feels like makin’ progress

The last few months have been heavy hitters in terms of changing the way Murray goes. That’s not a totally fair characterization, as a lot of that work has been about changing how I ride in order to change how the horse goes. But since we’re measuring progress in terms of pony skills here, and I still can’t sit the trot, we’ll focus on the horse. And specifically, we’ll focus on the gaits themselves.

I have had, for some time, a pretty big first toolkit/second toolkit problem. I know what it is my horse is supposed to be doing or doing better, but I don’t have the rider skills to get him to do those things. I know my horse needs to take bigger steps, and that he needs to push into the bridle, and that he needs to bend his hocks and take weight behind. Because I’m also human, and that means that I’m bad at listening to my trainer even when I know I should be, I wasn’t getting out of lessons what I thought I should be. Honestly kinda sounds like I have a thinking problem. But with some good new eyes on the ground and some reinforcement from my main trainer, it feels like pony is moving at light speed through some of these concepts.

cherry-picked trot from April

First, Alexis got me thinking about posting like a piston and actually sitting in to my horse. Kate emphasized the importance of getting my horse to accept the aids instead of trying to shake them off. Of course, it meant that I also had to accept the contact instead of shaking that off too… There was a pretty pivotal ride in there with Kate where she helped me manage my hands and the connection in every step. Literally rewarding Murray for moving in the correct direction with the connection without giving it up, every time he did that. I’m not trying to diminish the importance of those people and those rides, but I’ve already written about them, and a couple of recent rides have built on them even more.

If we back up to quite a few weeks ago, before Camelot, Megan came over to help me prep for the dressage test and balance the canter-trot transitions. At the risk of messing things up, she also played with our trot a bit. The lesson emphasized getting the bend correct on the circles, while keeping the connection to both reins (Murray wants to duck away from the left rein), and lining my horse’s limbs all up with one another correctly while still sending as much energy as possible forward and into the bridle. We also worked a lot on transitions within the trot. Taking Murray’s mincing little trot — the one he comes out with and wants to pop around with all the time, without articulating his joints hardly at all — and stuffing it full of energy so that even while the steps are small he’s still tracking up, and then pushing him out over the ground so that the energy has a place to go.

pretty representative trot from May – not really moving out much at all

Pushing Murray out across the ground has always been hard. It’s easier to move legs faster/canter/fall apart/buck/just not. But when I added energy and articulation (through slooower, smaller posting but still leg and whip) first and then let him out, he actually moved out over the ground. Megan also had me push a little past that, and really keep that post slow+big as I added energy. She wanted me to post slower in the “lengthened” trot than I did in the working trot, to really get even more push across the ground instead of faster leg movement.

Then I rode with Alexis, and had a whole walk-trot lesson all about making my legs quiet and very meaningful. (Kidding — we cantered like three circles.) Doing this for weeks and weeks after the lesson was… painful, to say the least.  But it meant that by the time Megan saw us next, the leg was more meaningful. And then we really got to work.

not-really-trotting with Alexis, but at least I’m not totally giving up on the contact

At the trot, Megan really wanted me to get Murray over-tracking. Which is basically unheard of for us, since he barely tracks up usually. But we worked at it with the same technique as last time — add energy to the little mincey trot, and push it out across the ground. We spent less effort on adding energy to the little trot this time, and more time pushing out across the ground.  Or maybe it just felt that way because our basline has already shifted a bit. I don’t remember exactly what Megan’s words were (not as important since I remember the feeling a bit), but the result was that it felt like the trot was FLYING across the ground and then she’d be like “great, now add a little bit more energy to it” and there was still energy to be added.

It was extremely exhausting to keep that much tone in both Murray’s and my bodies and post slowly and keep the energy and and bear down.


camelot trot. this one’s actually nicer than I expected it would be.

In the canter, she pushed us forward until the canter was taking big steps — probably like normal, 12 foot, horse sized strides! Once I’d achieved the big horse sized stride, I could balance the canter uphill a little without taking it back or upwards. I’ll probably write more about this later, as the feeling still needs to be finessed a little bit. Plus she told me that the bigger canter was my new “half halt” which was pretty much blew my mind.

The best part of all of this is that it’s been extremely replicable in my own rides. I get on my horse and we do some walk-halt-walk-halt transitions (per Alexis). We move into the trot without letting Murray shake off the leg aid (Kate and my trainer), and just let it hang out for a bit (Alexis). And then when I go to add energy to the trot — BAM. It’s right there. It’s not that weird little trot that just moves faster, it’s a bigger trot that pushes Murray into my hands and into the bridle.

It was like between one ride and the next, Murray suddenly learned this trick of pushing into the bridle and trotting out over his back. Not that it just took one ride for it all to come together — this is the cumulative effort of lessons from all of my various people all Spring. But now it’s right there at my fingertips when I ask for it. I don’t even have to ask much. When I rode on Sunday, I barely had to put my leg on in the kinda-pokey warm-up trot and Murray sprung to action into a proper trot.

*almost* as good as it’s felt lately!

I’m not too worried about working on or practicing than the connection and these bigger gaits right now. Which is a first for me. (I’m always like, when can I canter-walk? when can I leg yield? when can I second level? AM I READY NOW?!?!) But within and between each ride I can feel how much progress we are making in the gaits, getting them stronger, smoother, more solidifed, more natural. I’ve not felt this much progress from Murray from day to day to day…. ever, really.

I’d not even describe it as dull. It is routine, but it’s also major progress! And it’s awesome.

the problem with hills

There’s this thing about hills. It happens to me all the time.

You see a hill in the distance and you’re like “That’s not so big! I could totally get to the top of that! That would be so much fun!” So you run off through the grass to mount your new obstacle.

Only, hills are always much bigger than they appear from afar. And you’re always more afar than you first thought.

So you climb and you climb. It’s tiring.

There’s so much more hill to go. Climbing hills sucks. Your legs hurt. Your brain hurts. This was the worst idea ever.

At some point, it seems like it might be worth just giving up on this stupid hill. By then, you’ve usually gone far enough that looking back, the beginning seems very far off and rather small. And you know how long that distance really is, now. You’ve come a ways. Might as well continue.

So you huff and you puff and your quads burn and you make it to the top of the hill. Finally! Joyous day! Hallelujah! Carpe the dayum hill diem!

You turn to survey your surroundings. Everything the light touches is your land!

And there, just behind you, is another damn hill.

more camelot media!

I’ve been going to Camelot since 2011 — I’ve been so many times that I thought it would be fun to compare some media from my many shows there.

Dressage centerlines


june 2012 — check out that velvet helmet cover and horrifying braids! with the lovely Quincy

july 2015 — first rated show!


2017 – the final centerline since we cantered the first one!

2018 – I swear I was smiling just seconds before this!

Dressage tests


2012 – the definition of cherry picked! I only kept 3 pictures from this dressage test.
none of them were cantering!

2015 – the lean was fierce!!! this test scored a 39 — I was over the moon

2015 – canter leaning on point

june 2017 — aww look how cute he’s getting! still doing some weird shit with my torso though.


2017 – canter work was full of strugz


2018 – outfit on point, sideways lean almost eliminated!
no canter pics from 2018 again! oh well.

Cross Country

I pulled together a collection of schooling and showing pics for XC comparison. I thought there’d be more cross over between the various fences, but there wasn’t.

2012. holy long spot, quincy! murray could fit at least three more strides in there before taking off!

2012. camille, before she got a face lift!

 
2015. So good at jumping.


2015. this is Murray’s patented “slither” move.

2015 schooling like rather a juggalo here


2017 – we actually jumped the purple roll top this time!

2017 – I had originally thought this blue bike rack was the same as in the massive long spot above, but it isn’t!


2018. turns out i still climb my horse’s neck on occasion!

2018 – camille again! the previous section pictured is just to my left in here — by her tail.

2018 — this year, a bigger roll top!

Stadium Jumping

 2012 – this is the fence where I screamed “dickhead” because I made Quincy runout. sorry Q, I was definitely the dickhead there.


2012 – these BN fences look soooo tiny!

There were no 2015 stadium pictures, of course, as I was eliminated. But look! There are some bonus pics from Murray going intro in 2014 instead!

2014 – little baby murray!!

2014 – this is when i started to get serious about my outfit. is till own and wear this shirt!


2014. what even is happening here, murray?

2017 – enter the rainbow grab strap!


2017 – and the hanging knees. some things never change.

2017.  what a curiously familiar takeoff point that is, Murray…


2018. LOL those knees.

2018 – this seemed rather an unnecessarily big effort.

2018 – same knights as above!

 

better every ride

After hauling all the way to Camelot on my own, and getting there when it was rather warm, I was pretty delighted to find myself stabled next to Eugene and Levi. They are two of my favourite ponies, and I knew they wouldn’t spend the entire weekend kicking at the panels when my horse tried to befriend them. Murray ended up being much more friendly with Levi than Eugene (shhhh don’t tell David but Eugene is a bit of a snob!!).


I spent three days trying to catch these two making out

I knew from the get go that there would be a lot of different stuff about this show. Murray is a different Murray than he was six or nine months ago, and part of the new training paradigm/protocol is not letting him get away with unnecessary shit. Not to say that I get wild or whippy on him when he throws out some Murray moves — just that we get on with our lives and it doesn’t get him out of responding correctly to what I was asking for. (And yes, if this sounds a lot like “good training” you’d be right. Isn’t it wonderful that I’m learning about it now?!!)

So we got out into warm up, and after stepping on the danger noodle, we got to work. Kate said she’d refrain from trying to change the horse too much, but would throw biomechanics fixes at me to help put us together. And boy did she ever throw biomechanics at me.

First, Kate told me to stop shoving and over-riding the walk. Um, I thought I was just following the motion the way I was supposed to? No, apparently not. So I just stopped trying to do that all together, and focused on simply not resisting the walk. When we moved on to the trot Kate kept telling me to slow down my posting — no, slow it down more. She did not want me letting Murray bounce me around into the trot he wanted. Which is also what I thought I’d been doing for the last two weeks. Or not. You know.

I might even be smiling a bit here?
this must have been in the serpentine — which got a 7!

Kate wanted me to pull my seat bones further toward the front of the saddle — sitting them in the deep part of the saddle, instead of sliding them toward the back and perching forward slightly. It turns out I have this tendency of stacking my ribcage slightly ahead of my pelvis, so even though my spine is relatively neutral, I’m not actually sitting up straight. To remedy that, I needed to keep thinking about kneeling and sliding those seat bones forward in the saddle.

By far the biggest change in our schooling came in the canter work. Kate kept reminding me to lift the saddle on the upswing, and then allow the canter with my hands. I’d do one, and promptly stop doing the other. When I could do both at once and keep Murray moving forward, the canter totally transformed! I must practice this canter more to solidify the feeling and the mechanic, because that is the canter we’re actually going to be able to do stuff with.

On test morning I got up early and fed and braided, and only ended up about three minutes off my projected mounting time, with a clean ponito. I paid a kid to braid his tail and she did an incredible job — her best, she said! along with the comment that Murray has a really, really long dock — and we were looking spiffy and ready to go.

“free walk” (lol) — judge’s comments “needs more stretch, breaks to trot”, scored a 5
(we broke to the trot in the next movement also, garnering a 4)

I was not prepared for this dressage test. I’ve been riding “circles” and “diagonals” for months but haven’t actually paid attention to any movements or geometry. And the walk work? HA! I knew the walk would be what it was, so spent the weeks before focusing on the connection and the trot work. So I went in hoping to nail the geometry of the circles and serpentine (oh yeah, made Kate school me on those before — and was she ever a fucking task master about their size) and with fingers crossed for the walk work.

Before I went in to the test I asked Kate for a mantra to get me through the test and keep reminding me of what I needed to be doing to ride well. She gave me one for the trot and one for the canter — sit to the front of the saddle, and allow with the hands respectively.

And all in all? The test was great. I kept my reins shorter than I’ve ever (test) ridden with them. I had my leg on and Murray was prompt and pretty much on the aids. Our two big blunders were breaking to the trot in the free walk, and breaking to the trot again in the next movement (medium walk). Given that we’d schooled walk-trot transitions a fair bit in the last few days, you can hardly blame the guy. Plus, new mistakes! I love new mistakes. Hate old mistakes.

bad habits still exist, though!

Even with the two mistakes, we earned a respectable 35 even. (If we’d not blundered, I would have been in the 33.5 range, putting me ahead of at least one pro but WHO IS COUNTING NOT ME.) I thought the judge (Jane McEnespy) was very fair. I watched the test of a horse a few rides after me, and the horse was super obedient and steady and very quiet. That horse also had his head down but had zero connection through the reins and was totally behind the leg. They scored a 37.9. I feel like that’s pretty fair for a quiet, obedient, respectable test that isn’t totally correct. At least for Novice.

I am so proud of how Murray showed up for this dressage test. He came out of there like it was the most normal thing in the world. Oh — and I forgot to mention that because the ring stewards were being a little conservative about sending people to the rings, we had to legitimately trot over to our ring to get there in time. I’m also pretty proud of myself. I went into a dressage test and rode the hell out of it.  I didn’t just try to coast through and avoid, I put my leg on and actually did the thing. That’s pretty cool.

final halt and salute got us a 7.5, even though it wasn’t totally square. perhaps a little generous.

I’m still working on my salute. I definitely don’t practice in front of a mirror to see how it looks. I like the alignment of my arm with my body here, but think I would look a bit better if my hand were a little closer to my leg — less winged out to the side. What do you think?

resilience

One of the coolest things about Murray lately has been his resilience to pressure. Not all pressure. There are still plenty of things that are a hard no-go. But under saddle? There have been some major changes.

I will not be walking past that new fluffy arena footing nope nope nope

Let’s take my ride with Kate a couple of weeks ago as an example. Kate encouraged me to habituate Murray to a “1” of contact (i.e. some contact, never no contact), and to pillow my aids into him so that he doesn’t just shake them off in an effort to avoid whatever it is he wants to avoid. In the past, when I’ve tried to walk with any level of contact there’s been a whole lot of nooooooooooo eeeeeeeeeee hrrrrrrrrrrrrrr *pffft* *pffft* *pffft* (those are farts).

But in the three weeks since I rode with Kate, and the three rides since I had Megan over to help troubleshoot, there has been an alarming lack of squealing and bucking. And it’s not because I’ve caved and gone back to the floppy-reins-no-contact way of life. Nope, I’m holding on to those reins. Homeboy is just… okay with it.

who are you and what have you done with my horse

Then last week I rode with Megan, and she had me really push Murray forward but keep him in my hand the whole time. (Another thing that has previously cued bucking.) We got to that place where Murray is really forward but also kinda tense, but not yet unrideable (it involved a lot of outside rein, I’ll tell you about it later).  Megan talked me through riding that tense ball of dressage fury, all while mentally walking him back from the brink of explosion. The best part was that I could still retain the impulsion, connection, and correctness that I developed while in that high-energy place. And STILL no objections!

There are other things too. Walk-trot and trot-canter transitions that are (relatively) prompt and (somewhat) on the bit without falling apart or diving onto the forehand. Sitting into Murray without perching and anticipating badness. Keeping a lid on the Murray bottle. Good work and awesome rides are coming hand over fist right now. I literally cannot believe that I’m sitting on the same horse that I had a year ago.

casual reminder of May 2017

Part of me wonders if I could have gotten these results by riding this way earlier.

Part of me thinks, “maybe??”

But the other part, a bigger part, is not so sure. I’ll never know because I didn’t try, but I don’t think that resilience to pressure was something this horse really had in his repertoire before. His standard response to pressure was 1) run away, 2) go sideways, 3) run away more, 4) lie down (+/- velociraptor screams and bucking).

Something has shifted lately. I’m not sure exactly what it is. Maybe it’s the magic of the looming 1-0 (next year!). Maybe it’s the clicker training. Maybe it’s the long break we took. Maybe it’s the biomechanics changes. Maybe it’s my growing understanding of training paradigms. Maybe it’s everything. I don’t fucking know.

The resilience is awesome though. It means I can go for longer periods of hard but correct work before backing off. And it means I can work on managing things like bend and geometry instead of whether or not my horse is going to lose his ish at any given moment.

OH SHIT I FORGOT. The best part is that even when he is losing his ish over something — not a huge thing, but let’s say a baby turkey just flies into the arena while you’re trying to canter a circle — he comes right back to me! It’s not perfect, it’s not gorgeous, but it is rideable, and it’s a semblance of reasonable.

puppies >>> dressage (sometimes)

So. Resilience. I wish there was a recipe for it, but I don’t have one. If you have one, you should let me know what you did to get there and how you reward and foster that resilience. Because I’ve learned that it’s essential, and I want every horse ever to have it in spades.

become shorter and wider: biomechanics clinic with Alexis MV

Let’s step once again into the WayBack machine and bring ourselves to the depths of winter 2018. After Megan and Kate attended the biomechanics workshop early this year, I was like “gimme all of that shit you learned”. Megan mentioned that one of the trainers at the clinic was local to me, and rode the shit out of some hot WB/Iberian type horses, but she didn’t exactly remember the trainer’s last name.

No worries. Creepstar 3000 is on it. With a first name and a horse breed, I found her: Alexis Martin-Vegue, trainer at Dorado Andaluz and biomechanic extraordinaire! A few clicks and some swift typing later, I had emailed Alexis to ask her what her clinic availability was this year. We settled on April 29th and 30th and 31st and boom — I was organizing a clinic. (There is no April 31st, Nicole.)

awww look who is becoming such a cute pony!!

I’m not going to say much about the background of biomechanics becasse I don’t really understand very much just yet, and Megan and Kate have both written about it a bit already. I will say that if you are serious about improving your riding, you should definitely get yourself to a good Wanless-style trainer. I felt like I could get Murray to do anything by riding like this. I felt like we could go Grand Prix and it wouldn’t even be hard. (I would like to point out that I’m not a moron and I do know it would actually be very hard.)

I don’t remember if Alexis asked me if there was anything I wanted to work on, but I did tell her that a few of the things she’d said really resonated with me. For an earlier horse in the clinic she had commented that some horses store up this tension and energy and it comes out of them all in an explosion. So what we need to do is convince  that horse to push some of that energy out with every single step. This so accurately described my experience with Murray that I had never been able to put into words!

I linked this to her image of being a “beanbag” — instead of returning the positive tension Murray was sending my way, I was always trying to just flop into and absorb it. (Turns out this is not the correct approach. We’ll get to that later.) I also told Alexis that I have problems with all horses falling out from under me to the right, and that I know I do some crazy bullshit with my body pointing to the left, but don’t know how to fix it.

though here I appear to be doing crazy shit to the right and the left so that’s nice

Alexis started by having me warm up and walk and trot both directions before she started changing anything. Then I came in to her and let her adjust me as she saw fit. I warned Alexis that Murray has a very strong sense of stranger danger, and he might not take kindly to her standing on the mounting block next to us. Alexis kindly made friends with Murray for  a moment first, and complimented him and called him a handsome, big-bodied fellow. I suspect these sweet nothings really warmed him up to her, so he let her climb up on the mounting block next to us.

Then Murray realized that Alexis was just up there to torture me and he was like “Oh hell yes, lady. Do the thing!” Alexis also pointed out that even if she wanted to, she couldn’t have gotten up there with me, as his back really is quite short for a horse his size.

Alexis commented that I have a relatively neutral spine, so didn’t adjust my seat bones or forward/back balance too much. She put her hands on my stomach and back around the level of my belly button and asked me to push out against them, after which she commented “Oh okay, so there is some strength there.” She also did the same on my sides. Then she introduced the bear-down concept to me.  The image she had most of us think of was to suck our guts in a bit, and then push against that wall with our abs.  For me specifically, she told me to think about getting shorter and wider. Just the words a girl wants to hear!

Alexis also put her fingers under my toes in the stirrups and said that she didn’t want me pushing down on the stirrups — she wanted my toes to rest in the stirrups and not crush her fingers.

Her final comment to get started was shockingly on point after having seen Murray go for all of five minutes. She said “this is a bit woo-woo, but it’s like he doesn’t really want to use the ground. Like he’d rather float across it instead of pushing into it. We need to convince him to actually push against the ground with every step.” To remedy this, Alexis wanted me to post purposefully with each step, and do so from my thighs and glutes, not from my feet. I mulled over this for a second and said “less like I’m standing on my tip-toes and more like I’m doing a squat?” and she was like yes! that.

So off we went to trot again, this time trying to remember to

  • post with purpose, like a hydraulic pump (an image Alexis introduced after I got going)
  • keep my feet light
  • make my torso shorter and wider

This doesn’t seem like a lot of things to remember, but it was plenty. The biggest challenge at first was changing my entire posting mechanic. I’ve always just let a the movement of the trot lift me up and down to post. Now, I needed to slow and control the rise and fall of each movement. Alexis said that I should be feeling the new posting mechanic well down into my thigh, but I could feel it all the way down into my calves. As I started to trot back around, Alexis added in a few other elements to the hydraulic post: she wanted me to post SLOWLY but also BIGLY. Her words to another rider were “if you want big, expensive trot you must post big, expensive post.” Which is another brand new thing to me. I always thought posting was about minimizing the amount of rising and falling you did and making yourself as minimally invasive to the horse as possible. Apparently you can be positively invasive, post the big, expensive post, and still be correct.

Alexis introduced a few different images to help me with this. She suggested I rise and fall like I was moving through a lot of resistance. This was a lot easier to control in the rise, and a lot harder to control in the fall.  She also told me to land softly and not bounce on my horse’s back. Which is fair. All the while, she kept reminding me to push out against the wall of my skin, and occasionally asked how her fingers were feeling and if they were being crushed (they were).

ugly, but an example of the big, expensive post

This post is already getting too long, so I’m going to break here and post tomorrow about the canter work and the sitting trot.

The major takeaways from the lesson came a little later for me, but in terms of the progression of my learning, this is a pretty accurate representation. Some of the changes are really easy to implement and monitor: are my feet pressing down into my stirrups, or are my feet light? An easy check-in very few circles. But it’s harder to know if I’m making myself short and wide enough. Am I bearing down enough? Does this hurt enough?

My lesson hurt. Like, a lot. All over my body — in my abs, in my thighs, in my calves, in places I didn’t know I had abs. It was a warm day and I wasn’t at my fittest, but I was red and huffing and puffing by the end of it. But that’s okay. Alexis said that if we’re not tired after a ride, we aren’t doing it right. We can’t expect our horses to work hard and then just flop around up there. Every ride should be work.

Tomorrow: feet light, twist right, thighs tight and the jackhammer spine!

barefoot update #4

I haven’t written a barefoot update in a while because progress on the barefoot front has slowed down.  With the rainy season beginning in earnest, Murray has been stuck in his stall with minimal turnout.  Less movement == less progress. I’ve actually seen a little regression with his gaits, which is a bummer.  But his feet have still made some nice progress, and next week marks 12 weeks since  started on this whole barefoot adventure.

We’ll start with the left front. It’s so much more straightforward than the right front…. though more problematic, in some ways.


LF in October

The angles aren’t exactly the same, but Murray’s toe is a little shorter and his heel is way less underrun now. As in, he has a heel!! The hairline is also even now — no more dip in the front!

LF in January

Best of all, there’s a pretty significant change in angle in the new growth on this foot!  I traced the new growth (and extended it down) in orange, and traced the old angle in red. We will have a much, much healthier foot if that orange growth continues down to the ground!

Murray’s LF sole has also shown some pretty significant changes. I had my farrier come out for an inspection/trim this week, and she took a little bit off his toe and clipped away some funny, flaky bits coming off his sole. (I have before/after pics for the RF, but the before pic of the LF is really blurry so I didn’t bother uploading it.) She was very happy with his progress so far!

October on the left, January on the right

Let’s talk about all those neat changes!  I created all of the reference measurements on the October image, then superimposed them on the January image without changing the size.  So I could make accurate comparisons, duh.  First, the frog is much wider.  Probably 10-15% wider, which is awesome!  You can’t tell in the picture, but the collateral grooves are also deeper.  These have been steadily getting deeper over the last 12 weeks, as the foot gains concavity and the frog gains depth.  The heels have also widened (purple bracket), and the toe (blue bracket) has shortened!

RF in October

Murrays RF has also made some good changes, but is going through a much scarier ugly phase than the LF right now when viewed dorsally (this picture was before the trim, it’s slightly less scary now).  But he’s not unsound — well, no more unsound than he was before I pulled his shoes! — so I’m going with it.  And here’s the thing — and it’s weird, so bear with me.  This foot is now wider at the top than it is at the bottom.  The top half inch or so of new growth is wider all the way around the coronet band.  Farrier thinks (and I fervently hope so!) that the wider section will probably continue to grow like that all the way down, and we’ll just end up with a bigger hoof overall!

The sole is much less terrifying than the dorsal view — here’s Murray’s foot in January pre- and post-trim.

That excess heel (red arrow) is what my farrier trimmed off during the appointment.  And the blue arrow shows his brand new breakover!!  Murray’s never before had a breakover that wasn’t, you know, his shoe.  Confession: I actually thought that might have been his coffin bone falling out though his sole at first, because I’d never experienced a barefoot horse’s breakover before.  I was quickly informed that he would have been crippled and hobbling were that the case.

October on the left, January on the right

Sole comparison shows a lot of heel expansion (purple bracket), and a longer toe (blue bracket). Lots of people wouldn’t be excited about a longer toe, but I am!  This foot needs a little more shape to it, instead of trying to be a cylinder.  And as before, the frog has expanded and much more of it is in contact with the ground.  He’s a touch footy on the RF after the trim, but I suspect that will go away in a couple of days.

The caudal shots this month all came out crap, so I’ll probably just give them another go next month (with more light maybe?).

At the beginning of this month I started Murray on a ration balancer formulated for our area, which should help his overall vitamin/mineral balance and contribute to overall better foot health.  I’m also considering switching him over to pasture board, but haven’t decided yet.  I’m not sure that Murray would love it, but he isn’t loving being stuck inside right now either.  So… we will see.

The barefoot experiment continues for now!

Suzukini progress report

Since she played such a prominent part in the last quarter of 2017, I thought I’d give a little update on Suzy’s progress last year. Suzy used to be Sookie, but I can’t seem to stick to one name or the other, so I’ve taken to calling her Suzuki as it’s the best of both names and gives a little hint to the secret, sporty little mare who was hiding beneath all the chub when she arrived. (And Suzukini is just too tempting, since I love to play with words anyway.)

awwww look how short her broodmare tail was!! (october)

Suzy came to our barn as a six year old after weaning her 2017 foal, and had clearly enjoyed the benefits of being in broodmare pasture. Girl was chubby! I started riding her in September, when she’d been at the barn for a few weeks, and lost a few pounds, already.  From the very beginning Suzy was sweet and easy to work with on the ground.  She was definitely on the lazy side about work, really playing up that whole I-grew-a-baby-horse-in-my-body-didn’t-you-hear thing.  When walking to the arena she would habitually try to just veer us back toward her stall instead.

early november: bod getting trimmer, tail getting longer!

Suzy was naturally pretty forward and sensitive.  I mentioned this before, but she was sensitive is all the right ways — she would listen to your seat, naturally understood a half halt, and wanted to do the right thing.  She was so smart and quick on the uptake.  There was a downside to the cleverness: once Suzy figured out what I wanted, she was very quick to offer that as the answer to almost everything.  Which meant that things got a little challenging when there were different right answers to different requests.  Canter leads were (and sometime still are!) quite a good example of this.  Suzy was happy to pick up either lead at the canter — canter was what I wanted, right?  And for quite a long time it seemed that she didn’t even understand that there were two different types of canter, so the leads were pretty interchangeable.

early november again, with mare-friend Lucy looking on

I tackled the canter leads problem by using a verbal cue (kiss) for the right lead, and a seat cue for the left lead (swinging left hip forward).  I kept the two cues and leads separate, and always tried to set Suzy up for the correct lead before asking.  I definitely didn’t solve the problem this way, but I think it did help.  As her canter got stronger, so did her ability to pick up the correct lead.  It probably shouldn’t surprise me — as her legs got less disorganized and her muscles got stronger, it felt more natural to be on the correct lead for a given direction.

early december — trimming down in all the right places!

And that brings us to her development under saddle, which has been pretty incredible!  It’s a bit awful to admit, but it’s so easy to get a bit unreasonably frustrated with Suzy sometimes.  She rides like a pretty educated horse, but she’s really just five months off the track (with an 18 month hiatus in the middle!).

When we first got together, I had to ride the Sookini smack in the middle of the arena, far from any walls she could get glued to, or the arena gate to get seriously distracted by.  And this is not an exaggeration.  If we were by a wall it was like some intense force of gravity was pulling her outside shoulder toward it, and only another intense force of gravity could get that shoulder back in line with her body.  Girl had a mighty flexible neck, but almost no ability to bend through her ribcage.

mid december:  pretty sporty, huh?!

Though to be fair, I imagine it was pretty challenging to step under with that big belly and thunder thighs in the way.  As she’s trimmed down, all the little pieces have fallen into place.  Suzy can do baby-ottb versions of all the important moves now: shoulder in, leg yield, bending, even round-ish circles!  Her canter is absolutely gorgeous now.  Suzy’s canter was a real mess in September — to the point where I wouldn’t canter her under saddle because it was so strange and unbalanced.  And she’d break to the trot any time a challenge — pole, turn, puddle, etc. — presented itself at the canter.  Now you practically can’t-er stop her!  It’s comfy and forward and way more adjustable than Suzy realizes.  Honestly, I think she’d be annoyed at the amount of work we can trick her into doing at the canter if she realized it.  She just loves cantering now, so she’s happy to sit down and do the work!

the rhythm was still a little funky in early december, but sooo much better!

And she is so fun to jump!  Suzy’s still learning, but she’s forward and game and she knows how to go there to the fences.  There’s lots of work to do still in the jumping, but she was quick to figure out how to get over the fences.  And that clever mind?  SO helpful here.  She might clobber through a fence on one go through, but the next time around she’s ready to pick her feet up and try something different.  She’s even starting to learn how to keep an even pace to the fences and not pull or rush to a super deep spot.

I feel so lucky to have spent the last four months of 2017 working with Suzy.  And I’m even luckier that her current owner is happy to let me keep riding her!  I dunno — maybe I’m the only one who’s terribly excited by all of this (well, me and Suzy’s owner!), but she has been such fun to watch and feel progress.  It’s such a different progress trajectory than Murray had — I am such a more balanced rider now, and she’s got such a different attitude (with different challenges of course).  I’m looking forward to seeing where this little girl goes in the next five months (and beyond!).

barefoot progress: 6 weeks

I recently got a barefoot rehab book as an early Christmas present to myself (which is part of the reason I’m on a full spending freeze right now; early gifts get me like woah). This, of course, made me think much more on Murray’s foot progression, and where we’re at in this little experiment.

RF landing

Excitingly, we now have a just barely heel-first landing on the RF (upright foot). It’s not consistent, but it’s pretty much there, and definitely there in soft footing.  Unfortunately, the LF is still decidedly toe-first and will take a while to change, I suspect, as the LF heel is particularly weak.

LF landing

I had thought the RF was our problem foot, but data proves me wrong again. Farrier was right — it’s the LF that causes us issues!  (And honesty, wouldn’t that explain why he short steps with the RF? Doesn’t want to put too much pressure on the LF!!)

LF progress since 10/23 (click to embiggen for detail)

Most importantly, Murray returned to overnight turnout on 12/1, and I am very, very, very excited about it.  His leg hole is holding up (still bandaged as you can see — I was not about to risk scraping the scab off and having the proud flesh come back) and healing nicely.  The movement he gets in pasture (at least an hour or so a night, even if he’s out there for a full 12) will be far more than I could ever have given him in an hour or two at the barn, and movement is key to palmar hoof development!

I created a handy little line-guide to show the changes in the frog in particular. The red lines are based on the frog as of 10/23, and I’ve copied that exact image over to the following weeks so you can see how his frog is (literally) bursting the seams.

somehow it’s moved back, gotten longer, and gotten wider!

Interestingly, I haven’t seen much progress in the angle of this foot. It’s a little distressing, but thanks to my new book, I have some ideas on how to improve nutrition and movement to help the dorsal hoof move along better.

The right front appears to be making less progress but might have been a healthier foot overall, so perhaps it isn’t too worriesome.  Things I really like about this hoof’s development are that it’s rounding out a fair bit, which means it will become less upright overall!  I also think that I’m not going to see a much bigger frog until after there’s space for it between the bars (and this weak icky frog has scraped off… whenever that will be).

I’ve applied the same line system above, and while it looks like there’s not as much going on here, you can see a serious widening of the bars and lateral grooves to make way for a new frog (I hope. I’m not a farrier or vet!).

Because we got new sand footing, Murray is now back to light work.  We started with some lunging, and he’s not sound sound, but he’s pretty sound for Murray.  Work is good, and as long as we’re on a supportive surface like sand, I’m going to keep the groundwork going and add in more and more under saddle work.  One of the best parts of this clicker training business is that Murray is actually listening to me when I get in the saddle, so he’s not thinking “oh, how do I not do this thing?” he’s thinking “oh, how do I do this thing and acquire more goodies?”


left hind progress — wider frog, and getting a little more symmetrical I think!

Murray was not only happy to work, but pretty confident in his work.  At one point down the long side I felt him really propel himself down the arena with great, for lack of a better word, purpose.  I’m not sure if it is because he knows I like to ask for forward, or if perhaps he was feeling particularly comfortable and confident on the footing, but he felt fantastic!


RH progress – also more frog, but less symmetrical!

There’s a lot of work to do before we can be sound anywhere other than our lovely and supportive indoor, but I like what I’m seeing here.  I need to make some feed changes if I’m to expect Murray to keep making progress (notably increasing mineral intake and decreasing sugar — bye bye, barley), but the outlook is good!

The book I keep blabbing on about is Nic Barker and Sarah Braithwaite’s Feet First, which feels like a great starting resource. I’m tempted to buy the “sequel”, but not sure if I deserve more Christmas presents just yet…

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.