come a long way from where I started though. How about you? How have horses changed your point of view?

A funny video and a worried mother

Here is a video a fellow boarder captured of when Haflingers attack. She was trying to video tape her self riding when she realized she had made one fatal error. Leaving Bodhi in the pasture! (Note the slurping noise :) )

On to the bad news. Bodhi is off. I cannot tell if it is in his right shoulder or something more like a sore foot from our rocky trail ride on Sat. He has been like this though since Sunday. He is only slightly off and it has not gotten any worse but it makes me very worried regardless. This is his first time, and he is only 4! He has been so amazing with leads and I was setting my eyes on a hunter jumper show at the end of March. I hope he gets better soon. We have a lot of practice to do Bodhi!

We also lost our ride to the Parelli Play days which were going to be so fun. On a brighter side I may have found someone to take some well needed dressage lessons from. She is 2 hours away so that will be a field trip in its' self.
Here is a tiny video of Bodhi jumping. Yes the squealing in the background is me. All you jumpers out there, do you see it? That tiny speck of jumping potential?