Training and AOT

A lesson in Bit Converters

When you’re an AOT, you should always, and I do mean ALWAYS be open to learning new things and to hearing others opinions and experiences.  Not everything works for everyone, and not everything works for every horse.  But having an arsenal of different things to try is definitely a good thing.  I feel blessed to know a few trainers who are willing to help me when I have questions.  This past weekend, I had the opportunity to go watch and learn from one of them.  Trainer Blair Cecil of Phoenix Farms, my AOT hat goes off to you and your awesomeness!

The lesson?  Bit converters. I confess, I bought a pair of these in August 2017 and I haven’t so much as snapped them to a single thing.  Yes, that’s been 5 months ago. No, I’m not afraid to admit my lack of confidence on things I know nothing about. Hence why I started asking questions, to learn from others!

What is a Bit Converter?  A bit converter is, as the name states, a contraption that “converts” two bits into one.  It allows you to line/jog a horse in a full bridle (two bits) using just one set of lines, making 2 bits usable as one.  The photo shows this on a short shank pelham bit, not a 2 bit weymouth style that we normally use in saddleseat, but the same general concept applies.

Bit Converter

Why do this?  My horse, like many others, is SO much happier when only ridden one, maybe two times a week.  He loves to jog, which is terrific for his back end, building muscle, and conditioning.  BUT, when you can only ride a few times a week, it’s difficult to log much time in a full bridle.  Without wearing a full bridle often, it’s difficult to get them completely comfortable wearing it.  As explained to me by Blair, using the converters in a lining/jogging situation is a lot more forgiving than riding.  Here’s why:  When you ride, there’s a lot more going on.  Your seat, how you shift your weight, your leg aids, how good your hands are, how much you’re in or not in their mouth, how you hold two sets of reins, and what kind of pressure you put on each.  Not to mention the stress on their backs from carrying a rider every single day on top of everything going on in their mouth.  All of that is removed when you line/jog using these bit converters.  The horse gets used to wearing the bits without all the stress from every day riding.

Equipment Needed:  Surcingle (with or without crupper), martingale (optional), full bridle (use the bridle/bits your horse is used to wearing), long lines, and 1 set of bit converters.  Oh, and if you use a lunge whip for lining, that too!

How to:  I wish I would have taken pictures.  When I attempt this with Fiz, I’ll definitely update.  Until then, I’ll do the best I can to describe everything.  So here goes. (NOW UPDATED WITH PICS!!! Yayyyyyyy!!!!)

Apply all the equipment as usual.  Tie reins for the bridle in a knot and attach them to the top of the surcingle using string, a double ended snap, whatever you’ve got, so they don’t just flop all around and get tangled in the rest of the equipment.  Or I guess you could remove them if you wanted to, your choice. To attach the bit converters, attach one snap to each bit on both sides of the bridle.  Running your lines:  Here’s where you’ll find there are different configuration options, which I never even thought of before visiting Blair! I promise to update with photos once it’s not so frozen outside and I can start working Fiz again!

  1. Run the lines through the converter ring and to the snaffle. This is where you should start with introducing your horse to the converter and lining in a full bridle.  The curb will be in their mouth, but basically it’s just there, with no pressure on it.IMG_20180121_1352572.  Run the lines through the converter and attach it to the curb. This puts pressure only on the curb bit. This seems better suited for a horse who is BROKE to the curb. IMG_20180121_140318.jpg
  2. Run the lines and attach to the ring on the converter. This puts pressure on both bits.                                                                IMG_20180121_140403
  3. All of the above configurations can be done running the lines through a martingale or not using a martingale. It’s up to your preference and what you and your horse are used to using.
    1. Adjusting the converter: If you have purchased a set of bit converters, they should come with some kind of adjustment holes, so you can adjust how much pressure goes to each bit.  Naturally, if you want even pressure, adjust them to the same length.  If you want more pressure on the snaffle for example, loosen the end going to the curb.  Proper adjustment for the horse you are working is the key to success.

Here’s a video of me lining Fizzy in the first configuration.

Fizzy Long Lining – Full Bridle

 

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Let’s Just Throw This Away

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Yep, in the trash right along with all our hopes and dreams for how this summer was “supposed” to go.

Ok, so let’s be honest here.  There are times when your life and nothing in it goes as planned.  There are times as an AOT that it’s a struggle to justify how and why you do this.  There are times when you feel like everything you’ve worked so hard for is so far out of reach that there’s not a snowballs chance in hell you’ll ever get there.  This summer has been that.

We officially closed out the summer with one horse show in the books, our smallest to date since the summer we began showing in 2014.  This, after we’d planned to go to many events (conventional and not) aspiring toward a breed ambassador award with the American Saddlebred registry, to say the least was highly disappointing.  I’m no genius, but I’m fairly confident that no awards are to be given for one less than stellar show and nothing else the entire year.

Shoes have been pulled as of last weekend (10-1).  This means that 100%, we’re not going to another show this year.  That’s disappointing to say the least, as we’d really hoped to make good progress this year after finding what we think is the perfect bit combination for his show bridle.  I was looking so much forward to getting in the show ring and trying it out, but alas, no such luck.  Since Fiz pretty much destroyed his ride (our trailer) going to and from our first show (see the fun on that post here), that had taken out the rest of the season for us.  He still has no ride to date, as it’s still getting worked on.  Slowly but surely?  I guess that’s a thing that patient people say to keep faith that what they’re waiting on will one day come.  I wouldn’t really know, I am not a patient person.

Anyway, back to the point.  There are times when you truly might feel like giving up is the best option and you may ask yourself over and over, “Why do I put myself through this?”  You may also say things like “it’s easier not to have to pack for shows” or “maybe we should just trail ride instead” among other things.  But then, THEN… by the grace of God and everything holy you remember yourself.  You remember your horse. You remember why you started this journey, what it meant to you in the beginning, and you remember, YOU deserve better.  You deserve a chance to see what you can do, what your horse can do.  Damn the details, you deserve the satisfaction of “We did it” whatever version of success you see for yourself and your horse.

So, the show book might be going in the trash at the end of THIS show season, but that doesn’t mean we don’t get another year.  That doesn’t mean we don’t get to try again.  That doesn’t mean we can’t redefine and keep redefining our definition of success. That doesn’t mean we can’t still create goals, and take steps toward reaching them, no matter how far in the future they may be from being met.  That doesn’t mean there’s only one path.  We make our own path, and we are allowed to do whatever it takes to carve that path.  We can crawl, walk, jog, or run, or any combination of those things.  Just because we’re crawling right now doesn’t mean we can’t run tomorrow. I’m probably not even making sense anymore, so here’s this piece of advice:

goals

On that note, I guess I’ll stop and just share some photos from the last few months.

The Catching Games

Ok, so I’m going to share a secret with our readers, and anyone else who may stumble across our little blog.  Our beloved Fizzy, yes, this absolutely adorable little face that we rave about and praise most of the time. Yeah.  He’s a jerk.  Really, I mean it.

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On and off for the last few years, we’ve had problems with catching him in his field. It got so bad he actually turned and kicked at us, and there was a time that he ran AT me, ears pinned and everything… and I’d had enough.  It had to stop.  All of it.  He’s got a large field, about an acre or so.  Now, imagine trying to catch a horse on that much land when he decides he doesn’t want to have a halter put on.  Are you picturing lots of inappropriate and offensive words?  If you are, that would be about accurate.  So, let me tell you our story, and all about how we (think) we have remedied this issue.

For a good while, we put band aids on the problem because it was just easier, and quite frankly we didn’t know how to address and fix the real problem.  The band aid was, make him wear a leather breakaway halter 24/7.  It was, lure him with food and distract him while you sneak another halter on as you search for the destroyed one in the field.  It was cry because you couldn’t work him that day.  It was letting him win, over and over, leaving the barn upset because you failed… again.   Let me tell you a secret.  Those band aids?  They always fall off, eventually.  Then, you’re back to square one.  Band-Aids don’t work.  Let me repeat that again for good measure.  Band-Aids. DO. NOT. Work.

So, you ask, what does work?  Well, I’ll tell you what worked for us.  There will be a short summary at the bottom for those that don’t feel like reading our story, so scroll on down if you’re short on time, but read our story if you want all the good stuff!  Good old fashioned ground work and exercises in respect (and of the cardiovascular kind) is what ultimately works.  I’m sure all the natural horsemanship people out there knew about something often referred to as “join up” or something like that.  Well, I didn’t know squat about how to achieve this, until the day I did with the help of our boarding facility owner. And let me just say, it was epic.  I wish there was video evidence of this epic battle, that I eventually won!  It would surely have all of you laughing (probably at my expense) but hey, it’s worth it!

Here’s how it went down. I prepared myself as instructed with his halter, lead attached, and a long lunge whip, and I marched out to the field ready for battle.  Halter in my right hand, whip on the ground.  As instructed, I walked toward him calmly, speaking the word “whoa” in a very firm voice, giving him an initial opportunity to submit to my demand.  As expected, the little turd looked at me, saw the halter, and the game of wits began as he turned to trot away. As instructed, I began cracking the whip, chasing him.  Smacking it at him, on him, in his direction, whatever I could do to keep him moving.  If he thought running away was a good idea, I made it my idea to make him run.  If he wanted to stop, I didn’t let him stop.   Keep chasing, keep running:  Do. NOT. Stop.

Not until YOU want to, that is.  When I wanted to stop, I stopped.  I was told to lay the whip on the ground as to not appear threatening, and give him a chance again with the “whoa” as I approached.  If he stood, I kept walking forward, repeating the word “whoa” in a very firm voice.  When he would step away or turn to walk/run away, the game began again and I went after him.  3 or four times, this happened over a period of about 45 minutes.  Are you laughing yet?  Looking back on it, I am… I am sure we were hilarious.  My less than totally in shape self, chasing a much more fit to run horse around a gigantic field, flailing my arms and the whip around and yelling at him “get out of here” and all sorts of other things to make him move.

Finally, that moment came.  He was out of breath, I was out of breath, but the “whoa” worked, and he didn’t try again to run.  As directed, I approached him from the side at about his neck (never went toward his face) and used the lead rope first to go up under his neck and around, as to make a sort-of lasso, instead of going straight for his head with the halter.  Then, while keeping a tight grip on my “lasso” with my body facing the same direction as his (so basically my behind to his chest) put my hand up around his head, brought the halter up to his face.  He didn’t run.  THANK God, Sweet Baby Jesus, and everything Holy because I was tired of chasing him!

Then, much to his dismay, we went up to the barn and prepared for a session in the jog cart.  He was worked for another 25 minutes, while I sat on my butt in the cart!  He worked nicely, well behaved as usual, but I swear I thought by the end of it he was going to fall over he was so tired!  Then, I cooled him out and turned him back out, removing the halter.  There was no praise, no treats, nothing at all in the way of encouragement.

Next day, I walked out to the field prepared for battle again, but to my surprise, he only THOUGHT about running.  I could see it in his face, the wheels were a turnin! But, followed the “lasso” protocol, and he was caught.  This happened days 2-6, and each day he got lots of praise and treats for giving me no problems getting the halter on.  Then on that 7th day-It was NOT a day of rest.  This horse is so backwards! So, back to battle we went! However, I only had to chase him about ten minutes this time before he decided it was not a clever idea anymore.  No treats, no praise… just marched up to the barn, got ready, and worked.  No treats for working.  Nothing.  Not even a “good boy” voiced in his direction.  Day 8 rolled around and it was back to letting me catch him, treats, praise, etc.  Day 9, 10, 11, and so on… all good to go.  It’s been 34 days now since Day 1.  I haven’t been out EVERY one of those days, but I have been out MOST of them.  2 of those days were a battle (Day 1 and Day 7), and the other days have so far been GOOD. Even the day after we went to a horse show!

So, have we ripped off the band aid?  I think so!  He doesn’t wear a halter.  There hasn’t been a day since day 1 that I went out with the intention of working him that I haven’t worked him, and there certainly hasn’t been a day I cried because I didn’t know what to do.  So, if anyone out there has a horse they can’t catch, I can attest that this method has worked for us.  Eventually, they will get tired.  Eventually, they will give up.  You just can’t give up before they do!  DO NOT get intimidated.  Stand your ground and show your dominance as the “herd leader” and let it be known that they are to follow your commands, not the other way around.  As always though, stay safe!

As promised, you’ll find below 10 steps to happier catching.

  1. Give the horse a chance to be caught without issue.  Walk toward their SIDE, not their FACE, and firmly and calmly say “WHOA” as you walk up.
  2. If/when they run, make him keep moving. Use a lunge whip, your voice, whatever you need to do.  DO NOT let them stop when they wants to stop.  ONLY stop when YOU want him to.  Also, do not allow a change of direction, unless it is your idea.
  3. Give them a chance to be caught when YOU decide to stop. Make sure you drop your whip or anything else that could be seen as scary.  Remember, horses are flight animals and they flee in the face of danger. (YOU and your contraptions, whip, halter, lead, etc are the “danger” here) Again, walk toward the side, not the head, and firmly say “WHOA”
  4. If they move AWAY from you, make them move again, and do not let them stop again until you want them to. If they move TOWARD you, and in a calm manner, that is OK.
  5. CAUTION: Keep in mind the body language horses use.  Ears forward means they are interested, and OK with what you are doing.  Ears pinned back, not so much, so use good judgement.  If they are pawing the ground, they are trying to assert THEIR dominance.  Make them run, asserting yours.  There is potential they could run AT you.  Use your whip to deter them, but be cautious and use good sense to avoid getting hurt.  The point of this exercise is to establish yourself as the “herd leader” so that they understand they are to follow your commands, not the other way around.
  6. When they allow you up next to them, use the lead rope and go up under the neck and around, making a “lasso” around their neck. THEN with one hand on their head, use your other hand to bring the halter up around their head.
  7. NO TREATS and NO PRAISE if they make you work to catch them.
  8. If and when they let you catch them, give them all the treats and praise you want. Eventually, they will come to understand it is easier on them NOT to run, and they will always choose the easier way.
  9. At first, you have to be persistent and do this every day until you establish that dominance. If you’re lucky and you have a smart horse, it won’t be long before you’re back in charge. If you have a very stubborn horse, it may take a little longer! Be patient and keep trying until you win.
  10. Happy Catching Games, may the odds be ever in your favor!

Overcoming “Obstacles”

Anyone that knows me knows I truly despise cold weather with every fiber of my being.  I imagine hell to be mounds of snow, not fire and brimstone but who am I to question the bible?  Anyway… since we decided to pull Fiz’s shoes and it’s gotten colder outside, we have not really been doing a whole lot, but we have still been learning and overcoming obstacles.  Or running through them, whatever your definition of the word “overcome” encompasses.

So in this post I’m going to talk about the water obstacle.  Following our big successes lately with tarp training, I got this brilliant idea that Fizzy should learn to go through water calmly at home under controlled conditions rather than out on a trail in the middle of nowhere.  Well, what I learned is that no matter how much “control” you think you can have in the comforts of “home” and an indoor arena, you simply cannot control a horse’s reaction to things they have not done before.

Let me give you a little back story. This horse is a pig.  And by that I mean he will find the ONLY wet spot in the pasture to roll around in or stomp around in as to get himself as dirty as possible.  But god forbid you ask him to step in the only puddle around if you’re leading him.  He will avoid it like the plague and even more so if you’re saddled up and riding.  WHAT IS THIS NONSENSE????  How much sense does that actually make??  Horses…

 horsesees

Anyway, so I got permission from the barn owner to set this contraption up in the indoor arena and I went forth with confidence that my execution couldn’t have been better in building this obstacle.  I brought Fizzy to the arena to introduce him to my handiwork only to find that he was not nearly as impressed as I was with my ingenious build.  We couldn’t even walk near it, Fizzy snubbed it completely.  It was complete garbage, and he was above acknowledging its existence.  I was so disappointed that he didn’t find it as glorious as I did. I am also disappointed that I did not snap any photos of my incredibly awesome obstacle in all its glory.  Here’s the jist of what it looked like and how it was made:

 obstacle1

Anyway, my Momma didn’t raise a quitter, so I just kept at it and finally Fizzy decided to try and shut me up by stepping in.  You would have thought I had asked him to step into shark infested waters, because he went flying backwards at the splash of water that his hoof produced and proceeded to snort and blow in that direction for the next several minutes.

Since I had put a saddle on him prior to bringing him into the arena, with the intent of eventually riding him (calmly, you know, walking like a sane normal horse) through the water obstacle, I decided maybe I could better encourage him from his back.  Yeah… well, he had other ideas about what was appropriate.  My encouragement produced a horse that charged through the water obstacle like he was riding into a war zone.  I mean, REALLY?  Is that necessary?  Whatever makes you happy Fizzy.  But at the end of the day, he DID do what I asked and he went through the obstacle.  Not with the calmness I would have liked, but he went in his own way, and he did it because I asked him to.  I can’t ask for anything more than that.

After all was said and done, he was still a happy horse in his new trail riding gear, which I did get a photo of.

fizzy

Cavallo Simple Boots: An Initial Review

First and foremost, I am in no way, shape, or form paid by or affiliated with this company, nor did anyone give me any incentives to review these boots.  I did my own research, and decided on this purchase due to the good price of these in comparison to other brands, plus the reviews I read on the internet (which, lets be honest, you can’t always trust).

Short version:

Cavallo Simple Boot is well constructed, easy to apply, and immediately helped Fizzy walk across rocks like he still had shoes on 10 days after having them removed.  They stayed on at a walk, trot, canter, and gallop, and did not twist or turn.  I look forward to using them a while and writing another review!

Long version:

Let’s backtrack for a minute and let me explain what led us to the decision of purchasing hoof boots to begin with.  If you read our blog, you read about the shoe throwing incident on the day from hell a few weeks ago.  If not, that story:  Just Stay Home!  Well, the farrier could not get out to reapply the shoe, and Fizzy managed to destroy that hoof in the two weeks it was off.  We had planned on one more show this year, but did not want to put the shoe back on a shorter hoof, just to pull all 4 shoes less than a month later.  We decided to go ahead and pull all 4 shoes, and let him go barefoot until spring.  However, he is very uncomfortable walking on rocks, as we also shared, and seems not as comfortable even in the arena as he was with shoes on.  It’s now 10 days after the shoe removal, and it’s obvious it will be a long process to get him comfortable being barefoot.  To aid in this and allow us to keep working him lightly and maybe even go on a few more trail rides, we decided to try the boots because, well, we will do anything to make our horse happy and comfortable.  That plus the cost of them is less than one shoeing for 4 hooves!  Since our plan is to keep him barefoot until April, we’ve got 7 months ahead of us.

So, I ordered the Cavallo Simple Boot via Amazon Prime (sold by Cavallo Inc) in a size 2 Friday night after measuring using the tool they had provided on their website www.cavallo-inc.com.  First of all, it was VERY easy to measure using this tool, and if you know even the slightest teeny tiny little bit about horses you can use this tool.  The boots and also the pastern wraps (purchased separately) had come by Sunday.  Oh the joys of amazon prime and 2 day shipping especially as a horse owner, but that’s another conversation.

Anyway, I was excited as a kid on Christmas morning opening up my (Fizzy’s) new boots! They even sent me a free hoofpick and another free gift (some digital info on barefoot trimming that is very informative). From here on out, I will probably refer to these boots as his “Nikes” because they are indeed comparable to a tennis shoe for horses. They came in a box very similar to a shoe box human shoes come in, too!  Upon initial inspection, I can tell in their new state that the boots are well constructed, sturdy, and to me very interesting looking contraptions! They appear easy to apply, so I head on over to the barn to give them a go. I wish I had taken photos and video of him actually wearing them, but I was a little bit pressed for time and wanted to pay him the attention he needed while I was there.  I promise I will provide more photos at a later date, and also intend on doing a follow up review after using them for a while.

Putting them on was not hard, once I figured it out. I’ll admit,  I might be slightly slow with new things I’ve never seen before.  I proceeded to put on the pastern wraps first. Of course I read the directions! (Those of you who don’t know me, understand this is the first thing I normally throw away). Yes, I will admit I tried to put them on upside down, then felt really dumb after I actually DID read the instructions. I felt dumb again after I put the first boot on the wrong hoof and didn’t realize it until I went to latch it.  I share these mishaps with you all because it does us all good to be able to laugh at ourselves at times.  Anyway, once I got them on the correct hooves, and all latched up, I took Fizzy to the arena (across the rocky driveway at the barn) and could immediately tell a difference in his level of comfort vs. having nothing on his feet.  Praise Jesus! Because watching him walk on rocks barefoot as it is right now makes me want to cry.

We did some free lunging at a walk, trot, canter, and Fizzy’s personal favorite, the uncontrolled gallop.  They stayed on at all speeds!  They stayed latched and didn’t twist or turn.  So far, so good and I am impressed!  I look forward to using them to work and hopefully trail ride him some this fall, and then I will update with another review of how they performed doing those things.  So far, I love them for what we purchased them for and would recommend them to a friend. I feel like if Fizzy could speak, he’d recommend them to a friend too, because he seems to feel like a million bucks wearing them on rough ground vs not wearing them.

Check out the video of Fizzy wearing the boots!

Cavallo Simple Boots Video

 

Scratches, AGAIN

Every year, without fail and without warning, this crap pops up on Fizzy’s leg(s).  The first time, we had no idea what it was as we had never seen anything like it before.  So, to try and help any readers we may get from the frustration of this crazy stuff, here’s an explanation of what it is and how to get rid of it.

Scratches is also called greasy heel, mud fever, dew poisoning, or in more technical terms, pastern dermatitis or pastern folliculitis. Anyway, it’s some sort of nasty fungus that happens when the conditions a horse lives in are muddy, wet, etc. It seems to be worse when there is repeated wetting/drying of the legs.  Horses that live in fields are prone to it since overnight can get dewy (dew poisoning) and then during the daytime the field dries out. Even more prone to it are white legs.  Lucky Fizzy, he has 3 white legs!!

Early on, it might just look like some kind of liquid/gel on your horses leg(s) and if detected early, will be no big deal.  The earlier you begin treatment, the easier it is to treat.  As it progresses, it will look like scabbing, and it can be very sensitive to the touch and in bad cases even cause lameness.  Avoid picking at it, trust me on this one.  I tried to “wash” it off the first time Fizzy had it, and that did not turn out very well and he was very uncomfortable.  I feel like a bad mommy because I didn’t know any better.

Some recommend you have it diagnosed by a veterinarian and receive anything from antibiotics, antifungals, to steroids… I know, I can see the dollar signs too.  However, THERE IS HOPE!!  I’m here to tell you (and save you some major money) that you don’t necessarily need that for this junk to go away.  However, if you try my method and it’s just not working, then by all means, you need to call a vet.

Anyway, I remembered to get a few photos this time since the last few years I did not.  I was at the barn Wednesday morning, did not go Thursday morning, and showed up Friday morning to picture #1, below.  This tells you how fast this stuff can pop up. I always groom Fizzy’s legs (and use polo wraps/splint boots) so there’s no way I would not have noticed this Wednesday.

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I immediately knew what it was as we had dealt with it before, so I began to treat it with what I am going to call my miracle mix.  Yes, you will get funny looks buying these items together at the department store or pharmacy.  Yes, your horse is worth any humiliation you might experience.  #1, Bordreaux’s Butt Paste, I buy the larger tube size in maximum strength, with 40% zinc as this is the active ingredient. I assume generic diaper rash cream might work, but I like using the best of the best with the 40% zinc. #2. Jock Itch Cream. These are usually in small tubes like .5oz, I buy 3 or 4 of them in a generic brand because they all basically have the same ingredients.  #3. Triple Antibiotic, again, small tubes in 1 oz, I’ll buy one or two in the generic store brand.  Mix it all up, and there you have it: Miracle Mix. I keep it in tupperware at the barn, and it’s held up and kept well til I need it.  I always have it on hand so I can begin treating this immediately when I notice it.  That way, it doesn’t spread.

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Put it on the affected area, and leave it alone.  Because we really have no other option, we have to turn Fiz back out, so he goes into the field with this on.  Apply it daily (or as much as you can) and the scabs will start falling off.  Keep applying until the scabs are gone and the area starts growing hair back.  If after seeral days to a week, the scabs persist, please call a vet and get some more serious treatment for your horse.  However, this is the treatment that has worked without fail for us on Fizzy every time for the last 3 years.

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I didn’t take a photo after the first day, this is after the 3rd day of treatment.  As you can see, the scabbing is going away but still present.

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Below is after a week, and not treating every single day.  Only a small amount of scabbing remains.  I keep putting it over the entire area anyway, just as a precaution.

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His first case was VERY bad.  I only have a photo of the spot after it had begun healing. As you can see, this area is much more largely affected than the above, because we didn’t know how to treat it and it spread.  Once we began treating it with the cream I talked about above, it looked like the below photo within 2 weeks.

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Keeping Up the Good Work-Cantering Continued

So I realize that I haven’t posted much in the training and AOT category since we updated on Fiz’s month of boot camp with a professional trainer.  So, here I am to give some updates.  Here goes.

Let me just say first and foremost, since starting this AOT journey I have found a new respect for trainers who make a living out of caring for and teaching other people’s horses how to behave.  It is, in a word, DIFFICULT.  To elaborate on that, to care for a very large and complicated animal, and teach it to behave in an appropriate way no matter where you take it, is an undertaking not for the faint at heart.  When we started this journey three years ago, I thought “It can’t be THAT hard.” Well, I am here to tell you now, that I was completely, in every sense of the word, WRONG.  IT IS HARD.  Very, very hard.  It is time consuming, and at times, life consuming.  You give up a lot.  You work harder than you thought you knew how.  You make difficult decisions, hell, you make EVERY decision.  You lose sleep.  You face challenges and you fight an uphill battle.  You set goals.  Sometimes you meet them, sometimes you work harder and try again next time. You have to be stubborn, determined, DEDICATED.  You have to push through, even in the times where you feel you’re getting no where.  For the sake of your horse and sometimes even your own sanity, you push through.  On top of all of that, as an AOT, you still have to go to work at some random full time job. So in many ways, we have it even more difficult than actual trainers do, since they spend all day every day focusing on just the horses.

Anyway, off the soap box of how difficult the “trainer” role is, the last two months have been going pretty dang good.  What Fiz learned at boot camp was a fantastic base for furthering his education and I can’t be happier with the results we got from spending a small fortune on one month.  I talked about everything he learned in a previous post, so you can go back and read about it in case you missed that.  We have been using the jog cart a lot more.  So much more that the poor $200 thing is falling apart.  I’ve had a slew of issues lately with that (do professional trainers have these same things happen, or is it just me?)  Over the last month, the dash has fallen off the cart twice, the tug fell off the harness once, the traces can’t seem to figure out how to stay on (the keepers are messed up), and there was also one fateful morning of the tire explosion.  Poor Fizzy has been more than patient with me and all of the crazy things.  He keeps coming in day after day happy to work, also regardless of the oddball hours I show up to work him!

In using the jog cart more though, we’ve come up with some very clear signaling to help with our cantering problems.  If you’ve been following our journey, you know by now that this horse is a difficult one to get “correct” at the canter.  He anticipates the takeoff, then gets all mixed up, has a BIG takeoff, and if you get out of sorts as the rider, he gets out of sorts too.   So we’ve been working on cantering in the jog cart hoping the voice signals and more work will help with his “mix ups” cantering.

Since one of the key things Fizzy learned with the professional was how to push up to the bridle and go faster without breaking into the next gait, we didn’t want to ruin that.  So, whenever we ask him to move on and extend the trot in the cart, the whip always taps him on the top of his butt.  The voice signal is always a cluck, and if you feel him getting off, a “whoop trot” is in order.  He listens to that because we have said it enough he knows what it means.  When signaling for the canter, I will slightly turn his head to the rail (this is by no means a big signal, it’s just a tiny bit) and say “ready…. CANTER” and then tap him on his HIP if he doesn’t take off cantering. The “ready…canter” tip came from one of Smith Lilly’s DVD’s on training, and the “ready” part is intended to prepare them mentally for what we are about to ask, and to separate it from a “Whoop Trot” very easily. 95% of the time using this method, he takes off on the correct lead.  And since he’s so smart, he now tries taking off when I say “ready…” so I might have to drop that.  However, I do my best not to allow him to take off before I ask him to by saying the word “canter”.

I’ve been riding him less, but when I do ride him, I ride harder, and I ask for more than I used to.  Since we don’t ride as much, I can do this.  If I were riding every day, I wouldn’t be able to ask for as much all the time, as that would cause issues such as back soreness, etc. It’s more difficult for a horse to carry a rider than it is for them to pull a cart, but pulling a cart helps build the muscle necessary to carry a rider more easily.  You want to make sure you balance their workouts, the same as people do.  Don’t make them perform the same tasks every day, or work the same muscle groups.  They get bored doing the same things, just like people do.  This can cause them to act out, so change up the routine and keep it interesting.  Don’t be afraid to try new things.

 

 

Update on Fiz’s training!

Fiz has been at a professional trainer since March 25th. He’s there almost through the end of April. There have been some big changes in his life during this time period. He is used to living in a pasture, and only coming in to work, then going back out. He lives in a stall the majority of the time at the trainers place. He is used to being worked only about 4 days a week. He is getting worked 6 days a week at the trainer. He’s used to amateurs who fly by the seat of their pants and lack professional training knowledge. Now he’s being worked by a professional who has a clearly defined training method and structure.

Today, April 14th, he’s been with the trainer for about 2.5 weeks. I got to ride him for the first time since he has been there. Cindy rode him on Saturday, and had a really great ride. I would like to talk about some of the things I noticed with her ride, and some of the things I learned during mine. I will also talk about some of the training advice we have gotten and how it differs from the ideas we previously had.

First, let me say this. He is much improved in several areas. Below, I’ll take you through the gaits and what advice has been offered for each.

#1, The Walk
Flat, straight, and patient. Make him walk straight up into the corners and make the arena square. Make his shoulders and his hips walk inline with each other, and make sure as you are walking to push him up to the bridle so he has to take ahold of it. Do not pull. Hands steady, and in the same spot. When he takes hold, give. Just a small release of your fingers, but keep pushing with your leg making him walk up to the bit.

#2, The Trot
A country pleasure horse needs 2 trots. The pleasure trot and extended trot. We knew this, but previously Fiz would get mad when he was asked to go faster and he would break into a canter without ever actually going faster. It’s better to have only one speed than have to break, so that’s what we used to do.  A pleasure trot needs to have energy, it needs to cover ground, but it also needs to save room for max trotting speed at the extended trot. Same principles apply as the walk, use a lot of leg, push him to the bridle and make him take hold as he moves forward. Music to my non-equitation body type and mind frame was, let your legs hit him in the sides and even flop around on him some. Apply pressure, keep him moving forward and pushing from the hind end. He is expected to move from the back to the front, pushing off his hind to give his front momentum. Always keep the whip right against his shoulder.

When you ask for the extended trot, cluck, then squeeze (don’t kick) and if he doesn’t move on, give a slight tap with the whip on his shoulder. Not a whack, a TAP. If that doesn’t do it, growl at him and tap again. He has learned that he has to move on and not break into the canter. That doesn’t mean he will never break. If he does, don’t stop! Keep cantering. Teach him that it’s more work to do the wrong thing than the right. Rest assured, he will find his trot after enough of making him go and go, and you will find the sweet spot where you have hit max trotting speed before he has to canter. If you really want to find good separation, work him at a pleasure trot, then extended trot, and bring him back down to a pleasure trot. Even if just for one rail, you try to find that max speed, really ask him to step up, then come back down to the pleasure trot. Keep the energy and the go forward all the time. Do not forget about contact with his mouth (keep this in mind at all gaits) and do not forget that reward of giving when he takes a hold on his bridle and moves on forward. Always give him that reward.

#3, The Canter.
His canter cues are more clearly defined and he is learning the expectation for getting and keeping the correct lead both directions of the ring. Previously, we thought each time he took it wrong, we should stop and ask again until he got it right. This method had taught him if he does it wrong, he gets to quit. The new method is, no matter which way he takes it, do not let him stop. Make him GO. And go, and go some more. Teach him that just because he does something wrong, he does not get to stop and quit. He’s working no matter what he does, and again, it’s going to be harder when he does it wrong.

The canter cue needs to be very clear. A slight turn of the head (bring the rail rein straight back and at the same time give with the inside rein with a release of your fingers), rail leg, and SPEAK the word “Canter” to him. Speak the word EVERY TIME you ask for the canter. Do not be afraid to be vocal. IF he runs sideways when you turn to canter, DO NOT let him canter. This is unacceptable behavior that will be punished by forcing him back to the rail and to walk straight, and patiently, until he is asked again for the canter with the clear signal. This could mean setting him up to canter multiple times, but never allowing him to actually take off. Set up to canter and then go back to straight walking forward on the rail until he doesn’t get all sideways and crooked. Then maybe trot. Do anything else so he loses the train of thought to anticipate cantering.

When cantering, he is capable of cantering SLOW.  Take back on the upward motion, and give on the downward motion.  Give and take, constantly.  And still, SAY the word CANTER, or make a “kiss” sound to him.  Make him canter straight, and do not let him swing his back end to the middle, because this makes it easier for him to swap leads.  If anything, turn his head more toward the middle so it makes it more difficult for him to swap leads or fall out of the canter.  When he does it right, don’t push the issue or make him keep on going. Maybe one or two trips around is good, then quit on a good note.  Remember, make it EASIER to do the RIGHT thing.

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Bottom line is, he’s going to make mistakes. The most important thing is to teach him that it’s easier on him to do right than to do wrong. Bad behavior is punished by harder work. Good behavior is rewarded by giving (releasing your fingers) in the bridle and getting to be finished sooner because he did everything you asked and he did it correctly.

Always ask yourself the question: “Am I training or am I un-training?” and if you are not certain, it’s probably the latter. If you can answer that you are training, follow up with “What is this teaching him?” and as long as you are happy with what it is teaching, stick with it. If you’re not, change it up. Think ahead, have a plan, and execute that plan.
Another thing we’ve been taught is that he needs to jog. And jog, and jog, and jog. The more fit he is (which is accomplished by miles and miles in the jog cart) the easier it is going to be for him to do the right things, the easier it will be for him to be able to willingly go forward and move on. We can’t ask him to run a marathon when he’s been working as a sprinter.

Check out this video clip after his first week of training.

A Short Video from Professional Training

Knowing When to Ask For Help

As an AOT, sometimes it gets hard.  Really hard.  Sometimes you lose hope, and want to give up.  There will be people who are discouraging and who want to see you fail, as with anything you do in life.  But also as with anything you do in life, you can choose how to handle these types of situations, and you can choose the people in your life that you listen to.  Those should be people who support your choices, who encourage you to keep going, to live, to learn, to take your mistakes with a grain of salt and do better next time.  That’s who you need to have around.  It takes an army, and we are lucky to have the support and encouragement of many wonderful people, as I have stated in this blog before.

That said, you also need to know when you should ask for help.  I am definitely not above asking questions to whoever will listen to me, and whoever is willing to give me advice.  There comes a point in time where you may have run out of answers, and where the challenge(s) you are facing exceed your experience and/or ability.  For the sake of your horse, your sanity, and the well being of everyone involved, you owe it to yourself to seek professional help.  I admit that I struggle with seeing this in a good light, and that I struggle to remind myself that it is not a failure.  That asking for help means you are wise enough to know the limits of your knowledge and experience, and smart enough to reach out to a professional who has the background and experience to help you and your horse succeed.  It is certainly not a failure to get a well qualified individual involved to help you evaluate, to direct you, and help you form a plan for the future.

We have been lucky thus far, nearly 3 years into ownership of our special horse that he has been so versatile, so willing, so tolerant of our mistakes.  But at this point, we owe it to him and to ourselves to see what more he can do.  We owe it to ourselves to put ourselves out there, to learn from someone with more experience, and to apply what they teach us in our AOT adventure.  We owe it to ourselves to grow as horsewomen, and soak up as much knowledge as we can from whoever is willing to teach us, and I for one can’t wait for the next chapter of our story to unfold and see where we end up.

I hope you’re ready for your 30 day professional evaluation Fizzy.  I know you are capable of much, much more and I can’t wait to see how you surprise us next! 20160308_050024[1]

When Patience Wears Thin

I have heard time and again how training horses takes mass amounts of patience.  I never fully understood what this meant until I became an AOT.  As someone who very much lacks patience in my every day life, I have to make it a point to tell myself over and over again to have patience with Fiz.  It is my job to teach him to understand, not punish him for not understanding.

That said, I had a very trying morning.  Cindy requested that I ride him in the full bridle using the new snaffle that I had purchased to try and be easier on his mouth from the one he is currently showing in. She rode him in it Saturday and was iffy on it being the bit for him, and wanted to get my opinion since I hadn’t tried it yet.  So, I put him in the bridle and mounted up ready to tackle the world, per my motivational post pre-ride yesterday.  I have gotten into the habit of making small goals for each ride over the last year or so, and I try to have a plan every time I get on.  I find making small goals keeps me focused on teaching him one thing at a time and not overwhelming him with information to the point where he explodes because he literally has no idea what I am trying to accomplish.  That whole patience thing comes into play here because since horses learn by repetition, this can take ride after ride after ride to accomplish a solid understanding.

My goal for this morning’s ride was simply, yield to the curb and be happy in the snaffle.  Our full bridle rides lately have needed a lot of warm up and only toward the end resulted in acceptance of the bits.  We started off slowly, just walking with a steady feel on the snaffle, and tickling of the curb every few steps.  Knowing how to independently work your reins is a must in this situation.  This is something that can be practiced at home just holding reins and learning how to move your fingers separately.  The training video “Saddleseat Riding Skills” from Smith Lilly’s DVD collection teaches some great bridle handling techniques that offer adjustments without even moving your fingers, also.  Actually, check out ALL of Smith’s products, which we have found to be extremely informative.  http://www.saddleseathorsemanship.com/store/

It took several trips around walking before Fiz dropped his nose to the tickling, for which he was rewarded with a release of pressure on the reins, a “good boy, good boy” and petting on his neck.  He likes this reward.  Remember, we all like to hear “attaboy” from time to time.  Each time he tried to stick his nose back out, tickling, and each time he yielded to it, same reward.  Once the walk was good, we trotted, doing the same exercises.  Over and over again, and each time he would stick his nose out I had to fight the urge to become irritated and yank on the reins.  I mean, we’ve only been over the SAME thing for the last 25 minutes.

Fighting that urge to lose your patience is something every trainer needs to practice diligently.  What would have happened had I yanked my reins, trying to force him to yield and give in? Every reward I had just given him would have been forgotten, and all he remembered would be that punishment for an unwanted behavior.  Nothing would have been accomplished because he would have forgotten all the rewards for the desired behavior because I couldn’t keep my patience in check.  Take the extra time, ride long enough for your rewards to mean something.  Stay the course, as frustrating as it may be, you always stay the course and keep your patience.  End your ride on a positive note, when the horse does what you are asking it to do consistently for that session.  Build on those little tiny victories each training session and you and your horse will make much larger victories in your progress over time.

AOT’s Don’t Have Time to be Tired

While sitting here whining to myself about how tired I am because I couldn’t sleep last night and how sore my legs are from yesterday’s quite interesting ride, I realized a couple of things.

  • I don’t have the time to be a whiny little crybaby. Why? Because I have a horse to train. He depends on me to teach him what he needs to know to be successful.  Our success at shows counts on my hours spent at the barn.  I count on me to hold myself accountable and just show up.  And sometimes, I count on a select few others to hold me accountable too.
  • Judges at the show don’t care if I was too tired to go to the barn, all they care about is how we represent ourselves in that 10 minutes we are in front of them. All the preparation for weeks, months, years even that goes on behind the scenes is represented in a 10 minute class.  That really puts things into perspective, doesn’t it?  You have very little time in front of the judge to show them what you and your horse can do.  If you show up unprepared because you were “too tired” or “too sore” to put in the work behind the scenes, that’s just an excuse for the lazy and weak.
  • Maybe I should work on my 2 point a little more and I wouldn’t be quite as sore after spending a good 20 minutes in said position while Fiz trotted and galloped around with the perception that he did not need to yield to the new bit I was trying. But hey, it wasn’t a total fail as he did so on the correct leads both directions.  Some day, when he doesn’t have show shoes on, I’m going to get him in a big open field and see how fast he can run, since that’s his favorite!

As told to me earlier today by my very understanding man, “suck it up buttercup.” And that’s exactly what I am going to do.  That’s what every AOT needs to do in order to be successful.  Stop making excuses.  Stop whining.  Get to the barn and put in the work.  Your horse will thank you.  You will thank yourself later.  Your coffee / monster / redbull / 5 hour energy/ whatever you use to keep you going – inspired moments of greatness can be discussed later over a bottle of wine with friends. That’s all the motivational speaking I’ve got in me for now folks.  Maybe my next post will actually include some useful training information.  Until then, carry on friends.

When You Feel Like Giving Up

There will, without a doubt, be days where you feel like giving up.  Days where you question every decision you’ve ever made for your horse.  You will ask yourself “why do I even bother doing this on my own?” and you will worry, stress, and ruminate over all of the things you have done and will do in the future.  You will obsess over making the “right” decisions for your horse.  You will wonder if you are ruining your horse, if you are making bad habits worse, and if you should just send your horse to a professional and call your attempt at being an AOT a wash.  You will question your knowledge, your capabilities, your level of confidence and ability, and basically any and everything having to do with your horse.

Your horse will test you, challenge you, infuriate you even.  But when you feel like giving up, DON’T, and here’s why.  That is how it’s supposed to be.  That is how you get better.  You will make mistakes, you will have accidents, you will mess things up.  Stay the course.  Have a game plan, figure out what works for you, the horse you’re working, and the situation you’re in.  Make it work or make changes it until it does. Don’t give up after one failure.  After all, failure is a huge part of the learning process.  It can never click when something does work, if you never know what didn’t. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, to look for answers, to question, re-question, and re-evaluate when something doesn’t work.  Be constantly aware, and seek answers to questions you have.  Live, learn, and move forward.

There’s nothing more rewarding than that moment where it does finally click, and you know YOU did it.  You know you finally found something that worked. Amidst all the things that were working against you, you found answers. That moment when the light bulb finally comes on and the feeling you get from it, THAT is why you are an AOT. Remember that feeling in all the hard times.  That is why you do this.  You will know it when it happens.  Then you’ll be caught up in this addiction that consumes every thought in your brain so much that you sometimes have a really hard time thinking about anything else. In those moments, you are happy and content that you are the one who made the choices to get you to that point. Remember those highs on the bad days, and never give up on your dream OR your horse.

Science Behind Training Aids?

We have visited training aids and their uses before under here, and have talked about the use of light chains and other devices on horses feet as a method of helping develop a desired gait.  Again I want to state that there has been a lot of controversy over the use of these and some people call it cruel.  I disagree, noting that proper use of devices can be safe, and also beneficial and helpful in training.  I recently read an article on TheHorse.com associating “leg weights” with rehabilitation, physical therapy, and assisting with building muscle.  A study has been conducted proving that the use of such devices indeed do not harm the horse.  I could have told you that, but there’s never really been any documentation to back this up. Now, there is!

Read the article on TheHorse.com and see for yourself!  Leg Weights And Rehabilitation.

That said, I reiterate that you MUST apply the chains/weights correctly or you are going to cause your horse harm.  Do not apply them so tight that they dig into your horses skin, and don’t apply them so loose that they get stuck around your horses hoof/coronary band/heel bulbs.  They should freely move around the top of the coronary band and pastern, but not so much they sink down and get stuck.

See there, us Saddlebred people are not so cruel to our horses after all with our training aids.  Most of us actually pamper our horses and treat them better than we do ourselves.  We live for their well-being and safety.  Just remember that!

Midwest AOT Clinic!!!

I am excited to say that it’s a GO for me, I get to attend the AOT clinic in Waukesha, WI in February with Clinician Melissa Moore!!!  I could not be more excited and have already started thinking of questions to ask while at the clinic.  I do wish I could stuff Fiz into a trailer and haul him 7 hours north to participate and receive instruction from a world champion trainer, but it’s just not in the cards for this year.  Maybe if there’s another clinic another time, we will be able to haul him.  As for this one, it will just be lots of listening, taking notes and learning!!!  🙂

Check out the clinic’s website below.

http://www.aotclinic.com/

11 Reasons Why Our Horse Lives Better Than We Do.

I hear a lot of people talk about how American Saddlebreds are trained, and how we all abuse, neglect, torture, and mistreat our horses in the way that we train and keep them.  Let me just explain to you that not all saddlebreds are kept, trained, or treated in a manner that is mistreating them in any way, shape, or form.  There are bad apples in every breed and discipline out there, but you can’t judge the majority by looking at the few who conduct themselves poorly.  Below, I’m going to explain myself a little further.   I give you eleven reasons why our horse lives better than we do along with explanations of these reasons.

11 Reasons why our horse lives better than we do:

1)      His shoes cost more than ours.

I don’t know about you, but I spend MAYBE $40 on a pair of shoes, once every like 6 months IF I’m lucky.  Infact, I can’t remember the last time I bought a pair of shoes.  I am a disgrace to the female gender, I know.  Fiz’s shoes are custom made and cost about $90 every 6 to 8 weeks.

2)      He gets regular pedicures.

Last time I had a pedicure, hmmmm… Let’s see, I think I was in a wedding and I HAD to get one with all the other bridesmaids, as to have matching feet for the wedding.  I would not have done it otherwise.  So, does that really count?  Fiz gets pedicures the same as he gets shoes, every 6 to 8 weeks.

3)      He gets regular hair cuts.

I can’t remember the last time I had a hair cut-seriously, I can’t remember.  My hair is a mess most days anyway, so I guess it really doesn’t matter.  Barn hair is a good look, isn’t it?  Sigh.  Fiz gets a good hairbut every month at least, and he gets trims in between to keep him looking nice.

4)      He gets seen by a chiropractor.

I have never seen a chiropractor in my entire life.  Ever.  I mean, I wouldn’t even consider it because frankly, I don’t want to spend the money on the visit for myself.  But will pay for it for the horse.  I mean, horse people logic… haha.

5)      His living arrangements are paid for.

You know, by someone else.  Those of us who actually work for money and have jobs we go to every day.  Jobs we have to pay for our living arrangements (and our horse’s living arrangements as well).

6)      He gets fed as much as he wants to eat.

He gets fed literally as much hay as he can eat, and he has grass available to him almost 24/7.  If only I could just exist to eat food for the majority of my day!

7)      He only has to work about 30 minutes a day.

I go to work for about 10 hours every day.  I’m at the barn for about 2 hours most days.  Fiz gets brought in from his pasture, groomed, ridden or otherwise worked for about a half hour, gets bathed and groomed again, and gets to go back out to his pasture and continue eating, playing, and running around as he sees fit.

8)      He gets treats, like, ALL the time!

And he doesn’t even have to do much for them!  Even when I get treats, I have to work AND pay for my own treats!!!  What kind of nonsense is that?  He gets baked home made horse cookies, he gets peppermints, sugar cubes, carrots, apples, even Skittles and Cherry Coke!  Yes, I know, his teeth are going to rot out.  Not likely, but I’ll keep that in mind.

9)      He has someone to rub him, brush him, bathe him, etc.

Didn’t I already mention this?  He has someone else that comes and pampers him like some kind of luxury spa customer on a regular basis.

10)   He can poop in his bed, and someone else will come clean the sheets.

Yep, I said it.  Our horse can “shit the bed” and it doesn’t matter.  Someone comes every day to clean his stall, that one he’s not even in very often, and they remove all the muck and put down fresh bedding for him to enjoy.

11)   He can come and go as he pleases the majority of the time.

His living arrangements are that he can be in a field (with a shelter) to run, play and eat, almost 24/7.  He does what he wants for the majority of every single day of his life!  Sometimes even, he gets to be in a field attached to his stall, where his stall is tied open and he can come and go in and out of it, stand by his stall fan if he wants, or go play if he wants.  What a life!!!

 

So in closing, before you see us at a show (or anywhere for that matter) with our American Saddlebred and think he is tortured, abused, mistreated, etc… I encourage you to think about how pampered our horse is.  Think about all the reasons he lives better than we do, and think twice before you feel like riding, training, and showing an American Saddlebred is abuse.  More often than not, these horses are treated better than you could ever imagine!