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toe-first striking
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JulietMacie
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 Posted: Mon Nov 4th, 2013 04:58 pm
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sorry about that. I was trying to be clever and get two photos in one post. Is there a way to do that?? anyway, here's photo 1.

Attachment: nov2013_macetrot_left.jpg (Downloaded 736 times)

JulietMacie
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 Posted: Mon Nov 4th, 2013 04:58 pm
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and here's photo 2:

Attachment: nov2013_macetrot_right.jpg (Downloaded 721 times)

Last edited on Mon Nov 4th, 2013 04:59 pm by JulietMacie

JulietMacie
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 Posted: Mon Nov 18th, 2013 01:49 pm
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Hello Dr. Deb,

The "back-one-step-settle-repeat" exercise is proving to be a challenge for us! At first, Macie would jerk her head away from my holding her halter under her chin, so we spent the first couple of days just getting her comfortable with that. Then, when I asked her to step back one step, she would take three or four hurried steps backward. I tried doing this at liberty by standing facing her and asking her to step her foot back by pointing at the foot -- this worked perfectly, but I thought it would be best to teach her to feel comfortable with me directing her from her halter. I’m thinking that her reaction to having me direct her from the halter is probably cropping up in other, seemingly unrelated situations on line and under saddle so we’d be better off mastering that. Anyway, after several days of working on this for brief periods during our time together, she became pretty accepting of it and we were able to successfully step back one foot at a time. Settling is a still not fully reliable and she often doesn’t want to stand quietly and relaxed while I’m holding her halter, but she’s getting more okay about it each day.

I was a little unclear about moving the back feet--what exactly to do with her head to move the back foot. So I resorted again to asking by pointing at a back foot while standing at her head with my finger hooked in her halter under her chin. Under saddle, your instructions for backing referred to speaking to the front foot by using the rein on the same side (right rein moves right front foot) so I was wondering if, from the ground, I wanted her to move her left hind if I should achieve this by asking her to move her front right? or is it okay to ask for her hind foot to move by pointing at it directly?

Under saddle, again she’s fairly inconsistent about backing willingly. Some days she’s fine with it and good at it and other days she really gets stuck and doesn’t want to budge. I don’t know if it’s my faulty technique or her mood or who knows what. For now, if she’s stuck, we sometimes walk forward or walk a circle and then try again or sometimes just move on to something else and try again much later. Sometimes I get insistent and press her to keep at it until she steps back. This is still an area of uncertainty for me: when to keep at something and when to let it go and change the subject.

Our circles and bending etc continue and I’m working on increasing my awareness of what precisely is happening underneath me and how to promptly and subtlely respond in a supportive way. I feel like I’m slowly getting more sensitive and have more confidence about how to react in the moment. Your advice that I respond to unbalance “in the form of support rather than with any intention of "correction".” is very helpful and I’m working on that as well. One thing I’ve noticed that sort of surprises me is that she’s more often falling in when making circles to the right. She actually feels stiffer and less yielding on this side now and our left circles are often rounder than our right ones. Could this be because she’s reluctant to weight her outside (left) legs?

thank you. I'm grateful for your continued help.
--Juliet

DrDeb
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 Posted: Mon Nov 18th, 2013 09:24 pm
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Juliet, it is quite common for horses to appear to be "broke" that are not. When a horse is reluctant to have its face handled, it is not broke, and so we owe it to the animal to cure that out of them until they are mellow and totally OK about it.

Now that your mare has shown reluctance to have its face handled, you must apply the technique of "air raiding". In an "air raid", you think of the horse's skin as a map (pretty easy to do in the case of a tobiano-patterned horse anyway). You identify, or the horse has helped you to identify, certain areas on that map that it doesn't want your hand to fly into. So you don't just fly there, like a pilot who doesn't know not to overfly Iran or Red China, because if you do that you're going to arouse resistance, which is to say, you're going to cause the natives to feel like they need to defend themselves.

Instead, you make like a real smart spy plane, and you do overfly the forbidden territory, but you do it only at the edge and only briefly. You pet into those areas just that one beat short of how long it would take for the "enemy" below to become aware of you. So you fly in there, and then you are already out of there, before you arouse a negative response.

Now most horses that object to having their face handled object to the lower part of the face, or else the ears. Where they usually like having their head touched is on the center of the forehead and over the eyes. So you do a lot of that. If you're standing to the horse's left, you have her nose over the crook of your left arm, and you have your right elbow under her chin, so that you can pet her on the right jowl with the palm and fingers of your right hand. Then you put your left hand up, moving at the horseman's half-speed, and pet and rub the center of her forehead.

Then you lightly cup your left hand and pet her over the left eye. While you're there, you can gently remove the gookies from around the lower eyelid.

If your horse makes no objection to having its ears handled, you can then reach up and rub her ears. Rub from the base upward, and press inward on the ear cartilage fairly firmly so that it flattens the external canal somewhat. Do that two or three times with your left hand, your right hand being still on the right side of the head.

Then turn and face her forehead square-on. Put your right hand up on her poll and gently grasp the left ear, and get the base of the left ear in between your right thumb and forefinger, and stroke outward from base to tip. This will often cause a horse to lower its head. If she lowers her head, then do the same with your left hand to the left ear, alternating ears left and right, pulling them gently outward as you slowly stroke them.

Now after these things to which the mare does not object, you can then handle her muzzle and lips that she does not enjoy so much. Go back to your stance on the left side of her and gently rub the area between the nostril and the lip on the left side with your left hand. Do not grab the place where you would put a twitch on, at the center front. Rub the same area on the right side with your right hand, being extended once again under her chin. Then with your right hand rub up between the branches of the jaw. This is where you will apply the "fly over" technique the most: rub, but then leave, and go back to the forehead, eyes, or ears: something she likes better. Do that thing a while, but then go back to the muzzle again. Finally you can place your left hand over the top of her muzzle, and with the fingers of that hand you pull the horse's head around to you, around to the left, get it to stay a beat or two, and then fly out of there.

If your mare objects to having her face handled, it is not surprising that twirling the head has only been marginally successful. She has NOT got to tolerate it; she has got to positively love having her head handled, and you must teach her to love it. Then twirling the head will penetrate as we need it to, because no technique can really work until the horse is totally OK about having whatever body part you're working on handled; instead it is always still thinking about defending itself, it has that all the time at the back of its mind. Those thoughts have to totally go out of there before any horse can even obey a single command, let alone become finished.

So within that same thought, it cannot be possible for her to back up one step at a time, or to settle, until there is no tension in her when you begin. Ray Hunt used to say, very wisely, "you cannot go through something bad and expect to come out good on the other side." In the common parlance of the dressage instructor, this is exactly what they're telling you to do: to "push through", and it is extremely bad advice. You cannot succeed, you will never succeed, by "pushing" anything "through".

Instead, you recognize that there is a mistake at the bottom of the column of figures you've been trying to add, and you realize that in order to get the right total you have to GO BACK to the place where the mistake was first made, and fix that mistake; you can never by any possible means get the right total by simply going on, by trying to "push through" to the correct total, for you will search for sixteen lifetimes that way, and never find it!

This is also the reason why you ask about how to direct the hind leg: because she does not give you the front leg. Get the front leg right first; then you will already see how to get the hind leg, because inevitably (I mean, unless the horse was going to split apart) what it does with its front leg must relate SOMEHOW to what it does with its back leg. And of course, though, what we're saying here is that what it does with its neck and jaws -- whether it braces them -- governs what it does with its loins, which in turn governs what it can do with its legs. The only way that a horse that stiffens or jerks away when you try to handle its head could possibly back up is by stiff-legging it, dragging the feet through the sand, "making 11's".

I had the opportunity at a meeting out East this past weekend to put my hands on a couple of horses that had been ridden across country by people who are very competent riders but who nonetheless are not expecting or requiring the same feel from a horse that I would. And it was distressing to feel of these horses which are so very stiff and where their general muscle tonus is far too high. The horse hangs, the rider hangs, and this they call "normal". I wouldn't have it in my barn, and if one of those horses were to be given to me tomorrow, I would immediately put him on a remedial program whose object would be to restore suppleness and softness.

So yes, I do believe that you've made some progress since we began, but, having now looked at the more recent photos you've posted, and hearing your last report, I see that your mare is still pretty stiff. And this can only be for one reason, because really you have tried hard to do all I've suggested: but the one thing I cannot teach you over the Internet is how soft "soft" is. For this, you need to go find Josh or Harry and get one-on-one instruction. Do whatever it is going to take, Juliet, to make those arrangements, for the love of your mare: no matter what it "seems like" it's going to cost you in terms of time, inconvenience, or money. You go and do that and it will pay you back a thousand times over.

I will still be willing to give you some instruction here but we are now at an insoluble impasse, because feel cannot be awakened at a distance. Note that I do not say "feel cannot be taught at a distance". No one can teach feel, because no one can teach to someone else that which the other person already has: so the Wizard also said to the Tin Man. The standard and the expectation which you have among your neighbors, which is common in English riding, is simply crude and heavy; now it is time to open the doors to what softness and lightness mean, what they feel like, and the power that they have, which is ten thousand times greater than what your neighbors know.

When you find this, and you are certainly welcome to practice getting the mare OK about having her head handled, you will be able to back her up by the lightest touch of one finger hooked in the halter, or one finger on the bridge of her nose. The twirling of the head is merely the lateral expression of this same feel, so that you twirl the head manually on one ounce of pressure, which nonetheless is in no manner tentative, but rather clear and precise. It is lightness that allows precision. When she is soft and light and attentive, you will find that when you are touching her on the halter or on the bridge of the nose, you are in fact also actually touching the foot that you intended for her to move. -- Dr. Deb

 

 

 

JulietMacie
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 Posted: Tue Nov 19th, 2013 04:18 pm
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Hello,

Thank you for your reply. I understand your comment about her not being “broke” and appreciate your suggested exercises for handling her face. I’ll start working on these right away. While it is difficult for me to accept/admit your comments about not knowing how soft “soft is and that we're at an impasse, I know that this is true. In fact it’s been a thought that has been nagging at me just below the surface for awhile now. I’ve been feeling uncertain as to what the feeling I’m searching for feels like. I’ve also been worrying that that we’re really not getting where we want to get to. I am committed to having this experience and gaining this knowledge and so I need to ask you a couple of practical questions about how to go about it. First of all, until I’m able to spend some time with one of your suggested people, should I focus only on handling, groundwork and mannering? in other words, will I be doing my mare or myself a disservice by continuing our mounted work? Secondly, when you say “go find Josh or Harry and get one-on-one instruction” I assume you mean mounted work because how else can I feel that which I need to feel, right? Does this work need to be on my mare or could I possibly attend a faraway clinic and rent a horse? Can you suggest anyone who might be right for us and is closer to New England? I’ve learned a tremendous amount from your instruction over these past few months and while we may not have gotten as far as we’d like due to my lack of experience, my eyes have been opened and my standards raised. Thank you again.

Sincerely, Juliet

DrDeb
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 Posted: Tue Nov 19th, 2013 11:04 pm
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Juliet, this all is not to get you discouraged. It's just a fact that written communication has definite limitations. You have certainly come a certain distance and along that path, it's been in the right direction.

No, you'll not be likely to be either riding your mare or riding any other horse when you go find Josh or Harry. Josh might be able to mount you; perhaps; Harry, probably not. Plus, the waiting list to ride in Harry's clinics is usually rather long, so you might not be able to get a riding spot anyway. Josh may also already be full.

So I wasn't counting on having you ride. Instead, what I want you to do is go and observe and take good notes. And ask lots of questions. I am recommending Josh or Harry for you rather than Buck or Tom Curtin, because of the format: J. and H. do one-on-ones primarily, the attendance is smaller, the atmosphere very conducive to asking questions the moment they need to be asked. B. & T.'s clinics are usually bigger affairs, especially Buck's; not that I don't want you to go see them too, though; but to begin with, let's do the smaller format thing.

Now you will be surprised at this, but the news is you ARE going to learn to get the right feel from just observing -- you will begin on it. You see: you are leaving the subculture that tolerates toleration; that tolerates crudity and heaviness and calls that desirable, prizeworthy, and normal. You are leaving that set of standards, and it is the new set of standards that you're going to J. or H. in order to absorb.

As to what you should be doing with your mare: same as you have been, dear. You're doing fine and have been. So you're now going to make arrangements to have an increase in knowledge and skill, but you're going to build that on what you already have.

Here's a thought for your mounted work, although I think I've said this before: I want you to be playing a game every time you approach a corner in the arena, or every time you set the mare onto a curving track anywhere -- you fix it up first: you 'set' her into the bend; you aid her, and in doing that you tell her clearly that you expect her to bend. Then -- you let HER complete the corner or the quarter-arc or half-arc. The game is (1) to see how perfectly you can set it up, so that what you want becomes as easy and as obvious as possible for the horse; and (2) to see how many steps she will 'carry' in relaxed balance, with whatever degree of curve in her body, without you having to steer at all.

Keep me posted as to when you're going to which clinic where, and also with any further questions. We are not done here; I am just calling on you to help me out some by going to see Josh or Harry. Cheers -- Dr. Deb

kcooper
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 Posted: Tue Nov 26th, 2013 01:26 pm
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Hi Juliet

I sent you a pm with some information regarding Josh clinics such as proximity to the international airport, where to stay ect.
The clinics held at their place are the easiest to get into.
I don't want to take away from the importance of first going to observe by saying this... but Josh does have horses there specifically for people who fly in or who don't own their own. They are suitable for helping someone identify that feel. There are back to back clinics at their home ranch through out the summer so it would be possible to spectate the first one and participate in the next.

kim

JulietMacie
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 Posted: Tue Mar 18th, 2014 05:38 am
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Well, it’s been quite awhile since I posted to this thread and I’ve been meaning to write for a long time. One thing I need to report on is a lesson I had from Dr. Deb and Oliver. Between Christmas and New Year’s I had the opportunity to visit Dr. Deb as I happened to be in California for the holidays visiting family and she graciously agreed to give me a lesson. For all that I had learned in this thread, I wanted to be able to *feel* some of the things she was describing in words and a lesson in person seemed like a great opportunity to do that. I wanted to share some of what happened in my lesson. Since I’ve waited so long to write this up, my memory is little spotty but I’ll write up all that I can remember.

First we had a long talking session. Dr. Deb shared some of her knowledge that was relevant to my situation. She talked about Quarter Horse breeding and how my horse wasn’t really bred to be, and therefore isn’t conformed to be, a riding horse. She’s a little downhill which makes it harder for her to learn to collect herself and carry a rider. But Dr. Deb reassured me that while more of a challenge, it was possible and definitely worthwhile. We also talked about energy flow through the horse and through the rider and she told me about how the reins are channels or tubes through which this energy flows between the two entities--horse and person.This idea is very compelling and mysterious to me and I have to admit that while I understand the idea conceptually, I don’t think I’ve ever felt this or if I have, I didn’t recognize it. We talked about other things as well, such as how it’s never the horse’s fault and some of Dr. Deb’s early teachers and a little about her elderly teacher.

We then drove to the ranch where Oliver lives and walked out to meet him. He and Dr. Deb were clearly happy to see each other. As Dr. Deb lead Oliver to the arena she paused and lifted up her hand (I think that was her cue) which is Oliver’s signal to pee. He stopped and obliged! wow, talk about cooperation! Once in the arena, Dr. Deb told me to feel Oliver’s muscle tone by running my thumb and the heel of my hand firmly across his shoulder, along his back and over his hind quarters. This was really enlightening as he felt very different from my horse--much softer, still firm, but sort of yielding. My horse feels like she’s carved out of stone usually, although lately I’ve been giving her massages and she relaxes and feels more like Oliver then. Dr. Deb showed me how she sends and draws Oliver and did some other ground work at liberty with him including some spanish walk. Their connection is very obvious and is expressed in every interaction between them. One of the striking things about their connection is how reciprocal it is--they seem equally interested in and in love with each other. This was very inspiring to me and something I’m really hoping to attain with my horse.

Then she tacked him up and got on. She asked him to walk briskly in circles and showed me his prompt and soft responses to her requests. His posture and attitude clearly expressed how relaxed and contented he was and how eager to cooperate. After warming him up--trotting, changing direction, leg yielding, she got off and I got on. The biggest difference I felt throughout my ride was just how willing and soft he was. I felt like I could shape him with my posture and position. With Oliver I could merely suggest a movement or tempo change and he would respond. Again, so, so different from my horse. It was challenging to ride him as I had to really dial down my communication with him to a subtler or quieter vocabulary. We rode circles, figure 8s, spirals in and out at the walk and the trot. He was as soft and round and quiet as you could ask for. Dr. Deb watched and gave advice and graciously said it was nice to see someone else ride Ollie so she could observe him under saddle.

After our ride, we walked Oliver over to another arena that had obstacles and pedestals and other “props” and Dr. Deb asked Oliver to show me his pedestal work. He hopped right up and was happy to stand there while we talked.

Overall, Dr. Deb was super generous (as she is) with her time and expertise and of course very generous to let me ride her Oliver. The lesson helped me really feel what’s possible, what it can hopefully someday be like with my horse. I guess the trick is figuring out how to get from here to there! I’m sure I’m leaving a ton of stuff out of this write up so if anyone has any questions I’d be more than happy to try and answer them.

--Juliet

JulietMacie
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 Posted: Tue Oct 21st, 2014 11:09 pm
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It’s been a long time since I reported on our progress. I’ll try to write up where we are and what we’re learning and hopefully this will help us (and maybe some others) continue to move in a good direction.

A few of weeks ago I audited a Buck Brannaman clinic in Maine. It was fascinating and amazingly helpful. I got a lot of new ideas and exercises to try and it really helped me clear up some more areas of confusion. I feel like I'm finally ready to report back after many months of working, thinking, reading and now, at last, feeling like some things are starting to gel and make sense -- to both of us! Since I last posted in this thread (7 months ago) I've been a regular visitor to the forum, but my silence has been due to a general uncertainty as to whether I was going about things correctly and not being sure about our progress. After going to the Buck Brannaman clinic, I think I’m gaining a clearer understanding of what I've been doing right, what I've been doing wrong and how my mare has been understanding and reacting to my actions. Maybe I’m imagining it, but I feel like ever since I came back from the clinic, my mare has turned a corner and is noticeably softer and more happily compliant than before. (can I have already acquired a new, more confident attitude that she's perceiving?)

First to report on our progress and our lack of progress. But even before I do that, I want to disclose that before I ever came to this forum or started working with my current instructor, my mare and I had a very rough time of it. In my well-intentioned, but ignorant and misguided ways, I gave her countless reasons to distrust and disrespect me. I’m writing this to provide context and also because I hope it might help explain where we are now. For the past two years, I’ve been working with her to rebuild our relationship and I feel like we’ve made tremendous progress, but we still have a ways to go before she reaches that holy grail of 100% okay-ness with me.

So, that said, I’ve reviewed the exercises you gave throughout this thread and here’s where we stand:

• my hands are at waist level pretty consistently and my awareness and accuracy of knowing where her feet are is pretty good.
• she’s fine now with me handling her head and positioning her feet using my hand lightly on her halter
• she stands to be saddled and bridled at liberty
• she backs up softly one step at a time with my hand on her halter or at liberty using gestures/energy
• she is fine with me touching her anywhere on her body (no swishing of tail or twitching of skin)
• she leads willingly with slack in the rope but still has lapses of occasionally diving for grass or stopping her feet if she doesn’t want to go somewhere, so I’d say in this area there is a lot of progress but we’re still not all the way there yet and that we also experience the expected parallels to this under saddle.
• she stands quietly for mounting (there was a time when she would knock me off the mounting block with her head (don’t laugh! this is how bad things were!))
• head twirling -- standing still she’s mostly good at this but still gets stuck sometimes: at the walk she’ll twirl usually when we’re turning on a small circle or serpentine, and at the trot almost never--still stiff. At the Brannaman clinic I got a little perspective on this and what it might take to really make it solid: he said he’ll do this exercise (asking for a soft feel) hundreds and hundreds of times on a colt, adding that “you can’t do this too often”. I think we just need to keep working this in all situations.
• believing that the bit is the absolute authority in the universe...well, I guess I’d have to say we’re not doing so great on this one yet. If she truly believed this, I would expect there would be no diving for grass and more softness in her head and neck under saddle, right? In regards to our use of and reaction to the bridle and bit (sidepull in our case), this has always been an area of confusion for me. My mare has always leaned on my hands and carried her head with her nose poked out on a stiff, braced neck and my reaction has been to not put any pressure on her face with my hands -- to not set up or participate in that “war”. I never understood how to connect the exercise that we do standing still to get her to release her poll (taking up the reins and waiting for her to release at the poll) to get the same response while in motion. While at the clinic though, I started to see how on the ground, on a lead line we ask the horse to maintain the slack in the rope and to follow our feel. When the horse doesn’t do this and the line gets taut, then you drive them forward with the flag, you don’t try to pull them to a soft place. When under saddle, do you do the same thing? but rather than drive her forward you set up the request and ask her to step under with her inside hind and this flexing of the hind end causes her to release at the front end and the tension goes out of the reins. Is this correct? I’m embarrassed that this is so hard for me to figure out...
• backing under saddle: she’s often sticky about getting started--I ask for a soft feel and sometimes have to wait for a while, when she tips her nose in, first I just release and pet her, then I ask again and the next time she flexes I continue to ask softly with my hands and bump gently with my legs and she’ll back up with her nose down and her neck arched and a loop in the reins and it feels very nice. However, when I look at a video of this, her hind feet are usually “making 11s”! We also work on this a lot in hand and at liberty. How do I encourage her to pick up her hind feet? I imagine it’s a question of getting her to coil and flex all those hind end joints, but I don’t know how to facilitate this other than working on backing and using cavalleti to help practice and strengthen those muscles and joints.

• walking under saddle is overall much better, rounder circles, much less falling in against my leg, less bracing up against my hand -- all in all a more harmonious and fluid experience. We’re still really working on head twirling while walking as I said above. Your recent article in Eclectic Horseman about transitions was very useful and I’m focussing more on trying to acheive and carry through softness during transitions between halt, back and walk forward.


We also still do a lot of liberty work/play and cavaletti at liberty and under saddle.

On a related note, if you remember, my initial thread was about toe-first striking and I'm still concerned about this; in fact now her heels are starting to contract so I’m even more concerned! She has no heel pain or thrush (the vet checked for these last week) so I'm guessing that the cause is the way she's moving due to her stiffness and my riding, which is better than before but I guess not better enough. The farrier came three days ago and he said he was trimming her a little differently in order to bring her heels down in better contact with the ground. She seems to be moving somewhat better now but I haven’t yet made another video so I can really study her hoof hitting the ground. I’m still wondering about whether I should try boots with pads. Although she's MUCH more relaxed and secure, she's still not 100% okay 100% of the time and I don't know to what degree this could be contributing.

Dr. Deb, you wrote “you ARE going to learn to get the right feel from just observing” and seeing Buck riding his 3 year old with such lightness and harmony helped me understand what I’m working toward. Of course none of the students’ horses had anywhere near the degree of lightness, responsiveness, suppleness and out-n-out happiness that his horses had, so I suppose one needs to temper one’s vision with some realism and of course, lots of patience. But seeing him also made me realize that I’ve been accepting less than what should be acceptable and how, when working on a specific exercise, I’ve been quitting too soon. This is really the hardest part for me: knowing when to be firm vs knowing when to release, to back off, and understanding in the moment the difference between supporting and rewarding the least try vs. asking for a better outcome without getting to a place of insistence or nagging.

I have to apologize for the rambling and lengthy presentation here. Any points and questions you’re able to address will be gratefully appreciated.

Thanks, Juliet

Attachment: trot_right_july2014.jpg (Downloaded 402 times)

Last edited on Tue Oct 21st, 2014 11:09 pm by JulietMacie

Jeannie
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 Posted: Tue Oct 28th, 2014 09:50 pm
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Hi Juliet, in regards to the head twirling/releasing through the poll and neck, Macie is going to have to learn to do this every time you ask with one rein whether she is standing or moving. It might be easier for her while she is untracking and bent correctly at the beginning, but eventually she should respond anywhere, anytime. It is the first thing I ask for after I mount, and of course you have to give every time they give. While I'm riding I have to notice when he has lost it, then ask for it again, this is something you will learn to be aware of. So you will be riding either in release, or on a long rein.

When I was teaching my horse to collect at the trot in hand, I would try to see what happened first, the loins coiling, the base of the neck raising, or the straightening, and it just seemed to me that it happened altogether, or at least faster than the eye could separate. I don't think a horse can release it's neck without coiling it's loins, so Macie will have to be taught how to move her body in that manner.

This can take a long time, as they have to build up their own awareness of their bodies,as well as their strength, and it requires the person to notice the first shaping up of it, so they can release at the right time. I think the hardest part is when they start to get it, your inclination is to ask for longer/more, right when you should be releasing and rewarding them for the try. Human nature I guess. Hope that helps.

                                    Jeannie
 

DrDeb
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 Posted: Sat Nov 1st, 2014 01:06 pm
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Juliet, my apologies for not having been able to get back to you sooner. I am in the midst of having what my office assistant Wendy calls "having a book-ectomy" -- actually in this case it's a research-paper-ectomy. Seven years of work on 2,000 year old dog bones about to come to fruition, and of course there are a million details to take care of, i.e. checking bibliography references, double-checking all the tables of measurements, final corrections and labels on figures, and so forth. It's exciting and fun but a lot of time-consuming work, too.

 But, this hallowe'en evening I've managed to corral a little time and so we can discuss what you've recently posted. First off to say that I was grateful to Julie because she filled in for me a couple of days ago with some good advice -- subtle advice. It is just as well, I think, when the subtlety is such that you really have to chew it over and think it through.

Now, for some reason my screen isn’t reproducing the first photo that you posted the other day -- maybe it’s just coming up real slow. Nonetheless I remember it well enough to say two things about it. One, it shows the horse with its neck breaking at the wrong place. This has probably been a factor with this horse actually right from the day you bought her, but did not come to be observable really until you started to learn how to use your hands properly, which means that there will be moments of real firmness and that you are not to be afraid of having those moments. I well remember when I was afraid of them; my dressage instructor kept telling me, “you have to ‘take contact’.” Unfortunately her idea of what constitutes “contact” was all wrong, and it was not until I began riding with Ray – and IMITATING the way he sat, the way he held his arms, the way he held the reins, and most important of all, when to hold, waiting at the same pressure, vs. when to release. What this all adds up to is that you must not pull. “Pulling” means exerting even the eensiest, teensiest bit of backward traction upon the reins, so that the energy flowing within the reins goes from the horse’s mouth toward you. This must never be the case. The energy in the reins can be still, like a deep, still pool; or it can be flowing from you to the horse.

 

We need to note here that the horse gets the habit of breaking its neck because it has a brace around the poll joint. This is what Julie is telling you, Juliet, when she suggests twirling the head before even stepping off. You have to get that brace out of there before you can do much else. If you wanted a (totally tongue-in-cheek, of course) protocol for breaking a horse’s neck, you would follow these steps: (1) Take ahold of the reins too fast and with too much firmness, so that you put the horse on the defensive right from the first moment; (2) Pull back slowly but continuously and wait for the horse to reply to this by clamping his jaw and lips and prying down and forward against your hand; (3) When that feel is there, then gradually exert more and more backward traction, until you pull the nose into a vertical position. You see, if the horse has braced its poll, the poll joint will be locked, and therefore to get the nose into the vertical orientation, the flexion will not be able to occur at the poll joint. It will have to occur somewhere else, and that place will be the joint between the 2nd and 3rd neck vertebrae, just as we see in the photo of your mare.

 

Now, Juliet, you are not to get discouraged about this because a horse that has been TAUGHT THIS EARLY ON will continue to offer it even when the current owner/rider is doing their best not to follow the above protocol. And by the way, that would be 85% of all the horses you’ll ever buy “used”. The horse will do it almost no matter how you try to use your hands. You can be as delicate and as feeling and as caring as you like, and the horse will still do it. So I am telling you this again, that I told you when you came out and we discussed this with Ollie – “fixing” a broken neck is one of the most difficult of all horsemanship projects. You will either need to be an expert to accomplish it, or you will need to become an expert.

 

The key to being able to fix it is the coordination of the leg and the hand. Your leg has got to be there, and that’s the second thing I remember about the photo: you are now sitting way too much on your crotch. Relax, kiddo: slouch, please. Particularly important is to get your lower back flat. You will have to tell yourself over and over to monitor the muscles in the small of your back, to see that they are not tense; and when they (almost inevitably) are, then you have to be able to tell them to let go, relax, soften up. One thing that will help you will also to be to monitor the muscles in your buttcheeks – they must be absolutely flaccid, totally floppy, altogether turned “off”, all the time. When your buttcheeks are totally relaxed, only then can your lower back also start to let go.

 

Because you aren’t sitting right, your leg can’t work right either. The way a person’s legs should feel against the horse’s barrel is (as Reiner Klimke used to say) “like a wet gym towel thrown up against a tile wall”: i.e. it sticks of its own accord, without any type of effort to grip. I sometimes say “like an old pair of chaps hanging off a peg.”

 

There is also an ‘orientation feel’ in the leg that needs to be there. You should feel like your horse is a triangle, like you’re sitting on a triangle – bigger in front and diminishing to the rear. Sit a little BACK into this triangle and imagine that the horse has a magnificently wide chest. He’s very WIDE in front and he’s also GOING UPHILL all the time. So the triangle is triangular both side to side and vertically. This is what it means “to have the horse in front of the leg.” The opposite feel will cause you to tilt forward, look down, and have your legs swinging to the back all the time. To have your horse behind your leg is a “diminishing, shrivelling” feel. To have your horse in front of your leg is an expanding feel, all the way.

 

Now, when your back and your legs are working right, then you can coordinate the effect of your leg with your hand. How you do this is you use your legs to ‘inflate’ your horse. You touch him with your leg – you caress him with your legs – it is a soft, warm feel. You communicate to him that you expect him to balance himself in such a manner that you get that sensation that you’re going uphill all the time. You SIT AS IF YOU EXPECT THIS TO HAPPEN AS A MATTER ‘OF COURSE’. If you sit right, the horse will at least try to rise to your expectations; he can feel the way you want him to position and balance himself. But, beyond getting that ‘triangular’ feeling, you’re also telling him to coil his loins and raise the part of his back that is directly beneath your seat. ‘Inflation’ also causes him to want to raise the base of his neck.

 

When he rounds his back and makes an effort to raise the base of the neck, the rest of his neck will inflate, too – like somebody blowing up one of those long circus balloons that the clown makes animals out of. The horse’s neck inflates from the base going forward. This will obviously cause the horse’s head, and therefore its mouth and the corners of its lips where your bit plays, to move forward. So when you inflate him, you are EXPECTING this with your hands and you obviously would do nothing to block it, i.e. you expect that HE WILL CARRY YOUR HANDS FORWARD.

 

The other thing that inflating the neck does is blow that kink right out of the wrong joint. It blows the neck into its proper anatomical alignment, and it actually makes it a little more difficult for the horse to kink or break his neck at that favorite spot.

 

Now, when he inflates, that moment is a good time to twirl. Remember that twirling happens ANY TIME you turn. So if you’re standing still then you do what we might call a ‘formal twirl’. But if you’re moving, then you use your inside rein and you tell him to turn. Not too sharp; that will just knock him off balance. A good exercise here is ‘snake trail’, i.e. what in English riding is called a ‘shallow serpentine.’ Go at a fairly slow trot, and play around with deeper and shallower cuts, and more vs. fewer cuts built into the length of the arena. Notice that there will be one side that never seems as good as the other. Once you find out which that is, then take it into some 10 or 15-m WALK circles, then once it starts feeling a little freer, go to 15-m trot circles and/or figures of 8.

 

This brings me to the last thing – Juliet, you’re still in too much of a hurry, and you’re still hustling your horse. Notice that in the second photo that she is going crooked as she trots on the circle there. She is NOT CURRENTLY CAPABLE of trotting with that much vigor on that small of a circle; to please you, she tries, but she has to ‘handle the demand’ by offsetting her hindquarters to the left, which is what makes the right hind fall to the left of the right fore. SLOW DOWN. Much better to do like Mike Shaffer with this horse and do some head-twirling, followed by some leg-yielding in hand, then mount and do the same under saddle. It does absolutely no good to practice, or to cause the horse to practice, the wrong things.

 

You have had the opportunity to ride Ollie, and so you know what it feels like to have a horse inflated underneath you. Ollie inflates for anybody, just as soon as asked. He feels much bigger underneath you, as you will recall, than he actually is. Nobody ever thinks of the Spanish Riding School’s Lipizzans as ‘small’ either, when they view them on show, even though most of them are not even 15 hands high. Any horse that moves correctly looks and feels big and powerful, high and grand in front, broad through the chest, and strong yet flexible through the hindquarters.

 

I certainly am glad that you got so much out of going to see Buck. This stuff takes time to learn and the questions you ask about when to hold or wait at the same pressure vs. when to give or when to make some other change stem from only one thing, and that is inexperience. Inexperience is overcome by not giving up, by keeping on trying, but also by being willing to be creative. This is a lifetime thing that is between your mare and you. I encourage you to play around with your seat, your balance, and her flexibility and balance. Never be afraid to try something, so long as it seems sensible; you cannot make a mistake, and you’re highly unlikely to hurt the horse.

 

As to the toe-first striking, it is evident from the photos that although your farrier is backing the heels up properly, he is not, like most of them, taking enough toe. If you keep backing the heels up and you don’t take enough toe, you will eventually make the coffin bone go negative-plane. As the horse approaches negative-plane, the forefeet will become more and more U-shaped, and the horse will be more and more ouchy, grumpy, and eventually lame. I’d advise you to go get a consult with your vet and possibly a set of reference X-rays – a good farrier will find looking at those very helpful. You need to maintain the angle, i.e. shorten the toe so that you raise the angle.

 

Second, examine the thickness of the digital cushions. Do this by pinching the DC where it is exposed at the back of the hoof, between the bulbs of heel, between thumb and forefinger (lightly). Look up our previous threads with Pauline Moore talking about and posting pictures of DC examination. If your horse’s DC’s are thin, you may need to do some re-educating as Pauline instructs, by using foam pads and well-fitting hoof boots. Sometimes even when the feet are in perfect balance, if the horse has been toe-striking for a long time because his DC’s are thin and ouchy, he’ll be in the habit of doing that and it’s a whole movement pattern. I have seen several horses treated with boots and pads who were able to break the habit and of course, that reciprocates on the neck and back and haunches. It works both ways: your way of riding does influence the feet; but the feet also influence what is possible to accomplish through riding.

 

Let us know sooner next time, if you will, how things seem to be going. When you do finally get all the little things that it takes going right, your horse will make some big changes I am sure. Cheers – Dr. Deb

JulietMacie
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 Posted: Sat Nov 1st, 2014 09:48 pm
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Thank you Jeannie and Thank you Dr. Deb. I'm off to the barn now but will be back in touch soon. Grateful as always for the help!

cheers,
Juliet

JulietMacie
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 Posted: Mon Nov 3rd, 2014 11:17 pm
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here's one of the pictures that disappeared from my earlier post.

Attachment: backing-oct2014.jpg (Downloaded 243 times)

JulietMacie
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 Posted: Mon Nov 3rd, 2014 11:18 pm
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and here's another...

Attachment: turning-right-oct2014.jpg (Downloaded 249 times)

JulietMacie
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 Posted: Wed Nov 26th, 2014 02:43 am
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Hello Dr. Deb,
A lot has been going on in the past few weeks and I’ve been trying to sort it all out and get a little clarity before reporting. In an effort to eliminate health-related causes of toe-striking I had the vet check her feet; he found no pain or tenderness in her feet but agreed that her front heels looked contracted and said that I should be careful to clean out all the deep grooves daily to avoid thrush. Then I had a chiropractor see her; he reported that she was tight and stiff in her right sacroiliac joint and also in her jaw and did some adjustments. Two days after the chiropractor’s visit, I could see a definite difference in her movement while she trotted at liberty in the arena. Her front legs not only swung further: a noticeable increase in the range or arc of motion, and her overall posture seemed more upright or uphill; she also seemed to be flexing her joints more deeply--less stiff looking overall. Interestingly though this didn’t seem to really last and now she appears to pretty much be moving as before...maybe a little looser and less stiff, but not as marked as that day. I’ve also been experimenting with hoof boots with pads in them but am still working on getting the right size/fit so the jury's out on this front.

For my part, I’ve been trying to sit on my whole butt and fill out (flatten) my lower back. Now that I’m aware of this, I’ve noticed the same posture in all my activities, the slightly arched, tight lower back and clenched butt: while working at the computer, standing at the sink doing dishes, walking, etc. I’ve tried to keep my eye on this and relax but it’s a very hard habit to break and one that seems to require my abs to do more so my back can do less. When riding I’ve tried to keep butt and back relaxed and let my legs hang. It feels better and more settled to me but I’m not sure how it affects the movement or the posture of my horse.

We’re still practicing the head twirling. I believe it’s getting quite consistent and good at a stand still, okay at the walk, still pretty bad but not impossible at the trot--just rare. I hate to admit this, but I’m really still working on understanding holding vs. pulling. I’ve stopped consciously pulling but it seems to me that when two beings are in constant motion connected by two pieces of leather it’s very hard to never exert any backward traction on the reins. So, I still have more to learn about this aspect of your last lesson. Today, though perhaps I had an insight on this front. I tried to hold my hands in a relaxed but consistent relationship to her face so that when she leaned forward, the reins were taut and she was heavy to me, but when she picked up her head and felt more centered underneath me (for lack of a better description) the reins became loose. I’m not sure she felt inflated, but she did feel more, as I said, underneath me.

As for inflating, I think this has happened two or three times. These are fleeting moments but they feel very lovely and inspiring. The downside is that I’m not at all confident that I’m the cause of these moments! These moments have happened when my horse has some extra energy and impulsion: a day when the wind was gusting against the walls of the arena or an unfamiliar horse was in the arena with us. Does this mean that typically I’m not asking for enough energy output from her?

One other question: my mare is really reluctant to back up. I ask and I wait at steady pressure and when she slightly shifts her weight back, I release. However, it doesn’t seem to be getting any easier or more immediate--I still ask and then wait...suggestions or interpretation?

thanks as always,
Juliet


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