Saturday, May 31, 2014

For Fun!: The Horses I'd Like to Own Someday

Every once in awhile, even though I am beyond thrilled with my current (and past) horses, I muse and daydream about my horse ownership future. I have some goals (some attainable, some random!) and some ideas of the dream horses I'd like to own throughout my life. I actually have a list of the horses I'd like to someday have (some of which I've already been able to cross off the list!):

1) A Pedigreed, Purpose-Bred Warmblood - Check!
 I've been very fortunate in that I have owned five very nice warmbloods over the course of the years, all of which were pedigreed and purpose-bred. Three Trakehners (Quincy, Metro, Pangea), a Holsteiner (Gogo), and a Selle Francais (O-Ren). I was very fortunate to have my parents' financial support when I was younger, and was therefore able to afford these super nice critters. Quincy was free, and I bought P and O with my own money, but they bought Metro for me (and then Gogo, with his mortality money), and they helped me afford them through college. I'll never be able to afford horses of this quality ever again, but if I'm lucky and I pick well, I can find and produce ones that are very nice.

2) A Homebred from a Beloved Bloodline/Mare - Check! (Kinda!)
I'm obviously not going to count this one until it is on the ground (and every second I'm freaked out and sure that she is going to absorb her pregnancy), but I've been dreaming of this foal for a very long time and I can't tell you how excited I am for it!

3) A Craigslist Rescue - Check!
 I happen to have the world's most excellent $500 Craigslist find in my paddock right now! These are always a crapshoot, and sometimes they don't work out, but O was worth every penny, and every day with her is a new and worthwhile adventure.

4) A Performance Mule
 Who doesn't love a long-eared badass! I LOVE mules, especially ones that are bred with performance in mind. They can do everything that full-blooded horses can do, and some of them are REALLY fancy, but they aren't allowed in recognized eventing in the US anymore. If they were, you can bet I would have already looked into getting one by now! I believe they can do endurance, combined driving, and dressage, but I don't think they're allowed in anything else (outside of schooling shows). That's a TOTAL shame, and I hope the rules change. I would LOVE a performance mule someday. 

5) A Mustang from the Wild
What's not to love about the romance of bonding with and starting a mustang? I've always wanted to do this, but it's not for the faint of heart, and you need a certain set of facilities to start (certain fencing heights and requirements in order to adopt). If you find a good, solid one with some height to it, you can do awesome things - look at the mustang Padre, who was Reserve Champion stallion at Devon a few years back, and D'jion (pictured below), who has already competed a one star and is on his way to a two star this year! I'd also happily take one that had already been through the Mustang Million program or the Extreme Mustang Makeover (right here in Fort Worth).

6) A Recycled Saddlebred
 Another breed I adore, and that I don't talk much about. I'm a warmblood person, but I've always had a fondness for ASBs. They have that naturally big flashy action that I love, and some of them can really jump! They are not the wild-eyed maniacs that you see in the saddleseat world... they are gentle, kind souls, and they are horribly mistreated and abused. People do specifically breed these guys for sport, but I would love to take a show barn reject and turn it into something special. I also have a fondness for Dutch Harness Horses, and have seen those guys crossed out with warmbloods with some really awesome results. I wouldn't hesitate to take an ASB, DHH, or NSH and make something awesome out of it.

7) A Crazy Colored/Weird Breed Horse
Let's be real. I'm a little on the eccentric side. No plain bays for this girl if I can help it! I've always, ALWAYS loved weird and wild colors and odd breeds and crosses, and the weirder/wilder the better. Got a Fjord cross? Awesome! A PMU pintaloosa? I want it! I'd never sacrifice quality for color - that's where I draw the line - but if something comes in a weird color I WANT IT. I know next to nothing about the genetics of colors, but I don't care. I just like to go "oooooh so pretty!" Bonus points if it has a good story to go along with it. I love something that stands out.

So how about all of you? What kinds of horses would YOU like to own one day? Be creative, anything goes!

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Break On Through To The Other Side

I have a confession to make. Up until recently, I was a snaffle snob. I was a purist who thought that if you can't do all of your flatwork in a snaffle, then you're doing it wrong.

And largely, I still feel that way. If you're doing dressage and your horse can't happily do work in a legal snaffle, then you need to reassess and go back and figure out that ultimately it has nothing to do with the bit you're using. In the end, the horse has to take responsibility for his own body, and you have to take responsibility for your own too. No bit is going to "control" your horse.

That said, and while I wholeheartedly believe that getting every horse to be able to travel around quietly in a simple snaffle is a worthy goal, sometimes you just have to let go of the idea that every horse should be able to go in a snaffle right away. Because sometimes you're riding a small red freight train, and a light and smooth snaffle is a complete afterthought for her when she checks out.

Recently I really just got tired of the problems O and I were having on the flat. I had gotten her to the point of being able to quietly do flatwork in a Happy Mouth mullen mouth with no other gear... SO I THOUGHT. Then I added canterwork, and it all went to hell. We reverted right back to no brakes and no steering, and I got frustrated and spent a few months doing everything BUT dressage, simply because I felt like she didn't like dressage. I did some soul searching, decided to get back to it, and still found I had the same problem that she came with - namely bolting at every gait whenever she did not feel like playing the game. Walk, trot, canter, or gallop, she throws her head up and zooms off within that gait. Good luck if you try to stop her - she locks down on your contact, braces against your half-halts, and accelerates. I realized that this isn't exclusive to just dressage-type work... everything she doesn't want to do, no matter what it is, is met with her favorite evasion, the grab-and-bolt. It was a fundamental training problem, and nothing more.

And so, I changed my gameplan. For a long, long time, I was riding O a bit like I rode Gogo - just giving her a chance to ping-pong around within her own confines, wait for her to relax, stop rushing, and quiet down long enough to take a contact. But O doesn't work that way. If you let go bounce around within her own confines, eventually her confines get bigger. She bounces harder and harder against the ever-widening boundaries that she keeps knocking back more and more, until eventually she takes total control of the situation. She is truthfully the ultimate if-you-give-an-inch-she-takes-a-mile kind of horse. Every ride, you have to ride every stride, every single one of them - if you're not in control for just a second, she is. So the gameplan has to change for her. I just can't ride her the way I've ever ridden anything else. She is just different.
I did away with the nice little snaffle. Instead, I bitted her up and laid down some serious half-halts whenever she'd speed up of her own accord (her favorite evasion). Right from the get-go, she no longer gets ANY say in the speed we're going. We are walking at this speed in this straight line or circle, and trotting at this speed, and cantering at this speed, and that is the final word on it. The second she changes her speed by herself, the idea gets shut down. Absolutely NON-NEGOTIABLE. And you know what? I'll be damned, but it works like an amazing charm, now that I have a little brawn to back up my requests.
I switched out my snaffamore (Happy Mouth mullen mouth snaffle with one set of reins, and long shank hackamore set overtop of it with a second set of reins), for this insane combination bit as well:
Pardon the mud. SO much rain this week! It's not even worth scraping it off, she's just going right back out to roll in it again.

That is not a nice bit. That is serious business right there. But let me explain why I picked it.
This bit has several parts to it: a mouthpiece, a noseband (the fleece part, sitting overtop her actual noseband) that has a hinge which attaches it to the bit, a curb strap (not a chain, just a strap), a sliding shank (when engaged, the shank can slide through the mouthpiece like a loose ring would, thereby lengthening the shank and engaging the noseband/curb strap/poll pressure. Basically, this is the bit you would use to stop a charging rhinoceros, should you ever choose to ride one. 
The mouthpiece is actually just a plain, smooth, single-joint snaffle. I'm not generally a single-joint kind of person, but decided to give it a go anyway, and am happy to report that she likes it. A double jointed snaffle in the past has been too much stimulation for her (too many moving parts), so she has been either in the hackamore or a mullen mouth ever since. She also seems to like this single joint quite a lot. When you ride exclusively with your snaffle rein, it only engages the snaffle. She is free to stretch out over her back to the contact and take it, and all is well in the world. But when she barges forward, bolts, or even just needs a rebalancing half-halt, I have some VERY serious brakes. Because of that, I also have a newfound ability to be extremely honed and light in my aids, something which she greatly appreciates. When I'm quieter, she is quieter, and we're both a lot happier for it. Before we were shouting at each other, and now we can whisper. 

My curb rein is loose or even floppy most of the time (or even sometimes I'm not even holding it!). The curb rein is never, ever tight. It doesn't need to be. There is no pulling from either one of us either. I can give, and leg her forward, and still be there to catch her and recycle the energy once she gets out and reaches the contact, all without risk of her flying off out of control.

This has really opened up a whole new world of possibilities for me. Why didn't I do this sooner!? I've ridden twice in the combo bit, and both times she was wonderful. Even when she wasn't quite all together, or has her head a bit high, or was a bit crooked, or was still kind of giving me the oogly eye over her shoulder, she was responsive and stayed at whatever speed she was set at. For the most part, she reached out to the contact and took it nicely as well, even in the canter. 

We might just make an eventer out of her yet!!

Sunday, May 25, 2014

BIG NEWS about Pmare!

I finally feel like I can break my BIG NEWS about Pmare, since I officially have an ultrasound in hand to confirm that this dream really is becoming reality. 

P is officially confirmed 17 days in foal for a 2015 baby by Oldenburg stallion Don De Marco!

I've never really written about what I truthfully bought P for in the first place, just because of how horrible people were to me when I talked about breeding Gogo. I seriously almost quit blogging about Gogo TWICE because of how mean people were about the whole breeding thing, and I only ever discussed it in mild passing. People are REALLY REALLY opinionated on breeding. For the most part I agree with them - you should ABSOLUTELY rescue pets, no question about it. But sport animals (dogs and horses alike), there is a place for purposeful breeding. You would love your 3-legged chihuahua as much as anyone, but you probably would not want to use him in agility trials. (As an aside, all four of my dogs and all five of my cats are all rescues.) So when I bought P, who is Metro's last remaining daughter and who is nice but not quite as quality as Gogo was, I figured I better shut my mouth and not say a WORD about my actual intentions with her. But I bought her as a broodmare. I bought her with the intent of continuing this line in a small way, just for myself, because they are just the best. I have no interest in churning out babies, I have no interest in backyard or irresponsible breeding, I have no interest in selling. I'm keeping this bloodline for myself. If anyone has a problem with that, turn your fanny right around and get out of here. I am not interested in getting into this "breed or buy" argument, I've had it before. I made this choice for a myriad of reasons, I spent two years going through my stallion options to pick just the right one, and I'm keeping this baby as my own sport horse prospect. This bloodline means a lot to me. And P is the last living one of them.

So if you have a problem with that, then now is the time to leave.

And the rest of you..... celebrate with me and go YAY BABY BABY BABY BABY!


This story actually starts in 2006, before I had even bought Gogo. I first found a sale ad for P (named Chloe, back then) in 2005. I still had Metro at that point, of course, but watched all her videos and loved her to bits. Metro died in 2006, and I briefly went back and searched for P's old sale ad, but she had sold by then (for about $20k). I managed to contact her seller, who passed me onto her new owner (who is the lady I eventually bought her from). We got in touch in May of 2006, and discussed creating a custom foal for me as a graduation (from college) present to myself. I had originally chosen Windfall, and was super excited about it. I even created this custom graphic for it:

So cheesy... but I was SO EXCITED.

As it turned out, the owner ended up breeding her herself first, and P absorbed the first pregnancy late in the year. They chose to breed her again the following year, which resulted in a filly named Spirit.

I didn't have much contact with her old owner after that, aside from a stint in 2009 when she called me up out of the blue and offered her to me, since she was planning her own family by then and was getting out of horses. She wanted $10,000 for her at the time, and I said there was no way I could possibly afford that, but to keep me updated on her.

I didn't hear from her again until right after Gogo died, when she called me up out of the blue again and offered her to me for a rock bottom price. You all know the story from there... I jumped on it and had her shipped down to Texas all the way from Canada. And I didn't tell anyone then, but I had every intention of using her as a broodmare.

I spent the last two years considering my stallion options, hemming and hawing, and going back and forth, all while riding her and then later leasing her out. I did consider going with Windfall, as was my original plan, but I actually looked at a few Windfalls after Metro died (before I ended up with Gogo) and never really liked any of them. They were nice, but some of them were horrible jumpers, and considering what the stallion himself did I thought their jumping ability should have been a lot better. Windfall himself has a long list of credentials, and is still sound and doing GP in his 20's, but his babies are sort of a mixed basket. Windfall's stud fee is also $3000, and that's just not something I can do for something that may or may not turn out like I want. After a long list of considerations, I went with the Oldenburg stallion Don De Marco. P is Canadian Trakehner, and not registered with any US registry, but the baby can and will be ISR/Old registered.

Why I chose this stallion, and what I like about him:
1) He REALLY stamps his kids. Even babies out of crappy mares are greatly improved by this guy. The stallion is very nice, yes, but the babies are WAY nice, and at the end of the day that is the true test of a stallion. P also out-produced herself when she was bred before, so hopefully if they both out-produce themselves, I might end up with something quite nice!
2) I need good strong straight (hopefully long) legs, and he delivers that.
2) I want to give P an uphill boost, especially in her neck and movement (she is a fairly level/flat mover with a level/flat topline), and he delivers that as well.
3) I want a knockout mover, and he delivers that as well!
4) The stallion passes on a pretty good temperament, maybe a little varied, but P's family line has a strong history of passing on that steady and bold temperament, no matter what the other parent was like. I have a good chance that the baby will inherit the same temperament that Metro, P, and Spirit all share.

What I'm not getting:
1) Size. Which is good! P is just a hair over 16hh, and the stallion is about 16.1hh and change. Hopefully I get something around the same size.
2) A guarantee for world class bascule. Which is fine by me. P is a very cute and tidy jumper, and when the jumps are high the stallion is tidy as well, but he doesn't have back-cracking bascule by any means. If I were specifically breeding for a jumper, I'm sure I would have chosen another stallion. I'm breeding in theory for a horse that can get around mid-level events without hanging a leg and killing anyone, so as long as the baby can safely get their legs out of the way of jumps, I'm happy. More important for me is movement, as my ultimate and primary interest  at the end of the day is dressage. I would rather have a decent (safe) jumper and a knockout mover versus a knockout jumper with decent movement.
3) A guarantee for anything really - breeding is a complete crapshoot, no matter how well you plan it!
4) His offspring are young and are just starting under saddle now. We don't know know they're going to hold up in the show ring yet, so we don't have a total performance or soundness guarantee. Only one way to find out though!

And when I say he stamps his babies with all the things I want, I mean he REALLY stamps them!:


Yes, those are ALL different babies! He is a VERY prepotent producer. He gives them exactly what I was looking to improve - good straight legs, an awesome uphill build, a very strong topline, and some banging good movement. To see him pass all of those things that I wanted, SO strongly in SO many foals.... that sealed the deal for me. His babies really, really sold him for me.

Oh, and they tend to grow up and look like this if you're lucky:

3 year old gelding. NOT BAD. I'd be very happy with something like that in my barn! I'd be happy with something half that nice!


 I trailered P out to the vet on May 7th (a Wednesday) just to get a baseline for where she was in her cycle. (The stallion owner generally collects on Mon-Wed-Fri.) I knew she was somewhere mid-cycle, but hasn't been tracking her cycles very closely. Imagine my total surprise when my vet checked her and declared, "oh nice she has a 52mm follicle! So can you get semen today?" Wait what?? Today??
I called the owner, didn't get through, and then emailed on a whim. By some stroke of dumb luck, she emailed right back and told me she'd get semen in the mail right away. A 52mm follicle is HUGE, even for a warmblood (they usually ovulate around 40-45mm or so), so we had a minimal amount of time to work with. She has some minor fluid that day as well, so we gave her some oxytocin and an ovulatory agent, and I left her at the vet for the night. The next morning, the vet reported to me that she was checked and was clear of fluid, and that her follicle had grown to 55mm. She ovulated right on time and was bred right according to schedule, but we decided to leave her at the vet for one more night. (We also only had one dose of semen, which is unusual... usually a breeder will send two doses. Luckily, our swimmers were 90-95% progressively motile, meaning they were all swimming strongly in a straight line!) Not unexpectedly, when they checked her the next morning, she had some fluid again (not abnormal for an older mare bred via AI), which earned her a lavage, more oxytocin, and one more night's stay at the vet. She came home with me Saturday, along with four doses of oxytocin, to be given at intervals until Sunday night. (The embryo doesn't enter the uterus until around day 6, so this is safe.)

It was totally worth it to drop her off at the vet and let them do their thing. They handled all of the paperwork, worked with the stallion owner, and did all of her therapies right on schedule. My vet is very experienced in repro work, so I just let them do their thing, even though I have a college degree in this stuff! (No, I really do... I minored in repro work!)

We checked her yesterday, at day 16 post-insemination.... and we had an embryo!! I was SO convinced she hadn't taken, because how could it all have POSSIBLY gone down that easy! But, she took!!

My baby looks like this right now:

Just a little black dot. But that black dot will grow and grow! We'll recheck in two more weeks for a heartbeat. My vet has a schedule he wants me to keep, but this is generally what we'll be looking at in terms of landmarks:

Ahhhhh I'm so excited!!! This is an idea eight years in the making.... and it is FINALLY coming true!!!

Saturday, May 24, 2014

What A Week!

We had SUCH good and productive workouts this week! I'm really, really pleased with how things are going, and I hope they continue on in this thread.

O's not-shine coat is shedding out rather dramatically. Underneath the not-shine is a SUPAH SHINE, which makes me feel a lot better. Her fecal came back negative, so honestly I think it comes down to the fact that her system got shell-shocked a few times with freezing weather. She is still shedding quite a lot.... many attacks with my curry are helping to expedite this process. She's been shedding since March! I have to be careful this time of year as well - this is prime sweaty season, which makes for sunbleachy season as well. O lives outside and spends almost all of her day out in the blazing sun (she has a shed and shade trees, but she doesn't use them often). If I don't rinse her after every good sweat, I'm in big trouble. 

After a day off on Sunday, we got back to work on Monday. O was back in her 'snaffamore' combo - her Happy Mouth mullen mouth with her long shank hackamore overtop of it - and she was VERY good to start. She gave me some pretty decent walk-trot-canter work in both directions, which was great - the fact that we can trot AND canter in a circle now AND stop is super exciting. I had to abandon my snaffle and get tough with her for a minute, but it seems to be paying off. She knows full well that she can gallop off out of control in the mullen mouth, but I still want something in her mouth that is gentle and inviting. She still needs to learn to stretch out to the contact and take it, so I don't want a harsh mouthpiece. I do, however, need *something* to give me some brakes for when she tunes out my half-halt and takes off - the hackamore is very effective for this. I can ride her along with the snaffle most of the time, and if she decides to get strong or take off, I have an e-brake. Having this backup is super liberating - now I can circle, move off the rail, move sideways, and generally ride wherever I please while doing flatwork. In a snaffle, as soon as we turn onto a circle or go off the rail, she speeds up and bolts, and there is nothing I can do aside from crank her around in a one-rein stop. I tried to make it work for a long time, hoping she'd just settle and relax, but we were truthfully getting nowhere, and I had to make a decision to add something much stronger. I'm so glad I decided to do that, and now that I have some brakes, we'll be able to get so much more done.

After our ride, we went for a nice hack through the cow pasture...

... aaaaand then her mare friend trotted off away from her, and she absolutely wigged. We had to reschool everything we had already gone through earlier and then some. We did eventually get a very nice quiet canter, towards and past her friend, and then were able to trot quietly back. All in all, it was a full two hours of riding and hacking, and she was pretty tired by the end (thankfully).

Zzzz... sooo sleeeeeepy.
You can see how the hackamore sits just in front of the bit - the hackamore rein is generally held very loose, but it there in case of backup. This has a LOT of whoa, but even when she was being back she still was able to sull up against it and brace when she really decided to.

On Tuesday, I had a very busy day, so I decided to lunge her first thing in the morning before I had to head off to work. I didn't have a ton of time to work with, and I think I won't try to do that again in the future. Working while rushed, or working when I don't have much time (in case she needs more time than I have to give), is just a stupid idea.

On the lunge, especially to the left, O likes to travel crooked. She is more than happy to turn her head and neck to the outside, let her shoulder bulge in, and motorbike around every turn at high speed. Once you straighten her out and achieve proper bend, it completely slows her down and engages her.... but it isn't always easy to achieve. I fiddled with the lines a few times, but it wasn't enough. Eventually I ran my lunge line up through her bit to the surcingle, and tried to straighten her out that way.

Mostly it irritated her. She engaged, definitely, but she also came in VERY close on the circle, and refused to go back out again (avoiding the contact). 
After a few minutes of her avoiding and avoiding, I took the line back off and instead let the right side line all the way out to the very end, and pulled the left side line all the way as tight as it would go. The nicest thing about the Faux-ssoa is that it is a very fluid system, and once she moved back out on the circle, it settled into a perfect setting for her (not too loose on the right, not too tight on the left). She loved that configuration, and stretched out nicely into it. Thank god too, I had to get a move on and head off to work!

On Wednesday, I had the day completely off, so S and I decided to finally get off the property and go for a good long hack. We needed one! 
We didn't travel too terribly far, just down the road to Benbrook Lake, but there are miles and miles of trails, and we even found a new one that we hadn't noticed before. It was super nice, very grassy and flat (versus most of the rest of the park, which is very rocky and hilly), and we had an awesome time.

Yes, we *did* pack the saddlebags full of the essentials... beer, and beer, and more beer. It was an extremely mellow ride.

We went 12.66 miles. Mostly we just power walked (the horses picked that speed), with some trotting near the end of it. We were gone for nearly 4 hours! She had a well-deserved day off on Thursday after all of that.

Friday was another super hectic day for me, so I decided I better just opt for a short lunge instead of a ride. I did the same thing I did before, on both sides (one line all the way loose, one line all the way tight), and she loved it. She has quite a lot of freedom to stretch out, but has to bend in the proper direction, so everybody wins with this configuration.

Check that out... she's actually bending in the proper direction! Nice!

We had a great ride today too, but I'll write more about that shortly... I'm pooped and I need to get to bed. So much work and play, so little time to write!

Saturday, May 17, 2014

The Shine, An Update

I'm happy to say that my total panic over lack of shine in my horses seems to be a little bit unfounded.

For example, Pmare:

Yeah... that's pretty close to a mirror finish, and she's filthy too.

And while I don't think O looks as good as she should, she's still, you know... not half bad, really. But, she looks completely rough compared to how she *should* be looking. Or maybe I just have really high standards.

"Ugh, stop taking pictures, time for food now."

I think I have an idea of what exactly is going on. Apparently, mine is not the only one this is happening to - horses all over Texas are all struggling to produce a nice slick summer coat. They are all hanging onto their ratty old winter hair, and it is making them all look like garbage.We had THE strangest weather this year, complete with completely random freezes all the way into mid-May (after lots of 90 degree days in a row, it was quite shocking).

Luckily for me, this week O has gone through some pretty rapid coat changes. Her yucky, ratty old coat suddenly started standing up at attention, which looked REALLY horrible, and then she started in with a new round of shedding. She is suddenly WAY darker than she was before, which is great. Under the yucky old stuff, there is a whole lot of extremely slick new stuff. 

We'll still be doing a fecal and adding alfalfa, but I'm more confident now that this is not a belly/nutrition issue. With a vicious assault with my curry, I seem to have loosened a lot of the old hair, and hopefully it will be gone within short order.

I've been crazy busy all week, but inbetween giant rainstorms and a million clients, I had time to sneak in a nice hour long hack down the road, and two lunge days. There are days when I'd really *like* to ride, but I need to be at XYZ farm and not have disgusting helmet hair, so on those days I opt for a lunge or day off instead. I try not to do *too* much lunging, but sometimes that's just what we gotta do!

As per plan, I tried out hacking in just a halter/Indian bosal, and it went very well. She was uppity to start - this was coming fresh off our extreme WWE Smackdown fight, so I wasn't really surprised - but she settled down shortly.

Pardon the encrusted mud and half-asleep mare. I think she got some mud/dirt in her eyes, they were a bit puffy that day.

We had an exceptionally good lunge today. Our last lunge was a bit productive in the fact that I got irritated with her ignoring of my commands, and instead of letting her fizzle it out, I got after her about it and insisted that she listen. She must have gotten the message, because today she was quiet, responsive, listened to her voice commands, and barely broke a sweat. Good girls only have to do short workouts, which is something I always try to make a point of ("hey you were really good, you're awesome! now we're done!"), so we only lunged for about 15 minutes. both directions included. That's a pretty far cry from two lunges ago, when she cantered for 45 minutes in one direction before she finally decided to play the game. Good girl.

And gahhh is she not gorgeous? 

Thursday, May 15, 2014

The Shine

EDITED TO ADD: I went around and looked at 7 of the red horses that live at the farm I was at this morning. ALL of them have that weird yucky retained hair! Most of the bays were largely shed out, but several of the greys had retained hair too. It HAS to be something environmental.

It is no secret that I pride myself on the freakish level of shine that my horses have.

I mean come on. That is some SHINE right there. That is intense.

But unfortunately, and very suddenly, O has lost her freakish shine. She is now kind of a normal horse shine, which to me is a) completely unacceptable and b) indicative that something is wrong. She also has quite a lot of hairs doing that wonky curl/fishhook thing, which is alarming. Usually that is a sign of either parasites or a copper deficiency. Since her vit/min supplement should in theory have the copper covered, we are probably looking at something else.

I have some theories on what it might be.

1) We had some WEIRD weather this spring. 
O's winter coat looked great - I recently talked about how shiny and gleaming she was. She started to shed out in March, and in theory should be long done by now, but she is not. She is hanging on to a lot of curling, yucky old hairs that are standing up and giving her more of the crushed velvet appearance rather than the sleek summer appearance that I would have expected by now. After she had started to shed out, we had a few hard freezes and cold days (after having lots of 90 degree days in a row), and she was left shivering and shell-shocked a few times. This possibly should have freaked her system out and caused her coat to retain... maybe? Hard to say. She is definitely still shedding, slowly but surely, so her coat is by no means fully shed out. Underneath it, I see lots of gleam, but there is a lot of crud still hanging on.

2) The mares are completely off alfalfa for the first time in a long time.
Last year, all through the year, the mares got a 1/2 flake to full flake of alfalfa before meals, along with their freechoice grass hay. They were all gorgeous and shiny. In the late fall, our usual supply of timothy ran out, and we instead got bales that were timothy/alfalfa. They were SUPER full of alfalfa, so much so that we stopped giving actual straight alfalfa. We fed that for awhile, and then our supplier ran out of it again, as well as regular timothy. We actually had to switch to a completely different supplier altogether, and the horses are now on (and have been on) straight timothy with no alfalfa at all. The alfalfa really gives them that extra bloom, and is a bonus to feed right before workouts, so I'll definitely be putting both the girls back on it as per their usual (1/2 flake to full flake before mealtimes, in addition to freechoice timothy).

3) Parasite problems.
When P came back I did a fecal and deworming before she even set foot on the property. She had a small worm load, and she was dewormed again and cleared. O was dewormed as well at the same time, but I haven't done a recent fecal on her. She very well could have picked up any leftover parasites that P had shed. (That typical 'fishhook' type curl that some of her hairs have always makes me think of parasites.) We'll do a fecal and see what we have going on for sure.

4) She has had on and off tummy issues throughout the winter. 
After her first LD when she wasn't quite gastrically right, I went into gut health overkill with her. She had that certain personality that invites an ulcery system, so I'm really, REALLY careful with what I give her and what I do with her. While I think I have everything covered in every different direction, she very well could have some leaky gut issues that are affecting her nutrient uptake. I don't *think* so, but it could be. It is something to keep in the back of my mind for sure.

We'll get it figured out. It's always something, isn't it? HORSES!

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

"Warmblood Mare, Comes Complete With Issues."

"Warmblood mare, comes complete with issues."
Remember that line? That was O's sale ad from when I first bought her. And if you remember, she had some SERIOUS ones.
 Sometimes I forget exactly how far I have come with my wild redheaded beast mare. But sometimes, like these past few days, I am reminded of just how far we have yet to go.

And sometimes, you just gotta lay down a little law and have a come-to-Jesus meeting with your extremely stubborn redheaded beast mare. Redheads tend to have this tendency to, erm.... think they know better than you ALL the time. O is obviously no exception to this rule.

Following O's planned week off, I broke out my lunging equipment for her first day back on Saturday. She started off pretty quiet, trotting/cantering over some poles going to the right, and then she knocked one of the poles over and zoomed off into the canter. Several verbal "trot" commands from me were completely ignored, or met with one trot stride followed by an immediate pick back up into the canter. Well, fine then. Canter until you're done wanting to canter, and then you have to canter some more. I knew I wasn't going to wear her out per se, but given the chance to let her fizzle herself out a little, I knew I'd have a slightly more malleable horse on my hands.

45 minutes, she was still cantering, with no interest in trotting. I tested her a few times to see if she was ready for trotwork (she wasn't), and when she broke a few times, I asked her to keep cantering anyway. Finally, she responded to a trot command and stayed trotting quietly. 

I'd rather not have my horse stuck on an endless circle for a huge period of time, but sometimes you don't have much of a choice. Either get into a big fight, or let her fizzle herself out... I chose the fizzle route. 

We went through the same thing in the other direction, although it thankfully did not take as long. She went along in zoomy canter and zoomy trot, then of her own accord decided to smooth out the work. It's interesting to watch... she will be flying around in this unbalanced Standardbred-type trot, and then suddenly will shift down a gear and give you a nice, quiet, balanced trot. Shortly after she does this, she'll try to do a downward transition ("see look I did what you want, now I am going to stop.") If you ask her to quietly move onward, she will fly off again in her Standardbred trot or canter with a very pissy face. Anything to not do what you originally asked.

She is very interesting in that she never gets nervous or tense in the usual 'hot horse' sense.... she just chooses when she is going to use speed as her evasion of choice, and when she is going to be quiet. She is not an inherently hot and high energy character - around the barn and during hack rides, she is a completely chill cucumber, happy to stand immobile all day long, snoozing and eating her way through the day. I can hack her all day long at a walk in a halter and leadrope, no problem. But when she is asked to work, and she either a) doesn't understand, b) is unbalanced, or c) just doesn't feel like it, speed is her first and favorite evasion. Being a stubborn redhead, if she doesn't see why she should bother doing what you ask, then she is either going to fight you tooth and nail about it, or completely tune you out and ignore you. For being as strong-willed and forward as she is, deep down inside, I honestly think she is a seriously lazy critter at heart.

Sometimes, you just have to tell her "too bad, you have to do XYZ thing because I said so, and that's the final word on it."

On Sunday, all I wanted to do was get on and have a nice bareback hack around the barrels. Two of the hinges on my trailer tackroom door are broken, so until T can see about fixing it, I can't get into my tackroom without risking the door falling off. A nice bareback hack seemed like the way to go. We walked around the barrels once or twice, and then I asked her for a little sideways movement. She obliged, I stopped and patted her. We went the other way, she stalled out halfway through the exercise and sulled up against my leg. (Remember, this is the horse that when I got her would only walk, because any leg cues were met with a dead stop and an attitude of "nope won't do it," complete with kicking out, glaring at the rider's leg, and pinned ears. I don't take any regressions lightly.) I asked her to go forward, and move sideways again, and she stopped and threw her head around with an air of, "no, I'm done with this now." She refused to budge.

I got off her and started to move her around in hand. She had grown roots at this point, and when I touched her side to move her over, she didn't respond. I poked harder, no response. I poked HARD, no response. I openly slapped her in the belly, no response. NONE! She stood there stubbornly, looked at me out of the corner of her eye, while I poked and slapped away at her side. She knows FULL well how to move over and exactly how to do the exercise I was asking. Finally I poked her in the gut with my knee, and she begrudgingly obliged. We moved around for several minutes in this manner - her ignoring me, me insisting she do XYZ thing until the escalation got so high that she finally begrudgingly did it. But there was no improvement in her attitude, or the speed at which she did anything. She just said "no" to everything I asked, because she didn't see why she should say yes.

In all of my soul-searching I have been doing over the past month or two, I've come to realize that all of the non-eventing things I've been trying with her - barrels and endurance specifically - are all things I chose because they allowed me to avoid bringing out this bad attitude in her. They allowed her to run along in straight lines and sharp turns, but they did not address the real issue - the attitude she came with. She still doesn't even get her correct leads half the time. That is irresponsible and bad training on my part. That is me avoiding the real problem. Sure, she can canter along for an infinite amount of time, or run and turn, but does she *actually* listen when I put my leg on her? No, she doesn't. In a way, she is no better trained now than on the day that I first picked her up. That is irresponsible of me. If your horse can canter for 25 miles but can't put in even a mediocre and obedient Training level dressage test (not a winning test, just be able to w-t-c halt and do reasonably round circles)... does it even have the basics down? Nope. I've been using the excuse of, "oh, she just doesn't like to do dressage," which is code for "geez this mare is SO HARD to ride on the flat, she makes it a total nightmare sometimes." That is me being a lazy, bad trainer. And that has to end now if I ever want this horse to succeed.

Unfortunately that means I am going to have to roll up my sleeves and not take no for an answer from her. Her "no" is not just a "no" either. It is a big, resounding, "No, F-YOU and I WON'T and JUST TRY TO MAKE ME YOU'LL BE SORRY."

(Add-in: I'm under the impression she was born this way. There is still a copy of her original ad floating around online, when she was 3 and not yet under saddle, and it contains a few telling buzzwords and phrases such as: 
"Gabby can be strong willed, so she will need someone who is experienced and patient. She has also become very herd bound over the spring/summer. As long as she is around other horses she is very sweet and affectionate, but gets upset once she is by herself. This mare will make someone who has time and patience to work through her issues an amazing athlete."
Sound familiar?? She wasn't even broke back then!! And that was a SALE AD, imagine how much they actually glossed over her REAL attitude!)

And yes, we've combed over her back and forth with a fine-toothed comb on physical issues. The only thing we can come up with is that she tends to have really whacked out heat cycles - last time we checked her, she had two giant angry swollen ovaries, both of which were covered with huge 25-30mm follicles (like 15 on each ovary). My vet, who specialized in repro work, kind of said, "wow.... that's really weird." She had just finished her cycle and was already out of heat. Basically she's just a swirling vessel of hormones, or as I like to call it, adrift in the estrogen ocean. We did put her on Altrenogest for the rest of the season, and that did keep her from going into heat, but it didn't really change the behavioral stuff, and it's REALLY expensive (AKA just not worth it). Aside from breeding her or spaying her, well... what can you do.

In short, I bought this horse for so cheap because she had been so thoroughly screwed up by an idiot trail rider that she was unrideable. Hell, her sale ad read, "Warmblood mare, comes complete with issues." It's not like I didn't know this had deep roots. I bought her because I believed I could fix her, and I still do. She has come a long way, but we still have a long, long way to go.

Anyway. Back to our work on the ground. 

After about 15 minutes of no progress in our groundwork, I took her up to my trailer and decided to tack up and get on. I did some more work in hand (backing up, switching directions, yielding), this time with the aid of my dressage whip. O was even stubbornly sulled up against that, and it took one or two solid whacks before she begrudgingly moved over. When I went to switch directions, she bolted forward directly into me, bodyslamming me and sending me spinning off to the side. She has come pretty darn close to doing the exact same thing before when working on the ground, so I wasn't completely surprised that she made full body contact with me, I was just... pissed.

That's enough. No more being nice. You do not come barging into my space. You especially do not run me over. Game over.

I spent 15 minutes absolutely handing her butt to her on the ground. Back, forth, sideways, forward, round and round. We were both covered in sweat by the time she started responding quickly. I hopped on when she was finally responsive and quiet, and still she fought me - I had a jigging, head-tossing, prancing hothead on my hands. I went about 20 feet before I turned around, hopped off, and went to go fetch the hackamore (I had picked her usual snaffle). I am also an idiot and fell into a cactus while climbing down from the fence with said hackamore in one hand... holy crap that is the worst sting you've ever experienced. With a butt-ful of cactus hairs embedded in my thigh and butt, I put the hackamore on overtop her snaffle, and climbed back on. 

 That's a lot of hardware. The hackamore was actually overtop the front of snaffle for the ride, acting kind of like a kineton.

She took only two jiggy steps. Only two. The second that hackamore activated, she came to a screeching halt and stood immobile. I watched the wheels in her head turn. I smiled. I dropped the hackamore reins completely. I knew I wouldn't need them again.

She moved off quietly. She trotted on a steady contact in a steady rhythm. She stayed on a 20 meter circle with no speeding up. I was able to put my leg on her, and she lightly arced around it. 

I asked for a canter. She picked it up easily, on the correct lead, with no head tossing or bolting. She stayed on the 20 meter circle, on a steady contact, with no galloping/bolting/falling in/disaster. I put my leg on, and again, she bent nicely and stayed balanced. I think that is the first time ever that I put my leg on in the canter and had that response.

I slowed back down to walk. I trotted again, with the same results. I cantered again, with the same results. She was absolutely excellent.

I didn't even bother to go the other way, so great was my desire to end on a positive note. I just praised her heartily, patted her, and walked off on a long rein.

She had a very deserving two days off after all of that. 

I am no professional, but I'm not a half-bad jock. I have ridden a lot of hot, hard-headed, difficult horses over the span of my riding career. I can safely say that this is far and away the most challenging horse I've ever sat on. And this is coming from the girl who had Gogo The Rearing Wonderhorse.

At least O doesn't buck, rear, bite, strike, kick, or do anything mean. She just, you know.... makes me work really REALLY hard for every good moment. I will come out of this a better rider and a better horseperson, I guarantee you that.