Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Walkin' Hola for a DHC

Over the past week Hola and I have been busy walking the trails. I am very fortunate to board close to a river dyke where trails and paths for walkers, bikers, runners and riders are easily accessible. In years previous, the footing was made up of hard backed gravel topped with sharp loose rock, (not ideal for unshod horses) but due to flooding last summer the parks have replaced the footing with a finer pea gravel that is ideal for developing a good barefoot horse. One of my New Years resolutions was to start walking Hola on a daily basis... this killed two birds with one stone. I need the exercise. And Hola needs time on hard ground to support the development of healthy bones, a good food and a well developed digital heel cushion. As an added benefit we also get the opportunity to work on leading past scary obstacles, sending her over fallen logs and exposing her to traffic, pedestrians and horse-eating-boulders. So, I guess it would be more accurate to say we killed nine birds with one stone. Of all the birds we are busy'a'killin' my primary goal is actually to help Hola develop a decent foot including that ever-important digital heel cushion, a part of a horses anatomy I didn't even know existed just a year ago.

I found a site with excellent photos and information on digital heel cushions (DHC). Check out HorseHoofHelp. There is a super cool picture of the digital cushion in an elephant foot! An important fact is that the digital heel cushion is developed while the horses is growing and the only way to grow a good cushion is to provide the foot with stimulation on hard surfaces (given that the foot is trimmed correctly). After reading about DHC I realized that Hola has had VERY little exposure to hard ground and even less exercise on good footing. Here in the Pacific Northwest we are a land of mud and muck from about September through till June. I know that an hour walk a day isn't going to amount to much but I feel it is better than nothing. As an added benefit it will provide me with extra motivation to get off my butt and out the door! Which is especially important as my Hola is just a tiny wee thing! I sure hope that her butt starts to grow at about the same rate that my butt starts to shrink! Or I might not be riding her this year at all!

Monday, January 7, 2013

Bitting Up

Long time no post!

I am going to give this 'blog re-start' another shot as I have recently begun working with Hola again and really would love to keep a training journal. Unfortunately this will probably just be a simple (read boring) training log. I have too much going on in my personal life to make add much more than the basic facts so I hope you will forgive me. I will keep this public in the unlikely event someone finds my training notes helpful (if nothing else it could be a "What NOT to Do!";)

Yesterday evening I bitted up Hola for the second time. Last week I slipped the bit in her mouth and let her eat a beat pulp mash I had made especially sloppy. Hola loves food. Like L.O.V.E.S. food. I use this to my advantage at every chance I get. I can make almost any experience a positive one if I somehow find a way to incorporate a bucket of grain or a bag of hay. With that being said I have to be really careful to make sure that Hola is still aware of what I am introducing to her and not zoned out into the la-la land of lush hay and sweet grain. I can make those first few times a little less stressful and more positive by allowing her to eat but she will not have accepted or really thought through that new situation until she faces it sans food. So the first time I put that bit in her mouth I immediately set that mash next to her and for the next ten minutes she thought of little else but the delicious concoction of beet pulp and grain. This evening I put a bit in her mouth and left her to mull on it. Hola's eyes are so expressive. I couldnt help but laugh as she did everything she could to eject that mouthful of metal. I could almost hear her saying, "So let me get this straight, I have this thing in my mouth but I cant eat it or spit it out! What kind of bullshit is this!" She went from curious, to annoyed, to really pissed off. After pissed off came panic. Her eyes became bug eyed and she seemed to be screaming... "Ahh... Mom! Mom! Help! This thing! It is stuck in my mouth! I'm choking!" Up until that point I had been standing next to her watching to be sure she didnt get her tongue over the bit (okay, in truth I was busy laughing at her antics) but once she started to panic I decided to just pick up a brush and start grooming her like nothing was the matter. I kept a close watch and as soon as I noticed her stop chewing for a solid 20 seconds or so I quickly slipped the bit out of her mouth and then continued grooming (like nothing happened.) This strategy pretty much sums up my entire training philosophy- just act like it is No Big Deal.

The hardest part of having a young horse is having to get over the "first time" hurdles. The day comes when they have to tie hard for the first time (FTFT), stand in the trailer divider FTFT, go down the street FTFT, go out alone FTFT, be left at home (when the herd mates are taken out) FTFT, and all these circumstances wherein you know that no matter how well you set them up to deal with that FTFT moment, they are going to freak out and there is a chance that they could seriously injury themselves during that learning process. You just do the best you can to make the situation as safe as possible and then hope for the best. Oh, and somehow find a way to be acutely aware of all the thousand way things can go seriously wrong but still act like it is No Big Deal.