A Tale of Two Rides (Numbers 10 & 11 in current series of “rides since hoof trim.”)

We’re into double digits here, just barely.   On Monday, Rags and I went to a part of the land he hadn’t been near yet–the south end of the East Grass (connects to the Near Meadow, but adjoins a construction yard, not some house yards.)   It was a lovely day, between cool and warm, with a very light breeze that went still while we were out.  We started out riding on the grass waterway of the Near Meadow, heading mostly east, angling slowly toward the old ditch but avoiding stands of switchgrass.  Rags caught sight of the construction yard, packed with large machinery he found all too interesting–and alarming.  However, as a basically “whatever…” kind of horse, he merely stared, pointed his ears at it, and walked a little slower.    As we came nearer the corner of the yard he was more interested in that, and I kept talking to him calmly, reminding him that he had a rider aboard he needed to pay attention to.  Then when we passed the corner of the yard, sticking to the line of the diagonal ditch, those big scary machines receded a little and he began looking ahead–we were approaching the highway  at a slant, just like the ditch.  but about ten yards from it, and though traffic was light, there were cars and trucks going past.  As the space on our side opened out, I was very happy with his reaction: minimal.   We  did not go up to the fence, within a few feet of the highway, because there are people who find it tempting (too tempting) to blast their air horns or throw things at a female riding a horse, in hopes of seeing her fall off when they scare the horse.   And Rags does not need to be scared of going to new places because someone throws a bottle at him.   He needs more going to new places before he has to deal with yokels.

So we walked down there and watched the traffic and then turned and came back, this time closer to the ditch, and Rags showed some eagerness to get back (walking slightly faster) but then…oh, horrors…he discovered his Awful Owner did not agree that now we were done.  When he tried to veer over to the tractor where R- was sitting…he was firmly guided somewhere else.  He had to walk a “weave” through a line of bur oaks.  He had to walk into the lower Near Meadow and make a circle there.  He had to do the tree-weaving thing *again*.    (He doesn’t read a watch and thus did not know how long he was supposed to work.)  When he finally got the OK to go through the gate into the north horse lot, and stop by the portable stall…he was convinced he had been tortured beyond endurance.  (He had a slightly sweaty area under the saddle.)

On Tuesday, the weather had turned blustery.  VERY blustery.  Gusts over 30 mph blustery.   This level of wind often upsets horses (for one thing, they can’t hear things sneaking up on them.)  Not cold–wind out of the SW.  Rags, somewhat to my surprise,  came over and was willing to be haltered (pushed his nose into the part of a halter where his nose goes.  We did the grooming thing; we did the tacking up thing…he heaved a couple of sighs but was overall much less fussed than usual.  The last several rides…maybe three?…he’s been more willing to take the bit, but Tuesday he *reached out for it.*  It’s my personal preference to get my horses to take the bit themselves and just hold it in a relaxed mouth while I arrange the rest.  Tigger, with his scarred tongue, will never be able to do that, but Ky and Kuincey both learned how to take the bit and how to release it so it didn’t hit their teeth coming out.   Many horses, having had their teeth clanked by bits, throw their heads around as soon as the rider starts to take the bridle off, and that increases the chance of  hitting teeth.  Rags is now at the stage of understanding how to take it in, but not how to hold his head still at the right level for me to clear his ears easily and adjust as necessary, or how to release it in a relaxed way.  But it’s coming.  It’s so much pleasanter for both horse and rider if the horse will cooperate with the in-and-out of the bit: no banged teeth, no yank of straps (by horse throwing its head), no struggle to stick a thumb in the horse’s mouth to “make him open his mouth.”

Rags did another interesting thing.  I’ve been using the portable stall for dismounting.  To do that, I need Rags to ‘listen’ to my leg cues and stand close enough to the side of the stall for me to grasp the top rail with my left hand and put my left foot on the rail near the left stirrup, then, with those braced, try to get my right leg over his back.   He’s often a little too close or too far away (if too far away we have to circle around and try again.)  If he’s too close, there’s no room for me to get to the ground between him and the stall, and R- has to lead him a little forward.   Tuesday, when my leg was still “hung up” on the saddle cantle and I had both hands and  one foot on the portable stall, he slowly swung his hindquarters away from the stall, and I dragged my foot across the saddle (not his back) and then could step down into the space he’d opened.  Was that with intent?   Horses lack the part of the brain for planning, says one neurologist who’s studied horse brains, but I’m not so sure.   Have to see if he’ll do it again.

Today, Wednesday,  I had a lot of driving to do and didn’t get to ride at all (despite the wind being down, the temps merely “coolish” in the morning–but having seen a vlog entry by Meg Elphick Tuesday night, on how she starts one of her performance horses back into work after a period off,  I did have time to try something with Tigger: leading him over raised poles at a walk.  I have used both ground poles (poles laid on the ground) and raised poles (propped up on something) to exercise horses before, both as part of ground work and part of ridden work, and had walked Tigger over ground poles after his injury as he became able to do that…but I haven’t been consistently working him since, doubting that he’d ever be rideable either physically or mentally.   But he’s lost some topline muscle, and Meg pointed out that walking over raised poles even without a rider develops the horse’s abdominal muscles and the muscles along the spine and hindquarter.  So I told him he was going to earn some cookies, and lo–he came and put his head in the halter and off we went.  Meg said in the video that even 15 minutes a day several days a week (every day if time allowed) would help an out of work horse get stronger and shorten the “walk only” ridden time (she’s planning to do walk-only with Jam, one of hers, for just 2 weeks, not the month I’m taking with Rags. Jam will be her mount in Badminton Grassroots this year…that’s not the full on 5-star 3-day, but a course laid out for young riders not up the levels yet, at the obstacle heights they’re used to in British Eventing competitions.

First we did the usual baby-level ground stuff: walk, stop, back up, walk, turn, turn the other way, stop…etc.  Then I led him over the two ground poles I already had down…he remembered that and was fine with it.  Then over the raised poles I’d put up for Rags (last week?  week before?)  to help him grasp the “lift your front feet a little higher off the ground, stumble less” (and he is stumbling less, as Monday’s ride in roughly mowed varied grasses on a slope showed.)   Tigger banged a back foot on the raised pole at first but on repeated tries was able to go over them without a touch.  He’d been led over them before, but not for a long time.  I was watching how his right hind leg worked, when it didn’t touch as well as when it did…the last time I tried him over raised poles he was struggling but now it looked “normal.”   (Since I”m not a vet I won’t claim it WAS normal, just that it looked better than it did in the first 18 months post injury.)   Even better, Tigger seemed happy to be “working” with me again.  So the new plan (when I finish the wildlife management report, which has a very hard and inflexible deadline)  is to exercise Tigger over different patterns of poles for 15 minutes *before* getting Rags ready to ride and go out on the trails.   It means moving poles and supports around every day, to provide enough variation to keep from boring the horse (they like routine but they also like [some] novelty), but it will be good for me.    I do need more poles.

Another change I think I’m seeing in Rags this year is a conformation change.  These things can happen gradually or suddenly, as they do with humans.  Rags was very narrow in front when I got him, as if his front legs “came out of the same hole” almost.  Bit by bit–and without my doing much to try to correct that–it looks to me that his chest has broadened some; there’s more space between his front legs.   He’s not as rump high as he was (but still needs the riser pad) and he looks less bow-legged when viewed from behind.

I spent most of the day driving (to the city, to a friend’s house and then Dover Saddlery for various things, then picking up M to take to M-‘s dentist slightly more than halfway home, then sitting mostly in the car waiting for him to finish…but the lab had screwed up the requested adjustment to his permanent crown so it’s still not on and the dental staff is annoyed with the lab…then taking M- to his apartment, and then driving home, arriving between 5:30 and 6, with the new cold front buffeting the car for the last half of the way home.  I’m really tired and it’s almost 10 pm, so…no more tonight.



7 thoughts on “A Tale of Two Rides (Numbers 10 & 11 in current series of “rides since hoof trim.”)

  1. I’m so glad both horses are improving! And dental labs are the pits – I had a long course of dental treatment over the summer, which included having a new plate fitted, and the lab screwed up a couple of times; luckily we were able to stick to our original timeline, but a couple of times it was a bit close….

    1. I suppose I should be glad to hear that other dental practices have problems with dental labs, but wow does this suggest that dental labs need to improve their training & performance. (I say that knowing nothing about how difficult it is to build crowns and plates and all, so maybe I’m being unfair. But it seems like doing so would be a mature technology and therefore less likely to fail often.)

  2. Good to hear both Rags and Tigger are happy working with you, and that Rags continues to improve.

    Dentist labs seem to be a problem on occasion here too. The dental practise I use makes your fitting appointment when they have actually received the relevant item as they were “wasting” too many appointments and too much of their patients time.

    1. Our dental practice also makes the fitting appointment when the item comes in, but they can’t tell if it fits correctly until it’s in the mouth. M’s was a little too big–touching adjacent teeth–and when it was sent back to be filed down (or however that’s done), they apparently filed an inside surface too much and left a gap between the tooth it was on and the crown…the kind of space into which stuff can go and cause decay of the tooth. So back it went. Poor M-!

  3. It’s nice to hear the progress that both horses are making. A horse that moves or throws his head around when trying to remove the bridle is a nuisance and possibly dangerous, to both the handler and horse, so it’s good Rags seems to be looking forward to the bridle, and to working with you which comes after the bridle.

    The explanation of a horse’s conditioning, losing it and regaining it is very interesting. It must be exciting to find that Tigger is enjoying his exercise with you working over poles.

    Take care!

    1. Louise, I’m very happy to find that Tigger’s mood improves with attention and an activity he likes…walking beside me on the lead is OK with him. Attention (esp. touching) isn’t OK if he’s not haltered. That suggests insufficient early experience. I may go out when he’s mostly through with his supper hay and do it before it gets dark (this morning, Friday, it was COLD (for us, 20F) and I didn’t try.

  4. Bella (current horse) loves taking the bit (she will just about dive for it). She was in a clinic and they wanted me to switch to her halter so I grabbed it, and when I asked her to ‘spit’ the clinician (and others) were surprised which surprised me. I think that giving them a verbal that this is happening makes things so much easier for the horse. Sometimes I have to remind Bella to spit because she is holding onto the bit but I’m willing to wait.

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