Thursday, December 31, 2015

Conditioning Log

I used to keep a big wall calendar to record my rides on, as well as other things related to Nimo's care, like hoof trimming or dentist appointments.  It was wonderful and really helped me stay on track because I could so clearly see how I was doing at a glance.


But, more and more crap started cluttering my desk and workspace, and the large size just didn't fit anymore.  So I used a regular calendar for awhile, but it never had the same motivational effect as the big calendar.

Then, I decided that maybe a leather journal would be worth trying.  I adore leather journals, but I don't actually journal (you know, except for broadcasting all my horse-related stuff on the internet).  I can type so much faster than I can write that I hate to hand-write anything these days.  But, I do really love leather journals.  So, I decided to order a journal from the same company I got our wedding album from.  It was a gorgeous album worthy of a medieval monastery, and I thought something along the same lines, only substantially cheaper, would be fun to play around with.  I eventually decided on this journal (size large, bomber jacket color), and had it customized a bit.  Here's how it turned out:

Handcrafted Rustic Wrap Leather Journal
Close-up of the embossing I had done
I LOVE the medieval-looking stitching for the pages!
The pages of the album were blank, which was an intentional choice.  I had looked at a lot of pre-made journals and planners, and just couldn't find anything quite right, so I decided to draw/create the pages myself.  Here's what I came up with:


I stamped the front page using this stamp.  I still need to add Nimo's name and maybe something else, but it's good enough to start with.


I created a three-year calendar using Microsoft Excel to fit the page size of the journal (about 6x8), and then I printed it and adhered it to the inside of the front page.  I feel lost without an annual calendar, and since this journal has enough pages for 3 years, I wanted to have all three years at a glance.  I may do something like circle the days I ride (color-coded by type of ride, of course) or write micro-scopic weekly/monthly totals on it as well to give me an overview and help me see patterns.

Then, I drew in lines to give me spaces for each day of the week, plus one extra blank box for maybe weekly notes or comments, and a little space at the top for the same.  I made sure the boxes for Saturday and Sunday were a little bigger than the other days of the week, because I tend to do my conditioning rides on the weekends and I wanted more space for notes.  I stamped the days of the week in the boxes using a Studio Calico stamp from an old Project Life subscription kit, and I used this stamp set to create a monthly stamp with a red oval showing me what week it is.

Stamp set that I used to create monthly calendars
I also got some planner stickers off of Etsy that I can use to remind me when board is due, when Nimo has a dentist or vet appointment, and what day/time my lessons are.  (The scrapbooker in me couldn't resist decorating the pages somehow.)

Anyway, I think the journal is beautiful and functional, and I hope it keeps me motivated to ride.

If, however, you are not interested in doing a whole lot of work to create something that you can buy for a lot less money, check out Mel's post on what she is doing for her running and riding logs this coming year.

Happy training!

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Herd Dynamics

A long time ago, I was under the impression that horse herds were pretty much set up the same way.  There was an alpha leader (a stallion in the wild or a breeding herd, but otherwise, some really head-strong mare or gelding) and everyone else just followed along.  Most of the horse training advice I was exposed to had to do with making yourself the alpha leader of your horse, so he would respect you and do whatever you asked without question.

Then, I read a book by Mark Rashid.  It was probably Considering the Horse, but it could have been Horses Never Lie or another early book.  He talked about a horse that had what he called Passive Leadership.  The horse didn't bully other horses into doing what he wanted them to do.  Instead, he would wait out the annoying bully of the herd who would pester other horses who got to close to the choice food or water, and go in once the bully was tired or had moved on to other things.  And other horses would follow this passive leader.  It was interesting, but I didn't give it much more thought until I got Nimo (you can read about how he came to be mine here).

Nimo was a yearling and he was a stallion candidate, so he was obviously not gelded.  Because of that, I think he was kept by himself when he was out in the field.  He was also really people-friendly and would often take afternoon naps in his display stall (all the Friesians in the barn were in stalls on a small concrete pad surrounded by steel mesh instead of the more typical wooden walls, so that people could evaluate them for purchase) while kids hung out with him.  Anyway, what I didn't realize was that Nimo felt really comfortable with people, but he maybe didn't understand horse language very well.

The facility I was moving him to was a fairly large boarding stable of 42 horses.  Nimo would be going into a herd of about 12, with a variety of ages of horses, but none quite as young as he was.  The herd stayed in a small sacrifice area (think maybe a quarter of an acre) with a long, downhill chute that opened to another small area at the bottom of the hill.  I was responsible for acclimating Nimo in with the herd, and I made a big mistake.

I put him out in the sacrifice area by himself (with the second area closed off) and then I turned in the alpha horse of the herd.  He was older, probably near 20, and a pretty sweet guy with people.  I regularly did chores at the barn, so I imagined myself knowledgeable about the horses and how they interacted.  None of the horses in that herd were particularly obnoxious, so I honestly didn't expect there to be a problem introducing Nimo, and I figured having him meet the head honcho first without a lot of other horses pestering him would be a good idea.

Yeah, not so much.  The alpha horse almost immediately went after Nimo.  And he chased him and chased him and chased him.  Finally, Nimo broke through the gate that connected to the long chute I mentioned earlier and the horses ran down the hill out of sight.  I was hysterical and screaming some not-very-nice things about the alpha horse and beside myself because I didn't know what to do.

Another, more experienced lady at the barn decided to put a few other horses out, which helped calm things down.  With both sacrifice areas open, Nimo had some room to escape pressure from other horses and it wasn't long before everything was fine.  The lady who helped me out mentioned that if I was ever in another, similar situation, I might consider putting a horse not quite so high on the totem pole in with the new horse first.  At the time, I was so upset, I doubt I was in a listening mood, but looking back on it, I can see that what likely happened was that Nimo didn't demonstrate submissiveness the way he should have.  I actually don't even remember him licking and chewing and lowering his head like most young horses do to avoid confrontation. I think he just didn't learn how because he had too much people time and not enough horse time.

However, over the next year, I was reminded of how Mark Rashid pointed out that sometimes herd dynamics aren't what I thought they were.  Nimo remained at the bottom of the pecking order in the herd.  When it was time to bring the horses in for dinner, he was always the last until he was probably 3 going on 4.  At that point, he started to move up, but he was still toward the bottom.  But, very early on (within days, I think), he was able to eat right next to the tiny, but sprightly Arab, who was widely regarded as the second-in-command of the herd.  I watching Nimo stand behind him when he was eating at the round bale feeder and just hang out.  Sometimes the Arab would swish his tail or flick an ear to let Nimo know that he knew Nimo was behind him, but Nimo would just wait.  And he would gradually inch closer and closer to the feeder.  Until he was happily eating right next to that Arab.  It wasn't long before Nimo didn't have to start from behind, he could just go right to his preferred eating spot.  I was fascinated.  Here the last horse in the herd was eating without a problem with the second horse in the herd.

When Nimo was four, I moved him to a new barn, where he ended up in a paddock by himself.  At first, it was because the farm was new, so there was only one other horse.  Over time, more horses came, and soon I was faced with the choice of keeping Nimo by himself in a paddock close to the barn (and paying more money) or turning him out with a group of about 10 horses in a very large field with a long fence near a busy road.  Because I mostly came out to the barn at night and there were no lights, I opted to keep Nimo by himself.  And he seemed perfectly happy.

Eventually, things stopped working well at that barn, so I moved Nimo to a place where he would be in a herd of five.  That didn't last long because (I think) he was still playful and learning to respect the space of humans.  The boarders was mostly older ladies who were, ahem, perhaps a little less brave than a person should be if one regularly gets on top of a 1,000-1,500 animal.  There was some sort of behind-the-scenes conflict that I thankfully didn't learn about until later, and Nimo was by himself again.  I should say that I never saw Nimo do anything bad out in the field except for climb with all four feet into the water trough...a lot.

As it turned out, there was another horse at the barn who was also by himself because he was "bad" with other horses.  But it was easy to see that he was miserable by himself.  The barn manager, being pretty good at problem-solving, decided to put the two together, and it was a match made in heaven.  The other horse settled down quickly and after a brief, but fruitless challenge of Nimo's authority, the two got along really well.  So well, that when the time came for me to move to a new barn, I delayed it until I learned that the other lady would be moving her horse as well.

At the next barn, Nimo was with either one or two other horses most of the time, although for the last few months he was there, he was by himself (the mass evacuation of borders should have alerted me a little before it did that there was a problem).  And he was great.  He was absolutely always in charge, but I never saw him be mean about it.  A flick of an ear or a squint from the corner of his eye was all it took to keep the other horses from getting in his space.

Finally, I moved him to the barn he's at now.  He's with a herd of 4-5 horses that has changed  a couple of times, but is mostly stable.  The barn owner told me when I moved Nimo there that the herd's leader had been in charge for 4 years and would never give up his position.  Within a month, Nimo was in the top position.  As far as I know, it was a fairly painless transition.  Nimo had a few scrapes, but nothing serious, and I think the other horse was fine as well.

I have to admit that I love that Nimo is the top horse in the herd.  I got in the middle of a terrible attack on my horse when getting her out in the field and I ended up with 5 hoof-sized hematomas on one leg that took almost 2 years to fully heal.  Now, I never worry.  Nimo is good at keeping the other horses at a reasonable distance from me when I go to get him. 

However, I've noticed that the last horse in the pecking order hangs out with Nimo a lot.  They groom each other and they eat next to each other, and Nimo will even play with him a bit if he's pestered enough.  The other horse is a big, goofy gelding, and I think he might be doing to Nimo what Nimo did so many years ago as a yearling.  He gradually desensitized Nimo to his prescence and Nimo lets him in closer than he does the other two horses he is with.  Although, I will say that I have never seen Nimo strike or bite another horse, and the four horses in the herd seem to get along without any drama.  They eat at the same round bale and at feeding time, there is a close, but clear, order to how they stand.

I don't think Nimo is necessarily a passive leader - I think his leadership is more clear and he will get after a horse who doesn't respond to his initial signal to move away.  But, now that I've started paying attention, I can see how small those signals are.  They are literally a flick of an ear, a slight tilt to his head, or even a shift of weight.  And I really don't see any bullying, although I don't get a chance to truly see the herd in action much, because Nimo can't help himself but come up to me if he sees me (unless he also sees the trailer and the field is a giant swamp, then he likes watching me struggle through the mud to get him).  I'm told by the barn staff, though, that Nimo is very respectful of human space and is easily one of the best-behaved horses at the barn.

The whole experience with Nimo has lead me to understand that horse social behavior is a little more complicated than I first thought.  I even learned recently that it isn't the stallion who is in charge of wild horse herds, it is the alpha mare.  The stallion is around for reproduction and protection, but the mare chooses the direction and pace of the herd.  And I've read that the relationship between and among horses in the herd may change depending on what is going on.  I can see that with Nimo, that does seem to be true.

Now that we're in the process of building a barn, I'm interested to see how Nimo handles the transition and how "my" herd works once more than one horse belongs to me.  I do believe Nimo will be respectful of what I ask him to do, even if it means retrieving a horse other than him for the first time in his life, but I'm a bit curious to see how the dynamics work.

The most important thing about watching Nimo grow up in a herd is that I started questioning the whole idea of Human Must Be in Charge All the Time and Get After the Horse if He Doesn't Listen.  I used to really get after Nimo if he got in my space or did something inappropriate, but I stopped doing that because it never seemed to make much difference.  Nimo is too big to be much impacted by someone yelling at him.  Instead, I typically ignore behavior that isn't what I want and praise behavior that is.  He isn't perfect, but he is a pretty good boy except if he is really worried about something or really hungry, in which case he can forget about how much space I need.

Part of me hates that I had to learn the hard way on a real horse, but another part of me realizes that direct experience is the only way to truly understand something, especially with horses.  And I'm excited that there is a young horse in my future who will hopefully benefit from what Nimo has taught me.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Getting Ready for Next Year

My first planned ride of the 2016 season is the Foxcatcher 25 ride on April 9.  I'm hoping to do the No Frills 30 later in the month and then keep up a fairly rigorous schedule through November.  We've been playing around for the past couple of years, and it is really time to get serious this next year (weather and life and horse health permitting, of course).

One of the things that I kind of sucked at this past year was getting a crew bag together.  I really could have used something at Foxcatcher when we did the ride in April, even though the mid-ride vet check is in basecamp.  I did have water and mash for Nimo to drink and eat before vetting in, but I think maybe a little more effort would be nice this coming year:)  And No Frills will have an away check with no crew allowed, so I'd like to use Foxcatcher to get my crew bag together and then really test it at No Frills.

Lots of people have advice on what to put in a crew bag, but I found Karen Chaton's post to be helpful most recently.  I used a garbage bag to dump everything in at the OD in October and I was just lucky to have a friend who could take my unorganized crap to the vet check for me (thanks, Liz!), and I don't think that is going to be a good long-term solution.

So my plan is to start putting together the crew bag soon, so that by the time April rolls around, I'm totally prepared.  (That means about a week before Foxcatcher, I will panic when I realize I've done nothing and I will remember that I wrote this post, scramble to find it, and then frantically read Karen's post again, and hope I can get everything from Amazon.)

If anybody has a tip for something they can't live without in their crew bag, please let me know!  Or if there is a bag that you use that works really well to organize your stuff, I'd love a recommendation.  There don't seem to be many choices out there, so feedback on something that works well would be great:)

Monday, December 28, 2015

Unbranded

I've seen references to the movie, Unbranded, floating around on my Facebook feed for while now.  I didn't really know what it was about until yet another post about it showed up on my newsfeed today, and I realized it involved wild horses.  I have to admit that I was curious at that point, especially because I'm 95% certain that a wild horse adoption is in my reasonably near future.

I did a quick internet search and discovered that the movie was available on both iTunes and Netflix (or you can buy a physical copy from the film website linked above or Amazon or probably other places too).  I went ahead and watched it on Netflix because I had a brief interlude when nobody was in the house.  I really didn't have 2 hours to commit to watching a movie, but I'm glad I did.

If you haven't heard of the movie, it is essentially a documentary that follows four 20-something guys who decide to adopt some mustangs, train them for 4 months, and then ride for 3,000 miles from the Mexican border to the Canadian border.  With that plot, it could easily have been called "Sheer Stupidity" or "Dumb Things College-Age Guys Do."

However, the leader of this journey, Ben Masters, seems pretty serious about it, and it turns out that he spent a long time planning the route.  He also says that he wanted to make the film to help direct public attention to the plight of the mustangs, 50,000 of which are currently being held in captivity.  The movie is actually an intertwining of the journey of these four young men and information from both sides of the "What Should We Do with the Wild Horses?" debate.

It's a debate that interests me very much and one that I've kept tabs on since I first did a speech to persuade during high school for my Speech Club competitions (I managed to get 6th place at the State Championship meet).  My thoughts have changed a little over the years, but I will whole-heartedly and without reservation admit that I'm firmly on the side of the wild horses.  I know that the issue is probably more than black and white to some people and that the vast majority of people can't be bothered to care much, but how we manage wildlife of any species on public land should really be something that matters to everyone. 

For those that don't know, there is a Federal law called the Wild Horse and Burro Protection Act of 1971 that protects wild horses and burros on public lands.  This act also allows for the removal of "excess" animals, which are to be adopted out or humanely euthanized.  There is no provision for the continued care of the horses in private or public feedlots, which according to the movie, costs taxpayers $43 million a year.  (I do think later legislation does allow the confinement, but it was definitely not contemplated that so many horses would be considered "excess.")  Additional controversy can be found in what is considered the appropriate number of wild horses in any given area.  Ranchers who have purchased grazing rights for their cattle and other livestock believe that their animals should have a priority for grazing and horses who interfere with the grazing should be removed.  Wild horse advocates say that the target number of wild horses is too low and that any overstocking issues could be resolved by revoking or limiting grazing permits. 

The movie does a halfway decent job of presenting both points of view, but I would say that the BLM's arguments (supported by a veterinarian/rancher) are given greater weight.  And why wouldn't they be?  The BLM is the expert, right?  Crackpot activists like The Cloud Foundation can't possibly have a better understanding of how the land should be managed because they are too soft-hearted about the beautiful mustangs to know any better.  In case you missed it, that last sentence was totally sarcastic.  (In the interest of full disclosure, I donate regularly to The Cloud Foundation, which is an organization about as far from extreme and crackpot as I can imagine.  They are very respectful and encourage others to be as well and they spend a lot of resources educating people in addition to routinely filing lawsuits and even winning against government agencies, which is not something easily done.  And even if you're not into the advocacy thing, you need to watch the documentaries that filmmaker Ginger Kathrens did about the mustang stallion, Cloud, who is the namesake of the foundation.)

The thing is, I've been a Federal employee for a long time, since May 1999.  I've worked for two different agencies, and I've worn a lot of different hats.  I've been through multiple investigations conducted by the Office of Inspector General (an internal auditor something like the hated Internal Affairs of police departments, I suppose) and I've survived multiple administrations.  One thing that has always been consistent is how little most managers and political appointees know about how to run an agency (including complying with applicable laws and regulations), how little common sense they possess, and how much they like to use power and threats to ensure compliance with their wishes from their underlings.  That is not really an environment conducive to fostering positive outcomes.  Instead, all kinds of nonsense and even illegal behavior results. 

In an ideal world, OIG would swoop in (either in response to a whistle-blower complaint or just because they like to keep an eye on things) and identify the problems and taxpayers and Congress would be upset and browbeat the Federal agencies into behaving.  In reality, OIG reports are typically watered-down versions of the actual situation because the Federal agency weighs in prior to the publication of the report.  (How much of an effect the agency has can vary, but the fact that there is the possibility of influence over the final public report should tell you something about how clean and transparent the process is.)  Plus, most Federal employees are reluctant to report suspected wrongdoing because OIG either doesn't investigate the complaint or they will pay a price in terms of career advancement because the whistle-blower protection doesn't really help provide that much protection unless you're willing to spend several years in court after you lose your job.

If you do keep track of such things, though, you might remember that OIG recently issued a report on an investigation they did of BLM's wild horse adoption program.  Essentially, the investigation found that a buyer named Tom Davis sold about 1,700 "adopted" mustangs for slaughter, despite more than one law that forbids it.  And they found that the BLM was likely complicit in the activity.  Additionally, at least one veterinarian failed to properly inspect horses crossing state lines, which allowed lots and lots of freeze-branded mustangs to be shipped down to Mexico from Colorado for slaughter.  And finally, there was a potential relationship between Tom Davis and then Secretary of the Interior (the Federal Department in which the BLM resides), Ken Salazar.  Interestingly, the report indicates that the investigators backed off of that potential conflict of interest.  So, basically, a bunch of people had to be either really incompetent or directly conspiring with each other to break a Federal law.  No criminal charges were filed.

I bring this report up in hopes that I can back up my argument above that Federal agencies should not really be trusted to follow the law, or do the right thing or the best thing or to use common sense or to have compassion or even to be respectful of what Congress has labelled, "living symbols of the historic and pioneer spirit of the West."  Of course, perhaps the BLM could be forgiven for its desperate strategy to figure out how to get rid of the 50,000 horses it has in its care.  They cost a lot of money, they require a lot of effort to care for, and they are a constant reminder of how failed our strategy is for managing wild horses.  I guess it's better to dump the horses in feedlots than to humanely destroy them as the law requires?

Please understand that I think wild horses are among the most beautiful animals in the world.  I'll never forget when I first saw one of the Cloud documentaries and there was this magnificent palomino stallion who was unbelievably fit all without being shod or taking dressage lessons or eating grain.  He was confident and brilliant and I sobbed uncontrollably when the helicopters came to chase him down.  That horse and those like him are wild animals that become broken in confinement.  It is no different than putting humans in concentration camps.  To be honest, I'd rather see the wild horses slaughtered (or humanely destroyed) than see them stuck in pens for years.  At least the slaughter would be a quicker death.  And while I think the adoption program has merit, with so many horses, I can't imagine that it's easy to place them in good homes and I suspect that most people, even people who've owned horses for a long time, have trouble figuring out how to train them.  That said, many people, including endurance riders, swear by their mustangs, so I have hope that if I'm able to adopt one, I will achieve good results too, because the idea that I would perpetuate the misery of one of those fine animals is unbearable.

As for the carrying capacity of the land, I find it interesting that ranchers who own grazing permits are so outspoken about how the mustangs need to be kept to manageable levels.  One rancher in the movie almost brought me to tears with his description of the starving mustangs in his area as the camera focused on a skeleton in the dust.  As it turns out, later in the movie, that same rancher forcefully speaks about his frustration when he is told his grazing allowances have been reduced because the horses ate all the grass.  Apparently, he owes the bank millions (not hundreds, not thousands, not even hundreds of thousands, but millions) and how is he supposed to make his payments when his cows have nothing to eat?  I would argue that maybe he needs to find a new line of work.

While I am not uncaring about the plight of the small business owner or even business owners in general, I find it hard to be compassionate in this case.  Why?  Because the grazing occurs on public lands and the fees collected do not even begin to pay for the funds needed to manage the program.  Public lands should be used for a public purpose, not a private benefit.  While you might argue that you like to eat steak, so you get a benefit from the cattle that are fed using public lands, I would counter by saying that not everyone eats steak and of those who do, not everyone buys from ranchers who utilize the grazing permit program.  And, you're paying more than you think because you're footing the bill for the extra cost not paid for through the collection of grazing fees (as well as the maintenance of all the wild horses who get kicked out so there is grass for the cows).  So the real beneficiaries are the ranchers who get to take advantage of the program (not all ranchers can because permits are limited and there aren't public grasslands or range in every state).  That's a benefit for a pretty small group of people.

But, back to the movie.  I'll try to leave the important stuff out about the journey across the country to avoid spoilers for those who wish to watch it, but there are some very thought-provoking statements and imagery, both with respect to the mustangs and the management of public lands in general.  For example, at one point in their journey, Ben Masters points out that there is a private ranch that owns a section of land in a valley.  He contacts the ranch to see if he and his friends can ride through the ranch to avoid a 2,000 foot climb and an extra half day of riding because the ranch owns the good part of that area and the public land is the crazy rocks on a cliff.  The ranch declines to allow the riders through, so they end up doing the climb.  Of course, it is the ranch's right to restrict access, but I think Mr. Masters felt that there was a certain inequity to the way public and private lands were set up and brings up the point about which lands should be public versus private. 

Also, while there is an actual trail that supposedly goes from Mexico to Canada exclusively on public land, the trail was neither marked nor maintained and the riders had quite a few close calls as they tried to navigate their way.  It seems strange that something like that wouldn't be maintained because I can imagine that there are others out there who are slightly less adventurous who might want to hike or ride portions of the trail.  And they would probably pay money to do it...

Finally, I think the movie made me realize how differently I would approach training a mustang.  These horses were captured, hung out for awhile at a holding facility, were shipped with a bunch of other horses to a training facility where they got 30 days of cowboy breaking, then were trailered to the ranch where the riders would put another 90 days on them before being asked to go 3,000 miles over unmarked, unmaintained trails that included the Grand Canyon, leaping cactus, tunnels through mountains, crazy mud, precipices, rivers, suspension bridges, city streets (and drive-throughs), highways, forest fires, storms, and 4-wheelers that sound an awful lot like the helicopters that rounded them up in the first place.  If you want to know how ready these horses were for the ride, you'll get your answer within the first few minutes of the movie.  On the other hand, these horses did some pretty amazing things out on that trail.

Despite my misgivings about the way the mustangs were handled, it did appear that over time, they bonded with their riders and that their riders did care very much for them.  But there was a price that had to be paid for the journey and more than one horse paid it.  I think that is food for thought when it comes to assessing what we expect from our horses.

Overall, though, this movie gets 4 1/2 stars from me.  It was a compelling story with lots of drama, there was an educational/thought-provoking component, and the production quality was very high.  There was one point where all I could do was hold my breath and pray as one horse really struggled with a section of trail and there were other moments when I was screaming obscenities at the TV because of the stupidity coming out of someone's mouth.  It drew me in and had me wondering what would happen until a few minutes from the end.  So, if you get a chance to watch it, I think you'll enjoy it:)

Sunday, December 27, 2015

The Star Wheel Hackamore

I started riding in Zilco's flower hackamore a little over a year ago.  I started with that type of hackamore for two reasons:  it was inexpensive and it was recommended by Yvonne Welz over at The Horse's Hoof.  She mentioned it in an article and said that she believed the action of the wheel-type hackamores (e.g. flower hackamore) was very similar to a bit.  So I decided to give it a try.  And I've been very pleased with the results ever since.

Zilco's flower hackamore on my endurance bridle

I will say that I have to do two things differently than I did when I rode with a bit.  The first is that I have to use my hands together and ensure that I maintain equal pressure on both reins.  I would argue that is what I should have been doing anyway when riding with a bit, but because of the way bits work, I was able to cheat a little and get away with it.  Not so with the flower hackamore.  If I fail to provide at least approximately equal pressure on both reins, Nimo will immediately run through my aids and acts as if there is nothing on his head.  So, I'm pretty sure I'm a better rider now because of the way the hackamore works.

The second is that I can no longer wiggle my little finger to try to release Nimo's jaw.  I think that was probably a kind of cheat anyway, so it's for the best that my ability to use that wiggle is gone.  Now, if I want Nimo to relax his jaw (and by extension his poll), I had better be using my seat and legs effectively and working on suppling him through exercises.  So, again, I'm a better rider because of the hackamore.

When I originally started using the hackamore, I thought I might return to using a bit for dressage work.  As I mentioned in yesterday's post, Nimo made it clear that he would no longer accept a bit, so I became committed to doing dressage in the hackamore for the rest of Nimo's life.  But what if I want to show?  (Because I always have so much fun!  hahahaha...)  Well, as luck would have it, there is a dressage schooling show series at the barn I board at and the manager of the show allows bitless competitors.  And, she even places them.  As I have no dreams of wowing the USDF or the USEA or the FEI with my now improved riding, that works out pretty well.  I don't know that I will compete this coming year, but at least it's an option.

Anyway, I was getting tired of swapping out the hackamore between my endurance bridle and my dressage bridle.  So I wanted to get a second hackamore.  And that's when I happened to remember that there were more choices out there.  I figured why not try a slightly different hackamore just for the purposes of comparison?

I ultimately choose the Star Wheel Hackamore from The Horse's Hoof online shop.  It was one of the hackamores that Ms. Welz recommended and I liked the cleaner look to the wheels.  It doesn't have quite the same leverage option as the flower hackamore, but particularly for dressage work, I really don't need it.  Nimo is quite responsive without it.  Plus, it is quite reasonably priced.  I opted for the model with leather straps and neoprene on the noseband.

It arrived quickly and then it sat around my house for awhile because I ended up either doing conditioning rides or not riding at all.  After a couple weeks, though, I had a lesson, so I did what any responsible horse owner does.  I threw the hackamore in the truck with the intention of hooking it up to my headstall and reins once I got to the lesson:)  Luckily, it wasn't difficult to put on the headstall or adjust.  And the website is correct about the generous sizing.  I had a huge amount of excess chin strap, which was awesome for showing off how prepared I am for my lessons:)

My instructor has gotten used to me showing up with new and untried tack, though, so she was unphased.  In fact, she noticed the new hackamore right away and commented about how she liked it better than my old one because it seemed sturdier and more stable on Nimo's head.  And then I had my lesson.  And it was great.  There was literally no difference in Nimo's responses.  The transition to the new hackamore was completely seemless (except for the flapping chin strap which I later secured with yarn because I keep forgetting to look for spare leather keepers).

Here's a picture of the hackamore on Nimo:


Looking at the picture, I think I might adjust the straps a bit because I feel like the headstall is a little closer to Nimo's eye that I would like.  I'll play around with either lengthening the strap over the nose (and tightening the chin strap) or just shifting the headstall connection one ring back.

Anyway, I love this hackamore.  I agree with my instructor that it is a little heavier duty than the flower hackamore (both in terms of the thickness and width of the nose strap and the weight of the metal wheel).  For dressage work, I think this is a great hackamore.  The one thing I will point out is that Nimo has a pretty big head.  You might find that for small, fine-boned horses, this wheel will be too big and the flower hackamore or another wheel hackamore might work better.

For endurance, I plan to stick with the flower hackamore for now, but I am contemplating trying the s-hack simply because wheel hackamores like the ones I have do require that the noseband be pretty snug.  If the noseband isn't snug, the whole contraption is unstable on the horse's face.  One reason I like using a hackamore is to give Nimo a better environment to eat and drink on the trail.  While he doesn't need to do that in the arena, I'd like to try the s-hack to see if the looser noseband is more comfortable for him.  I don't think the s-hack would be as great for dressage work on contact, although I do know people who use it that way and like it.

What I love about the tack market now is that there are a lot of choices for people who want to ride bitless.  Each type of hackamore/noseband works a little differently, so you can experiment, just like you would with a bit, to find out what action/contact/leverage your horse prefers.

If you have a hackamore experience you'd like to share, please feel free to leave a comment.  I'm always interested in the perspectives of my readers because you often have insights I haven't thought of:)

Saturday, December 26, 2015

A Whole Bitless Better, revisited

A little over a year ago, I posted about how I decided to switch from using a bit for Nimo to using a hackamore (Zilco's flower hackamore, to be more specific).  In that post, I referred to the Behavior Profiling Questionnaire that is published by Dr. Cook, the patent holder for The Bitless Bridle.  The link to the questionnaire is broken on the U.S. page, but you can still pull it up on the UK version of the page at this link:  http://www.bitlessbridle.co.uk/docs/Bitless-Questionnaire.pdf.  I went through the questionnaire on October 4, 2014 and wrote my responses, and my plan was to revisit the survey in about a year to see if I noticed any changes.  One thing I realized when I did the survey the first time is that answering the questions results in a little bit of an eye-opening experience with regard to how well my horse moves and behaves.  It's a good thing overall, but some of the questions were a bit hard to answer.

So, I'm actually going through the survey (and my old responses) right now as I post and responding to the questions, with notes about changes one way or the other.  The one thing I'll mention, which I'm sure Dr. Cook would believe is relevant, is that I haven't tried Dr. Cook's Bitless Bridle yet.  I've been using Zilco's flower hackamore exclusively until a couple of months ago, when I purchased a slightly different kind of hackamore (I'll try to post about it tomorrow) that I use for dressage schooling.  Anyway, there are a lot of questions, so I recommend getting a good beverage before continuing!:)  And I've abbreviated the questions for space considerations, so you might want to read the actual questionnaire if this really interests you.

Management Problems Prior to Riding

1. Difficult to catch?  No.  Nimo has never been difficult to catch and he still isn't.  On days when we're trailering out, he does like to make me struggle through the mud to come get him, but he never moves away, and he typically comes when called.

2. Difficult to bridle?  A little.  When I used a bit in the bridle, Nimo would hold his head fairly high while I put the bit in his mouth (with no resistance) and then lower his head so I could finish putting the headstall over his ears.  With the hackamore, he doesn't lower his head anymore.  So, in a way, he's actually more difficult to bridle with the hackamore.

3. Difficult to unbridle?  No.  Nimo was easy to unbridle with the bit and he is the same with the hackamore.

4. Standoffish in stall or unfriendly?  No.  Nimo has never been anything but friendly in his stall.

5. Headshy, esp. for hosing or clipping?  Yes.  Nimo has always been reluctant to have his head hosed off and his ears clipped.  He tolerates both as long as I don't surprise him, but his behavior is the same both with the bit and with the hackamore.

6. Difficult to clean sheath?  No.  Nimo has always behaved well for sheath cleaning without tranquilizers.  No change between when he wore a bit and after wearing the hackamore.

7. Difficult to load in a trailer?  No.  I've never even really trained Nimo to load.  He just always has, from when he was a yearling to now.  He will get a little weird about it every so often and I need to use a lunge line to load him, but that idiosyncracy has been around for years, and based on the last few weeks where he started self-loading (without even being asked) when we haul another horse, I suspect he's trying to tell me he wants to be driven on to the trailer rather than walked on, but I'll explore that another time...

Problems That Make Riding Itself More Complicated, Difficult, or Dangerous

8. Difficult to mount?  Not really.  The questionnaire notes that moving off prematurely could be considered a difficulty, and Nimo does do that, but he started doing it when we started doing more trail riding, so I'm linking it to that rather than the bit.  I could definitely work on it with him to improve it, but it isn't getting worse, and it's not that big of a deal to me, so I'm leaving it alone for now.

9. Bucking or bounding, particularly in transition from trot to canter?  Nimo used to do a lot of bucking and he still likes to throw in the occasional crow-hop.  The intensity and frequency of the bucking is vastly reduced from his younger years and now it appears to be linked more to his back (e.g. I haven't warmed up enough) rather than part of a response to a spook.  However, I don't think any changes are related to the switch to the hackamore because he's been improving in this area gradually over years.

10. Rearing?  Nope, and I'm very thankful for that:)

11. Above the bit (e.g. head in the air, hollow-backed)?  Ummm, yeah.  This question surprised me a little because pretty much all horses move above the bit most of the time unless they are in specific training.  I think being above the bit has a lot to do with the training level of the horse, and not just what is (or isn't) in his mouth.  So, yes, Nimo moves above the bit quite a bit.  When we're doing dressage schooling, he moves more on-the-bit, but when he is out conditioning on the trail, I would never ask him for a specific frame other than balanced, which he is the vast majority of the time.  Even in the arena, he is allowed to move his head and neck to a place that is comfortable for him.  My goal is to worry far more about how well he is moving overall rather than focusing on head-set.  It's possible this question was meant to target more of a dangerous type of balance issue, which I do see a lot of in Arabs out on the endurance trails, where they get moving at speed and stick out their noses almost parallel to the ground, making them difficult to control, but I don't really know.

12. Behind the bit (e.g. overflexed or overbent)?  No.  Nimo has occasionally gone behind the bit during his training, but it's not very common and I can't say that I've noticed a difference in frequency or degree since using the hackamore.

13. Grabs the bit?  Never.

14. Hairtrigger response to aids, hypersensitive?  Ha!  Nope, never.  He has gotten more responsive over time, but the biggest influence on his responsiveness was using Jane Savoie's method of teaching aids, which involves deliberately sensitizing the horse to the aids in a clear way.

15. Atrial fibrillation?  I'd never heard of it before this questionnaire, and I found this site to be helpful in explaining it.  I guess I can't say for sure that it has never happened, but none of the vets have ever picked up on it at vet checks during endurance rides.  Of course, I switched to a hackamore just before our first ride, so I don't have a basis for comparison.

16. Lack of finesse in control, general unhappiness when exercised?  Nimo has always had a pretty good work ethic, although when all we did was relentlessly school in the arena with an exacting trainer, he definitely was less happy.  However, I changed that situation years before I started using a hackamore.  I will say, he does seem more motivated out on the trail, but I suspect that is due more to the time we've been working on it than on what his bridle is.

17. Lazy, dull, needs spurs?  The answer to this question was an unequivocal yes for a very long time.  I used to ride with both a whip and spurs until the last couple of years.  Now I ride with a whip only, and I need to use it much less than I used to.  I honestly don't know if the change is due to the hackamore or just the synergy of cross-training with dressage and conditioning on the trails.  If I had to guess, I would say it is more likely the latter, because if weather or my schedule precludes me from getting out on the trails for a couple of weeks (as it has recently), I will notice that he isn't quite as forward in the arena.

18. Unfocused, fidgety at work?  No, as I mentioned for #16, Nimo does have a good work ethic.  As long as I'm focused and paying attention, so is he.

19. Excessive sweating, hot and restless?  No.  Nimo is kind of the opposite, actually:)

20. Lack of progress or slow progress in response to training?  No.  Nimo is typically a quick learner, especially if I can provide challenges for him and keep him in regular work.

21. During endurance rides, refusal, reluctance or difficulty in eating or drinking adequately because of the physical presence/pain of the bit?  Ding, ding, ding!  Without question, using a hackamore made a dramatic difference in how much Nimo eats and drinks on the trail.  If for no other reason, this is why I continue to use a hackamore out on the trail.

22. Ear pinning at exercise, threatens other horses that come alongside?  Very rarely.  Nimo has pinned his ears and threatened a few horses over the years when we've been out on the trail and they get in his space.  He is almost always great about other horses in close quarters, but every once in a while, there is one that he just doesn't like or for whatever reason, he can't tolerate being right next to him or touching him.  That has been consistent for years, so I can't attribute it to a bit or hackamore.

23. Noisy flapping of lower lip at work?  No - I'm not even sure what that looks/sounds like...

24. Loss of appetite or inability to eat/drink as a result of bit-induced injury (e.g. abrasion, laceration of lips/gums)?  No - and I have to think that if this is going on, the rider/trainer takes a lot of the blame because I can't even imagine how a person would do that kind of damage.

25. Backing up to avoid the bit?  Nope.  In fact, Nimo struggles to back both under saddle on in-hand.  I think he has concerns about where his feet are going and he'd rather avoid backing unless absolutely necessary (i.e. a bear attack), but we're working on it.

26. Refusal to stand still, fidgeting?  Not unless he's being passed by horses on a ride:)  Nimo is perfectly happy to stand still as long as he knows he doesn't have to be somewhere else!

27. Impossible to exercise by ponying because of pain from a bitted bridle while being led?  I can't say for sure because I've never ponied Nimo.  And if I did, I'd probably do it in a halter.  However, from the ground, I haven't noticed any difference between being led in a bitted bridle versus a bitless bridle.

28. During arena or paddock exercise, repeatedly tries to head for the barn when passing the gate?  I've never had that problem.  In fact, I work with the arena gate open unless it has to be closed because someone else is riding or that's the way the arena works (the indoor I take lessons at needs to have the door closed, for example).  Nimo certainly knows where the gate is, but I consider it a serious training issue to have to wrestle around the gate, so I've always ridden with gates open and I always stop the ride at different places in the arena that are nowhere near the gate.

29. Multiple wrinkles around corner of mouth and nostrils, working or at rest?  I assume this is a tension-type of question?  I've never really seen a horse with what I'm envisioning as these kinds of wrinkles and Nimo's mouth and nose always seem smooth.

30. Uncooperative, regarding rider as a nag, not a "team-player?"  So this question doesn't make a lot of sense to me.  Maybe it's just looking for the rider's perception, but I've never really thought of riding as a "team" sport.  I think it's highly possible that Nimo thinks of me as a "nag" but he doesn't act like it and he works well for me.  That has not really changed in the last year.

31. Anxious expression in eye (e.g. you can see the whites of the eye)?  Not unless we're being chased by bears:)

32. Crossing the jaw?  Say what?  Horses can do that?  I'm going with a resounding "no" on this one.

33. Fracture of the peak of the nasal bone or the lower jaw as a result of overusing a mechanical hackamore?  Wow.  That has never happened to Nimo, although I've never ridden him in a mechanical hackamore, nor did it happen to the one horse I did ride in a fairly severe mechanical hackamore when I was eleven and he used to run away with me.  I can't imagine the force necessary to break a horse's nose or jaw, and I never want to know.

Facial Neuralgia

34. Head-shaking, head-tossing, nose-flipping (mainly during exercise and the summer)?  Not unless we're being bombarded by gnats or horse-flies.  I have seen the behavior in a couple of other horses and it seemed that in at least one case, one of those extended nose-length fly masks was the solution.  I can see how an ill-fitting bit or bridle could cause the problem, though.  And I do know a lady who has a horse diagnosed with the head-shaking disease.  She has repeatedly mentioned that she thinks the bit aggravates the horse, yet she continues to ride in a bit...

35. Vertical head-shaking when at rest in the field or stall?  Nope.

36. Wriggling or flipping the upper lip, partial closure of the nostril when at work?  Uh, no.  I'm not sure how a horse even does that.

37. Rubbing muzzle during exercise or at rest?  I'm going to say yes on this one.  Nimo does it occasionally, particularly if we've had a hot, difficult ride, or a long ride.  That behavior has remained about the same in intensity and duration so I can't say that a bit or lack of one has influenced it.

38. Dropping nose to the ground or even rubbing it on the ground during exercise?  Nimo has always been a big fan of long and low work in the arena because it requires less balance.  That said, as his training level has increased, his desire to carry his head as low as possible has decreased.  My answer to this question a year ago was a definite yes.  Today, I would say that while the desire to carry his head low is still there, it is much less.  Whether that is due to an advancement of his training or the hackamore, I couldn't say, though.

39. Rubbing nose on ground when stationary?  Nope.

40. Sneezing and snorting?  This is an interesting one.  I wrote last year about a particular dressage lesson with a bit where Nimo just started forcefully snorting over and over.  I still remember it.  Since then, I have noticed that when our lesson work gets quite extreme (which is actually not that often), Nimo will start to snort forcefully, although never to the degree of that lesson over a year ago.  I would generally consider more relaxed snorting to be a sign of tension release and I actually look for it during our warm up.  I often won't move on to trotting until Nimo has gently snorted a few times.  So, I'm going with a yes on this question, but I can't link the response to a bit or no bit with any certainty.

41. Yawning when putting the bridle on or during or after exercise? Last year, I wrote that Nimo often yawns after I take his bridle off.  Now, I would say that he sometimes yawns when I take the bridle off.  I have never noticed any yawning when bridling or during riding, though.  Yawning, much like snorting, is something I would consider to be a sign of releasing tension.  So, I guess yawning after a hard work-out doesn't seem like such a terrible thing, but I can see that an ill-fitting bridle could cause stress that doesn't need to be caused.

42. Burping during exercise as a result of wind-sucking?  Nope.

43. Rapid and noisy blinking and/or hypersensitivity to light?  No.

44. Grazing on the fly, grabbing at trees, or biting at the rider's leg or his/her flank while at work?  Nimo hasn't ever done any of these behaviors in the context that I think they are meant.  He will grab bites of grass when we're out on the trail, but I actually encourage him to do that to a certain degree.  And he typically stops to eat.  He has never bitten at my legs or his flank, though.  My guess is that they might be signs of digestive distress unless your horse is an endurance horse:)

45. Particularly difficult on windy days, in bright sunlight, in the rain, or near trees?  No.  Nimo is actually pretty steady regardless of the weather, and he'll even work for me in a blizzard or a hurricane...

46. After exercise, tries to bit at shank of hackamore, rider's leg, or other horses?  Nope.

47. Watery eyes and nasal discharge after a head-tossing during exercise?  Nope.

48. Coughing at the start of exercise or during head-shaking?  No.

49. Horizontal or rotary head-shaking (like a dog with an ear infection)?  Never.

50. Twitching of the cheek muscle?  I have seen Nimo twitch his cheek muscle a few times during his life span.  I can't say that I've seen it recently, though.

Breathing Difficulties, Mostly Caused by Airway Obstruction

51. Open mouth, or "gaping" when wearing a bit?  Yes.  I do have a couple of photos, one from when Nimo was 4 at his breed inspection and another from last year's dressage competition, that show Nimo's mouth open while wearing a bit.  Of the pictures I have with Nimo wearing a hackamore, none show his mouth open.

52. Bit-induced poll flexion obstructs the airway at the throat?  I'm not sure about this one.  I've never had anyone mention it, but I have heard Nimo grunting during dressage lessons when flexed.  I don't believe he was hyperflexed in those cases and I thought the grunting was related to the work, but I really don't know for sure.  Nimo does seem to grunt less with the hackamore and the sound is a little different.

53. Tongue behind the bit, swallowing the tongue?  No.

54. Tongue over the bit?  No.

55. Thick-winded, "roaring" caused by displacement of the soft palate?  I don't think so (see # 52) because the grunting I mentioned above occurs quite rarely.

56. Dorsal displacement of the soft palate (e.g. gurgling, gagging, coughing)?  No.

57. Epiglottal entrapment?  In case you're like me and have no idea what this is, check out this link.  It seems to be more common for racehorses, and based on the clinical signs, I'm going with a No answer.

58. Throat obstruction leads to dynamic collapse of larynx and windpipe, and structural deformity of the windpipe?  No, and that sounds awful.

59. Exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhage?  No.

60. Explosive coughing at exercise?  No.

61. Hiccups, thumps (e.g. from stress, insufficient drinking on a trail ride, diuresis)?  I would not have categorized hiccups and thumps in the same question, so maybe hiccups mean something else in England?  Anyway, thankfully, Nimo has not had any issue with thumps on our rides.  And, no hiccups either.

Problems Caused by Direct Physical Trauma to the Mouth

62. Sores, cuts, chafes, or loss of pigment at the corners of the mouth?  None.

63. Bruising of the bars, bleeding from the mouth?  No.

64. Loss of appetite after exercise due to a sore mouth?  No.

65. Dropping food from the mouth because it is sore?  No.

66. Ulcers inside of mouth due to sharp teeth?  No - in fact, Nimo is seen by a dentist quite regularly so I know the inside of his mouth is healthy.

67. Bone spurs on the bars of the mouth?  No.

68. Putting bit between his teeth?  No.

69. Compound fracture to the lower jaw as a result of the horse stepping on loose reins or a rider falling on them?  No.

70. Star fracture on the bars of the mouth followed by bone death and some other nasty-sounding crap?  No.

71a.  Amputation of tongue?  No.

71b. Front third of tongue turns purple and back of tongue swells due to double bridle or tongue-tie?  Dear God, no!

Other Problems Affecting the Mouth in Particular

72. Hates the bit, chomping, chewing, fussy, busy mouth?  No, although typically softly "chewing the bit is considered a good thing in dressage.  After reading this questionnaire, I kind of wonder about that, though.  Nimo typically had a fairly quiet mouth with a bit and he continues to with the hackamore.

73. Tongue-lolling, sticking tongue out during exercise?  No.

74. Pulling on the bit, hard-mouthed, especially when headed toward home?  Well, my biggest problem with this was after I switched Nimo to a hackamore.  On our first endurance ride, he was an absolute dragon for the first 9 miles and the pulling was astronomical.  That was pretty much a one-time situation, though.  He has settled quite a bit since then, although he can still be strong on a ride.  In my mind it is a training issue that we are gradually resolving as we get more experience.

75. Salivates excessively at exercise, drooling and slobbering?  Not really.  Nimo rarely had a lot of lather at his mouth during our rides with a bit, and I always thought that meant I wasn't doing something right.  As it turns out, maybe all that drool that dressage riders and trainers are often so proud of isn't as good as they thought.  That said, I have seen small amounts of froth occasionally when I ride with the hackamore, but I wouldn't consider it excessive.  Excessive to me means the dressage horses that you sometimes see (usually at higher levels) whose spit is flinging everywhere and all over their legs and chest.  So, I'm going to say maybe a little change here, but not a lot.

Problems That Interfere, Especially with a Horse's Stride

76. Stiff-necked, lock-jawed, reluctant to flex at the poll?  Totally Nimo both with a bit and without it.  He carries a ton of tension in his poll and jaw and has for a very long time.  I do both Masterson Method massage as well as exercises under saddle and they help, but we still have a ways to go.

77. Short or choppy stride?  Sure, sometimes.  Particularly when we're warming up, it will take Nimo a few minutes of trotting to stretch out and relax.  That has been the same both with a bit and a hackamore.

78. Incoordination (e.g.. looks like EPM)?  I would say that a horse that looks that uncoordinated should not be ridden, but I actually know someone who at least for several years rode a horse like that under instruction from a former trainer of mine.  I can't say what was going on there, but it was not a good situation.  Luckily, while Nimo is not always the most graceful, he does manage not to fall down or move with that level of lack of coordination:)

79. Tilts head or refuses to keep head facing line of travel?  I've actually had Nimo do this both in the arena and out on the trail with a bit and with a hackamore on a fairly regular basis.  I think it is related to a lack of balance in the arena and a fear of bears out on the trail.  I think it occurs with less frequency now, but I suspect that is more due to training than from switching to a hackamore.

80. Stumbling, accompanied by sluggishness or lack of desire to work?  Not really.  Nimo can be a little lazy about picking up his feet, particularly in the arena, but work over cavaletti and tiny fences has really helped.

81. Lacking in confidence, not forward, refuses jumps, lacking hind-end impulsion?  A year ago, I wrote a resounding yes to this question.  Today, I see a huge improvement.  We definitely have more work to do, but Nimo's confidence is so much better now.  He will lead on trails, he's forward, even in the arena, and the only jump he's refused was really too big for him.  I can's say the change is due to the hackamore, though.  I think the more miles we get on the trail, the more confident he gets.

82. Heavy on the forehand, leaning on the bit, low-headed?  I wrote yes a year ago, and I still remember how heavy in my hands Nimo was.  When I switched to the hackamore, he  actually got heavier for awhile, but over time, he got lighter and lighter, and it is now rare for him to lean into the bridle.  It's anyone's guess, though, as to whether that is due to more training or the hackamore.

83. Difficult to steer in one or both directions or to travel straight?  Nimo can be lop-sided.  For example, today, he was stiff to the right in the trot and stiff to the left in the canter during my lesson.  He does have a tendency to lean on one or the other shoulder and that really hasn't changed after switching to the hackamore.

84. Fatigue or airway obstruction at speed that leads to a fall and broken leg?  Definitely no.  And we never go anywhere "at speed" unless Nimo thinks we are being chased by a bear, in which case I wholly support his decision.

85. Breakdowns (from premature fatigue triggered by bit-induced shortness of breath)?  No.

86. Jigging, prancing, rushing when required to walk?  It depends.  When on a long rein, Nimo walks quite well.  On contact, though, he often will initially jack his head up, shorten his stride, and become incredibly crooked.  I attribute this response to poor instruction during his earlier years and my current instructor is helping me work Nimo out of what was essentially a habit.  He's getting better, but it is a fairly recent occurrence and unlikely to be correlated with the use of the hackamore.

87. Refusal or inability to rein-back.  Inability to back in a straight line?  Yep.  This has been a problem for a long time.  It still is.  Again, I think it is due to not working on it for so long, although Nimo is also very cautious about where he puts his feet, so that is a factor too.  We are working on it in small doses now, but any improvement is unlikely due to the hackamore.

88. Tail clamping?  I honestly don't know.  In pictures I have of Nimo riding, his tail seems relaxed, but I'm not sure I would notice if it was clamped.

89. Excessive poll flexion results in the horse not seeing well and "running blind?"  No.

90. Pig-rooting, head-diving, snatching reins out of rider's hands?  Last year, I gave a big yes answer.  Now, I would say it is rare.  However, Nimo has intermittently had that behavior his whole riding life, and it worsens when I don't ride much and gets better when I ride consistently.  Last year, I was focused on endurance and wasn't doing a lot of dressage schooling.  Whereas, now my riding is more weighted toward dressage schooling.  So, I can't rule out the hackamore as an influence, but experience tells me the more likely reason is more regular schooling sessions.

91. Tying-up?  No.

92. Tail-swishing or wringing, particularly when asked to canter or rein-back?  I don't know.  I don't feel like there is, but I'm not sure I would know if there was.

93. Refusal or reluctance to change leads or to lead on one particular leg?  Last year I wrote that Nimo had difficulty picking up the left lead.  Based on today's lesson, he is still having some difficulty with that lead, but I think Nimo tends to swap sides fairly regularly in terms of which lead is more difficult, which is actually a good thing.  So, it may just be coincidence that his left lead is more difficult now.  It is something that I will pay more attention to, though.

94. Dragging toes of hind feet?  Last year I answered yes, and I would say that Nimo does still have a bit of difficulty picking up his hind feet and really articulating his hocks.  As I mentioned above, though, work over cavaletti seems to have helped quite a bit.

95. Reluctance to maintain canter, including sudden stopping at canter?  Yes last year and yes now.  Canter has always been incredibly difficult for Nimo and while he has made leaps and bounds of improvement, he has a long way to go!

96. Running into or close to objects to dislodge the rider?  Thankfully, no.  Even with all of our issues, Nimo has never tried to rub me off:)

97.  Back problems?  Not to my knowledge.  I work hard to keep his saddles fitted and so far, so good!

98. Crooked traveling, hind hoof prints tracking 10-18" off of front hoof prints?  You know, Nimo does travel a bit crooked (he tends to move in a slight haunches-in in the arena), but nothing like 10-18".  I don't think the crookedness has changed much in the past year, though.

99a.  Head-tossing that causes bone spur formation on back of skull and intermittent "hopping" during work?  No.

99b. Development of ewe-neck and inappropriate muscling from high head carriage?  Nope.

100. False collection producing cramps in jaw, neck, shoulder, back, and haunches?  No.

Causes of Sudden Death

101. Rearing over backwards and breaking its skull or neck?  No.

102. Severe episode of pulmonary bleeding causing fatal asphyxia?  No.

103. Bit-induced partial asphyxia leads to death through injury?  No.

104. Bit induced partial asphyxia leads to fatigue and breakdown and then euthanasia?  No.

Effect of All of the Above on Rider

105. Self-evaluation of riding skills as "poor?"  Oh, so, so many times!  But much less now, I think.  In fact, I even commented after my lesson today that it went so fast, I was surprised we were done.  I had definitely had a work-out, but no more gasping for air, no more vision going black, no more calf cramps.  Enough has improved over the past year or so that riding is not as hard for me as it used to be and I no longer am down on myself if things don't go right.  I doubt the hackamore caused that change in feeling, but I do think the more I educate myself and the more confident Nimo and I become out on the trail, the better I feel about my riding.

106. Development of frustration with apparent inability to master art of equitation?  The old me said yes.  The new me is grateful for a wonderful instructor who is positive and supportive instead of being negative and nit-picking.  I think that has make a huge difference.

107. A burgeoning annoyance bordering on anger with the horse?  Again, the old me said yes.  But now, I rarely get annoyed with Nimo (except when he coats himself with mud like he did today).  I have a much healthier attitude about riding.

108. An increasing reluctance to exercise horse (e.g. making excuses)?  I admit that I still do lack motivation sometimes, but it is less because of my doubts about my abilities and more because, you know, I have a million things to do that compete with each other for priority.  Overall, though, this is a problem I had well before I even thought about endurance riding and I suspect it plagues most riders from time to time.

109. Loss of harmony between horse and rider?  Last year I wrote that Nimo and I struggle to be in sync all the time.  Now, I would say we have mostly good moments.  There are times when things don't work out, but those good moments are more frequent than ever.

110. Riding ceases to give the rider (or horse) pleasure?  Not anymore.  There was a time many years ago when I thought I might have to sell Nimo because I hated riding him, but changing barns and trainers and taking control of my learning helped fix that problem well before the bit to hackamore switch.

111. Loss of confidence, fear of riding, wanting to give up riding altogether?  Last year, I was particularly afraid of falling off.  Guess what?  I fell off twice this year, and I lived.  Neither time was pleasant, but the first time especially took care of my fear.  I fell hard and I fell on my head, and I was still OK.  While I wish I could have done without the falls, maybe there was a reason for them in the Grand Scheme of Things:)

112. Decision to sell a horse and buy a different one that seems more suitable?  No, although I do have plans to buy two more...:)

113. Economic embarrassment at doomed attempts to treat problems by means other than the removal of their cause?  I'm not really sure what this means?  If it means that I buy a lot of crap for my horse, then I do have to answer yes.  But I don't really suffer any embarrassment from my purchases:)

114. Personal injury?  OK, yes.  But see #111 - I'm not sure it is as bad as it sounds...

Whew!  We made it!  Or maybe just I did:)  If you made it too, thanks for sticking with me! That was a vast amount of questions.  And to be honest, after going through them all again, I can still only attribute one positive change with absolute certainty to the hackamore and that is Nimo's improved eating and drinking on the trail.  That is the initial reason I wanted to try the hackamore and it is a great reason to keep using it.  The other changes may be due in part to the hackamore, but I suspect most of them are related more to my continued growth as a horsewoman and Nimo's continued improvement and confidence out on the trails.  I like knowing that I'm educating myself and trying new things to make Nimo's life better.  I do believe that the bit in my hands is probably not the best thing.  I don't have the world's quietest hands or the best position and I think a hackamore is probably better for someone like me. 

While I can't rule out using a bit again, I will say that Nimo is the deciding factor.  I once tried to put his old bit in his mouth a few months ago because I'd forgotten my hackamore at home.  Nimo HATED it!  He didn't want to open his mouth and he fussed the whole ride.  So that was enough for me.  I don't need a questionnaire to tell me that I need to use a hackamore.  I know every rider and every horse has different preferences and experiences, so as before, it isn't my intention to convince you to stop using a bit if you currently ride with one.  I do think the questionnaire is thought-provoking, but as you saw, switching to a hackamore didn't solve all my/Nimo's problems.  Now, maybe if I used Dr. Cook's bridle, I would see a greater improvement, so my next step is to do just that.  Use Dr. Cook's bridle.  My hope is to be able to try it for several months and compare it with what I currently use and see what Nimo prefers and whether we see additional improvement.

But first, I plan to tell you all about the new hackamore I've started using...tomorrow...after my fingers no longer want to wilt off of my hands:)

Friday, December 25, 2015

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Gemma's Christmas Eve Ride

I had originally planned to take Gemma out to the barn on Christmas to ride, but possible thunderstorms and rain made me rethink that plan.  Both my husband and I worked half-days today and my Christmas stuff was pretty much done (with the exception of what will probably be a late-night assembly tonight...), so we decided to go out to the barn all together.  (Gemma also said it would be the best Christmas present ever if only she could ride Nimo, so how was I supposed to argue with that?) 

Mike took the pictures while I worked with Gemma and Nimo.  First, we had to hose Nimo's legs off so the weight of the mud wouldn't pull him down during the ride.  Then, we had to scrub the mud off the rest of him and get him presentable for pictures.  Finally, after what seemed like ages, he was ready.  (I've been cleaning my house for the past several days and I admit that dirt removal in any form is vaguely repulsive at this point.)

Gemma got on first because she likes to ride from the barn to the arena (why walk when you can ride, is her motto).
Nimo is only walking, but I like how it looks like they are zooming!


The required pose in the arena

Then, I got on too.

Gemma insisted that we do some "jumping"
My husband decided to get creative with the camera:)
And just for comparison, this was Gemma's very first ride on Nimo in December 2013:

I love seeing how things have changed since then!
I hope all of you are settling in for a lovely holiday!:)

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Back on Track Hock Boots, initial thoughts

You may remember that I ordered several Back on Track products earlier this month.  One of the products was a pair of hock boots.  I haven't really noticed any specific hock issues, but he is 13 years old, so I know that arthritis is always a possibility.  As a possible alternative to supplements or injections (if he should ever develop severe discomfort), I thought these boots might be handy to have around.

We've been having bizarrely warm weather this month, but we did have more seasonable temperatures about a week ago, so I took the opportunity to give these boots a try.  I admit that I didn't measure Nimo for them - I just ordered the large size based on the general guidelines from the BOT website.  I think the large was a good choice.  I could get the boots almost closed in front, and they seemed to fit well overall.



I've never used anything like this on Nimo, so he was a bit surprised and peeved about me putting them on (he doesn't like having his hind legs messed with, so his reaction wasn't necessarily unexpected).  He kind of reminded me of my old dog, Murphy, when I first put boots on his paws to protect them from all the ice-melting chemicals the apartment complex was using on the sidewalks.  Each time I put a boot on one of Murphy's feet, he would hold the foot as high up in the air as he could.  Well, it turns out he couldn't balance on one leg, so eventually he had to experiment with putting weight on his feet.  He did get used to them after a while, but the first few times I put the boots on were quite amusing:)

Anyway, after I put the first boot on Nimo, he held his leg up in the air (which was no small feat given his size) and tried to dislodge the boot.  After a couple of minutes, he reluctantly agreed to put his hoof back on the ground, so I could put the other boot on.  And again, he fussed by lifting his leg and shaking it.

I gave him some space (plus he had lots of good hay to eat), and let him work through it on his own.  Then I groomed him and saddled him up to ride.  I think I had the boots on about 20 minutes before I took them off for the ride.  After the ride, I put the boots back on to continue the desensitization process.  I left them on while I took Nimo's tack off and fed him a post-ride mash.  Again, the boots were probably on for about 20 minutes.

My original plan had been to put the boots on when I am trailering for a ride or lesson, but I think I'm going to have to do at least a couple more sessions at the barn before I use them in the trailer.  I don't want Nimo fussing with them when he is in the trailer or starting to associate something annoying with being trailered.

That said, I think the boots have possibilities.  They fit well and seemed to be well-made.  I wasn't able to test how well they stay on with movement because Nimo really only walked a few steps in them (and there was a moment where he tried to insist he could not back up while he was wearing them...).  I don't think I'd feel comfortable leaving them on overnight, though, because Nimo is turned out all the time and if one did work loose, I would never find it in all the mud:)

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Pinterest for Schooling Patterns

Because of the whole land purchase thing, I've been spending waaaaayyyyyy too much time on Pinterest.  Mostly I was checking out barns, mud management, arenas, and fencing, but I stumbled across some schooling patterns that I thought looked pretty good.  The source I most commonly saw was www.TheDigitalHorse.com.  I headed over to the website to check it out, but I discovered the main purpose is to help improve dressage scores through some kind of membership plan.  There was a blog, but I wasn't able to quickly find the exercises I had seen in Pinterest.  So, I think the best way to find them is to do a search in Pinterest for "thedigitalhorse.com."  Here is a screenshot of what came up on my computer:


I also found searches like "dressage schooling" to yield similar results.  So if you're looking for a way to perk up your arena work over the winter, I highly recommend checking out Pinterest (except for, you know, don't get addicted like me, and have to charge your phone twice in one day because you've been spending so much time on it...).

Happy schooling!

Monday, December 21, 2015

Nimo's Future Home, final part

After closing on the 5-acre lot, I turned my attention to shepherding the process for purchasing the one-acre lot.  A big reason I had hired an attorney was because I didn't feel that I had the time to closely monitor deadlines and processes.  I also hoped to get good legal advice if an issue arose.

But it didn't really work out that way.  I suspect what happened is that the attorney was over-committed.  He should have told me that he couldn't accept a new client during my consultation, but for whatever reason, he chose not to.  The result was that his office was constantly behind on where they should have been.

For those who haven't bought property before, a title search is really the first thing that should be done once the purchase contract is ratified (signed by both parties).  In Virginia, the title search shouldn't take much more than a week unless there are issues.  So when, more than 2 weeks passed and we didn't have a title search back, I was concerned.

I was also concerned because initially I'd planned to do the title search, then the survey.  That way, we wouldn't have to pay for what is a significant expense in the event that the results of the title search precluded us from purchasing the property.  However, I also wanted the survey done prior to the end of our 30-day study period.  So I ended up calling the attorney's office and requesting that the survey be done before we had the results of the title search in hopes that both would come back in good shape.

So I waited, and I waited, and I waited.  Over a week passed and nothing.  So I called the attorney's office again.  I was told no survey had been ordered.  I admit that at that point, I lost it, particularly after the assistant I spoke to tried to blame it on me.  Her point was that I'd originally requested that the survey be done after the title search, which is totally standard.  My point was that I'd specifically called to change my request because of the timing issue with the title search AND I'D BEEN TOLD THE SURVEY WAS ORDERED.  There is no excuse for that kind of lack of attention to a client's interests.  Let me be clear, by not keeping track of the study period deadline and failing to advise me that there was a timing issue, my attorney failed to adequately represent me.  Anyway, while I neither yelled nor swore (both of which I consider to be among my life's greatest achievements), I did really get after the assistant (by her own words, the processing and ordering of the title search and survey were her primary responsibility, so I felt justified that I wasn't just going after the messenger).

Things were better in terms of communication for several days after that, but it didn't last long.  We ended up once again having to decide whether to ask the seller for an extension to the study period or committing to closing without having the survey done (the title search did come in and showed that the title was clear of any legal defects).  At that point, we knew the five-acre survey from 1947 had been extremely accurate and there was quite a bit of room for error if the one-acre survey came back with deviations.  So we decided to go forward.

The survey came back about a week later, and it offered us our first glimpse at both properties.  Now that both properties were marked, we could figure out where the five-acre property was and use the right to access the one-acre lot as part of our purchase contract to walk the actual ground of what we had bought and planned to buy.  So, the Sunday after Thanksgiving, we took a little trip and this is what we saw:


View from the one-acre lot into the five-acre lot, which is wooded
View from the back of the one-acre lot towards the road
My husband and dog in the five-acre lot
The five-acre lot on a different day showing the density of debris
It was kind of exciting at that point, because now all that was left was to schedule the closing.  Sigh...Once again, I needed to be constantly nagging my attorney's office to first get in touch with the seller to set a date and time and then get a copy of the settlement sheet (often called a HUD statement).  The assistant assured me that I could schedule the closing in as little as two days, but I didn't believer her, given her past performance.  We were anxious to get to closing, but I wanted to make sure there was enough time for everything to be taken care of prior to the date.  I didn't want to have everyone show up and certain things not be done.

So we planned for a closing of December 18.  Everything came together well (because I nagged, not because the assistant was competent) and finally the morning of closing arrived.  My husband had gone into work for a few hours and would be meeting me there.  I took the day off because my day doesn't start until
9 and I needed to leave at 9:45.  My hope was that the timing would allow us (and the sellers) to avoid the worst of rush hour traffic because we needed to head into old-town Alexandria, which is just south of DC and a true nightmare to drive in, regardless of the time of day.

Those of you with young children will understand - getting out the door on time is like an exercise in futility.  It really shouldn't be that hard, particularly because Gemma isn't a baby anymore, but somehow, we ended up rushing out the door.  And as we did, two things happened simultaneously.  Gemma fell down the concrete steps in front of our house and I dropped my keys.  I rescued Gemma, who was thankfully not hurt, and then I tried to rescue my keys, which were very badly injured.  The key fob had come apart and all of the components were scattered all over the ground.  Luckily I grew up back when there were no electronic devices to unlock cars, so I still remembered how to use the key to unlock the door.  I got everybody and everything in the car, and then it finally occurred to me that something could still go wrong.

I remember saying to my dad when we first made the offer on the five-acre lot that I had a good feeling about the deal and that I thought it would all work out.  i don't know where that came from.  I never have good feelings about anything.  I have bad feelings about everything.  I always assume that things that can go wrong will.  And that people lie and misbehave and that life isn't fair.  But throughout the entirety of this process, I believed that things would work out.  It was still stressful and aggravating, but that was largely because I was having trouble getting people to do what I wanted, when I wanted it, how I wanted it (which is kind of a constant theme in my life, so I'm used to it). 

So when Gemma fell and my keys broke, it was like a wake-up call to my brain to go back to its pessimistic way of thinking.  I started thinking about how the traffic could be horrifying on Beltway or there could be an accident.  What if WE had an accident?  What if my husband or the sellers had an accident en route?  What if the assistant had lied to me about the sellers confirming the closing date?  What if the sellers just didn't show up?  What if some idiot mass shooter or bomber threatened the area and shut down all the roads?

Deep breath...To spare you the further tedious details of the inner workings of my brain, let me just tell you that traffic was great all the way into Alexandria, where it slowed to a frustrating, but typical, crawl, and everyone made it to the closing in one healthy, happy piece:)

The closing was so ridiculously uneventful and easy.  Once again, there were no lenders involved, so it basically took 20 minutes, including pleasant chatting.  And that was it (assuming the attorney files the deed with the county in a timely manner, which I will be checking on daily!).

We now own 6 acres of mostly wooded land that sits on soil that doesn't drain well.  And it makes me very happy.  I know that the process of developing the property will be burdensome, frustrating, and make me want to throw myself into a bog to be eaten by feral pigs, but it will be worth it in the end.  There is something very inspiring about taking raw land and molding it into something productive.  And my husband and I are lucky to have things like chain saws and trucks to assist us.  Also professional contractors and loggers for the jobs that are too much for us to tackle:)

Here is sort of a crude rendition of what the whole six acres looks like:


The shape combined with county regulations will mean that we don't have a lot of choices for how we lay things out, but it is still exciting to be thinking about how to plan the site.  The doing will be quite challenging, I think, but we've come to look at the property as more than just a place for Nimo (he'll need at least 2 buddies!).  There are so many possibilities:  a garden, an orchard, a mini Christmas tree farm (to keep me from feeling sorry for the sad looking trees in the field and bringing them home and attempting to decorate them), animals other than horses, and maybe someday, even a house (like one of those nifty log cabin kits I keep exclaiming over on Pinterest!).

And thankfully I have the right kind of experience for taking on what seems like an overwhelming process.  If I can condition a Friesian to successfully complete 25 miles, I can do anything:)

I expect to post fairly often about how things are going, and there will be a new page on the blog (called something really creative like, "Farm") where I will organize the links to blog posts as well as some resources in case anyone comes along and is thinking about going through a similar process.  My first steps are to: 1) get an address, 2) get a permit for an entrance, 3) brush hog the front acre and start assessing the plants and soil, and 4) start thinning the wooded section so we can get from the front of the property to the back of the property without needing a machete.

I hope you've enjoyed my tale and I can't wait to share how things progress over the next year or so!