Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Good Update on Red

Yesterday was a big, good, milestone in Red's recovery from his case of EPM.  But, before we get to that, here's how things have gone.

Red was definitively diagnosed with EPM (peptide ELISA blood test and neuro exams by a vet) in early September.  This post describes what we'd been experiencing.

He started treatment a month ago (September 11), with Orogin-10, and after the 10 days of treatment with that, started on low-dose decoquinate for another 30 days - we have about 10 days left of that to go.  His improvement was steady (we had some exacerbation of symptoms early in treatment, but that's fairly common as the organisms causing EPM die off), but at his first recheck with the vet, he still had some neuro symptoms, although they were significantly improved.  We put him back on levamisole as well, and as he's continued to improve, we've been gradually tailing down the dose of that.  He's now on every three days treatment with levamisole, and we'll go to every 4 days soon and then stop that completely shortly thereafter.

I rode him briefly (and carefully) on September 17, but he wasn't quite ready yet for that and, although he was willing, didn't feel quite right.  The vet recheck confirmed what I was feeling.  He had almost another two weeks off due to the Mark Rashid clinics and also the weather - he was coming in every day slathered with mud.

We started riding again on a regular basis about 10 days ago, and have been riding almost every day since.  Red's improvement has been steady, and slow.  We started at the walk, and he's been glad to do that.  The feel of his walk - the cadence and determination - has gradually improved.  Once the walk was OK, we tried some trot.  The first couple of tries were fairly shuffling - he was willing to trot but not to really use himself or move out, and he wouldn't (wisely) trot around corners.  I let him move as he wished, and just asked that he keep his head fairly low so he was working the correct muscles.

Over the next week, his trot gradually improved, still only on a straight line.  He was starting to engage behind and was willing to work, but would still stop trotting if a turn came up.  At this point his neuro symptoms (by my quick check) were almost gone.  For example, in the foot placement test, where you try to place a front foot out to the side or put one hind foot across and behind the other, he resisted strongly, and his tight turning test was much better.  Part of the issue at this point was probably rebuilding muscle strength and "relearning" balance under saddle.

After each ride, we'd do a walk around the property, and although he looked hard at lots of things, he was back to normal - very alert, cautious/curious but not really spooky.

Our weather's been beautiful lately - temps in the 60s, with sun and wind.  Three days ago, I decided Red was ready and we went to the outdoor arena for the first time in a long time.  He did a lot of "gawking" at horses and everything else that was going on out there, but that's pretty normal for him. There were no spooks, and he worked willingly - still not comfortable at the trot around corners.  At the end of each session, he was standing calmly on a loose rein. We did that again the next day - still just fine and in fact just plain delightful.

Yesterday was a milestone - Red worked in the outdoor arena by himself - no other horses out there for comfort - and he was willing, for the first time since he started treatment, to trot freely around corners.   We did a pretty much normal ride - not too long but he worked well, carrying himself correctly and using his hind end.  He seemed pretty happy about it too, and I certainly was!

As some of you know, this is my fifth case of definitively diagnosed EPM, and Red's second case.  Red's recovery has been somewhat slower than in my previous cases.  In certain other cases, my horses recovered to normal very quickly after starting treatment.  In Red's case, although recovery was steady, it was more gradual.  Apparently the organisms in phenotype one can cause more severe neuro symptoms, and each phenotype contains multiple strains that may themselves differ in severity.  Also, Red is more of a "talker" and "emoter" about what he's experiencing - Pie, for example, is a "concealer".  If Red's not feeling quite right, he lets you know all about it.  I actually appreciated that as it allows me to really know what's going on with him.

But I think we're finally really getting back to normal, and it's pretty exciting!

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

2016 Mark Rashid Clinic: General Principles

Mark commented at one point in the clinic that, although some of what he teaches involves technique, what he's really trying to teach us is principles and fundamental tools.  With technique, often when a rider encounters a new situation, they do not have the skills to come up with a solution.  With principles, his students are empowered to figure things out on their own.  That's one of the main reasons I've been riding with Mark all these years - the principles he teaches are very powerful tools for every horse person from beginner to advanced.

It's all about the feel in the horse's whole body - it's never about head and neck position - a horse can be horribly braced and still in a "frame".  Mark frequently uses backing - it's not about the horse moving backwards but it's to start to unlock the horse's body and the inside of the horse so you get a soft feel from nose to tail, where the horse is engaging its core and lifting its back.  It's about the inside of the horse letting go of tension and worry and just feeling better about things.

There was one horse at the clinic who Mark said had clearly been ridden a lot in draw reins - the owner didn't know the horse's history although the horse had come to her with a lot of troubles and some serious physical pain issues which took a lot of body work to resolve.

On the lunge, the horse tended to pull to the outside.  Mark had the owner work on getting small softenings of the head to the inside and being sure to give the horse a release.  And although he's said many times that he rarely does lateral flexion work with horses - it tends to produce "gumby" horses where the head and neck are disconnected from the rest of the body (that would be Red when I got him) - in this case he thought it would be very useful until the horse got the idea (no need to continue doing it after that).  Both in hand and on the lunge, what he was looking for was not just a tip of the nose (with the poll still heading to the outside), but rather a softening of the head and neck where the nose and poll remained in about a vertical alignment.  Once the mare got the idea, things on the lunge went much better.

Under saddle - the rider was just starting to ride the horse again - the horse only had two head positions to start - braced upwards, or completely avoiding contact with the bit by putting her nose to her chest.  There was no softness at all there and the horse was worried.  Very quickly, by gently lifting one rein to get the horse to raise its head from the curled position, the horse discovered that it could hold its head normally and accept soft contact.  It was like a lightbulb went on for the horse - her eye softened and things just went on to get better from there.

If your horse is telling you that they're troubled about something, don't skip the work necessary to get to the bottom of that.  If you do, you're setting yourself up for trouble later.  There was a teenage owner with her thoroughbred who came out to ride.  The horse was fidgeting and restless.  The girl said that the horse would be much better once she got on.  She struggled to get on, the horse took off as she was getting on and promptly bucked her off.  That's a pretty dramatic case in point, but there are a lot of other cases - you need to be able to read the "tells" and have some principles to get the horse feeling better.

Mark said that the horse wasn't bad or misbehaving, it was just acting like a horse and expressing with its body how it was feeling inside, which was very worried.  He took the girl back to basics - proper leading where the horse maintained a safe distance - even if it was agitated - and began to understand that there was someone who would give it leadership and keep it safe.  Then they did a lot of lungeing - Mark said the purpose of this is not to tire the horse out but rather to watch for subtle signs of the beginnings of relaxation - a slowing of the canter, proper and deep breathing and a lowering of head position.  From time to time, he would stop and ask the horse to stand quietly for a while, looking for a specific "tell".  When the adrenaline's been pumping, the horse (and us if we've been stressed) needs three things - vigorous motion, deep breathing and, finally, a big shake - whole body is good, but neck and head are a start.  Finally, the horse began to release some tension while standing there - licking, chewing (not signs of submission but rather signs of release of tension), yawning and finally a nice head/neck shake.

A note on groundwork - Mark isn't one of those who thinks groundwork all the time/every day is necessary.  He uses groundwork to safely help the horse work through certain issues and achieve feeling better on the inside.  Once this is through - sometimes it can take a number of sessions - he doesn't continue doing groundwork.  There's no drilling or repetition just for the sake of it.

From there the horse was much happier.  Then the girl tried to get on again.  The horse's tension level rose again - it was remembering that the last time they'd done this things didn't go very well.  Mark worked with her to have the horse line itself up at the block correctly, and the first time she got on, Mark held the horse to keep her safe.  The horse took a moment to calm down, but then did when it realized nothing bad was happening.  The girl and her horse continued working on that in the round pen after she was done with Mark, with assistance from Kayla (one of Mark's long time students and a trainer at the farm).

This principle of not blowing through things when there are "tells" of tension/anxiety from the horse is a really good one.  For example, if things aren't OK at mounting - the horse is tense/anxious or won't stand calmly on a loose rein - they're not suddenly going to be OK at the walk.  Same applies at the walk - if things aren't working there and the horse isn't soft, you won't suddenly find it at the trot.

2016 Mark Rashid Clinic Day Three: Unblock/Unbrace

Day three for Tessa and me was about undoing my tendency to do too much in lateral work, particularly with my upper body, but also with my leg.  What we worked on were some fundamental principles that will have application to all of my riding.  Since I've been home, I've had a couple of rides on both Missy and Pie where these principles have already made a big difference.

Do as little as possible with your body.  Your position should be neutral - torso upright and balanced in the saddle, with no lean to the side or backwards or forwards, head up and focus up and out - and this shouldn't change even when you're asking your horse to do something.  If you're putting "English" into your asks by leaning or twisting, or staring down at your horse's head, all you're doing is making it more difficult for  your horse to do what you're asking.  The less you do, the easier it is for your horse to give you what you're asking for. For example, I have some issues with my upper body - in cueing for a leg yield I tend to lock my leg on the horse and lean away from the direction of motion - essentially trying to "push" the horse over.  That doesn't work very well - I'm essentially both blocking the motion and also putting my weight off center in a way that makes it very difficult for the horse to move.  In fact, my weight really needed to be moving (with the horse) in the opposite direction for the horse to do what I wanted.

Make sure your asks and cues don't themselves block the horse's ability to move or create braces.  For example, in asking for a leg yield, you don't want to have a continuous leg cue - that would block the side to side motion of the horse's barrel that is necessary for free motion - instead you just "follow" the motion of the barrel with your leg - it feels just like walking with the horse ahead and to the side.  What you're doing is essentially amplifying the motion of the hind leg you want to move over - as the barrel swings away from your leg in walk, that hind leg is moving forward and that's the time to influence it.  Effectively what you're doing is "mirroring" the horse - where your "hind" leg moves together with the horse's hind leg.

If you hold your breath or breathe shallowly rather than deeply, your horse is likely to do the same - this can reduce relaxation and softness and even create a brace.

Do it yourself first and then do it with your horse.  It isn't about making/having the horse do something, it's about enabling the horse to do things together with us.  When I was able to "think" myself moving over in leg yield, things pretty much smoothed out and almost no aids were required, even on a horse that was new to the concept.  When I got home and tried it with Pie, who does know a bit about it but had been struggling with my leaning and bracing, it was effortless and just plain lovely.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

2016 Mark Rashid Clinic Day Two: It's All the Same

Today was day two of the Mark Rashid clinic.  My little paint mare Tessa and I had a very good day.  We started our ride working on developing her consistent softness in the back, walk and trot - it didn't take long at all to develop this - she's very willing and if you're consistent in what you offer her, she picks right up on it.  Mark just let me work through this with her - he knows I know how to do this part - Mark talks or helps only when it is needed.  (For example, yesterday, I did some ground work with Tessa, who was nervous, to get her responding to me - walk, trot and canter, with transitions between, until she was listening and connected, and then also worked with her on standing still for mounting before I got on.  I didn't ask Mark if I should do this, I just did it, and he didn't say a thing but waited for me to be done - that's how he is which is one of the reasons he's such a great teacher.  He always says that his job is to empower his students to work on their own, and he walks the talk.)

Then we worked on my lateral work - leg yield.  I have a tendency with horses who are not super responsive (Red is super responsive and picks up on a hint of a thought) - think Pie and Missy - I tend to over cue with my legs and also lean with my body, effectively blocking lateral movement.  I knew pretty clearly what the problem is, but not entirely how to solve it, although I had ideas that proved to be pretty close to what we did.  Mark says having a super responsive horse doesn't necessarily teach us to be good horsemen and women, since the horse fills in the blanks for us and we don't have to provide the direction most horses need.

Tessa was intermediate in responsiveness, but also had done no previous lateral work so had no idea what I was asking her to do.  The solution turned out to be exactly the same as with the transition work the day before:

Do it yourself as/before you ask the horse to join you in the movement.  Don't brace or pull, direct and guide.  Use the physical aid to back up the ask represented by your doing the movement in your own mind/body, as softly as possible.  Don't cue continuously - match your cues to the movement of the (hind) leg you're trying to move over. Keep the focus up and out, not down and on the horse.  Move as little as possible - all movement should have a specific intent to communicate to the horse.

That's all.  That's all there is to any of it, and it's all really the same.  Once I got that all straightened out, Tessa did lovely leg yields in both directions with a lot of softness and impulsion.  What a delightful little mare - we have another day together tomorrow.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

2016 Mark Rashid Clinic, Day One: Transitions, Deconstructed

The first day of the Mark Rashid clinic was very interesting.  There was the horse that pulled when being lunged, there was the horse that was processing trauma (he'd been hit by a car a number of months ago, and, although sound and healed, still having some emotional/mental troubles), and other interesting stuff.

I worked on transitions with my "mystery" horse Tessa - a little paint mare.  I worked on transitions last year, too - downwards transitions - carrying the energy through and not blocking the motion with my body.  That represented a lot of progress for me.

This year I had asked specifically to work on upwards transitions, but we ended up talking about more than that while I worked.  Mark gave me the clearest understanding of what a transition is that I've had, and I was able to use that understanding to practice what he was telling me.  We were in the small indoor - I think they'd gotten 5 inches of rain in less than two days and the outdoor arena was pretty much entirely under water.

Here's my paraphrase of what Mark said:

The transition we do is our transition, not the horse's transition.  If we don't transition ourselves, it will be very hard for the horse to transition. Everything we do during the transition - intentional or not (I had a tendency to brace in my shoulders on a downwards transition and had to think about not doing that) - is part of the transition we present to the horse.  Our transition has the following aspects: thought, breathing and (if needed) a physical cue.  It's our job to present our transition to the horse in the same way - consistency - so the horse can attempt to match us/join with us in the transition.  They won't get it every time at the beginning, but the more consistent we can be, the quicker they can learn what we want and join with us.

Take a trot to walk transition, for example.  In the time it takes to think "walk", I feel the new rhythm (1-2-3-4) in my mind, change the energy, exhale at the same time, and if the transition from the horse isn't happening at the "k" in "walk", use my hands as a physical (and secondary) cue.  (The upwards transition to "trot" is just the same, the physical cue is different - leg.) This can occur in the timeframe "walk" - very short - or in the timeframe "w-a-a-a-a-l-k" - longer - it's up to us, but as a horse is learning what we want we should be consistent, every time.  It can't devolve into "walk . . . walk . . . walk . . ."  or "walK" (abrupt physical cue).  The thought and energy change always precede, if only by a fraction of a second, the physical cue - which is likely to become less and less necessary at the horse gets the idea.  The exhale (both on upwards and downwards transitions) should last for whatever length we set the "walk" or "trot" transition in ourselves to be.

Hope that all makes some sense - ask questions if you'd like and I'll try to answer.

Tessa was a very willing partner for me - she's a bit green and a bit braced (the brace is something to work on another day), but we got some really lovely transitions during our session.

More tomorrow . . .

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Red Gets a Good Report

The vet came today to take another look at Red to see how he was doing with his EPM - he just finished his 10-day treatment with Orogin-10.  He was substantially improved:

He no longer parks out when standing - he's nice and square.

He is much less spooky, and is mentally much more relaxed, bright and friendly.

I trotted him in hand in circles in both directions and he trotted willingly, moved well and was sound.

He wouldn't allow any of his feet to be put in the wrong places, but the left hind is still weak on the tail pull.

His backing is better - he still slightly drags and "sweeps" with his hinds, but much less than before.

His skin reflexes are still quite depressed but much better than they were.

So, much better, not 100% but doing very well.  Red and I are still doing a lot of hand walking around the property, which is also a good way to assess his level of spookiness - this is enormously improved but can vary from day to day.  I can now ride him at the walk, and can also lunge him over ground poles and low cavelletti.

Since he's still not 100%, in addition to the 30 days of low-dose decoquinate, he'll also get another two weeks of levamisole to help boost his recovery.  The vet will come back in two weeks and we'll see how he's doing, but I'm certainly encouraged.

It's nice to have my sweet, curious, friendly Red back again.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Red Continues to Improve

Red continues to improve, and I was enheartened yesterday to see how well he was doing.  At that point, he'd had 8 doses of the Orogin-10 medicine.  I watched him come in from turnout with Pie - Red was walking confidently with no hind toe dragging.  His stance on cross ties for grooming was completely normal - nice and square.  I asked Miguel who works at the barn how Red was doing - he handles the horses every day and has personal experience of how difficult to handle on the ground Red had become with his extreme spookiness.  He said "very good, not scared of anything at all".

We didn't ride yesterday - he gets a reevaluation from the vet on Tuesday and we'll wait for that.  But we did some work in hand.  We walked all around the indoor arena - no spookiness - and then all around the outdoor area and around the outside of the barn.  He was alert and interested in everything.  He was able to walk across ground poles and even over low caveletti without tripping or stumbling.  We even went up and investigated several pieces of large, scary equipment - he was curious about everything.

Then we did a bit of hand grazing.  No spooking, even when Miguel rode up behind him on a bicycle.  Enormously improved - I'm delighted.