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JTB
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Posted: Wed Jan 16th, 2019 05:25 am
Thank you Dr Deb and Redmare for this excellent thread. When the weather clears I will be out with the camera to see if the photos show what I feel when I ride.

Looking forward to seeing you in NZ next month Dr Deb. :-)

Regards Judy
Redmare
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Posted: Fri Jan 25th, 2019 02:18 pm
Alrighty, Dr. Deb - we've been playing with the halt work and getting this gelding to committing to shift his weight equally onto his hocks. I have to admit, this has been a tough sell.

I am not sure, however, that I am setting him up well enough, especially given we've discussed how this horse in particular needs really concrete examples. When I set up to ask him to weight his hocks from the halt, I take my hands from neutral to just a little bit elevated to indicate to him that I need him to lighten up in front and unbrace his neck and not lean on the right shoulder (an in essence, shift the weight back some). He obliges nicely but often will get too deep, so I wait until he comes back up with his head instead of down and in with his nose. However, in that timespan, he usually starts backing up. We've backed whole lengths of the arena and thensome, with me just sitting their waiting for him to figure out I'm not actually asking him to MOVE, just shift his weight. Eventually he stops, and when he does and I can feel he's still primed to back up, I ask for a forward step but he immediately gets boggy with his energy and weeble wobbles on his front end. At one point I got more vigorous with my leg to remind him "NO, you may not lean on me or get stuffed up" and he immediately pinned his ears in irritation - which told me either I didn't set him up well enough or he wasn't in a place where his energy could flow forward easily. This is where we have gotten stuck - I have been unable to get a lifted, relaxed, forward step free of brace as he's so quick to try and go back to his front end brace.

Am I getting too focused on what he is doing with his head/neck? I am unsure if I should care less about that when I prepare him to set his weight back on his hocks or if I DO need to pay good attention to that because he is so committed to his brace there and I just need to hang in there longer and let him muddle around until he commits to a real try. I have felt for a long time like I'm dealing with competing issues - the boggy-ness to the leg and the crooked pattern of movement, but I have realized the boggyness to the leg with this horse is largely BECAUSE he's not flowing forward straight.
Aloha
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Posted: Fri Jan 25th, 2019 08:17 pm
You mentioned the horse needing concrete examples. There is an exercise I learned years ago that is not only a concrete example for the horse, but for the rider too. Probably even more so for the rider.

You also mentioned the horse backing the entire length of the arena. So, this exercise STARTS at that place. The other end.

Stand the horse with it's butt in a corner. Now ask for the weight shift back. You will find out how little you need to ask for the horse to begin to shift its weight back and lift from the base of the neck. How subtle your ask needs to be. Probably you will cut your ask in half, then in half again and maybe again.

Be careful with this. Some horses might object to this and feel trapped.

Once you get the feel in the corner, then you can get it away from the corner. And will probably need so make your ask even smaller yet.

And as always, I would wait for Dr. Deb to chime in before trying this. Since this is something I learned from another school. But I have seen Buck do this exercise at a standstill in the middle of the arena. Shifting the weight forward and back without moving the feet. Had the audience laughing, but it is not easy to do if you don't have that feel dialed way down.
DrDeb
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Posted: Sat Jan 26th, 2019 02:56 am
Dear Redmare: Yes, a real Gordian knot, this. I think the way out of it is to think of this horse's reluctance to work, and work equally, off the hocks is not a BEHAVIOR issue. In my book, there is no such thing as "behavior." The word "behavior" is merely a catchall phrase, a label, a way of pigeonholing or (sneakily, subtly) blaming the horse, just like the word "resistance" is also a total fallacy. So he is not, in my book, offering you 'a behavior' or 'resistance'; he is instead attempting to communicate.

You got it good and clear when he pinned his ears. This is because we are all taught early, in whatever riding school we went to, that when a horse pins its ears we ought to regard that as his expression of irritation, i.e., a plain attempt to communicate. What makes his reluctance to weight his hocks any less of an attempt to communicate?

So that's where I think the problem actually originates, and it's not at all rare: it actually hurts this horse to weight his hocks. It doesn't necessarily hurt him very much; probably it just gives him twinges; but they are twinges he can feel and doesn't like. So you are going to have to give him time and many repetitions, the repetitions serving to gradually condition his hocks so that weighting them hurts less and less and then finally not at all. This is the same thing we say to ourselves as we age: don't sit in the chair all day. You must get up and move, or your joints will hurt worse and worse!

Remember how TINY a pain gradient a horse will notice and work against: horses are of such a nature that, when offered a choice between two actions -- BOTH of which will be physically painful but one less so -- they will opt for the less painful option and, amazingly, will often not even seek a third choice. Hence we see Walking Horses leaning hard on bits with 11-inch shanks, to the point where they numb their tongues and even may kill part of the flesh of the tongue. And you may, even in this horse's case, remember how easily the previous owner fell into the pattern or was caught in the pattern of teaching this horse to be dull. The rider does that by never coming all the way through -- the horse says, "OK, I'll lean on the bit a little bit," and instead of responding, as she should, by saying, "no buddy, you are not to learn on my hands AT ALL," she instead sighs and says, "Yeah, all right, that's GOOD ENOUGH, I'll hold up that extra 8 pounds you're putting on there, I'll ignore that 8 pounds, just so long as you'll go along pleasantly and not buck or run off with me, I'll TOLERATE your wrong carriage and wrong balance." But the next day, it will be 8.5 pounds, and where will it stop?

So GOOD ENOUGH and TOLERATE are deadly to us, deadly to excellence in horsemanship. Instead what we have is standards, and we live to those standards, and we teach our horses to live to those standards.

Here, then, is the second problem that's operative -- and you mention this one also in your description: we already know that this horse is inclined to shift his weight off the hocks, onto the forehand, while bracing his neck and thereby enabling himself to support himself -- like a guy bracing his arms so that he can push a lawnmower through thick wet grass -- by leaning on 'the handlebar' i.e. the mouthpiece of the bit and hence your hands. This horse not only does this, he also is dull to the leg. He does not 'respond with respect.'

So this having been plainly said, I know you know what to do: you need to execute Tom's way of waking the horse up to the leg. Which is to say, you'll bring him to a halt out in the middle of the arena, where there is plenty of space to all sides. And you will lift your legs, both legs at once, straight out to the sides. While your feet are raised up to the sides, you can even wiggle them or shake them a little -- you want to definitely make sure that the horse sees you're doing this, that he is aware that you're doing this. Then when he sees your feet, lower your legs both simultaneously, softly back down to his sides.

Then repeat this a couple of times, until you hear the horse saying, 'OK, that's wierd and it doesn't really have any meaning to me, but if that's what you want to be doing, it's OK with me.'

When that's occurred, the next time you raise you legs, you bring them in with all the force you can muster: you whump the crap out of him, you bend those ribs, you make snot come out of his nose. If you have a romal or mecate, you simultaneously smack him right behind your leg with that also.

You would think, of course, that any horse would bolt off in response to this. But horses who have been made dull to the leg don't do that. Nor do they buck, although you do have to sit prepared for any type of response. What will 99% sure happen, though, is that he will merely emit a grunt and walk slowly forward two or three steps, and that's all!

When you clobber him the first time, of course you are very careful to give him a slack rein to work into. But in all probability, what he will do is just grunt and stumble forward and then stop.

Now after he stops, you raise your legs again. After you have whumped them only one time, 95% of horses will liven up and start walking, if not immediately trotting, WHEN THEY SEE YOUR LEGS RISE. Pet him bigtime for this. You want him to learn: I will not block you, I will not try to "take contact", I will not hold the outside rein, I will give you a great big wide open space to go into to the front WHEN I TAKE MY LEGS OFF YOUR BODY."

And this is the secret which the previous owner, and which most people who have horses, do not get: they think that the horse 'goes' BECAUSE he has been smacked, or IN RESPONSE TO pressure. This is what got the previous owner into trouble, because when he didn't liven up and get ready to move, and when he didn't move off from VERY LIGHT leg pressure, she SQUEEZED. Never never never squeeze a horse to make him go! In other words, he didn't go so she squeezed a little bit harder each time. Hence most dressage horses -- hugely dull to the leg! And they think it's because the horse is dull because he's a Warmblood or part-Draft!! Ha ha ha ha: it's themselves who are dull. The horse is merely smart; he is laughing at them, and he is mocking them. He does not respond, and he does not respect that the leg can come in there with such force that it will hurt him. We do not want him to fear the leg, but we do want him to respect it.

So the second time when you lift your legs, as I said, normal horses will learn this lesson after only one good whumping. They certainly do not want to be whumped again. They never want to experience that again. So they liven up and get ready to move the moment they see your legs lift up and THIS IS THE PROPER CUE -- the thing you want the horse to learn -- that you expect him to liven up and get ready to move AS SOON AS THE RIDER LIVENS UP. He is not to wait to be kicked or whipped, because if he does not liven up and get ready to move just as soon as you move your leg OFF his body, you will most certainly repeat the lesson by whumping him, which is to say, by bringing your leg ON to his body. To repeat: the cue which tells a properly trained horse to liven up and get ready to move is when you take your leg OFF his body.

I'm willing to bet sitting here blind that the previous owner wore spurs, too, and by mis-using them in the same way she mis-used her legs, compounded the problem. Spurs mis-used as I have described serve merely to harden the horse up.

Riders who are like this horse's previous owner get into this black pit because at root, they are afraid of the power that the horse has; they are afraid of impulsion. And although they said they wanted to go for a ride, they're like the little kid on the swing who says, 'daddy push me higher' but as soon as daddy does that, they say 'oh, daddy, don't do that anymore' or they start crying. A rider has to be a little bit braver than that. There is a fear hump there to get over, for sure; but once you're over it, then you begin learning what riding is supposed to be like. Now, I know you already know this and that fear is not your problem, Redmare; I'm only saying this because I know a couple of thousand other people will be reading it and maybe they need to think about this.

So, let me know how this works out, and yes, don't fuddle yourself too much with unnecessary details. Teach the horse to GO FREELY FORWARD. If after you teach the 'liven up to the leg' lesson, he starts to feel like he wants to canter -- go for a canter and keep him at it until he breathes pretty good. Then hop off him and pet him and put him up for the day, ending the session on a jolly, free, and somewhat playful note. This takes the sting out of the reprimand you had to give him earlier by whumping him, and tell him, "look buddy, I do enjoy your company and that was lots of fun. I enjoy it when you move out!" Cheers -- Dr. Deb



Redmare
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Posted: Thu Jan 31st, 2019 01:21 pm
I thought I'd come back and share what has happened so far - the intense cold in the NE has limited my riding, but I've gotten two rides on this gelding since your last post Dr. Deb. I think hearing the progression may help others understand a prepare for this in this own horses. Apologies for the length, but the details seem very important.

Ride 1 - to put it plainly, I found out EXACTLY how defensive this horse felt he needed to be about just flowing forward, and how many negative feelings he held about it. From the halt, I put my legs out, wiggled my toes and let him see what I was doing. He had no response. When I finally got to giving him a whomp to go forward, he pinned his ears and fumbled up into a hectic trot. I gave him as much rein as a could initially but decided against just setting my hand down and letting him just go without any guidance from me because he was all over the place and a crooked mess (which I think, again, speaks to just how hard it is for him to just GO FORWARD...not to mention it's very difficult and unpleasant to ride). So I just kept my hands forward and gave him lots of slack to work into but gave him some support on WHERE to go forward. His trot was quite frantic, so I waited until he started dropping his head and clearing his nose before I asked him to come down to a walk. I let him walk out for a minute or two and then prepared to ask for him to take up into the trot again. When I rolled my knees open and brought my energy forward...nothing. So I whomped him again. I had to repeat this whole "whomp, hectic forward, relax into forward, back to walk" cycle twice more . By the fourth "whomp" I felt him thinking about cantering and allowed him to proceed. He got in about two canter strides before he pinned his ears and threw the biggest buck I think I've ever sat - not the "I need some air time to keep this canter" buck, as he has done before, but the kind of buck where you swear you hear his heels whistle past the sides of your head. I sat it, but he threw another in quick succession and then ducked low and sideways which pretty thoroughly unseated me.

So I dusted myself off, caught him, got back on and went back to it. We had one more round of him not taking the good deal of feeling for me to roll my knees open to invite him forward and I had to whomp him again, at which point he tried bucking a second time. I remember laughing as a sat and literally said aloud "Kid, this isn't going to work out well for you". He ended up running towards the fence and I let him almost hit it before he stopped short and continued on into a brisk trot. I let him carry that trot for a good five minutes before I asked him to come to a walk. Once he'd been on a loose rein for a few minutes, I halted him and asked for a few halt to walk transitions. He did those splendidly. We did one more transition, this time from halt to trot - this was also quite nice. I let him go forward a round or two and then stopped him, got off and patted him. We ended the day by playing some fetch, a game he quite enjoys.

Ride 2 - I spent a solid 10 minutes just bending him, moving this body part and that body part, asking him to step under with this hind leg and then that hind leg - just figuring out where he was stuck up and loosening those up as best I could before I asked him to flow forward. I believe it was a mistake on my part not to do this the first ride. We halted in the middle of the area and practiced several halt to walk transitions, all of which were lovely and relaxed. I then asked for a walk to trot. He didn't respond to my knees rolling open but he certainly noticed when my calves came off his side and he got forward off before any whomp was needed. His trot was still a bit hectic but better. He still needed some guidance from me as to WHERE to go - for some time I have been uncertain as to how much to support him because he will need to learn to just go forward on a totally slack rein, but knowing him and his unique set of "stuff" I have come to feel it's better to provide him a shorter rein with some slack but offer him more of a feel than to leave him with no guidance from the hand - he isn't educated enough on following the seat and leg yet for me to feel like it is fair to him. When he feels wholly better about just the forward piece, I can start working in the longer rein.

The thing that left me walking away from this ride smiling ear to ear was this: with the second upward transition from walk to trot, I felt him offer up a canter on the right rein, which again I allowed. His transition was fairly straight (especially for him, and especially considering the right lead is his hardest to maintain straight!) and relaxed, but once he was in it I felt him start to hump his back, saw his ears come back to me in a half-flattened, half listening way and say "I'm not sure about this, I might need to buck". I breathed out, sat deeper and set my right hand down, tipped his nose a bit to the inside and said aloud (to him, but probably more to myself!) "I don't think you need to do that". To my absolute delight, he not only "heard" me but believed me - the hump from his back came down, his ears perked up and he carried a lovely, consistent canter for two good-sized circles before his energy came down and he broke to a trot on his own. When I felt him coming down I decided against urging him on in the canter - it was SUCH a huge thing for this horse to accept my suggestion in the way he did that I decided it best to let him end with those really good feelings. We ended our session there. Even when I was taking off his tack, he was much more relaxed than I've seen him previously after a ride.

As a footnote to all of this, Dr. Deb gives me a bit more credit for being over that fear hump than I perhaps deserve. I was certainly not excited about the bucking! However I knew, as I walked over to get him after coming off, that if I did not get back on and commit to sitting through whatever he offered up (and knowing full well he'd probably try bucking again), I would never be able to authentically have the forward conversation with him again and worse, I'd have lied to him. I also knew that if he offered to buck again, I could not interfere - I had to commit to letting him try it, fail at it and take away that bucking wasn't going to solve anything for him. Hence why once I got back on and he proceeded to bucking again, I sat and let him almost run himself into a fence...and I fully admit it took a LOT for me to just sit there are go "OK, buddy, I'm here, but you've got to figure this out on your own".

Never has Tom's phrase "know what happens, before it happens so when it happens, you'll know what happened" carried so much weight for me!
Obie
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Posted: Thu Jan 31st, 2019 04:27 pm
This is so great! Thank you Redmare, for such a detailed discussion. I just pictured myself riding right along with you on this horse. It sounds like your doing the right things with him. Appreciate every one writing in here. It keeps my riding skills sharp in my mind, for when I do get another horse. Love it!
Thanks again,
Linda
JTB
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Posted: Fri Feb 1st, 2019 06:16 am
I agree with Linda! Thanks heaps Redmare for sharing this journey. Excellent stuff very meaningful to me.
Hope the cold weather goes away and you can get more horse time in.
Best Wishes
Judy
DrDeb
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Posted: Wed Feb 6th, 2019 06:30 am
Dear Redmare: Sorry it's taken me a day or two again to get back to you. And mainly what I want to say is:

THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU

-- For being willing to risk your neck to help the horse;

-- For getting back on in recognition that, IN THIS CASE, not to have done so would indeed have proven to the horse that you had been "lying to him", i.e., that you had reserved a secret zone of comfort, a point past which you would not go, for yourself when at the same time you were demanding that HE not make such a reservation, but instead give his all. You gave your all and meant to give your all: you went into the situation knowing that getting bucked off MIGHT happen, and if it did, you would be willing to totally go to the mat with the horse in order to bring him to a place of clarity so that he did not feel he had to do that anymore.

People who are reading this, and who may sort of not be where we're at in this area, could easily misunderstand that I'm cheering the fact that you got back on because it proved that you were willing to "discipline" him. What you did had nothing whatsoever to do with discipline in the sense of punishing the horse or "showing him who is boss." Instead, it has to do with the true meaning of charity: caritas, which means caring for the other more than one cares for herself.

Those who have not done something purely for love -- maybe they haven't had the chance, maybe they have so far been unable to bring themselves to take all the hits even when the situation isn't their fault -- will not understand this, but Redmare, I know you understand this: caritas gives almost infinite strength. One does not know this until the crucial moment, the moment when the voice inside you says, "by God, I am going to get back on, because that's what is necessary to help the horse." And people who are reading this and, again, just imagining what this is like because they haven't come to their opportunity to do it -- please, if that's you -- don't imagine that your own will has anything to do with it. A strength comes that is entirely from a higher power, and no one has any control over that, or any power to demand it; you can only obey it -- or not.

If this horse had not achieved clarity about the need to GO FREELY FORWARD when asked by the rider, and if you had not come along with the skills and the determination to help him get to that point, his life would not have ended well, and this is the ultimate justification for getting back on. Because horses who have this problem, which we might call "deep balkiness", every one of them, eventually, become rogue buckers that nobody can sit (and nobody should try, because it's gone too far, the horse is no longer innocently confused but has finally become expert, like a bull that has previously been fought and comes into the arena the second time with no intention of allowing himself to be torried, but instead merely waits his chance to kill the matador; they call these "bulls of sentido" which expresses it perfectly -- "sentido" means "he knows too much").

And these horses, like bulls of sentido, wind up hurting people; or else they fall into the hands of some woman who finds out he's dangerous to ride, and she is scared of him. And when it gets to that point, she then turns to nursing rather than horsemanship because she's too guilty to kill him, it's unethical to sell him, and she can't fix him -- which is, as I understood you previously, pretty much a description of the woman you got him from. Because you see -- you've saved her life, too in a sense -- there's nothing worse than starting out with the dream of glorious fun with horseback riding, and winding up spending the rest of your life making excuses for yourself and your horse, which is what "nursing" in the sense I'm speaking of it here amounts to: a kind of hell for the well-meaning.

Now, in advising you to give him the "go forward" lesson, I was of course hoping that he would not buck, because indeed most of the horses that have this problem don't, as I mentioned. And I think we can draw the conclusion from the fact that he did buck, in other words, he more or less strenuously objected, that there is indeed a degree of physical discomfort for this horse when he pushes off his hocks. We had said that previously and this is further indication.

However, I also agree with you that there's another, and probably even more important factor driving his objections, and that factor is mental and emotional confusion: the horse simply was never broke out properly, he was not taught to "go freely forward" from Day One, and then he got into the hands of somebody, or maybe a whole series of people, who clutched up every time the poor beast did try to go freely forward. And there may also have been the very common upside-down approach to training, which comes from the rider's ambition to compete and the instructor's ignorance of what horses are all about -- so that there is too much instruction to hold a firm outside rein, get the nose to tuck, get the horse to bridle, have him in collection -- all, from the horse's point of view, merely thwarting every effort he makes to GO FREELY FORWARD. The old cavalrymen used to say that no horse should be ridden in an arena until he had been thoroughly hunted across country for several seasons, because until going freely forward becomes what they expect to do, collection is not by any means possible. The very first things have to be installed FIRST:"go freely forward when asked", "go straight by pushing equally off the hind legs", and "obedience is always followed by rest and release."

For many horses, any great or deep change in what they're used to -- no matter how bad what they've been used to was -- causes them confusion and some of them, it actually makes them mad. And of course, if what had been going on before more or less allowed the horse to run the situation, to cheat his rider because the rider could be counted on to say "Oh, well, that was good enough, we'll tolerate that" -- and you come along and tell him, "no buddy, that's not the way it's going to be anymore" -- then the poor horse starts bawling like a hungry steer because he thinks he's gone from the frying pan into the fire and can't imagine how what you're telling him could work out for him to be the best deal in the world, in the end.

So -- maybe it's not been possible for you to ride this week, as we look at the weather map and see there's a horrible deep freeze out where you are. But when the ground thaws out some and it dries up enough that the mud isn't slick, and the temperature gets above freezing and you want to work with him some more, I suggest that a very good way to reinforce what you have now taught him, and tell him again in another way that you're no liar, is to start him on longeing over cavalletti with little one to two-foot jumps at odd intervals.

The idea here is to teach him to make a good upward transition, followed by the even more important down transition. Start him up halt to walk, then walk to trot, then trot to walk, reverse at the walk without halting, and then trot again. Many repetitions. You can do it on longe line, on 12-ft. lead, or at liberty in roundpen. Each session, keep him moving long enough to breathe him some, so that he's glad but also somewhat exhilarated when you call him to you for rest and petting. The many reps will serve to condition those achy hocks, while also installing "go freely forward". As he improves (and as the weather and the footing improve!) add trot-canter and canter-trot transitions.

Start him off the cavalletti grid, at the beginning or warmup part of the session. Then move him onto the grid. I'm primarily thinking here of having him on the longe line, since the roundpen is a bit crowded to try to work both on and off the grid, and the 12-ft. lead will cause you to have to run yourself in order to get over the whole grid. Set the grid up with sets of four poles. If you only have four, fine; set them up in an arc up near one end of the arena. If you have eight, put the second four at the other end. Arc them, so that their outer ends are farther apart than their inner ends; that way, when moving himself in an arc because he's on the longe line, the horse will not have to compensate for the poles not being in an arc.

If you have eight poles, put a low jump, beginning at one foot high, in the position of a fifth ground pole at the end of one set of four. Start him on the set that doesn't have the jump.

Remember that ground pole/cavalletti work is harder for the horse than it looks, so build your repetitions gradually. A normal horse can start at four passes over the grid going to the right, followed by four passes to the left. Then add one or two passes each day you practice this. I would do cavalletti with most horses two or three days per week, and on those days I would normally still ride him afterwards but would not make the ride as demanding. Cavalletti work followed by trailride is nice, or you can follow it with some lateral work at the walk in the arena, i.e. stuff that doesn't put too heavy a demand on his "push off" but that does work on straightness. And no matter what I did for groundwork and/or riding, when I get off then it's time to work on bowing, "fetch", or some peace and quiet by stepping up onto the circus drum.

We highly value your correspondence here, Redmare, and I look forward to getting your next report. At this point, a whole lot of things are liable to begin falling into place -- so fundamental and far-reaching is success at teaching "go freely forward." -- Dr. Deb





Redmare
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Posted: Wed Feb 6th, 2019 12:32 pm
Dr. Deb, as usual, thank you so much for you detailed response(s) and encouragement. I am so grateful that this online classroom exists and that you are so willing to give information and help so freely.

I've been on the gelding a couple more times since I last posted as temperatures have yo-yo'd, he continues to slowly get better about the forward. He has only offered the canter on the right rein, which I find interesting (edited to say: perhaps not so interesting after all! If he prefers to weight the left hind, it makes sense he'd find the right lead canter a tad easier, because it is the outside hind that I'd be asking him to initiate the transition off of, even if my "ask" in this case is not much more than "hey, here, yes, go forward, please"). I also find it interesting that now he has taken to offering the canter, being allowed into it, getting nervous, we have the "you don't need to do that" conversation (although it is much more subtle now, he has not offered or shown he's thinking about bucking, just that he's concerned or still muddled as to his feelings about being so forward) and when he breaks from the canter into the trot, he goes a few strides of trot before he goes to canter again. I think he may actually be coming down, realizing his balance is too much on the forehand and speeding up to regain his balance...it's a bit of a knife's edge, because I do not want him to continue so on the forehand, but at the end of the day I feel it's better to ALWAYS allow him to think that the way out of the situation - at least for right now - is freely forward, even if I'm going to eventually be educating him further on the MANNER of how he goes forward later on.

I have also extrapolated some of what we talked about earlier in this thread about the 'S' curve he carries in his neck tracking left and have started to use the corrective upward left rein to get him to remove the kink from his poll and just create the 'cranky C' as you called it. He has not appreciated this one bit - even though it meant I was literally telling him "here, you can do what you wanted to do before and throw all your weight on your right shoulder if you'd just remove that kink right there". I have been using this same correction to get him to stop weighting the right shoulder so heavily when he is in the right rein, and it's worked beautifully in that respect, so I do think that his irritation with my trying to remove that kink whilst in the left rein is because he genuinely has some pain when he releases the right side of his jaw and relaxes evenly into the bend. I've been doing some massage work on his right poll for about a month now - what started as a desire to fly backwards if I even so much as placed my hand behind his right eye has turned into him begging for me to help him release the tension he holds there, which is so, SO wonderful to see coming from such a defensive horse.

I am very excited to try the cavalletti work - I was actually reading just the other day about ways to help horses with a jarring, jack-hammer-y trot (which, oh boy, does this horse have) and the author of the article discussed using pole work to encourage the horse to engage, lift and release the thoracic sling, so I'm thrilled that this is something you suggested we start playing with and that it appears I'll be killing more than one metaphorical bird by doing it.

Thank you so much, again - I'll be sure to try and get some pictures of our work to share.
Redmare
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Posted: Sat Feb 16th, 2019 09:47 pm
OK Dr. Deb, back again, and hoping you may have some wisdom to offer. I enjoy this gelding immensely, but he has me downright befuddled at times. I had to look up the term "Gordian knot", and I have to say, that is a fantastic description of this horse!

I have done lunge work 4-5 times in the last 10 days or so. I borrowed a friend's lunging cavesson with the three-ringed noseband so that I could have a bit more control over the lateral flexion in his poll. This has worked very well. I have introduced him to the cavalletti work as you suggested and he has done fairly well with this.

I have only gotten on after cavalletti work twice, the second time being today.

The last two groundwork sessions, I have had to spend quite a bit of time educating this horse surrounding a particular thing he likes to do. Tracking to the left ONLY, he tends to get irritated and bolt forward into a canter with no cue or indication from me that I'd like him to make that transition. For a while I've ignored this, not encouraged this frantic change, and just waiting until he settles back into a trot on his own. This wasn't working, so a couple days ago we spent a solid 20 minutes having a discussion around this agitated desire to bolt off. I pulled another trick from Mike Schaffer and when the gelding did this, I ran parallel with him and let him hit the arena wall. It took him quite few tries at this before he realized he could keep trying it, or he could knock it off and just carry himself in the gait I had asked him to adopt. We ended that particular session with a few circles of calm, stretchy trot, at which point I called him into me and called it a night.

This lesson appears to have stuck as he did not offer to try it today. He's starting to make some really lovely, fluid transitions, especially from trot to canter, and he's starting to do so without a grumpy, irritated expression on his face (even just being out on the line, in addition to transitions, this gelding carries a grumpy, irritated expression and when asked to carry his energy up, his expression gets even grumpier - I have made a note of this but not "done" anything about it because I believe it is largely due to his ill feelings about A) going forward freely, and B) the likelihood that he has twinge-y hocks when he does. I imagined it would take care of itself in time).

So I decided to get on and figured we'd play with some easy, large figure eights and drifting lines at the walk. Much to my surprise, it was as if we were back to square one (not even, more like square negative five!) He was crabby, touchy and two or three times, from the walk, decided to take off into a crabby canter and immediately attempted to buck. I did not ask for anything any of those times - I was just sitting, going along with him at the walk. I finally got him soft enough that I could get one soft(ish) upward transition to trot, let out my outside rein and just kept the inside rein short enough that I could bend him if I needed to and let him go forward in a decent trot for a few minutes. During that time I could feel him wanting to go into his buck-y canter - it did not feel to me like a desire to go more forward, but more like a desire to be rid of me. This is the first time I have ever felt this from this gelding. We ended the day with some fetch, but I felt a bit disheartened and quite perplexed when I put him away.

There are a few things I can think of that might explain all this:

1) what I have been asking of him these past couple weeks has been - in his mind - too much, either physically, mentally or perhaps both, and he is saying "Redmare, I can't do this much"

2) this is a, in a somewhat to-be-expected way, non-linear progression of a horse who has deep, deep insecurities and confusion about what forward means, what balance means, and he is (exactly as you said in an earlier post, and this metaphor has stuck with me when I work with him) "bawling like a hungry steer" and genuinely mad because he cannot fathom how this is a better deal for him...OR...

3) there is a potentially a tack fit issue at play (and this may be in conjunction with either #1, #2 or even both). I only mention this because I have noticed that his fits of bucking happen only in the right rein, and I have noticed that his saddle has started to slide back a bit during the course of our rides. I put it on him today with no pad and took a look, and I do think that he may have bulked up enough in the past year or so that the saddle may be possibly pinching him behind the shoulder, and now that I am demanding from him that he not go crooked, he's finding he's getting bitten by the tack when he does get straight.

I know you like students to have specific questions when they write in, and I am trying to formulate exactly what I am asking, but as we have talked about, this horse has so many layers of junk it feels sometimes as though I'm playing a perpetual game of whack-a-mole! So I suppose I am asking - does any of what I am writing in about strike you and if so, do you have advice as to whether I should just continue to proceed as I have been and gauge him daily, or if I need to change course. I am going to see if I can borrow some saddles and try him in ones other than what he came with and see if that makes a difference, but deep down while that may be a piece of this, I don't think it is "the big picture", so to speak.
DrDeb
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Posted: Wed Feb 20th, 2019 07:12 am
Redmare, of all the possibilities you present, the first one I'd go for is: you're trying to do too much, or accomplish too much, in a short time. My main advice is for you to listen more to what the horse is telling you and stay BEHIND that line where the grumpy expression seems to need to manifest.

The sudden, unexpected and un-cued running off/bucking smacks exactly of one of two things: either this guy has a 19th rib on the right side, which is catching him a good muscle-spasm at odd times -- this feels to the horse exactly like someone is stabbing him in the back with a stiletto. Or else, there is indeed a tack-fit issue and we can sure hope that it is that rather than the other, because tack fit is more fixable.

Not that the other isn't; I witnessed Tom Dorrance teach a very competent and experienced rider, who had a horse who would do this and who did indeed have a 19th rib, to "feel it coming" and how to ride out of it, how to deflect it, so that she never got the horse into a position again, where he felt the "stab". And I learned so much from watching Tom teach this that -- I also had a neighbor who had a horse of the same bloodline as the first gal, who also probably had inherited the 19th rib, and who used to regularly buck its owner off. And she asked me to ride him and, as I said, I learned this so well by watching Tom that I also learned to feel it coming and how to just make sure we never went into any bend deeper than the gelding could handle without getting his ribs crossed and thus inducing the spasm. This does NOT mean we were "tippy toeing" around what the gelding liked or did not like; it means that I learned to PAY ATTENTION TO MY HORSE while riding him, so that I was constantly tuned in to his feedback. This is helpful not only on those that would run and buck, but on any horse, as it is the REAL basis for safety on horseback, helmets be damned!

LIkewise, at the Tom Dorrance benefit I borrowed a horse to ride because I did not have a truck or trailer or any way to haul my own horse to Fort Worth to ride under Ray's eye that week, so I borrowed the first one I could get ahold of, off another person who had brought in two. And this horse's owner was all about telling me this big sob story about him, that he'd been jumped on by a cougar as a foal and had a lot of scarring on one side so he couldn't turn right. Load of bullshit. By the time we got out of Ray's class, and that was about an hour and a half, I had him doing ten-meter turns to both hands very fluidly. One cannot accomplish this without constantly monitoring the horse's reactions.

Every ride we take is a conversation. It begins oftentimes with the rider laying out proposition "A" or asking question "A" of the horse. The horse then responds with "B". Or maybe "X", "Q", or "P" -- one never knows! But what is essential is that the rider know whether it WAS B, X, Q, or P -- and damned helpful too, if the rider has a good response in her toolbox which would be the appropriate reply to B, X, Q, or P and obviously it ain't gonna be the same response. We respond to his response, in other words, and so the conversation proceeds.

So my main counsel to you, again, is -- slow down some and just get into the mindframe of "let's see how he'll respond to this one single 'ask'". Do ONE THING at a time, and have a very clear, single focus for each ride. In other words don't say to yourself, "oh, let's do some lateral work" because that isn't nearly specific enough.

The devil is in the details here I think. Yes he is having twinges of pain -- not enough to quit riding him over and remember, it is actually good for what ails him to be ridden because it forces him to move those achy joints, and the more he moves them the less they will ache. The worst thing in the world for this horse would be to just stand around in a pen or stall.

And yes he is confused and all that, but if you'll slow down as I mentioned, and just pick one single thing each session to work on, the confusion will change into enjoyment.

The other suggestion is for you to make your sessions shorter. Don't get tempted to repeat anything "to reinforce it" -- the horse is going to see this as punishment, because if he gets it right the first time, why then, he got it right and that's where you quit. Horses do not need to repeat things over and over in order to learn them, as anyone who has ever owned a Houdini that has taught himself to open gate-latches knows.

And by all means, if you haven't got a copy of Dave Genadek's "About Saddle Fit" video, then go to http://www.aboutthehorse.com and purchase it for cheap money. He sells it at cost and it's the beginning of everybody's empowerment on how to "tell" when a saddle fits or doesn't. I can't give you any more help on that than your own eye and hands can say -- you'll have to feel, look, shift things around, try other saddles, and maybe talk to Dave on the phone.

Keep writing in, please....and be cautious for your own sake, because even though you are a much more competent and qualified trainer than many others, I don't want you getting hurt either. If you  have doubts as to your ability to tell ahead of time what this horse is going to do before he does it, then stick with ground work as a sure way to iron out the difficulties, even if doing it that way may take somewhat longer. -- Dr. Deb





Redmare
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Posted: Wed Feb 20th, 2019 03:42 pm
I am generally a fan of Occam's Razor when it comes to problem solving so I'm going to venture (at my own peril!) that this horse does not have a 19th rib, given all I know about him and the timing of this presentation of random bucking/attempted bucking fits. BUT - I will keep that in the back of my mind, given this is probably the first time in his life he's been posed the sorts of questions I'm asking him regarding bend and straightness.

I am ashamed to admit I do not own a copy of David's DVD - I'll order that this week.

Yes, I am probably doing too much, in more than one sense. As I read your response, I couldn't help but smile because I remembered a clinic I audited a year or so back where someone had a beautiful custom-made Wade saddle, and when she rode by us I noticed that tooled on the back of the cantle were the words "Do Less". I remember smiling then, too, because I knew exactly what that meant, and her horse demonstrated she lived those words. I will continue to endeavor to do the same.

Thank you again for all your help. Hopefully next time I write in I'll have some pictures to share.
Redmare
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Posted: Wed Mar 13th, 2019 04:15 pm
Back with an update, although it's less of an update as not much has changed, but that in and of itself is useful, I think.

So this gelding continues to be buck-y - as much as I have tried to stay behind that point at which he thinks he needs to buck, I haven't always been successful. He also has taken to shaking his head when I put the saddle on - the saddle fit has been addressed although after investigating it further I don't think it was as much a factor as I thought it might have or could have been - if anything, it was more a factor for ME because this horse gets very upset if your balance is off and you don't realize until you sit in a well-balance saddle how much you are fighting your own tack (and how much of a problem this might pose for your horse!) So I see the head shaking (and this happens whether I tie him or tack up at liberty) as more of an indication that this horse is generally not looking forward to being ridden, which I'm hoping to slowly change.

What HAS become really, really obvious is that this horse's jaw/poll are a serious bother for him - I now wonder if part of his drastic response to the "womp lesson" is because in his eyes, he literally does not know/feel comfortable arranging his body parts in a way that makes going forward easy and so my pretty firm demand that he get forward off my leg was quite unfair. There is very obviously a serious block, both physically and energetically, at his right jaw and even with continued work on the ground to teach him how to release and twirl his head left he holds pretty strongly onto that desire to travel (and even stand, when at his leisure) with an "S" curve in his neck. Basically every time I go out to see him I do some kind of manual work on that area and lately it's been met with a LOT more lip/mouth flapping/play, jaw "switching", head tossing/nodding or shaking, yawning, etc. At this point, I see any indication from him to try and release as a good thing, even if it's just him bobbing his head after I take my hands off him - it's movement, and at this point it's beneficial.

Dr. Deb, I've done the Google search through the forum for horses bucking in response to TMJ/poll pain and found a thread or two on it but it didn't sound like this is likely to be a direct reason for the bucking. I had his teeth checked and floated about 10 days or so ago and there was nothing other than routine work to be done, so it's not tooth related. I've gone back to basics and really put more focus on setting him up for straightness - we've talked about this horse needing really concrete examples and my gut tells me I haven't been setting him up well enough to, say, go from walk to trot STRAIGHT, which has contributed to his bogginess to the leg and then his frustration when I womped him.

I am curious if you have any suggestions/thoughts on the TMJ/poll updates - I've been riding this horse for the better part of three years and throughout those three years that anatomical area keeps resurfacing. I think I should probably pay it some good attention now.
DrDeb
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Posted: Wed Mar 13th, 2019 11:58 pm
Redmare, I'm running out of options I am afraid. My very first reaction to this report of yours would have been to say "check the teeth" -- not for something simple and small like "points" but for a protuberant rear cheek tooth. Horses sometimes develop these so-called "hooks", which can become so high above the normal level of the chewing surface that whenever the horse closes its mouth, the "hook" gouges the opposing gum. Be aware that not all practitioners, especially not all veterinarians, have the training to recognize this; and some veterinarians, I am sorry to say, refuse to acknowledge that such a condition would be something abnormal and requiring treatment --  the treatment being the reduction of the offending tooth to the proper level and/or its extraction. If your practitioner does not use a speculum and IV drugs to facilitate thorough manual examination of the mouth, all the way to the back, then I would encourage you to obtain a second opinion from another and more qualified practitioner.

Note that it is rare for a horse to develop rear "hooks" without also developing corresponding, although sometimes smaller, "hooks" at the front end of the cheek dentition. So for example if the grossly protuberant tooth is the last cheek tooth from the lower jaw, there will almost certainly be at least a small "hook" also on the first cheek tooth of the upper jaw. Almost always also, this is bilateral; indeed I've never seen a case where it was unilateral apart from some other injury, i.e. a fractured jaw and that's not what you have.

I bring this up because you yourself can examine the front end of the horse's mouth -- just don't put your hand in there where he can bite off your thumb. Either wear a miner's head lamp, or else have a friend standing behind you and to one side with a flashlight. Part the horse's lips with one hand and, using your other hand, draw the commissure on one side back into a "grin" which will make the anterior aspect of the first cheek tooth visible. If you see a hook, i.e. the front end of the upper cheek tooth overhanging the front end of the lower cheek tooth -- you have excellent reason to be calling for that second practitioner. Indeed more than excellent, because this particular configuration, if indeed it goes with a big hook at the rear of the mouth, not only makes it difficult and painful for the horse to turn its head, but is also extremely dangerous to the rider insofar as the mouthpiece of the bit can ride up the tongue/bars and get caught under the overhanging front "hook". Horses with this configuration, if the bit gets caught under the tooth this way, not infrequently suddenly rear and may even flip over backwards.

The other thing I want to say to you is, don't feel guilty about whomping him. You are not being unfair; you are in the process of diagnosis and that means, you are going to have to be provocative, sometimes, in order to get feedback from him that helps you figure out what's going on. You whomped him in order to help him. It is never wrong to ask horses to properly rise to the leg, and I don't care what their medical status is -- they still must be brought to a viewpoint where they care about what you care about MORE than they care about what they care about. If you get into feeling guilty, even if the horse is in fact experiencing significant pain and not just twinges, you're going to start conveying to him -- whether you intend to or not -- the sort of tentativeness that will cause him to up the ante on his end. You do not want to get to this place, because if you do, you'll have to kill him as a rogue -- and you know this.

We have had a very few really intractable cases over the years. Harry Whitney had a horse called 'Turbo' that he could just never get right -- the horse came in as explosive, and we tried everything we could think of, but Harry at last felt it necessary to lead him out into the desert and shoot him -- because he was a misery to himself and dangerous to everybody, including Harry. One cannot ethically sell a horse that one knows is dangerous.

One other suggestion we might try -- shy of shooting yours -- is to have a wee consult with my New Zealand sponsor, Jenny Paterson. Jenny has been involved with trace-nutrient research for a number of years. Her experiments are not "official", in that we are not talking here about formal double-blind testing. However, there is a good amount of anecdotal testimony from Jenny's customers who use her proprietary mineral mixes and follow her recommendations concerning pasture management, to say that their horses become "normally" calm and flexible after the management changes she recommends. The change is sometimes quite dramatic.

So, the next thing for me to ask you is -- you have been massaging and/or manipulating this horse. Does his muscle tone feel "normal" to you? Are his reactions to light touch, or sudden touch, or IM injections given without the horse being tranquilized -- are these reactions what you would call normal? Is he "explosive" or hyper-reactive just when you are interacting with him on the ground? Is the stiffness you notice at the poll related to muscle-tone which seems abnormal to you? Does he ever exhibit tetanic or clonic-like muscle-tone, like as if he was "tying up" only not in the hindquarters but in the neck? Has the vet who did the dentistry mentioned to you that it was hard to open the horse's jaw, or that he didn't seem able to open the jaw all the way or as far as other horses? When you longe this horse, I know you've said he sometimes goes with a long fluid stride, but are there other times when he seems proppy and stiffly short-strided?

Also: can you correlate his bucky-ness with the condition of your pasture? This would be, can you correlate it with the season of the year -- is it worse in spring, fall, etc? Second, can you correlate it with rainfall -- is it worse in summer when the pasture grass is dormant, but then you get a rainstorm and the grass "wakes up" -- is it worse after the rainfall? Jenny is going to ask these same questions if/when you speak to her. Do EMail her by writing info@calmhealthyhorses.com and tell her that I sent you. You can also review her website by going to http://www.calmhealthyhorses.com. And yes she is in business to sell her minerals, but a more  un-greedy person you will never meet, similar to our friend Dave Genadek in the saddle department.

Meanwhile -- be careful. I'm not thrilled with the fact that the horse continues to buck, because the last thing we need is for his only helper in this life to get hurt. As I advised before, I would sure put the emphasis on ground work and make sure to have him very well softened up before you consider getting on him per any given day. Sometimes this is all you can do until the horse gives more evidence so that we have a clear direction for what to try next. Let me know what emerges when you talk with Jenny, and anything you find by a second oral exam. -- Dr. Deb



Redmare
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Posted: Thu Mar 14th, 2019 05:07 pm
Thank you for the reminder to not feel guilty - I wouldn't say I feel guilty over whomping him, but I do have a growing sense of frustration/disappointment that I haven't been able to get through to him to help him. But that's really more about me than him, and I need to remind myself that all of this is indeed diagnostic.

I will have another dental practitioner out - this gelding was sedated used Dorm gel for the most recent float but the layfloater did not end up putting the speculum in because the horse did not appear even close to fully sedate even after 50+ minutes post-administration, and she didn't want him fighting the speculum as he's already so defensive about you messing with his head/mouth. She did the kind of exam you are suggesting I do and manually floated down a couple sharp points but said she did not see or feel anything further. However, it was not anywhere close to the type of exam you are describing, so best I have a vet out to do the IV. I will take a look in his mouth myself tomorrow as well.

As for your questions:

Does his muscle tone feel "normal" to you?
- Throughout most of his body, yes. In his neck and his right masseter/jaw, no. It's ropey, "piano keys", we call it, similar to what you feel on a horse who braces on the top of his neck and develops that hard, striated trapezius. His neck, despite having taken a nice shape over the last couple of years, is also hard and kind of "lumpy". Even gentle grooming there causes him to stiffen and move his head and neck away from you.

Are his reactions to light touch, or sudden touch, or IM injections given without the horse being tranquilized -- are these reactions what you would call normal?
- Again, area specific. We have no problem with IM injections given anywhere or touching any area of this horse's body until you get to his R side neck and face. He tends to immediately brace/lift his head and neck or move them away from you when you go to touch his face. He will often try and avoid contact with his face by ducking around with his head, bringing his chin to his chest to avoid you making contact, etc. When you go to firmly take his head in your hands, he often twitches his lips up.

Is he "explosive" or hyper-reactive just when you are interacting with him on the ground?
...this is hard to answer. Sometimes, often, even, yes he is. He does not often relax when tied - he stays rigid and alert instead of dropping a hip and cocking a leg and letting his ears go into a 'V'. When you untie him to go to doing something, he starts off quite "yellow" as we say out here - not sensitive, slow to get going, etc. When you raise your energy up to say "Hey, you paying attention? I asked you a question" he gets resentful and that's when the ears go back, he gets cranky and often gets over-reactive. This is what I mean when I say it's been hard to stay behind that line of where he gets resentful. It is the same way when you correct him strongly, both on the ground and under saddle. It's almost like it sends him into a frantic tizzy that he can't find his way back down from because he's almost not processing the release, just focused on the correction that occurred prior.

Is the stiffness you notice at the poll related to muscle-tone which seems abnormal to you?
- It certainly doesn't feel "normal" in the sense that it doesn't feel like normal, healthy musculature. It feels almost swollen - not like a hot soft tissue injury in a lower limb, but like a persistent fullness to the area directly behind his ears through the rectus capitis group that he really does not like palpated.

Does he ever exhibit tetanic or clonic-like muscle-tone, like as if he was "tying up" only not in the hindquarters but in the neck?
- I have never seen this on him, no.

Has the vet who did the dentistry mentioned to you that it was hard to open the horse's jaw, or that he didn't seem able to open the jaw all the way or as far as other horses?
- In not so many words, but yes, she did say he felt quite resistant to having her put her hand in his mouth, which is why she didn't end up using the speculum to float him because he was not fully sedate and was on the border of fighting her when she went to do an oral exam. As much was obvious just watching - he wanted to keep his head high and tried flipping it up and away or backing up when she went to open his jaw to view his mouth.

When you longe this horse, I know you've said he sometimes goes with a long fluid stride, but are there other times when he seems proppy and stiffly short-strided?
- At times, yes. But it almost always correlates with when he gets budged up in his neck. For example, I might have him on a 20 meter circle around me asking him to step out onto the outside pair of legs and soften his nose down and rotate his inside eye towards me so he's slightly laterally flexed at the poll. He finds this difficult and gets stuffed up and cranky in his neck before he releases and relaxes. This in turn changes his gait from forward and relatively fluid to stiff and short for the few strides it takes him to figure it out.

Also: can you correlate his bucky-ness with the condition of your pasture? This would be, can you correlate it with the season of the year -- is it worse in spring, fall, etc? Second, can you correlate it with rainfall -- is it worse in summer when the pasture grass is dormant, but then you get a rainstorm and the grass "wakes up" -- is it worse after the rainfall?
- I can't correlate it at all, because this only started happening with the "whomp" lesson a few weeks back. This horse has otherwise never shown a propensity for bucking (which the exception, early on, of needing those little crow hop bucks to get enough airtime to organize his feet in canter...it's been some time since he's needed that). Right now, of course, the ground is frozen and there is no pasture. His hay is grown on the same farm he lives at - I can even actually say that his hay has been coming from one particular field all winter, although I know that even in one field vegetation can vary quite a bit.



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