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In Loving Memory...
~ Gogo Fatale ~

6/2/01 - 10/11/11
~ Forever the Marest of Them All ~

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

It's Gonna Be A Happy New Year

My dear readers, 2009 is fast approaching. Only a few short hours and this wretched year will finally be over and done with, and I can kick it the hell out the door and welcome in 2009 with open arms. 2008 had some really incredible, shining moments.... but the rest of it was rather horrible. Everything with Gogo was just AWESOME though. And getting engaged was awesome. And going to Costa Rica was awesome. And graduating and getting the HELL out of college was awesome. But pretty much all of my final semester as a college kid? Awful. Last summer, aside from riding/barning/showing? Awful. This fall? Awful. Weeks and months of dragging misery punctuated with shining moments of sheer joy and pure genious.

And Gogo. Oh, Gogo. We had a really good year, and that made it all worthwhile. Last December I decided that I was going to the AECs come hell or high water, and I was going to top 10 in my division. All my thoughts were bent on that one goal, and everything I did from January 1st on was geared towards attaining it. And it just goes to show that with a little luck and a LOT of hard work, it can be done.

January was our 'starting over' period. Gogo had three weeks off over holiday break, which was supposed to be five but she literally was dismantling the barn piece by piece with boredom, so we went back to work early. Tons of lunging in the Faux-ssoa, lots of gentle under saddle work, continuing to soothe all the mental issues the nutso trainer lady had given her in 2007. She really started to change early on in the year, and February was filled with much of the same trust-building, including our first ever jumper shows (got only 5th places at both of them!) and weekly jumping lessons with my all-time favorite jumping instructor, Bud. Gogo jumped her first ever 3'6" fence in February, and we were ready for more in March. Our first rated dressage show of the year was also in March, where we made our First Level debut (went out at Training 3-4 and First 1-2) - and won our first ever First Level class with a 69.66%, which also earned us our first ever Reserve Champion ribbon! Our judge at that show was none other than the legendary Marilyn Payne who also judged the eventing dressage at the Olympics this past summer... and if an Olympic judge is giving me neary 70% then I must have been doing SOMETHING right! (She just RAVED about Gogo.... so proud!!) We also, in March, even tried our hand at rated hunters - and what do you know, we actually placed. April came the crown jewel of dressage shows in our area, the Lake Erie College Dressage Prix de Villes, a team competition which we were SUPPOSED to have all in the bag.... but Gogo was in violent heat due to a stallion being in the barn, and it ended up being, well... kinda scary! But the rest of the time, she was just awesome. In May I went to Costa Rica for three weeks, and came back to find that my horse had lost a lot of weight and condition (I later learned it was the barn manager starving her, but I didn't know this at the time). We started in on a long journey of trying to find decent barns and getting our conditioning back... her dressage suffered and it wasn't easy getting it back. June brought Gogo's 7th birthday! and our first combined test, at Novice, where we won with a 26.0 on our dressage score. It also brought our first real event of the season, the Encore H.T., where we were in first after dressage with a 38.5 (I know, right?) in a total DOWNPOUR, complete with thunder and some lightning. We had one rail in stadium which dropped us down to 3rd, but that still was our first qualifying score. July brought the South Farm H.T. and our first ever WIN at an event - a 26.6, with an amazing dressage score of 22.6!! We had another rail though, and I was starting to look for problems. We took her in July to the Equine Specialty hospital, where we was scoped (no ulcers, just the barn manager starving her!) and she was also diagnosed with the very mild beginnings of hock arthritis in her right hock. D'OH! We started her on Cosequin and Adequan, and still been doing the trick several months later! We also had lots of fun trail riding, including one epic journey into the nearby local town to ride through the drive-thru at Wendy's.... mmm chocolate frosty! August brought three more horse shows, Hunters Run H.T. (our second 1st place on our dressage score of 33.0!), Erie Hunt & Saddle H.T. (2nd place, 32.5, less than half a point behind the leader, on our dressage score), and the South Farm Beginner Novice Area Championships, where we WERE in 1st place after dressage with a score of 28.5, until Cracker McNutsopony had a wild runout on x-country for the first time.... BLAH! Gogo also went swimming for the first time :) September arrived, and we were finally ready - the AECs were here, and we had worked very hard all year long for this moment in time. Our dressage was a bit wild (7, 7, 7, 2, 7....) but we still managed a score of 33.0 somehow, putting us tied for 9th. After THE most amazing x-country run ever (over a very challenging course), we moved up to 7th, and after a lovely clear staidum round, we moved up to 6th (and into the prizes!) It was INCREDIBLE and I can't wait to go again this coming year. Just think about how awesome our score would have been without that 2! We moved back to Michigan in early October in order to actually find me a REAL job instead of just playing horseshow all the time, and much of October was spent doing dressage, hillwork, and jumping - I was at my friend Danielle's facility, and it was just lovely (AND they actually fed my horse... you'd think feeding horses with pre-measured grains would be easy, but no, the other two barns couldn't/wouldn't....) and it was a bummer to leave it. November brought a move to Connecticut, and this past December has been spent doing lots of quality dressage work with Vicki, as well as jumping and lunging in the chambon. Can't wait for this weather to get better!!!

Well, that was really long. I have more to blog about that is relevant to actual current riding events, but as for now, I need to go plan out my New Year's fiesta... if there is one at all!

From Gogo and I:
HAPPY NEW YEAR and may all your 2009 riding hopes/goals/dreams come true!

Sunday, December 28, 2008

CT Jump School #3

Today, Gogo and I had our third jump school since coming here. Sundays have been our jump days, but last week we did some conditioning work out in the snow instead (well, mostly it was playing around, but you know ;D). This week I wanted to revisit the first exercise we did since moving to this barn, which was a slightly modified version of the original which included setting up a long approach to a vertical, then four strides to a set of trot poles - this time there were four instead of three. Here is the diagram of everything set up in the arena:

A 3' vertical on the centerline in the middle of the ring, then four strides to the four trot poles, a small x-rail for warmup purposes (and for Colleen and Duet, who were schooling pirouettes and tempi changes and were popping over the jump as a reward to Duet for being good), and three canter poles that were set up with two strides inbetween each. Gogo was EXTREMELY cheerful and bright when I was grooming and tacking her up, and came into the ring breathing FIRE and completely in a panic about the fogged up mirrors and open doors (something was apparently VERY scary outside), and it took a long warmup to get her to even CONSIDER settling down. She was on freaking fire! During our rather panicked warmup, we tried jumping the vertical a few times - warp speed before and after the fence. We tried to trot the three canter poles (they were slightly elevated, by the way) and she was moving her feet a bit too fast to do them gracefully. We tried to canter the three canter poles and we could NOT for the life of us get two strides inbetween each pole - I think we got two strides, then one, then we pretty much half-bounced the final one... yikes! I finally had to do a bunch of transitions at the scary end of the arena in order to get her paying attention to ME as opposed to scary door monster, and suddenly she was right there and ready to rock and roll. We trotted the crossrail a few more times after that, then went right in and tackled the exercise. After the first time (which resulted in some violent angry head-tossing after the vertical, but came complete with a "good girl!" after her final halt.... see, it works!) she finally got it, and was completely perfect. She waited for me to the vertical, she jumped the fence with huge bascule and perfect balance, I was right with her the entire time, she continued to wait for me AFTER the vertical, and then came down to trot after stride two or three (remember during the last time we worked this we couldn't even come down to trot at all sometimes, and just cantered the stupid trot poles!), and halted lightly at the end. She was PERFECT. Light, supple, waiting for me, balanced, really listening. She also went through the canter poles near the end and actually waited all the way through them, easily getting in the two strides each time instead of trying to awkwardly bounce them. GOOD MARE. And good for me for just sitting chilly and letting her take her time through the exercises.

She really was perfect. I dunno what was freaking her out when I first got on, but she mastered her fear and went on to have the most productive and successful jumping session we've had in awhile. After we were done, she got her legs washed, mane braided over (it was pulled yesterday, as I blogged about), legs linimented, and bridlepath clipped. I contemplated giving her a full-on bath, but thought about the fact that it will still be just as muddy in the field tomorrow, and she'll probably roll again anyway. Ohhhhhh the horrors of a warm winter...

I like Sundays. Today was a really good day.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

The Importance of a "Good Girl!"

Today was Gogo's day off, although she also got Christmas day off. She's been a bit weird under saddle this week, meaning really locked in her neck and resistant and tense for most of our ride, then suddenly melting into this perfect, animated, moving-forward-correctly-into-the-contact, performing excellent and accurate movements, brilliant animal... which, needless to say, is great when you get there, but such a horrible mess to deal with until she gets to that point. She's like that, and she has been like that ever since the creep trainer screwed her up, but lately I've been feeling like it's either her being HORRIBLE for 45 minutes and then BRILLIANT for 15, or fairly decent but nothing special for the entire length of the hour ride. I want there to be brilliance for the ENTIRE ride!

We'll get there, I think. Something that really helps her is a good lengthening, but it has to be done at the right time. If we do a lengthening too early on in the ride when she hasn't fully given her back, she just tenses her back up further and runs, and continues to rush when the lengthening is long over. When she's ready and pliable in her body, the lengthenings make her connection stronger, and she becomes straighter, more animated, and happier in her work. Love how it works.

But the point of tonight's post isn't about all that. It's about the importance of a verbal reward and a pat sometimes, and how, for a horse like Gogo especially, praise builds her ego tremendously and makes her want to work with me as a partner instead of someone who begrudgingly is forced along for the ride.
Gogo has never liked her mane to be pulled. I can't blame her for this - who wants their hair ripped out repeatedly? When I first got her, I had to have someone hold her with a chain over her nose, and we always backed all the way down the length of the barn aisle over the course of a mane pulling. The first time I tried to pull Gogo's mane by myself with her in the crossties, she sat back fairly calmly on purpose (looked just like a mule when she did it), then launched herself forward, then sat back, then launched herself forward, and continued to do this methodically until her halter broke and she walked away triumphantly and calmly. Smart mare. Well, some more long work later and now she stands in the crossties for a mane pulling, but she still shakes her head like crazy when you get up to the top half of her neck. Tonight, a pop with the lead rope did not get her to stop. A quick verbal reprimand did not get her to stop. What DID work? Patting and rubbing her with a lot of "good girl!!!" when she didn't flip her head like crazy. And you know what? She turned her head as best she could in the crossties to oogle at me in a joyful way when I did it, and leaned into my touch. I went to pull some more hair, she tensed but didn't shake, I said "good girl!" and she relaxed. And relaxed. And relaxed. By the end, she was almost dozing, basking in my neverending stream of praise. Her Highness really does enjoy being told what a lovely, beautiful princess she is, and the more you tell her and really MEAN it, the more relaxed and willing she becomes. Negative reinforcement and punishment are fairly useless with her, but she always responds beautifully to positive reinforcement.

Sometimes I forget how much further you get with sugar than with vinegar, especially with her. Thanks for reminding me, wild mare.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Christmas A Go-Go

Well, Gogo and I have survived our first Christmas alone (and working). It wasn't all bad... it was bright and sunny (and warm), but we had enough snow on the ground from the two storms before to still have a white Christmas. I was lonely, to be sure, but having her here took the sting out of having to work all day by myself. Here's a few pictures of our little Christmas together:

Taking an evening stroll:

Mmmmmm Christmas dinner... (They get their dinners mixed in these little blue buckets, and I didn't realize how much caked on supplement scum is in my bucket until the flash went off... ewww!):

The contents of Gogo's stocking!:

Enjoying her Christmas mash (grain, hot water, candy canes, carrots, apples, mmm!):

Aaaaah, the holidays. It feels SO strange to think that they have already come and gone, and without nearly as much hype as I wanted (and tried) to give them. I LOVE the holiday season, and I really hate to see it over with. On the other hand, I've been feeling a bit depressed every time I hear songs about how there's no place like home for the holidays, and that the holidays are for being with friends and loved ones. This year, I just don't get to have that.

Oh well. There's no point in crying over spilled milk. The holidays for me don't end until January 1, so I get to enjoy this last little bit of Christmas-ness until then, I suppose. I still haven't sent out a few packages (oops!!!!), but I haven't gotten all my packages yet either, so there is more yet to enjoy. I made out with the presents this year too.... Gogo got a new full-body Sleazy (someone stole my last one and the other one she Incredible Hulked right out of one night) and some Pony Pops, Ti got a lot of cookies and chewies, Greta got a bunch of toys, and I got a lot of money ($850 total from my parents, grandparents, and the people at the barn), a GPS for my car (sweet as!!!!), a new digital camera (because I keep breaking mine), some clothing (and more furry boots), WALL-E on DVD, and a bunch of other, smaller gifts. That money is all going towards show fees next summer, I can tell you that right now!! I was doing finances tonight, and figuring out what I need to earn and put away for show fees next year. Exciting!

I also thought, since it is the end of the year after all, that I would put together my yearly goals for Gogo, and go over the goals I set for us this past year.

2008 Goals:

1) Qualify for and attend the American Eventing Championships, and top 10 in my division

Successful! Gogo and I qualified very easily this year for the AECs. For BN, you need to get 1st-5th at two recognized events. We were 3rd at our first event (in 1st place after dressage, but we had a rail, d'oh! This was before starting the Adequan and Cosequin, which made quite a difference), and 1st at our second event (where we got a 22.6 in dressage, and had another rail in stadium to finish still in 1st with a 26.6, d'oh again!) We were entered in the BN-H division, and finished 6th on our dressage score of 33.0. We WOULD have finished 2nd, or possibly 1st, had we not gotten a 2 on one movement... one more time, D'OH!

2) Break 70%
Successful! Well, technically. I never actually specified whether or not I meant in a dressage show or at an event. I got several scores of 69% in regular dressage scores, but never broke 70%, BUT at events I got a 22.6 and a 28.5 (and a 26.0 at a combined test), which TECHNICALLY means I broke the 70% mark!

3) Show 1st level
Successful! I only took her out at two dressage shows this year, mostly due to finances. One was in March, her first time at 1st level (tests 1 and 2), and she scored a 69.7% at First 1, and was Reserve Champion, her first time out! She also got a 66.3% for First 2. The second show was way less successful... the judge was VERY low scoring and she was in SCARY heat, which led to some... moments. And some throwing herself and her head around. And some more scores of 2 and 3. Hmmmm.... well, she's solidly 1st level now, I can at least say that! I've still never shown her at First 4 though...

So what are my goals for this coming year?

2009 Goals:
1) Qualify for and attend the AECs at Novice – place top 10
2) Break 70% (at First Level or Novice/Training)
3) Show First Level 1-4
4) Hopefully show Second Level 1-2 (not an official goal, due to money constraints)
5) Show Training Level eventing

The other thing I want to do is create monthly goals... things I want to have accomplished within a particular month. I think that will give me some short term, very strong focus, and I like that. I'll have to really think about January's goals.... and I'll get back to you on what they are!

Vicki was talking about seeing if we can hook me up with a sponsor for 2009. THAT WOULD BE SWEET. If I come up with anything, I'll let you know, or if YOU come up with anything, you let ME know! I wish I could hook up with a hoof boot company, but a) I don't use hoof boots, b) I doubt I will need to use hoof boots anytime soon, and c) what hoof boot company would bother sponsoring some kid showing Novice/Training? I mean, in 2010 it's onto Prelim (if all goes well) which is actually a big deal for a barefoot event horse, but I'm sure there are plenty of horses showing at Novice barefoot. Maybe not Training, but we'll see. The idea is to qualify for the AECs at Novice this year, and then move onto Training after we get our qualifying scores, so we'll see.

One last thing of interest... we made the Leaderboard, both nationally and in Area 8! On the USEA Leaderboard for BN, I am ranked as the 4th Adult Rider and the 4th Adult Amateur rider, and on the Area 8 Leaderboard, I am ranked as the 4th overall Rider, the 2nd Adult Amateur Rider, and Gogo is tied for 5th for BN Horse. YAY!

Hurry up, 2009! I want to be done with 2008!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Mare-y Christmas!

Gogo and I want to wish everyone Happy Holidays and a very Merry Christmas!

And a blast from the past.... here's Metro and I in 2004:

And my very first horse Quincy and I in 2003:

My oh my how time flies, and how we change.

Happy and safe holidays to all. I'll have a more detailed blog post later, but for now.... making cookies for all the horses in the barn!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Lengthening A Go-Go

Gogo, I must say, had some rather fabulous moments today during my ride. She's actually been quite good these past few rides - we did dressage last Tuesday-Friday, she had Saturday off, Sunday we galloped around like wildwomen in the 12" of new snow, Monday we lunged in the chambon, and today we did dressage again. We've been starting out with walk work, and that really seems to help. She's not been as consistant as I would like, but her moments of brilliance are brighter and far more frequent and sustained than before, so at this point I'll take it. Today's bright and shining moments were our lengthenings - better, more expressive, and more like mediums than lengthenings. In other words, the best lengthenings I think we've ever done! They were so correct, and felt so good, and the trot immediately following them felt connected and really collected. She couldn't quite maintain it for long periods of time, but it was there and it was expressive. We also did some very lovely, correct leg yields - her tendancy is to come onto the quarterline crooked with her haunches towards the wall, and then starting the leg yield with her haunches leading. These ones we did were lovely and straight as well as correct in our positioning. AND we had some really expressive canterwork, complete with a few flying changes. The one way (left to right) she was fussy (because she knew the changes were coming) and kicked up her heels the few times we did them, which made her change late behind. The other way (right to left) is the way we usually change in front and not behind (it's a work in progress, we're getting there!) but I kept her very straight and steady, and she gave me a perfect change! Funny how that works. All in all she was rather fabulous... I just can't get over how good those final lengthenings felt! She really sat down behind and powered forward while still staying totally honest in her contact. What a good girl!

Vicki seems to be impressed with Gogo. On the video my mother took of our lesson (I'll see if I can get a clip up here), she commented to my mother, "Super gaits on this horse. She's a very nice horse." She told me I've done a great job with her (yes!!), especially given her past. She also asked me today if I'm planning on breeding her, and when I told her yes (I want my next event horse to be a daughter out of her, how sweet would that be?), she told me that I really should because she's a really nice horse.

Wow, in less than an hour it will be Christmas Eve. Gogo will have the next three days off unless I have a lesson tomorrow, which I don't yet know. And she'll get nice hot water grain mash with carrots and apples in it, and all of her presents too, of course. It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas!!!!!!!!!!!!! :D

Taking a good sleep during the day:

Monday, December 22, 2008

Snowytime Goodness!

A few pictures from the past few days:

Gogo in her winter wonderland (first one is after the first blizzard, second is during the second blizzard):

Out playing in the snow!!

Schooling trotwork during a lesson:

RF after playing out in the snow:

The integrity of her toe is STILL all wonky... and by still, I mean it's been 2 years and no change. Sigh....

Compromise - A Response

Well, I had lots of very awesome and interesting responses to my last blog post, so I thought I would put my response in another post.

First of all, I want to make this perfectly clear - I am no barefoot nazi! I have no interest in trying to convert everyone in my path. The point of my last post was to talk about propaganda in both the shoeing AND the barefoot world, and just as I think it's wrong to spin a yarn about the why a horse needs X Y or Z shoes, I think it's wrong for a barefoot person to go on about how shoes are KILLING horses and CRIPPLING horses and people who shoe are just EVIL and CRUEL and all that nonsense some barefoot folks go on about. No, if us pro-barefooters are ever going to positively impact the world, we need to be SANE about it, and a lot of people don't take us seriously because a lot of us AREN'T sane! I'm not out to make people angry, I'm not out to convert people, I'm not interested in making people upset or suggesting that I might even remotely have enough knowledge to advise them on such a big decision, or tell them what they are doing is or is not wrong. Like I mentioned somewhere in my post, I think that both barefoot trimmers and farriers are viable options for horse owners, and that's why these two worlds need to work together and figure out a way to unite their differences. And I also agree that the advice of a competent vet should always be in order, but sometimes, competent vets just.. aren't around. There are vets in this area who still recommend a big huge bran mash after a horse has a traumatic colic :O Now if a vet is THAT old school in his thinking (and in that case, wrong!!), then I certainly DON'T want him making a call on my horse's soundness! This is the problem though... shoeing is a very old tradition, and it's just commonplace for a vet to recommend shoes for this or that kind of problem. It's NOT yet common for vets to recommend removing shoes for problems like navicular and founder, because it is such a novel idea at this point. But no, if I gave the impression that I'm some nutso barefoot lunatic then I am very sorry indeed, because I am FAR from it!

Daun brings up a good point about her mare, how she tried her hardest for a long time to make the barefoot thing work for this horse, and it just didn't, for whatever reason. I'm a huge believer in early development in hooves, and keeping young hooves bare and healthy and youngsters moving and playing like they should be, because this really, really impacts how hooves can hold up later in life. Stick with me, this explanation is long, but I will bring it back around to this point, I promise. Now, I have no idea what Daun's mare's history is, so I am in no way insinuating that this mare in particular was shod at a young age or ever improperly shod as a baby or whatever, but my point is that there ARE a lot of young, baby feet who, for one reason or another, find themselves in shoes as weanlings, or yearlings, or two and three year-olds. Bowker did some very interesting dissections of older hooves that had been shod at tender, young ages, and found that if a hoof is shod before its internal structures have time to fully develop, an early shoe will essentially "freeze" the internal structures of the feet so that they remain immature and undeveloped. This means that while an adult hoof may appear fully grown on the outside, inside they can't hold up to whatever a normal bare hoof might be asked to do on a regular basis. I can only assume it hurts these horses when their shoes are removed and their internally immature structures are asked to move in ways that they aren't adjusted to moving. Do the immature structures remodel (bone, digital cushion, lateral cartileges) when the shoe is removed? I don't know. They have to, to some degree. But they won't be the same as a hoof that was kept naturally, or a feral hoof, or a hoof that wasn't shod until an older age. But I do feel like this situation explains why a lot of people are on about "tiny, boxy, crappy QH feet" and "flat-footed, underslung, crappy TB feet"... less because of genetics, more because QHs and TBs are shod this way as babies (weanlings and long yearlings) in order to show or race.

This is all so much more than just a trim or a pair of shoes. It's work, it's environment, it's diet, and it's care, and I think there is absolutely no reason why a good competent farrier OR trimmer should not be able to keep a horse healthy, sound and happy. HOWEVER, that being said, I am an unfortunate product of a generation of progressive thinkers... and here's what I believe, and will strive to stick to for the rest of my life.

I believe that the era of shoes will come to an end, but it won't be soon. The equestrian world is is seeped in tradition, that's for sure, and the tradition of shoeing horses won't die easily. I don't think that barefooting will fully replace shoes. What I DO think will happen is that people will start searching for a healthier alternative to shoes, but will still ask for traction, protection, and safety. What we need to develop is a booting program - hoof boots for the VERY high performance horse. Hoof boots that will give the Advanced level event horse the grip and traction it needs without risk of chafing or losing a boot mid-ride. Hoof boots that will dissipate force as a horse comes off of a Grand Prix level fence, and will still offer a safe, non-torquing turning ability that is otherwise unparalleled. Hoof boots that, after a competition or heavy training session is over, can be removed, and the hoof can be allowed to function in a healthy, natural way, which will contribute to overall soundness, happiness, and health. Think of it as going out to run a marathon in your high-tech running shoes, and then coming home at the end of the day to kick them off and relax. There is a future in this, I believe it. There is a future and this CAN work for upper level horses. Can an Advanced level horse run a full course barefoot? I don't know. Nobody's ever done it before. It would be great if it could be done barefoot, but can it? I hear the argument that "we do unnatural things with our horses (and that's why shoeing is okay, because it's unnatural too)", and I agree that we do ask these animals to perform far beyond what they would ever, ever do in the wild - simply by putting a rider on their backs, much less ask them to jump 6' fences or do passage-piaffe-passage transitions. We ask their bodies to do so much for us, just for the sake of our own enjoyment, and we ask their hooves to do just as much.

The way I see it is sort of like this.... look at a 1940's running shoe. It used to be state of the art, a very long time ago, it's simple, it works in the most rudimentary way but it's way outdated now. Now, look at a 2008 running shoe. It's sleek, it's high-tech, it's made of the most state-of-the-art materials and it is designed to give the athlete an edge while also preventing injury, and supporting the biomechanics of the lower-limb at the same time. This is how I view metal shoes versus the future in hoof boots. One has always worked, sort of, until now, and one is the future of the equine sport world - it will be high-tech and designed for safety and minimizing injury, as well as promoting the overall health of the horse.

Old 1940's running shoe, 2008 running shoe

Regular horseshoe, Renegage Hoof Boot

(Ironically, check out this article about 'barefoot running shoes' and the health benefits of running barefoot that professional runners are now starting to embrace..... see a trend here? I do!)

So, in conclusion.... I don't think just any horse can go barefoot, given its history. Sometimes, there are limiting factors. I do think that horseshoes will eventually be viewed as an antiquated practice that will still continue, of course, but that will start to lose favor in the face of healthier, safer, and less expensive (in terms of vet bills AND shoeing bills) alternatives, such as hoof boots designed specifically for horses working at the very top levels of competition that can be removed when the competition is over. Endurance people are already on board with this idea... now, we just have to get other diciplines looking into it too!

Saturday, December 20, 2008


My dearest readers, it is high time I blogged about something that irritates me on a constant basis - propaganda, in both the barefoot and the shoeing world.

As you are all well aware, these two schools of thought are constantly at war with one another, instead of attempting to accept each as an option that a horseowner might choose, and therefore attempting to make the effort to reach out to each other as viable, working options for hooves. (I personally don't believe in shoeing but I know people who do, so there you are.) There probably won't be peace between these two worlds anytime soon. And here's the part that bothers me the most - pro-shoeing people are always, ALWAYS attacking the barefoot community for spreading 'BS and propaganda' about barefooting. They say it's nothing more than a marketing scheme, they say it's geared towards guilting a clueless owner into taking the shoes off of their horse, they say it's based off of junk science and nothing more. But the part that gets ignored by the pro-shoeing crowd so often is that farriers often do the EXACT same thing to clients and potential clients. How often does a shoer guilt THEIR customers into this more expensive set of shoes, or these pads 'because your horse just needs the support', or guilts an owner into putting shoes on their barefoot horse (the other way around now, see?) based off of their OWN junk science? How many dressage riders are told their horse needs bar shoes and full pads "for support"? How many eventers competing at Beginner Novice are guilted into tapping all four shoes and buying twelve sets of studs? Futher studies are needed in both fields, of course, although I think we can all agree on one thing: the bare hoof is the healthy ideal.

Now, there are lots of reasons why people put shoes on their horses. For instance: They jump. They do dressage. They show. They event. They rein, they work cows, they race. They work on rocks. Hell, they stand in stalls and are old and just "need support." They have weak walls, thin soles. They live in poor environments. They are lame. They have navicular, they've foundered. They need better traction. Their horse has "crappy QH feet" or "crappy TB feet." Their trainer told them too. It's just what horses need. It's just what horse owners do.
And there are lots of reasons why people take the shoes off their horses and go barefoot. For instance: They jump. They do dressage. They show. They event. They rein, they work cows, they race. They work on rocks. They have weak walls, thin soles, and they want to change that. They are lame. They have navicular, they've foundered. They need better traction. They believe that a crappy foot can become a healthy foot.

Do shoes have a place on an unhealthy foot? No, in my mind they certainly do not, and few people agree with me on this one. Farriers see a poor foot and do their best to fix it by applying shoes to protect the foot. Barefoot trimmers see a poor foot and do their best to restore the foot to proper function through correct trimming, diet, environment and movement. And the latter happens to be the way I agree with. The way to make an unhealthy foot healthy is to remove the shoe and restore the hoof to its natural function. Do shoes belong on healthy hooves? If the hoof is healthy and fully functional do you need shoes at all? Questions that are far too complicated for one simple answer, I'm afraid.

So the point of this post is this: Pro-shoeing people, don't be so quick to point the finger at trimmers and accuse them of spreading propaganda. A lot of farriers I know use the same marketing gimmicks as barefoot people sometimes do in order to get clients, and it's not right for either school to employ such techniques. Where is the science behind proper shoeing? I want studies. I want to see.

Some people like shoes, some people don't. Some people believe this, some people believe that. I believe what I believe, you believe what you believe, and I respect that.
Really, can't we all just get along?

Friday, December 19, 2008

Picture of the Day #2

Another Gogo Picture of the Day:

My fiancee and I messing around with cameras and jumps while I was schooling x-country last summer. She was getting all these crazy picture angles and I thought this one was great :D Dreaming of summer...

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Disco? With myself? Outrageous!

Okay that title had absolutely nothing to do with my post XD

Today was a great, great day. Everything at work flowed smoothly, we got everything finished in record time just like clockwork, my mother flew in to visit me (which I was surprisingly excited about), and oh yeah, my horse was freaking AWESOME today. This was the first lesson with Vicki that I really felt like we accomplished something, we really DID something productive... all it takes is patience and a little time, I guess. We started out today in the same way as yesterday, with a stretchy walk where I gradually picked up the contact instead of trotting around on a totally loose rein for awhile and then attempting to pick her up (which, understandably, always led to some resistance). When I picked her up at the walk, right off the bat I felt her being more even in both reins, and because she was softer today, I could be straighter in my body... or maybe it was the other way around ;) Either way, we walked for a good long while and worked on telescoping her neck out while doing figures such as serpentines, leg yields, a bit of shoulder-in, and changing the length of her frame. I felt her stretching forward and down out to my hands, and we both became increasingly loose in our movements. Up into trot after a good long while of this, and she was immediately at her *almost there* point. All it took was a few more minutes of walk-trot transitions and I had her right there in my hands. She reached out for my contact, and was right there with me. If there is any better feeling in the dressage-y world, you just let me know, because I haven't experienced anything so magical yet at when a horse is really searching for you, and finds you, and the contact is elastic and alive with energy. We didn't do too much in the way of complicated things - we did some absolutely fabulous leg yields and a couple of walk-canters that were just gorgeous - and actually, instead of progressing on to work on some counter-canter I just decided to call it a day, because she was just so perfect. Another thing we've been doing that I NEVER could have done before is actually taking walk breaks on a longer rein. Usually, our big problem is that after our free walks, our tests more or less loss all their fluidity and rhythm, and our scores went from pre-freewalk 7'd and 8's to post-freewalk steady 6's. Today especially, I felt like I could take a real break, let her stretch down for a few minutes, find my contact and stay elastic with it, and then be brought back up smoothly and easily - something we NEVER used to be able to do. We finished with a very, very lovely stretchy trot, which felt great and even in both hands. I will have to remember to school this mid-ride and bring her back up though.... Training level eventing tests have this movement mid-test and I certainly don't want her to associate it with being totally done!

Wow, though. She was just amazing, fluid, light, and working with me the entire ride, instead of just struggling to get it for awhile and then finally achieving it after a long 45-minute battle. Things to remember: start with walk work, it limbers her up very well. Give her stretchy walk breaks and time to readjust her frame and relax the muscles she's working hard. Let her seek my contact, instead of trying to manipulate her too much with my body and hands (my very bad habit). When she comes through, riding her is amazingly easy. It's like all I have to do is sit there and think about it, and she does it.

Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh yeah.

And then, of course, she went and rolled in the mud and got completely encrusted in it. Back to the washrack for leg washing and to the grooming stall for a good vacuuming... and here's my invention for keeping that gorgeous, luxurious tail out of harm's (and mud's) way (up and under the long tail flap of her blanket too, an added bonus!)

Now that's sexy! It's a really complicated and made up knot with some baling twine tied around it (not on her tailbone, of course!) to keep the whole thing from falling out. Works like a charm! :D And our twine out here is light blue, so she's totally matching, of course!

Today was sunny, warm and beautiful. Hard to believe that an enormous storm system complete with gale force winds and 12" of snow is barreling out way as we speak. We're bracing for one hell of a winter blast tomorrow....

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Gogo Hones In On My Weak Spots

EARLY EDIT: I started writing this note yesterday and meant to save it as a draft, but I accidentally published it. So sorry to Beckz because I deleted it and subsequently her comment too! XD

Well, yesterday my ride today was not so good. At least I know at this point that whenever she's bad, it's because I'm restricting her in front and I need to LET GO. I already blogged about this once before, but it's a different matter actually DOING it. I sometimes struggle with releasing her in front because when she's not connected, she'll just pop right back up above the bridle. Today's ride was much better - she was *almost* to her perfect point by the end, but not quite. She was much more uniformly good through the entire lesson though, and we worked on stretching mid-workout, which I think was good for her. We had some reallly nice leg yields and some really nice canterwork too, so hooray for that! Vicki pointed out to me that my right side is my weaker side, and it's her softer side too, so my tendancy is to take my leg off and let that rein go slack. She had me take a real feel of it and keep my right leg on, and to let go of the left rein and not let her use that as a hanging/balance point, and that definitely helped. Gogo knows my weak spots, that's for sure! It's not just a matter of letting go at this point... it's capturing and containing that energy. There has to be a happy medium somewhere.... I'm just not totally sure where it is.

Before, in order to get her working through, it was a half hour to 45 minutes of above the bit dinking around, and then 15 minutes to a half hour of really awesome, fluid, perfect work. Now it seems to be an hour of slowly improving, fairly consistantly decent work, because instead of waiting for her to decide to give it to me I've been asking her to give it to me. I definitely don't feel at this point that I could even do a passable Training level test, much less a First or Second level test, but my hope is that we'll both adjust to this new way of thinking, and will become stronger and more through (and maybe, just maybe, turn that ewe-neck into something normal looking....!)

Gogo also got her Adequan Monday night, and a nice lomng handwalk. She's been stocking up fairly dramatically in her hinds (and a little bit in her fronts), so I wanted to see if it corresponded directly to exercise or not. Nope, next day she was still big in the legs! I linimented and wrapped them last night, and they were nice and tight when I took the wraps off this morning, so I have yet to get a picture of it, but I left the wraps off tonight, so perhaps tomorrow (we always hope not, but it will probably happen). It seems to correspond to how deep her bedding is and how much movement she gets, so we'll see if I can tweak this at all. Maybe an evening handwalk is in order...

Also, not related, this is THE worst barefoot vs. shod article ever. GREAT. Way to make barefoot people out to be lunatics, and all other farrier-type people to be totally sane, wonderful folks. Really, not all of us are so violently anti-shoe (I'm anti-shoe but I'm not going to freaking jump down your throat about it!). Not all of us fall into the "NO EXCEPTIONS" category.

Sigh. This is why people all think we're totally crackers. We're not, really we're not. We just want the best for our horses. I had this discussion recently with someone about going as far up the levels as I can with Gogo barefoot, and how we sort of want to pave the way if we can, and they were saying "I hope that doesn't change into 'I WILL pave the way and to hell if I can't!'" Meaning, making my horse suffer at the upper levels without shoes on if she's struggling with height and speed (I hardly doubt this). If it takes shoes to get her to the very top (which I highly doubt is the deciding factor anyway), I told them, and putting shoes on would be the ONLY way to continue to show, then that's when I'll stop. Compromising her health in order to get more ribbons at higher levels goes against everything I believe in, and I won't do it. The second she tells me she can't do it, we won't do it anymore. I want to go as far as we can, within healthy limits. If she's not healthy or happy doing her job, then we'll find a new job.

I just want her to be happy and healthy, that's all.

Sleepy Gogo back at school in OH.

Monday, December 15, 2008


So Connecticut weather right now is very, very weird. It was a record high of 60 today, and I was going back and forth between giving her a day off and riding her. If didn't give her the day off today, she wouldn't have one from last Thursday until next Saturday, but if I did ride her today I'd get to work on my own (lesson tomorrow, lunging Wednesday, lessons Thursday and Friday, day off Saturday, jumping Sunday...). As it turned out, when I went to turn her out, I tied up her tail and hoped it would stay. At some point I peeked out to see what she was up to, and she was RUNNING the fence like a crazy woman, covered from head to tail in sticky, wet mud. Her tail had mostly fallen out, but remained in one giant, dreadlocked muddy snarl, and her little white socks had dissapeared. I left her out there for awhile longer, and she quieted down and stood around munching hay. When I brought her in, I picked her feet, took her right to the washrack, hosed off her ENTIRE body, and left her to hang in the aisle under a cooler while I fed (which made her VERY angry). I put some Vetrolin Shine on her (wanted to stop wasting my valuable Showsheen on her...) and went to investigate her feet again - and UGH, she damaged both her hinds when running around on the rocks out there in the muddy field!! Her LH had a small crack/damage to the white line near the corner of her inside heel, and the RH has what would be a full-blown quarter crack if she had had a weaker wall - it's about a quarter of the way up her foot and goes into the white line, so it's not a chip. I rasped off a little of the damaged wall to keep it from snagging on anything, disinfected both cracks, and am really just hoping for the best. I imagine if I keep the pressure off of the cracks and keep them clean, they'll just grow themselves right out, but still.


Needless to say after all that I did NOT end up riding. And as for the lesson tomorrow, Vicki just called in sick, so I guess I AM going to ride on my own tomorrow.

At least she got her Adequan and a good long handwalk tonight.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

CT Jump School #2

Our exercise for today consisted of this poorly drawn out diagram, and a nice walk hack afterwards. The exercise was a gymnastic set on the centerline that had three trot poles to a crossrail to a one stride vertical, then depending on lead cirling back around on the long approach to a diagonal vertical (left or right). Not the greatest exercise for us (we're working on WAITING) but it was helpful. She was excellent through the gymnastic, and good coming down to the verticals, but we didn't have much in the way of schooling AFTER the jumps, which is important to me at this point. She was botching her changes - cross-cantering instead of making clean changes most of the time - so it's definitely time for some Adequan. We warmed up w/t/c and a few changes (a few good ones from left to right, a few not so good ones right to left!), and jumped the single verticals. We started off without the vertical in the gymnastic, then added it in at varying heights, and she did just fine with it, but as I said before, she was coming off the jump on whatever lead and then cross-cantering instead of switching fully to the correct lead whenever I asked. I'm not sure if it was a balance thing (pretty tight, fast turn) or if it's an Adequan deal, but we're going to go with the Adequan for now! She did perfectly in the gymnastic every single time, and was pretty good coming down to the verticals too, left and right. We finished with coming down the long approach to one of the verticals, and swinging around the short side to the next vertical. I felt in particular our last one that we did was very balanced - she actually switched her leads one stride out from the first fence in preparation for going into the corner on that particular lead, and she waited for the next fence (so did I). She also switched her lead from right to left (yay!) after the second jump, but alas, was also going warm factor 9 for whatever reason, and only that particular time. I figured not to push too many issues at once, because she did some right back to me when I asked, and called it a day, finishing up with a nice hack down the driveway and around the barn with Laurel, the girl that owns the grey pony Hermione, and who was also jumping with me today. Elisa (another boarder that we like to call "Georgina Morris") showed up right on cue and helped me set up, and then gave us a 'lesson' of sorts... meaning, she couldn't NOT stand in the middle of the arena and comment on whatever we were doing! She definitely knows what she's talking about jumping-wise though, and she gave me one image I'll have to remember: People tend to think of energy in jumping as a big, forward-rolling ball, but that we ought to keep the image of a backwards rolling ball in our minds, because that takes the energy we're creating and shifts it to the back end, lifting and lightening the shoulders in preparation for a catty leap off the ground.

I dig.

I can't quite decide if I want to give Gogo the day off tomorrow, or to ride dressage. If I ride dressage, I get to work alone... which I like a lot. I have a mountain of tack in my room just waiting to be cleaned... but I kinda don't really want to do it! I need to get some hot cocoa, put in a good Christmas movie and go at it, but I'm getting kind of sleepy. The only really hard part about my job is getting up early. I'm a morning person for sure but only if I get a full night's sleep.

And, I also happily report, I am still pleased as punch with the trim job I did on Gogo yesterday. :D

Friday, December 12, 2008

Picture of the Day

Just wanted to post a quick picture of the day (seeing as I've been sort of doing that in my posts, and I didn't in my last one)

Gogo showing 1st level. I'm in a bit of an awkward slump (I have a reeeeeeeally long torso and I think this was that weak moment of the stride when my midsection folds a little) but she looks soooooooooooooo pretty.

Regular Lessons

Today, we try out a new dressage tool with Gogo that I think actually might help her. When she resisted my contact, what Vicki had me do was widen my hands a little, while keeping my elbows elastic, and pushing her over at the same time with my inside leg out a step or two into my outside rein - which definitely had the effect of softening her. The problem still remains through - she just never got quite as elastic and relaxed in her back in a consistent way, I think because I was attempting to gently manipulate her and it was irritating her. She was really quite good for the most part, but she did still come above where I wanted her to be, and she was only 'taking' me about half of the time. We also didn't do nearly as much as I had wanted to do - we did a few leg yields, and a few transitions, but nothing more really. I attempted to do a few walk-canters with her, and we got one good one right, but going left it was just a huge disaster and I eventually just went back into trot after several failed attempts. We then attempted to do leg yields to canter departs but she just got so hollow during the leg yields that it just never worked out well.

The warmup was going so, so well too. I was there, I was in the zone, so was she. I could see our collective steaming breath in the mirrors as I passed, and it relaxed me. There was a beautiful rhythm, a certain order and cadence that came with our long-rein warmup - exactly the same pattern going left, going right. We were both relaxed, we were both calm, and when I went to pick up the reins she stretched down to meet them more than I expected. We were there, we were going to have the best ride ever... and then the lesson started, and we didn't.

Sigh. She's not been BAD this week per se.... she's just not been as good.

The wind is howling tonight, and it's cold outside... I think we are both glad to be warm and safe inside, her with hay piled to her eyeballs, me with a blankie and a mug of cocoa with a candy cane in it. Try as I might through, I can't seem to make myself feel the Christmas spirit without my lovely fiancee here to share it with me. I've got Gogo, and Ti, and the Baybit of course, but.... it's just not Christmas without her, and that makes me very sad. I'm glad I have my little pack of critters here... I'd just be a mess without them.

I like being able to go give my horse a goodnight kiss.


LATER EDIT: It is with a very heavy heart that I report that the two school stallions I've loved on and worked with for the past four years were both put down this morning. The older TB stud, Phoenix, has had a very rough past couple of years, between breaking half off his lower jaw OFF by getting it somehow stuck between the bars of his stall to having repeated seizures to getting his behiney kicked when the other stallion jumped out of his own paddock and into Phoenix's. I wasn't really all that surprised about them having to put him down... he was 28 after all, and having a hard time doing... well, everything. He was such an angel though - he was the stud everybody learned how to handle, the 'starter stallion,' because he was SO good and never got rowdy with anybody who handled him, no matter how timid they were. Everybody loved him and his fake grouchy faces. The other stallion, Absolut, was an absolute NIGHTMARE and we all had quite the love/hate relationship with him, but it was still a bit of a shock to hear that he had also been put down - he was apparently having trouble urinating this past semester, and when they did a rectal on him, they found an enormous mass in his bladder, and thankfully they felt it inhumane to keep him alive and suffering.

So RIP you two studdykins. I have such memories of both of them.... I spent years and years in the stud farm program (my completed major, concentration and subsequent degree) and spent so many hours spent with these two, both in the shed and caring for them outside of it. I think my favorite memory of Absolut was the time I had to lead him around in our arena for a group of alums that came to visit - truly frightening, seeing as nobody ever led him ANYWHERE except to and from the breeding shed. Trying to trot him out was a bit of a nightmare, seeing as all he kept doing was bolting in front of me, turning towards me, and rearing. And I mean Black Stallion rearing, with his feet over my head! All the alums seemed very impressed, like it was some special trick I was making him do. Yea right!

My favorite memory of Phoenix (and I have so many) was when I was on foal watch with my friend Alaina, spending the night in the stud farm lab on cots with a baby moniter on the countertop. We were dozing lightly when we saw Lexi, the mare, start stirring and kicking her wall, and we heard weird nickering and grunting noises over the baby monitor. When we opened the lab door to investigate, lo and behold there was PHOENIX trying to tease this heavily pregnant mare at 2AM, the old creep! Somebody had forgotten to latch his stall door and he had escaped, and then ran all over the barn while we spent a good long while trying to catch him in our PJs. What a night!

Phoenix, my dear old man:

RIP, Fifi and Abby. I'll miss you and will cherish all you've taught me.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Fun in the sun.... Which is not now

And now, for your viewing pleasure (and continuing with the theme of wetness), some pictures of Gogo and I taking a swim in the pond last summer:

DISCLAIMER: Always wear your helmet (and shoes!!!!) when on horseback!! This is the second time I've posted pictures where I haven't been wearing my helmet, and that is very bad bad bad of me. I always wear my helmet, I do... just not these two times, apparently.

Enjoy the torrential downpours and flash flood warnings, New England!

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Sheer exhaustion

I... am tired. SO tired. Last night Gogo was really good... really good. I rode with the only other eventer in the barn - a kid named Laurel with a cute little pony named Hermione, and she and her mom raved about how lovely my horse was. And she WAS lovely too... getting some really accurate leg yields, some very lovely canterwork, and some totally flawless walk-canter-walks. Sometimes she falls apart a little on the downward transitions, but not yesterday. Yesterday she rocked right back and came right down to a very energetic walk. The exercise we were schooling is out of one of the second level tests... there's hope for second level by the end of next year yet! If I have money to spend on regular dressage shows, that is.....

I had my first lesson with Vicki today, which I was really looking forward to but didn't get too much out of today. I think she was just feeling my horse out really and watching to see what she's like more than telling me how to improve her - which will take a few rides, I expect. I told her about Gogo's aversion to warmups, and we're going to see if there is a better way to warm her up (our current way is to kind of give her a vague rein length to do what she wants with it and let her decide when she wants to release her back and stretch out to the contact on her own.... not really productive, but it is effective.) She's very difficult in that way... no amount of body manipulation ever works to 'make' her work through. She really DECIDES it on her own, I'm not kidding you. I don't know what the magic formula is to get there... there's just a moment when she lets go, and becomes steadily better. She did it for Vicki today too, just finally released, and once she did Vicki seemed very impressed. We didn't work on as much stuff as I wanted to, but we did do some fab leg yields and some very nice walk-canters, but nothing more.

That warmup is just what kills me, and sometimes frustrates me. She's just so locked in her neck and back for so long, and she just WON'T relax it no matter what I do - she just gets more and more tense the more I try to manipulate her. With her, it's just... backing off, and letting her make the executive decision to stretch out to my hand. I don't really know how long it takes, because it varies every ride. But that makes our rides fairly long-ish - an hour and fifteen minutes to an hour and a half every time from start of walking to end of cooling out, just because I don't really school much of anything until she's ready and supple. When she finally had that moment of giving to me, she's AMAZING. And THEN we can school everything we wanted to... we just have to wait for it.

I wonder if this is just the way she'll always be, or if this can actually be changed.

I need more energy so I can actually DO something at night... although I DID wash Gogo's tail and socks tonight because she ran around in the mud in turnout today and her socks disappeared under a layer of mud and her tail was one solid mud dreadlock... suddenly nothing is frozen anymore, and it's going to be 65 tomorrow.... right, CT.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Ummmm...... it's cold.

It's cold. It's reeeeeeeeeeally cold. I guess all my teasing about New England weather made New England angry - it's gusting 50mph winds right now and the windchill is zero. We have less than an inch or two of snow left on the ground from overnight, but the bitter cold is making up for it. I think tonight, Gogo gets the neck rug put on.

We had a pretty good jump school today, right on schedule. I pulled out an exercise from my 101 Jumping Exercises for Horse and Rider book, one meant focus on control. It was three trot poles, a 4-stride line to a 2'9" vertical set for both ways, and then another four strides to three trot poles. Here's a diagram:

This exercise can be run a few different ways, but the way we were focusing on was this: canter in to the vertical, then trot and trot the poles on the way out. Now, this is VERY hard for Gogo, seeing as she likes to land from jumps and hi-hi silver away she goes (meaning at a rather lengthened stride, not a bolt or anything!!), and it takes a few strides to bring her back to more of a working canter, and bringing her back to the trot much less is really quite hard. We did a lot of warm-up over the trot poles, changing directions over them, some walk-canter-walks, and transitions in general, although it's more important to work on downwards transitions when we're jumping - i.e. brakes!! I'm much less worried about her forward energy - I know she'll go forward!!

The exercise was, as expected, a bit challenging for her, but I did have some EXCELLENT moments before the fence where I half-halted only a few strides out and I felt her gather herself and wait for me. After the fence, it was interesting - coming in off of both leads, headed in one direction of the arena, she was fairly good after the jump, although it did take me the entire four strides to get her to come back to trot - and she only trotted because of the poles, I'm pretty convinced. The other way, she dragged me at a canter a few times through the trot poles, but we always made sure to halt straight after the trot poles. She did pretty well with it, for the most part, not as good as I would have hoped but it's a work in progress, definitely her most challenging jumping quirk (for both of us). We'll keep this one in our bag for later. I think I'll spend winter Sundays schooling simple gymnastic exercises like this, once every week, just keeping it low and simple and working on things like rhythm, relaxation and adjustability, before and after the fence. And I myself need to work on this: I tend to want to push her a stride or two out, and that is bad! It works on x-country very occasionally, but not in a stadium situation! So I have to remember to just sit chilly and let her find her own spot - if she's in a good and steady rhythm, she will.

By the way, here's a couple pictures of Gogo enjoying her wintery wonderland:

Awwwwww mare!

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Baby's First Tummyache

UGH!!! Well my plan for tonight was to come online and blog about how much I hate giving a bran mash once a week in place of a meal, but before I could do so I headed out to do night check at 8 (they got their mash at around 5). Now I can add one more reason to why I hate bran mashes - they make my horse sick!!

Why do I loathe said once-a-week big, warm, mushy mashes? Because the horse's digestive system is SENSITIVE. When we feed them one type of forage or grain and keep it steady, their systems adjust properly to it - the proper hindgut flora adapt to that type of forage and flourish and can easy and efficiently break down all the nutrients available to them. Their flora ADAPT to those types of forage and grain, and the whole sytem is happy and in balance. Well, in comes once-a-week dinnertime bran mash, and the gut flora go HOLY CRAP! What the hell is this stuff, I'm not used to this!! and freak out, thus producing the commonly seen diarrhea. Bran's tendency is to irritate the bowl linings. In order to have an actual laxative effect, you would have to feed HUUUUUUUUUUUUUGE quantities of it, and we just don't feed that much, so the idea that giving a bran mash once a week has a good laxative effect on a horse is just RUBBISH. He's pooping out water because you've just trashes his good gut flora! Now they have to readjust again because you threw them all out of whack! By the way, feeding bran daily over a long period of time can actually contribute to the formation of enteroliths, which are SO much fun. And don't think that a bran mash encourages gut motility - there is NO scientific evidence to prove it. AND do you really think that if your horse is getting plenty of forage that a bran mash is going to give him some much-needed fiber? Hello - hay IS fiber! You're not helping him by giving him a bran mash - give him some more hay!

Another thing about bran mashes: the calcium-phosphorus ratio. Calcium and phosphorus, as you know, work together to build bones and help muscles work correctly, BUT they need to be absorbed in correct proportions, which varies for growing horses versus adult horses. If there's not enough calcium to match the phosphorus in a bran-fed horse's daily feed, his body will pull extra calcium from his bones in order to balance the excess phosphorus in his gut, and that is not so good! If a horse gets too much phosphorus over too long a period, his body will take so much calcium from the bones that it can weaken the skeleton and leads to bone disorders. By the way, grass hays contain the exact ratio of calcium to phosphorus that horses need, versus wheat bran and rice bran contain - which contain about 10 times too much phosphorus, on a per pound basis. Don't get me going on alfalfa either.

So what's the moral here? If you feed a fair quantity of bran a day (or worse, in place of other grains and forages), then your horse's hindgut flora WILL be adjusted to it - but your calcium-phosphorus ratios will be WAY screwed up. If you feed a once-weekly large bran mash instead of a meal, you won't have calcium-phosphorus issues, but you WILL kill off a bunch of good gut flora, which can lead to digestive issues. Would you ever do this to your horse: "Hi Spot, you get 2 lbs of Gro N' Win (Buckeye ration balancer) a day, therefore once a week I will give you 5 lbs of Ultium (higher-end Purina feed) with warm water to get more water into you/have a laxative effect on you/warm you up/increase gut motility." NEVER. Because we KNOW how sensitive a horse's digestive system is. So WHY do people think bran is exempt from this? Giving a big bran mash is EXACTLY like giving several pounds of a different feed that the horse is not adjusted to. We watch the changes in our hay, we are careful to give the exact amounts of X grain (and make sure that it is the correct type of whatever grain is in the feed room) but we STILL think that bran mash is somehow in a special non-tummyache-causing category of its own? WRONG. A once-weekly bran mash constitutes an abrupt change in a horse's diet - so no wonder they get the runny poops and the achey tummies.


So that was the ORIGINAL post. Here's what I have to add to it:

In the two and a half years I've owned her, Gogo has NEVER even ONCE had a tummyache or digestive problem in her life. We even had her scoped for ulcers when she dropped a ton of weight this summer (the barn manager was starving her, but we didn't know that at the time, we thought she might have ulcers) but even then, her digestive system was in prime working order. I attribute this mostly to a lot of exercise, time to be a horse, large amounts of good quality grass hay, and minimal amounts of fortified grain. Every change I've ever made to her feed was made over the course of at least two weeks. Gogo has never, ever had a bran mash in her entire life, until tonight. The kids working today were like, here's Gogo's mash!, and it was rather huge, which bothered me a little. I let them give it to her against my better judgement, and figured I would come back at nightcheck and give her her actual grain dinner myself.

Nightcheck comes (a few hours after her bran mash), and I go out to toss hay. I toss Gogo hers, and then look in on her a few minutes later - she's ignoring her hay and covered in shavings, and her stall is a right mess. As I watch, she paws, gets down and rolls, then gets up, gets back down, gets up, and by the time I get in her stall with her halter she's down again. GREAT. Her first EVER tummyache - I can only attribute it to the bran mash. I pulled her out, take her TPR - it's totally normal, thankfully. HR is 36bmp, temp is 100.3, RR is 12bmp, totally normal and fine. Gave her a dose of banamine, off we go into the arena to walk, where she proceeded to chuck herself on the ground twice, once to roll until I got her back up, and once to lay flat out on her side for a few very long minutes while I knelt down and stroked her face. She decided to get up, and was much better after that - we walked until a good half-hour had passed, until I was sure the banamine was kicking in. Brushed the arena mess off of her, tossed her blankie back on, and put her back in her stall, where she sighed, took a long pee, and started snuffling around for the hay scraps leftover (took the other hay out of her stall). I was out there for another 10 minutes with her, and she seems to be totally fine. That was a good half-hour ago - I'm going out in a few minutes to check on her again.


SO. In conclusion:

Myth #1: Bran mash warms my horse up.
Truth: Temporarily, in the same way a mug of hot coffee warms you up. A better option is to give the horse some more hay - much better all around for them. A byproduct from digesting forage is HEAT - hence why we feed horses extra hay in the winter. By merely consuming extra hay, their bodies are internally heating themselves from the inside.

Myth #2: Bran mash gets much-needed fiber into my horse.
Not really. HAY gets much-needed fiber into your horse, or haylage, or pasture, etc. If your horse is getting enough daily forage, a bran mash is of no benefit in terms of additional fiber.

Myth #3: Bran mash gets much-needed water into my horse, especially in the cold winter months.
Truth: Well, technically, yes. However, a much better option, if you really are worried about it, is to wet your horse's grain. Same benefits, without destroying any healthy hindgut flora.

Myth #4: Bran mash has a laxative effect.
Absolutely no scientific evidence supporting this theory. Also, if it WERE to have a laxative effect, you'd have to feed WAY more than your horse could EVER consume. Your horse can have diarrhea the next day because you have, in effect, just killed off his healthy host of hindgut flora. A once-weekly bran mash is a very abrupt change in a horse's diet, and those hindgut bacteria thrive on a steady, unchanging environment.

What to do instead? Lots of hay, and wetting your horse's grain - much, much better options.


Friday, December 5, 2008

Schedule 12/7 - 12/13

Gogo's Weekly Work Schedule 12/7-12/13

Sunday 12/7
Jumping: Keep it simple, work on rhythm, relaxation

Monday 12/8
Dressage: Transitions, looseness, relaxation, leg yields, counter canter

Tuesday 12/9
Dressage: Transitions, looseness, relaxation, leg yields, counter canter, 10m circles

Wednesday 12/10
Lunge: In chambon… work on going FORWARD, transitions going right, steadiness and stretch going left

Thursday 12/11
Dressage: Transitions, looseness, relaxation, leg yields, counter canter, canter-walk-canters, 10m circles, shoulder-ins, stretchy circles

Friday 12/12
Dressage: Transitions, looseness, relaxation, leg yields, half-halts, counter canter, canter-walk-canters, 10m circles, shoulder-ins, haunches-ins, stretch and coming back up

Saturday 12/13
Day Off: Handwalk twice, 20mins each

Obviously just a rough outline. All the things I want to work on during my dressage days are all subject to change, of course - and they don't get schooled unless she is loose, supple and reaching for my hand, and not before then either. We try to vary our frame from more collection to stretching and back up again, but that is specifically something that always gets us during tests and something I really, really need to emphasize with her during our regular training sessions (i.e. yes that stretchy circle feels gooooood but no it does not mean when I bring you back up that you can revert back to the same stiffness and inverted-ness as when I first got on and started to warm you up! Our scores always go down after our free walks or our stretchy circles, bleugh! It's always hard giving her walk breaks because she has a really hard time coming back to work with the same level of suppleness that she had before the walk break, so often times when we walk, we're not taking a stretchy moment, we're doing something productive. She's not a horse you can just hop on and suddenly she's perfectly on the bit and off you go! Noooooo, Gogo is a bit trickier than that, alas, although it's very fun.
Might I also add that lately her walk-canters have been EXCELLENT. She feel so powerful and connected beneath me.... ooooooh the good shivers! Now, her canter walks have been a bit of a different story... but we're working on that. Her trot-canter transitions also seem to be smoothing out a little - something we occasionally struggle with as she likes to DRAMATICALLY sproing vertically UP into the canter. I even had that comment at the AECs on those transitions - "more up than forward."

I'll try to see if I can force my broken camera into taking a few pics of Gogo in her new digs tomorrow. I put up her stall Christmas decorations today - she has a jingly-bell wreath, a Warm Wintery Wishes sign, a silver and light blue painted horseshoe, and a light blue Christmas stocking that is in the shape of a high-heel with the word "Angel" on it - SO fitting. It still hasn't snowed here but it's getting cooooooold at night, even though it's still warm during the day. I think we're actually going to get a few inches of snow here this weekend - yay! I was under the impression that winter in New England was uniformly AWFUL everywhere, but this part of CT is apparently exempt.

Gogo's Christmas stall last year.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Gogo and the Vacuum

Actually, that title is way more exciting than the actual event. Gogo had never before seen a horsey vacuum, so I pulled ours (the barn's) out yesterday after she rolled in the mud to see what she would do. As expected, she did not look at it when it rolled out, nor did she care about the actual hose. She did not even notice when I turned the thing on, and she didn't even care when I started sucking the dirt out of her skin. Didn't move a muscle, or even notice what I was doing. I even vacuumed her head, ears and cheeks and forehead and all. I love my horse.

Our ride yesterday was not quite as good as our ride the day before. She had a few hissies for no apparent reason, and I got a little up in her face about it, but once again, when I finally let go and pushed her forward, she stretched right out. Well, in the walk and canter anyway... the trot was a little bit more hit and miss. We had some awesome leg yields, some great counter-canter serpentines, some really nice canter lengthenings, and fewer transitions than we should have done - transitions REALLY help her. Actually, today I wanted to take her out on a long walk hack but it was very dark by the time we finished work, so instead I lunged her again in the chambon. She was AWESOME! We went right first, her soft way, and did a million transitions - boy, do they ever make a difference in her. She goes SO much more forward, she comes well over her back, and she listens. If you just let her trot or canter around for a long time, she sort of drags around after awhile, looking to get out of work, but with a ton of transitions they is always forward and attentive, waiting for the second I ask her to change what she's doing. Going left is a slightly different strategy - I want her to do longer trots and canters without so many transitions, mostly because the forward and the STRETCH I was getting out of her today was better than any she's ever given me with the chambon before. It was AWESOME!

This strategy of two days dressage, one day something else, two days dressage, etc, works out very well for us.