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.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Mark Rashid Clinic

Some of you know that I've been riding with Mark Rashid for a number of years now.  If you don't know who Mark is, look it up.  He's an exceptional horseman, and has transformed how I think about my relationship with horses, and my riding.  He's based in Colorado, and only gets out this way at most once a year.  He's going to be in Cedarburg, Wisconsin, at Black Star Farm about an hour from me, for 6 days starting next week, and I plan to be there - hope to see some of you there.  Heather Burke there is a student of Mark's, and she and I worked together with Red and Pie back in 2012.

I expect to be riding with Mark for at least a few days.  Here's the email I sent to the clinic organizer at Black Star:

What I’m working on right now is promptness and precision in upwards transitions (walk/trot, walk/canter) and also cueing for lateral work (like leg yields) without creating a brace.  Pie’s natural default is halt/slower, so upwards transitions can be slow to come through - but as usual it’s really all about me and how I ask the horse to do it.  Do you have a horse I could borrow, that is somewhat like that (and not well schooled in easy walk/canter transitions), and who hasn’t done a huge amount of lateral work (or who won’t do lateral work well if the rider braces)?  Or a horse that is well schooled but who won’t do things unless you ask correctly :).  Or any horse at all that you’d let me ride ;) and we’ll work on whatever Mark thinks needs doing. 

I'm leaving Pie at home to keep Red company during his recovery - Red doesn't need the extra stress of Pie going away.  Also, Missy is still in the earliest stages of getting back into work after her hock issues.  The folks at Black Star have always been very generous about letting me ride a "mystery" horse.  This is challenging for me, and helps improve my horsemanship every time I do it.

At this point, I think I'm going to be riding on Thursday and Friday . . . will let you all know.

Reality Check

Red is definitely doing much better after 7 days of treatment for EPM using Orogin-10 - less spooky and less ataxic, and stance on the cross ties was completely square and normal.  I decided to do a short reality check ride on him today to assess how he was doing.  I didn't think he'd be unsafe to ride at the walk, and he wasn't.  But he wasn't normal either.  There was no foot-dragging behind, and no bad steps, but he was what I describe as "wallowy" - think being on a ship on the ocean - this is very similar to how Dawn was back in 2012 when she had a strain of EPM in this phenotype - this type (strain 1) seems to produce much more significant ataxia.  All the feet were working, and he was walking, but he was slow, with his head fairly low, and there was a lot of sway in his motion.  We carefully walked a couple of times around the indoor in each direction - he didn't spook by the door but was slightly concerned about a stripe of light on the arena floor, and I got off and we did a bit of leading work.

He did spook once, slightly, when the door was behind him - I think he'll always do this to some degree, but he wasn't overly concerned afterwards.  He helped me put some cones away - he picked them up in his mouth and carried them - his curiosity and playful side is back.

He's got a few more days of the 10-day treatment (followed by 30 days of a stepped down treatment).  After he's had the full 10 days on Tuesday I may do another assessment ride to check how he's doing. I think his recovery may take significant time, but then that's something we have lots of.  It'll take as long as it takes.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Getting Back to Normal

Red is now improving again after 6 days of treatment.  He got another 1,000-lb. dose of Banamine today as the vet instructed.  He's walking better - slight hoof drag on left hind but that seemed to be improving through the afternoon and he walked down the barn aisle without a toe drag later in the afternoon.  He's more comfortable turning in both directions although he's still having to organize his feet a bit so we take things in a leisurely manner.

The most important thing is that his affect and behavior are normal.  He's still very alert and interested in everything going on, but not worried or spooky.  Although it was very windy today, I felt it was time to see how he'd be walking around the outside of the barn and around the outdoor arena.  We hadn't been out there for weeks, and the last times he'd been outside he was borderline dangerous to handle - huge spooks and lots of alarms.

Today, despite the wind and no horses being out there, he was perfectly fine.  We walked all around the outdoor and around the barn to the front and did a bit of hand grazing.  No spooks or alarms.  He was perfectly relaxed for most of it, and even along the equipment barn where there were things to look at, he looked carefully but stayed right with me.

I think he's back, and it's great to see.  He's got a few more days of his medicine, and then we switch to a low dose for another 30 days.  I'm hoping to start riding him at the walk this weekend - he's got some muscle and coordination to rebuild.  It's good to have Red back.