finding balance

Murray and I have really been struggling with finding some balance lately.  And not just literally, though as he comes back into work and the world of derpssage it’s clear that his lateral and longitudinal balance are not what they once were.

We seem to ping-pong back and forth between states — not necessarily extremes, but not close enough to anything consistent that there is any kind of meaningful stability there.  It seems to be the case in all aspects of our relationship too; not just work under saddle.

in the meantime, I will appreciate this accidental super-square halt on the lunge line

After a really good run of fantastic behavior on the ground (with a little blip around clipping), Murray decided to throw down regarding bridling, of all things.  He’s been getting fussy and punky about bridling, and I changed his bit to a flexible (but thick) rubber mullen over the weekend.  Murray spent most of the time in that bridle gagging on the bit and attempting to spit it out, though he would happily stop long enough to chew, and seemed quiet enough in it when was were walking and trotting under saddle.

On Monday, he girthed up fantastically. We’ve been making great, incremental improvements day by day with the girthing up post-clipping. We’re actually back to where we were pre-clip: we can do the girth up to the second hole on each side (very light pressure, but not literally hanging loose below his belly) while tied, then take a short and well-behaved walk to loosen up.  We returned to the tie, and after putzing around over a few things I held the reins up for Murray to put his head through.  He fussed and procrastinated but eventually complied (click and treat).  But when I took his halter off and tried to slide the bridle up over his face, he pulled his head back and shifted his feet around uncomfortably.  I waited for the shifting to stop and for Murray to settle (click, treat) then came over to his head to try again.  It went on like this for a few more minutes, so I put his halter back on and tied him up, walked away for a few minutes as a time out, then tried again.

I tried again, taking the bridling much more incrementally: click for standing still, click for letting me put the bridle to your face, click for letting me hold on to your face, etc.  Murray just was not playing ball, and his objections got louder (jerking his head away) and ruder (pushing through me and into me).  I threw in a mild correction (jerked the lead rope once) in response to him jerking away and tried again.  No dice.  I tried to disengage his hind end (risky in the barn, as he tends to slip on the asphalt) when he pushed into me, but that also did not result in any less pushiness.  Eventually we had to take it outside.  It was not pretty.

I truly could not understand what precipitated this.  We went from listening, thinking, and learning to nopenopenopenopenope in less than a minute. Was it about the bit (which he now seems to like?!)?  Was it about his desire for an extra long walk after saddling? Was it because someone had pulled up in a trailer and he wanted to watch?  Was he mentally over it after a week of solid work (but he got Sunday off, and Saturday was pretty mellow)?

Because we have been working.  Mostly at the walk and trot, with a few cancer circles thrown in for good measure and fitness.  Lots of walk poles, a few trot poles.  On the one hand, the work is easy — we’re walking 75% of the time and working on quiet, balanced trot transitions and a steady trot for the rest of it.  It’s not physically demanding work.  On the other hand, I’m literally trying to re-engineer the way Murray thinks, learns, and goes from the ground up.  And that is mentally quite tiring — at least, it is for me.

hand me sci-fi GIF by MANGOTEETH
we can rebuild him! make him faster! stronger!

Part of the reason the work has stayed so low key is that Murray is still vacillating between “pretty sound for a horse who hasn’t done fuck all since September” and “holy shit why does that leg move like that”.  Is it muscular?  Maybe.  He works out of it a lot.  Is it inherent imbalance and tendency?  Probably.  He’s always taken a shorter step with his right front, and I’ve always overcompensated to even him out (or maybe just made it way worse with my incorrect turning?).  Is it because it’s winter?  Maybe.  My horse always seems to go like crap in winter.

After the whole leg hole situation, I find myself less resilient to the little physical-ailment-type bobbles that horsey life throws my way.  Watching Murray be a little short on the right front or dig he toes into the footing instead of step heel-to-toe makes me much more worried that something serious is going on than it ever used to.  Where once I could brush off his winter funk as just stiffness and general malaise, I’m wondering if maybe I should turn him out in a pasture and leave him for a month or two.  Is his right hind still bothering him, causing him to favor his other limbs even more?  The wound is completely closed, but his leg is still reforming, reshaping — tightening up and dissolving scar tissue.  Maybe he just needs more time?  Or maybe Murray will feel much better once he gets into regular, full work, using all of his muscles in better balance.  That’s an option too.

I just can’t seem to pick a path and stick with it.

I’m trying to find a middle ground here — somewhere that I’m not either treating my horse with kid gloves or ignoring what he’s trying to tell me or letting him walk all over me or driving us both insane with the monotony of walk-trot-walk-trot-walk-halt-walk-halt-walk-trot purgatory.  It’s hard when things change so wildly day to day.  It’s like I’m wobbling on a bicycle and I can’t fix it by moving my feet or the handlebars one direction or the other; the only thing that will fix it is picking up speed.

It is me, so I have a bit of a plan.  I should probably write it out and have targets to measure it by — otherwise I seem to get stuck in those death spirals (of nag, of walk-trot forever, of clicking my horse into awful behavior). Hopefully that will help us find that balanced place in the coming weeks.  How do you do it, when you’re seeking balance?  Any hints for a wayward traveler and her meandering steed?  I’ll use any toolkits you can give me.


notorious ottb tries massage

One (of the many) thing that Murray has made quite clear to me over the years is that he doesn’t really appreciate human touch.  He loves to groom and play bitey face with other horses, is very interested in snuggle time with doggos and cats, but would really prefer if we humans just touched him as little as possible.

Which does make riding challenging.  But it also means that trying to help Mr. Heisenberg work out the soreness, muscular imbalances, or other weird-body-stuff that might be hindering his movement and comfort is a real challenge.  I got Murray a couple of massages back in 2014 and 2015, he pretty much hated them and didn’t improve after them, so I figured I’d just leave him to his tense, sore devices forever.

doesn’t want to be mellow

I chatted with one of the local body work experts, Andrea, about this exact problem during someone else’s appointment (I end up holding a lot of horses for her so it’s a good opportunity to chat). She’s seen Murray being his standard gooftacular self enough that she thought she could come up with a plan.  It also helps that she’s a GP dressage rider and former trainer.  So I made an appointment with her!

We started by watching Murray on the lunge line (and I was terribly pleased that he showed off his newly-installed stretchy walk and trot!), while I described my concerns.  Murray tends to step short with his right front, which he typically works out of, but it would be great if we could help him along with correct biomechanics and some body work.  (Interestingly, on the lunge Murray wasn’t lame going to the left, though he was his standard amount of lame going right. As usual, it got better with a couple of circles. One day we’ll know what that is about.)

his mouth is saying yes but his eye is saying noooo…?

I told Andrea to do what she felt was appropriate and within Murray’s ability to tolerate and, as with all of my equine professionals, to discipline him as needed. Whatever we did or didn’t get to in terms of his muscles was fine with me — I wanted this first appointment to help us make a plan, and not get Murray feeling defensive or more tense.  Andrea started on the right, which is Murray’s stiffer and tenser and more tender side.  I probably could have warned her… but failed to do so.

Andrea started with really light pressure on Murray’s neck — about a third of the pressure she usually uses when working on a horse.  She moved slowly and purposefully, and wasn’t digging in really deep the way you see some body workers go to town on a horse.  Murray was suspicious at first, for sure, but Andrea just kept moving slowly and carefully, and eventually the tense baby horse started to relax…. and then, he kinda started to enjoy it.

Andrea spent most of her time working on Murray’s right shoulder and the associated neck muscles on that side.  There was more work to do in his neck but she didn’t want to push it.  His biceps were tight but not out of the ordinary (I’ve been poking and prodding them ever since Emma mentioned tight biceps a while back!).  And then the impossible happened — Murray started yawning.  At first it was a little yawn, and then another little one.  And then I he let rip one of those great, big, drawn-out, tongue-flapping and eyes-rolling-back-in-the-head yawns that I did not think my horse was capable of.  AND HE DID IT AGAIN AND AGAIN AND AGAIN.  Right up until I took my camera out, of course, at which point he promptly quit showing any signs of joy or pleasure.

As she moved toward his lumber region and hind quarters, Andrea was able to start using more pressure on Murray.  His lumbar and booty were sore, but not out of the ordinary for a horse who is coming back into work after a while off.  That right hind is also pretty weak right now, I suspect from just being basically out of commission for the last five months.

murray substituted biting the pole for yawning because it’s so much cuter?

Murray’s left side was much less tight and sore than his right, and Andrea could get a little more work done.  She noticed that his obliques were tight on both sides (more on the right), but didn’t want to tackle them as they can be a particularly sensitive area and it wouldn’t be worth his potential objections.  And despite his lack of  yawning on the left, Murray did seem pretty relaxed and happy, and only moderately bored and frustrated toward the end of the massage.

Andrea gave me some really useful advice for keeping Murray even side-to-side as we get back into work, and helping him approach exercises in a way that will help him instead of making his issues worse (e.g. poles should help him lift up his shoulders and reach, not make him bear down and flail forward).  It was great that she really seemed to get Murray, and work with his sensitivity and quirks, instead of ignoring them or becoming annoyed by them.

Murray: I love dis pole

All in all, a pretty successful body work adventure! Murray and I are going to keep on with the clicking and treating, as we work our way back up to full work!  And hopefully we can loosen up and stretch out that right front, and even up those strides a bit more!

spiral of nag

I’ve been trying to be very conscious about correctness while bringing Murray back into work this year.  Part of it is trying to maximize the relationship and learning mentality that we’re creating through clicker training, and part of it is an attempt to undo all of the bad habits and ingrained reactions that the two of us have developed to one another over the last few years.  It’s been a lot of work at the walk, since we’re still building up fitness and hoof health, which has been the perfect opportunity to integrate the clicker into our sessions.  It’s also been an excellent opportunity for us to work on Murray’s walk, which is inarguably his weakest gait.

such challenge

A lot of what I’ve been focusing on is developing a positive relationship with contact, which has always been such a struggle for us.  I seem to be as afraid of contact as Murray is — I seem to desperately fear having to hold up anything more than the weight of the reins, and will consciously and subconsciously wiggle, shake, or bump horses out of my hands.  It’s no wonder that Murray wants to duck behind the bridle.  So focusing on rewarding Murray for actually moving into the contact is doing a lot for me too.

I’ve also been working a lot on our walk-trot transitions.  These have been a weak point for Murray and I since time immemorial (okay, so what isn’t a weak point for us?!), so rebuilding these from the ground up with the clicker has been priceless.  I actually started these with in-hand work, clicking first for a long-and-low walk, then asking for the trot and clicking for a similarly long-and-low trot. I chained the two behavior by asking for the trot and clicking specifically when Murray made the transition without hurling his head in the air or leaning on his underneck.  (It would probably be ideal if I clicked when he actually pushed from behind properly in a transition, but it’s all about the baby steps here.)

ugh I miss summer

On Monday we did a lot of walk-halt-walk, walk-trot, and trot-walk transitions under saddle.  It’s a long way from perfect, but the frequency with which Murray trots forward in a quiet and reasonable way is steadily increasing, and the frequency of flailing-inverted-on-the-forehand transitions is steadily decreasing.

The problem with playing the walk-halt-walk-trot-walk-trot-walk-halt-walk game is that it is boring.  So I thought I’d work on making my cues for the trot quieter, since Murray seems to prefer a quieter cue over one that involves actual leg pressure.  I decreased the pressure I put on with my legs when I asked, and tried to “think trot” with my seat. A couple of times I caught myself pitching forward an lightening my seat as if to avoid getting left behind through the transition, and verbally scolded myself. Of course, pitching oneself forward and picking one’s seat up means the transition isn’t happening, soooo yeah.

When the lighter cues weren’t working, I went back to squeezing slightly harder, and then a little more and a little more until I got something resembling a transition out of Murray.  And I realized I’d worked myself into a nag spiral.  Instead of making Murray responsive to my lighter “aids” I’d somehow made it even easier for him to ignore my ever-increasing ones.

lalalala I can’t hear you

Which was nice.  And totally my goal.

I went back to trot cue = trot forward no matter what, and clicked for that a few times in a row.  Then we took a walk break.  Megan later pointed out that as long as I kept pairing the quiet cue with a cue that Murray knows means “trot right meow!”, it would work. Which revealed to me my problem: I had just been turning the volume down on the old leg-based cues (already not Murray’s favourite thing to listen to), without including any kind of link to the behavior I actually wanted.

Learning theory suggests you present new cue – old cue – behavior – reward.  But instead I was just going new cue – no behavior – wtf?!  As if Murray would think “well, when Nicole does this with her legs only bigger, what she means is trot… so I should try trotting here”.  Shockingly, my horse is not capable of such cognitive leaps.

Murray asked to stretch down at the walk during our break, so I obliged and we worked on stretchy walk for a few circles.  While he was stretching down, I asked Murray to trot, and he gave me a pretty good stretchy transition that led into a nice long and low trot circle.  So I stuffed his face with the remainder of our grain and called it good.  Clearly, all is not lost on the learning front.  I just need to remember which one of us actually has access to the texts on training and learning theory.


the downside to clicker training

alternate title: when you fuck up the clicker training

Don’t clicker train your horse, they said. You will make him mouthy, they said. You will make him beg, they said. You will teach him bad behaviors, they said. You can’t change his nature, they said.

Psh, I said.

look how good at standing still this clicker trained horse is

Then it rained.

Then I clipped.

I’ve made a terrible mistake.

have been getting real familiar with this view

So let’s back up just a skosh.

I knew I had to clip last weekend. Murray is getting back into real work, and he’s not really in shape, so he sweats. But he won’t be rid of all that hair until May-ish (when he is usually done shedding out), and I don’t have the time to deal with a fully-haired horse in full work in hot-AF-California weather. It’s just… not going to work for us.  So I sharpened my blades, girded my loins, and prepared to clip.

As in past years, Murray was not totally down with the clipping thing, but he was relatively good. Because I kept a relatively steady stream of small handfuls of his favourite grain headed straight from my fanny-pack-full-of-treats to his mouth.  For some reason, he never really settled down.  Maybe it’s because I was too absorbed listening to Oathbringer on audiobook to pay full attention to him and click for good behavior instead of not-bad behavior (probably should have learned by now not to multitask my training). Maybe it’s because there was a huge storm system coming in and the barometer was plummeting.  Maybe he felt like being a punk.  Maybe, maybe, maybe.

I get it. It’s hard having such an incompetent clown for an owner. But we got it done.

It was the day after we clipped that the shit hit the fan.

First, Murray had his first tacking up incident since we started clicker training. I couldn’t really blame him… everything was wet and slick, and I wasn’t being considerate of the fact that he was newly nudified.  On top of it, however, he was a cookie-demanding monster.  Kiddo could not stand still to save his life, he just hit me with an onslaught of various behaviors in an attempt to acquire rewards.

This continued when we headed out to the arena, where Murray started digging at the footing almost immediately. I kept him walking so he wouldn’t roll (in the hopes that his desire to roll would dissipate), but there was absolutely no regard for either my personal space or (what I thought were) the firmly established rules of walking and clicker training. Murray was barging past me, cutting in toward me, pushing me over with his shoulders, and then snaking his head around to grab his reward for this excellent behavior from me.

Um, no. It does not work that way.

opinions, opinions, opinions

I stopped giving him treats at this point, instead focusing on the “do not fucking climb on me you horrendous beast” aspect of groundwork.  In response, Murray upped his desperate attempts to acquire any kind of grain reward from him.  When we walked over a ground pole he stopped after putting two feet over, then immediately walked backward over it without prompting. He never wants to walk backward over poles without prompting.  I tested this out again and approached another single ground pole, and he walked forward and backward over it and then looked expectantly at me.  When no treat revealed itself, he threw his head to the ground and started pawing.

It was around this point that I realized we’d not be riding that day, and I needed to take a different approach. I took off his saddle (for which he was really unreasonable and awful), and Murray immediately threw himself on the ground to roll.  He got up, took two drunken steps, then threw himself down again for another go.

After this, we worked on basic ground manner and basics. You don’t walk on top of me, you don’t shove into me with your shoulders, and you definitely don’t run past me and then walk around me in a circle. In fact, all of our sessions since then have been heavily focused on calming the fuck down and listening, instead of wildly offering any and all behaviors in a desperate attempt to see them rewarded.

murray’s spook level post clipping

And this, my friends, is what you get when you fork up your clicker training. I’m fairly certain that my unconscious clicking while clipping led to Murray being rewarded for a lot of crappy behaviors, and his expectation of a lot of rewards in a short amount of time. So I will need to take a new, more self-conscious approach when tackling training during challenging tasks in the future.

This has also highlighted some holes in my clicker training program. Patience and behavior duration, to name a few.  That’s what we’ll be focusing on for the next few weeks as we get back into serious training.  Hopefully I will suffer a minimal number of days when Murray desperately needs to throw himself on the ground instead of being ridden.


just keep clicking

I’ve mentioned this several times already, but in case you somehow missed the memo, I can now tack up my horse!!!!  Yes, ladies and gentlemen, you read that correctly.  I can now do with my 9 (nine!!! how did that happen?) year old a task that many three-year-olds — and even two-year-olds on the track — perform daily with almost no fuss.

I. Am. So. Proud.

murray models a medieval pony torture device

We’re just about a year out from our last Major Malfunction, but that wasn’t the last time we struggled with tacking up. That day was a major outlier, but Murray’s never been an easy tack up.  And there have been days when I lost hold of the girth or the billets or the horse or some piece of tack or whatnot in the wiggling.  He’s just never been good at it. Never.

So, how did we accomplish this thing? Hippy granola shit with a big side of voodoo magic, that’s how.

When I last blogged about re-training tacking up, I was still working with Murray in his paddock at liberty. I was using the jollyball to indicate a target where he should stand still (with his nose placed on the ball), and was putting a variety of things on him (girth over the back, saddle pad, surcingle, etc.) and clicking and treating when he returned to the jollyball.  The idea behind this was that he was allowed to be scared, but being with me was to be more reinforcing than being scared.

side benefit of training your horse to stand: he can now be trusted in the hay/grain barn while you scoop things!

Stupidly, I didn’t write about the process at all between then and now. Before working with the saddle at all, I started practicing standing still at the tie rings in the barn aisle.  As with most new behaviors I clicked and treated a lot in the beginning for anything resembling standing still.  Now I intermittently reinforce Murray for not wiggling around.

I do remember that I decided not to risk one of my saddles by tacking up for the first time in his paddock.  What I really did not want was for Murray to freak out and the saddle to get thrown into the gravel and then trampled while I watched in horror.

One day I decided to just bite the bullet and go for it.  At some point during our clicker session I brought Murray out into the barn aisle and just started tacking him up like it was no big deal.  I made sure to work slowly and smoothly with lots of clicking and treating as he stood still through each step of the process (saddle pad on, half pad on, saddle on, etc.).  When we got to the girth I buckled the right side (click-treat) then moved over to the left and grabbed the girth and just held it against his belly and instantly clicked and treated. I literally did not give him a chance to think about it before I was stuffing grain in his mouth.  I did this again and held the girth for a moment longer before I rewarded him once more.  Finally, I held the girth against Murray’s belly and went for the buckle… only to discover that I had buckled the damn thing too high on the right and I couldn’t reach any buckles on the left.

i see no reason that my pony shouldn’t perform (most) of the behaviors of a dog in obedience classes
(also, is his little jumping-horse-shaped star not the greatest?!)

At this point Murray got a little agitated, so I quickly clicked and treated with a big handful of grain because he hadn’t gone anywhere (yet), and moved around to the other side. I lowered the girth (click-treat), moved back to the left side (click-treat), and held the girth up against his tummy again (click-treat).  I then managed to get the girth buckled on a pretty low hole on both billets, gave Murray a huge pile of treats, and promptly walked him away from the tie ring.

And the whole time he did nothing more serious than shift his feet around a bit.

It was pretty astonishing, frankly.

Since then, we’ve moved pretty quickly from tacking up while totally untied (I would loop the leadrope over his neck), to tacking up while tied on the blocker ring, to tacking up and tightening the girth (modestly) while tied.  And through all of it he has been totally reasonable.  He’s seriously a totally different horse about tacking up now.  I’ve way decreased my click-treat frequency so that I can get both sides buckled before breaking to reward him.  We still walk away after girthing as has always helped him kinda stretch out his pecs and get used to the idea of a saddle, but I have been gradually increasing the duration that he stands quiet and still before we do this.

With a couple of weeks of thoughtful, dedicated training, I eliminated a behavioral problem I’ve had for four years. I mean, I like clicker training. But I did not expect this to go that fast.

I absolutely do not expect other behaviors to solidify this quickly.  In fact, there are other things I’m working on that are stubbornly not solidifying like this.  But I’m pretty happy with where we have managed to get with our clicker training!  The behavior even stuck over our 2+ week break, which is also quite impressive for the Murr Man.

I’ll have to sit down and think out some distinct clicker goals for us this year, and make some proper training plans. Beyond this behavior, I haven’t really thought out the clicker training in a cohesive manner, and having a plan will definitely benefit us in the long run.



and then

The last two weeks have been just this side of mayhem. Thanksgiving is just about my favourite thing about America, and definitely my favourite holiday. I adore an excuse to show people how much I love them by cooking for them, and there’s nothing stuffy or pretentious about Thanksgiving food. No need to stand on formality.  It’s about comfort and deliciousness!

So of course I aim for the most deliciousness possible.  It’s a little all-consuming, but I love it.

Elinore is Queen of the Arena, always

Just before Thanksgiving though, Murray did go ahead and cast himself, which resulted in one slightly puffy pastern and one rather horrifying elephantiasis leg that JUST HAPPENED TO  BE THE SAME AS THE LEG HOLE LEG.  Which meant that I fretted about it the whole week I was away, and came home to two perfectly normal legs. Phew.

Murray has also graduated to a new and important phase of his recover.


Your eyes do not deceive you! The fluffy beast has finally been granted his freedom at nights once more. I put elastikon on both ends of the bandage to forestall any possible movement of the wrap (though it’s hardly needed anyway any more), and took Murray out with a bucket of grain and his hay as the sun set.  My clever trick worked, and Murray trotted off for one second once he realized he was free, then immediately returned for his dinner.

I did nearly chicken out on the turnout. I mean, elephantiasis leg last week, potential extensor tendon involvement the last three months… And what if Mr. Horse decided to throw himself around and break open all his newely-healed skin, or rip his whole leg right off?!!

Food trumps friends, apparently.

But it had to be done, for both Murray’s mind and his feet.  I mean, if my horse can’t be sound in pasture with a tiny scrape on his leg, there’s not all together much hope for us… Plus, he’s insured! But more seriously, I am very committed to this barefoot experiment (more progress pics to come soon! I’ve been delighted with the progress once I checked in with pics!), even if it means my horse will not be properly back in work for quite a few more weeks.  He will go back with friends very shortly, though our pasture groups are undergoing a little shake-up right now, so perhaps there will be new friends for Mr. Horse.

More exciting for me, and less exciting for Mu-Ray, we have also ridden twice!! this week.

The first ride was something of a whim. We got some new sand footing, and I knew I needed to get Murray out and moving around for foot progress. I steeled myself and tacked him up in the barn aisle, and… he was perfectly behaved. I mean, he wasn’t perfectly behaved like a normal horse is perfectly behaved.  I still had to untie him for safety, and he walked off quite lame and tripped just after the girth went on.  But he didn’t run off, he didn’t lay down, and he didn’t move his feet more than a tiny step the whole time.  Forking. Legend.

Murray and I wandered around the outdoor for a bit, then went to try out the new sand in the indoor arena.  And he was sound! (Still barefoot, remember!)  He did not love carrying my weight across the large gravel of the parking lot, so after a teeny bit of trotting we walked back in together.

My second ride was bareback and in the dark.  Bareback rides are so lovely warm when it’s cold outside!!  We did a little ground work in the arena on the new sand first, including walking slowly over some poles.  Murray doesn’t love slowly.  He wants quickly.  Quickly means more treats more often.  So we also worked on matching my speed — having him walk right by my shoulder even if I was walking quite slowly, or quite fast.  Then I slid on with bucket in hand (that was a challenge), and commenced the clicking and treating.  Which was even more challenging and twice as ridiculous — with me leaning over to stuff grain in his face every time we stopped.

moar foodz plz

One side effect of our bareback game was that Murray started responding very promptly to my shifting weight or a little squeeze with my inner thighs by stopping and looking at me for a treat. This is a very good thing for me, you see, as it means that whenever I lean to a fence my horse will stop. Which will surely be a very effective method of training me not to throw myself at the fences!!


neato barefoot progress

Murray has been barefoot for three weeks now, which I had fervently hoped would be long enough to see some changes in his footsies, but logically expected that no real progress would be evident. But lo!  Progress there is.

When his shoes first came off, Murray was footy (tender, sensitive) on the gravel of our barn’s driveway, which is unsurprising. (I’m footy on that fucking gravel.) He’s now able to walk from his stall to the arena without any noticeable limping or guarding. Murray was also lame at the trot in the round pen during his second turnout, even though the ground was softened by recent rain. But just this week in our indoor he pranced around pretty happily and without a hitch at liberty (though a little gimpy on the lunge line).

So without further ado, here are some feet. Maybe I’ll start scaling these to the same hoof size in the future so it’s easier to see the differences.


Murray’s left-front is his most typical TB-ish foot. It wants to be flat and heel-less. It also has a slightly uneven hair line — something I’ve been trained to look at from the Rockley blog! But just three weeks in (see below, going left to right) the frog is a little wider and the bars are moving out to the side. It looks like there might even be more expanding to come. Maybe the heel is moving back a skosh also? Hard to tell since the views aren’t identical.

um apparently my phone also started taking pictures in different aspect ratios in the last three weeks…

The right front is the freaky foot. I’m not sure it’s clubby upright-ness is really clear here. My farrier actually doesn’t worry about this foot because, in her words, she’s figured it out. It’s the LF that causes us problems.

changes in the RF are way more dramatic!

There is some good shit happening to this foot which is SO EXCITING. This is the foot I really wanted to see progress with in this whole barefoot experiment. What I see is the old frog sloughing, and LOTS of expansion of the bars to make room for the new frog. My recent, detailed explorations of the Rockley blog shows that many feet seem to take on this pattern — the spaces around the frog widen quite a bit to make space for the new frog as it comes in.  This could also be the angle of the pics, but it looks like the heel might be moving forward too?! That could be nice.

Oh and that crackola in the middle of the frog is really deep. Actually all of the creases of the foot were threatening thrush. The central crack/crease is longer and deeper than it was before, but I think that’s actually because it’s growing out/forward, not because it’s growing up into the foot. We’ll see though.

right hind

Nothing too exciting about the right hind — although it’s the least lame foot on flexions, per the vet back in August.

It looks like there might be some widening of the frog on the right hind, and definite widening and growth of the bars.

Left hind is also somewhat unremarkable. I like the shape of these feet, though now that I’m looking at them in detail I can see that the heels are a little underrun and could do with more strength. The frog is expanding a bit, and the bars are getting more definition too. So that’s cool!

blurry pic feat. purple clicker!

Murray doesn’t yet have a heel-first landing, but that’s okay. It’s less toe first, an d I’m sure with time we’ll get there. Luckily for us, I think this kid is going to be getting turnout starting next week (dear lord jeepers please let the pastures dry out enough for turnout), and all that movement should (if my understanding is correct) help him develop some palmar hoof strength.

And if you find this all as weirdly compelling and obsessable as I do, you can find lots more at Nic Barker’s super Rockley Farm Blog.