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January 12, 2020

Fun With Balls: Equine Edition

Yeah, have fun with that title, google. I'm generally not one to spend money on a bunch of animal "toys."  I never saw a big need with my horses -- after all, they can play with each other.  However, recently, Echo has been particularly dedicated at chewing up everything that can't outrun him & Solo tires of being harrassed (as do I).

I have a $5 horse ball hanging on Echo's side of the shed, which is daisy-chained to an empty apple cider vinegar jug.  Those occasionally get chomped, as the jug does make a fun noise, which is an Echo prerequisite, but they don't keep a Baby Monster busy for long.  I needed a motivating puzzle for his over-active face.
Pic from 2018 - Ball & jug on a string
I decided to try the Shires Ball Feeder.  I liked that you can use your own bait in it & the angled sides meant I could put it out in my paddocks without it rolling down to the creek after the first nose shove.  Sadly, the blaze orange (which I wanted for visibility) was constantly on backorder so I went for purple & figure I can always paint it or orange-tape it later.

What I Thought Would Happen

Solo has never been food-motivated, my attempts to clicker train him long ago ended quickly when he shrugged & said, Give me the treat or don't, lady, whatever.  So I assumed he might give said ball a sniff & a bump or two, but since it wouldn't constantly pour treats, he probably wouldn't be that interested.  I was sure Echo, on the other hand, my problem-solver who no longer gets treats because he will devour your arm, would be all over this device.

What Actually Happened

I loaded it with a handful or two of the Manna Pro apple nuggets, which both horses like.  I kept a couple in my hand for "training."  When Solo approached it first & gave it a nudge, I dropped a treat under it for him to discover, explaining the concept.  Treats don't come out the hole as easily as you'd expect.

My treat-ambivalent Solo figured that thing out in about three minutes & set to work.  He systematically rolled it, then paused to survey the ground around & beneath it for tasty morsels.  If none came out, he started over.

Echo observed his Solo-boss with a noisy thing.  Then walked over to me & stuck his nose in my face, exclaiming, HAI MOM, UR HANDZ SMELL LIKE NOMS!!!!  GIVESZ!!  As you can see about 15 seconds into the video...


I tried to tempt him with ground treats but he could not be convinced that they were more interesting than me.  I think they both just revel in doing the opposite of whatever I think they should.

After a little while, I took the ball out because it was going to be bitterly cold that night & it's plastic.  I put it back out when I was at work a couple days later.  I came home to find said ball had fallen victim to Echo's plan to get the treats out HIS way.
Once again...this is why we can't have nice things
It was only a flesh wound, though.  Fortunately, Ball had escaped under the fence before an internal injuries occurred.  Ball was still functional, so I added a handful of the larger, heavier treats from our Secret Santa box, in addition to the apple nuggets still in there.  The smaller nuggets were expert at falling into the valley around the hole -- good for stretching out the entertainment, but I wanted Echo to enjoy some instant gratification so he would use Ball appropriately instead of gnawing it like an obsessive beaver.

It worked!  Yesterday, he put his nose to the task with enthusiasm & I could see him chewing periodically, then going back for more.  Solo, meanwhile, didn't even glance at the thing.
NOW you're doing it right
I guess they eventually ended up where I expected them to, heh.

Do your horses have any boredom busting toys they love?  Homemade ones count!    

December 29, 2019

So You Think You Want A Young Horse? Part 2

You can read Part 1 here.  Moving on to Part 2...

Be Honest About What You Are Capable Of

I think this is the most critical element to consider.  Bringing along a young horse can seem like it would be similar to riding an older horse, just "doing less."  That it would consist of just riding straight lines & big circles & going over smaller jumps.  After some period of time, you then increase the complexity of your requests & the horse will figure it out.  At least that's the vague idea I had in my head a long time ago.

It's not until you are in the trenches that you realize it's up to you to figure out how to explain to this giant creature that doesn't speak English, yet is still very capable of sharing its opinion of you (sometimes using distinctly obscene language), exactly how to arrange its body in response to your wiggling around on its back.  And because you are supposed to be captain of this voyage, if you can't explain things clearly enough, your equine crewmember will, at best, make his own navigation decisions, or at worst, stage a mutiny.
Solo believes in clear warnings of impending mutiny (2008)
This has been the biggest challenge for me:  knowing when to push & when to step back.  When to let it go & try again another day versus when to insist on a little more effort.  And this isn't a decision made just once in a ride.  Rather it's 10 or 50 moments throughout each ride where you have a split second to choose a fork in the road.  And I'll just go ahead & tell you:  you're going to make a forkin' mess sometimes. 

Which is why it's also important to try & stack the deck in your favour ahead of time.  When you buy the horse, look hardest at his brain & his nature & find the type most compatible with you.  Horses are forgiving creatures in general, but some are more patient about it then others.  I knew I was going to be working with this horse mostly on my own & I needed something kind & safe, that wasn't going to throw me on the ground if I offended him.

You also need to be brutally honest about your skillset.  I was 99% (hey, I'm a scientist, I'm not capable of stating anything at 100%) confident that I now had the tools, thanks to wonderful instructors, clinicians, countless hours of watching other trainers, reading, talking to so many of you out there, & my own experimentation, to safely bring along a good-natured young horse.  I was certain that I could train said horse to be a consistent & responsive riding partner not just for me, but others as well.  That is to say, I've already made a lot of dumb mistakes & learned the hard hard hard hard way. 
A very hard lesson in decision-making (2011)
This includes knowing multiple "roads to Rome," meaning that I have learned alternate ways to communicate the same concept, because different horses learn differently, just like humans.  It also includes having access to help:  I know there are still plenty of things I DON'T know & I consider one of my greater strengths to be recognizing when I'm out of my depth.  No one knows it all & it's only fair to you & the horse that you explore different perspectives when you hit a snag.  Because there will be plenty of snags.

You absolutely do not have to do it all yourself either!  I chose this partly because I wanted it & partly because, well, I can't afford the alternative (but it's important that the latter is NOT the primary decision driver).  A different road is to work closely with a trainer who is good with young horses (do make this qualifier a critical criteria in choosing said trainer).  If you are an adult amateur, I would say to you -- if you can't look yourself in the eye & know that you have a well-stocked training toolbox, PAY THAT TRAINER.  It doesn't make you a lesser person or say anything about you at all other than you are a rational adult who makes smart choices so you can be safe & happy!

You also get to decide how involved you want to be in that training.  Maybe you just want to hop on a finished horse on the other side, which is fine.  Maybe you want to take the opportunity to develop your own toolbox & have the trainer train you to train, which is also fine.  Maybe you want to be anywhere in the wide, wide middle area between those two options, which, guess what, is also totally fine! 
I learned SO MUCH about developing horses from lessons with David O.
The over-arching message, of course, is being honest with yourself.  The incentive to do so lies in the high stakes:  it's your time, your money (well, for those of us spending our own paychecks), your happiness, & most importantly, your safety & the safety & well-being of your horse.  You don't have to publish it online or tell anyone else your verdict, except the voices in your head.

Because one of the tenets of this blog has always been honesty, I will say this:  I don't regret my young horse, who was still a long 3-year-old when I bought him & is now 5.  I went in knowing I still had plenty to learn.  I was not wrong.  There have been many, many times of frustration, even a few tears.  There have been times where I said, "What was I thinking?"  There have even been some times where I was tired & I wanted to give up.  I have little doubt there will be more of all those times. 
Like when he slit his own throat & needed stitches in 2018
Two things have held me to my course.  One is fairly petty, but effective -- I told myself I would be so mad if I sold this horse, knowing the potential he has, & then saw someone being wildly successful with him just because they were a little more patient or persistent then me.  Hey, self-guilt sometimes works.

The second is what I really care about.  I know this horse is teaching me, & will continue to teach me, even more skills to add to my toolbox.  Because he is so different than Solo & Encore, I have to adapt to his needs.  For example, I've never dealt with a horse who is prone to curl up behind the bit, but I'll never learn how to unless I do it.

Bringing it back to the point that many of you probably already knew, but bears repeating nonetheless:  young horses are not for everyone.  Just like hot horses & draft horses & mini horses & foals & mares & geldings & every equine on the planet.  AND THAT'S OK.  Choosing the equine partner who is right for you involves its own brand of informed consent.  I hope this helps you go in with eyes open a little wider.     

December 23, 2019

So You Think You Want A Young Horse? Part 1

There are many tempting factors about bringing along a young horse:  training the way you want, the theory of having more years to play with it (at which horses laugh, but I digress already), building a partnership while horse brain is in a more malleable stage.

But, like everything else in the world, the reality is more complicated.  In the past two years, I have definitely learned that young horses are NOT for everyone.  I've talked a little before about my initial impressions of the young horse process.  And since life is short & horse ownership is already full of expensive & heartbreak, even with the best equine partners, it's important to be honest with yourself about what you want & what you are capable of.  This isn't easy for humans to do, but making the effort to be as objective as possible about these parameters - & sticking to them - will help you & your horse(s) find more success in your relationship.
They know what they want
Be Honest About What You Want

Do you want to have a predictable ride every time?  Does it bother you if you plan on doing X/Y/Z in your ride & that doesn't happen?  For the next month? 

If yes, then you are not going to enjoy a young horse.  Sure, he learned how to move laterally off both legs last time, but today he forgot that both legs mean forward.  Oh, & he also is obsessed with that one tree today because a rabbit flushed from its base last Tuesday so is it still hiding there?  During some transitions to get him refocused, he decides that he also has never heard of a half halt either.  So no, you aren't going to be fine-tuning laterals today.
I used my MSPaint skillz to illustrate one of our average rides
Are you threatened by "exuberant" horse behaviour?  Are you comfortable dealing with rebellion?

If these things sound like a nightmare to you, well, they are part of the young horse package most of the time.  News flash from Queen of the Obvious:  horses have opinions & moody days & teenage denial just like us.

Echo is friendly & kind & generally wants to be good.  He is also 5, which means that occasionally a couple mini-bucks simply can't be contained just because it's a beautiful day & he's been cooped up in his paddock for a few days (which is about 3/4 of an acre, apparently very small to him, LOL) & yay, cantering is super fun!  He doesn't have a malicious bone in his body, but he does sometimes test the boundary lines  (do we REALLY have to stand completely still while mounting? how about just putting hooves down when I feel like it? I will totally whoa...eventually...).
Opinions be happening
For him to become a 10 yr old horse with excellent manners, which helps secure a safe future for him no matter what happens to me, I have to be able to firmly but fairly redraw those lines often.  And at the same time, I need to give him positive outlets for that energy -- he has a big personality that I have no interest in smashing & joy is not a crime.  I don't want part of my training message to be "hey, quit being happy!"         

Are you open to flexible timelines?  Or preferably, no timelines at all? 

If not, well, you probably shouldn't have horses at all, haha, but you are not likely to enjoy a young one.  Individual horses mature at different rates, mentally & physically.  That's why some 5 yr olds can jump a course & some 5 yr olds are still working on ground poles.  Some find their balance sooner than others, some have growth spurts when they're 4 or 5 or 6 & have to figure out their body all over again.   And none of this is usually apparent in the first five minutes you meet a horse.

I'm sure some people thought I was crazy for not really doing canter work with Echo for a year, but I'm so glad I waited.  He just wasn't ready then.  Now he is strong enough & we've sorted out his body issues so that it's easy for him to hold a balanced rhythm.  I prefer to have 20 strides of a relaxed, balanced, cadenced canter than 100 strides of a flat, leaning, rushing canter & I think he learns more from that.
Nov 2019: Happy & easy
Some learn a task after a single success, some do better with many repetitions.  Sometimes they click right along in training, while other times they just need to take a break or to keep things low-key for a month or six & let their body catch up.  The most important thing is to recognize what that individual is ready for, because forcing the issue will always come back to bite you (or dump you) later.

Do you have the patience of a saint monk (combining them = double patience)?  Can you be aware of & separate your emotions from your riding?

I'm still working on this one, as we probably all are, but evaluate where you are on the spectrum.  Working with a young horse can be delicate process & while I don't want to risk instilling too much paranoia, we do need to stay cognizant that it is possible to do harm, not just physically, but mentally.  While this is true for all horses, there's a bigger risk (in my opinion) when you are trying to teach, when an emotionally intuitive creature is trying to learn.

This is not to say that a good trainer never gets mad, they just know when to walk away.  Sometimes you really are better to cut your losses & just quit (or not even start).  Come back another day - I haven't achieved anything if I just keep sticking to bad decisions & it's not a good experience for my horse.  I am continually trying to reduce the number of times that happens & if I can't stop it all together, at least recognize when I have done it & cut myself off immediately.

Impossible to stay mad at this anyways
It does require you to operate at a higher level of mental & emotional awareness & engagement in your interactions with your horse.  Not everyone wants that all the time.  I don't want that all the time.  That's when I take Solo out on the trail or have grooming days.

Stay tuned for Part 2 - being honest about your capabilities (including the option of very capable trainers)...because this got way way too long...

December 19, 2019

Blogger Gifts - Making Life Better

Tracy over at The Printable Pony once again organized a super-fun gift exchange.  Due to my break in blog activity, I had missed this event, as I hadn't gotten to enjoy it since 2014.

I eagerly collected my parcel from the mailbox & opened it up to find a delightful assortment of goodies to unwrap.
My delight continued as I disassembled tissue paper to find the goodies were super-goodie!  There's some delicious treats that Solo will enjoy & Echo will not, because Baby Monster has a menace for a mouth.  She included a great "travel-size" pack of Higher Standards leather soap, conditioner, & brush cleaner.  I haven't tried the conditioner or brush stuff before, so I'm looking forward to testing them out.

My favourite part was definitely the warm, fuzzy, lovely socks.  These are not just socks, these are NICE socks.  My perpetually-cold feet which also eat socks for brunch are extremely excited about these.  They are even blue!  (was referring to the socks, but this could also apply to my feet in winter).

THANK YOU, to draftmare for the great box, which made my week much better!  I will definitely enjoy every single thing in here & loved the adorable dog card too.

And thank you, of course, to Tracy, for organizing this (& somewhat funnily was the person I made gifts for).  I got a lot of happy out of making things for someone else & it's a great way to spread cheer among the blogger community & build connections among this great group.  Horse-blogging-world has given me many gifts over the years, including unexpected acts of generosity, listening to my many rambles, sharing advice, commiserating in frustration, & so much more -- & I remain grateful for all of it.

Wishing a safe & vet-free end-of-2019 to all of you!

December 14, 2019

Boots Are Never 100% Easy: Review Of The New EasyBoot Fury

Echo remains barefoot for the time being (since last December) - because his feet are small, I think this is his best chance to develop the best foot he can grow while he is still young, before his workload gets to where he will require shoes.  Because I'm pretty certain he will, at least up front. 

To increase his comfort while he works towards the goal of a heel-first landing, I put boots on his front feet for most of our rides.  Which meant embarking on the (absolutely not) joyous task of finding which boot worked best for him.  I've learned in the past that different brands suit different foot shapes & different models suit different riding styles.

Solo's Cavallo Sports & his old EasyBoot Epics were both too big for Echo, so time to explore some new options.

I tried Scoot Boots after reading all the interwebz love for them.  Long story short, so far they have not worked for his feet.  Even with shims, they twist.  I'm going to give them one more try, since his feet have spread some, but if they still don't work, I will be selling some basically-new Scoot Boots soon.  I like a lot about them in concept.
Scoot Boots:  cool, but so far haven't worked for us
Making it trickier, Echo's fronts don't quite match:  he's got one foot that spends all its time trying to be upright & boxy, while the other prefers to languish on the lower side.  They're gradually getting closer, but hooves are always a slow torturous process.  Because they've already changed & will continue to do so, EasyCare's new Fury design caught my eye because it's adjustable.  I got the basic Sling version, I did not like the big metal buckle on the front of the Heart version, I envisioned it catching many things & introducing an extra hazard over jumps.  And uh, it's a heart & I am not 9 years old & I hate things with hearts on them.
Echo's EasyBoot Fury Slings
There are three points you can adjust:
  1. Length from front to back, via two screws in a sliding rubber plate,
  2. Heel height, via two screws on the back,
  3. Heel angle, which is just another hole to change the angle of the heel strap.
Points of adjustment; boots presented in natural condition, heh
I'm going to ignore the 3rd one because I didn't use it.  Length & height both have a decent amount of adjustability, so you can tweak fit through a trim cycle or if your horse doesn't have magical feet that fit stock sizes (like mine).  I measured a bunch of times, very carefully, but still ended up buying two sizes & sending back the one that didn't work.  I definitely recommend this approach.  EasyCare has a "fit kit" too, but if you buy from somewhere with free returns, that saves poor people like me a few dollars. 

The initial adjusting is somewhat fiddly.  You could do the length adjustment on the fly as long as you had a phillips head screwdriver with you.  The height rivets though, require both a screwdriver & a ridiculous little tool that comes with the boot.

You know those horrible "tools" that come with assemble-your-own furniture, that are tiny & awful to use & make you want to stab forks in your eyes?  Yep, it's that kind of tool, apparently made for tiny leprechaun hands that need no grip.  I'm hopeful in the future EasyCare will change this design so you can just use a flat head screwdriver or some normal human tool.  Or at least put a human-sized grip on it.
Said tool in my giant, decidedly non-leprechaun hand
After watching the videos, I spent an afternoon adjusting the boots to Echo's feet.  It was really nice to be able to accommodate the slightly different foot shapes.  Once you decide where you want to set them, you add a drop of LocTite (thoughtfully included with each boot) so your screws don't decide to go walkabout mid-ride.  All of mine have remained tight so far.

I've been using these off & on (I go barefoot when the ground is soft or we just do walk work) for about five months now.  Overall impression:  favourable.  I would buy these boots again.

Baby Monster in boots on a November trail
Pros
  • Even before adjusting, the boot itself fit Echo's foot shape perfectly & he has seemed comfortable in them.  When I first put them on, he stepped out better than I have ever felt him either barefoot, in boots, or in shoes.
  • Adjustability is awesome & exactly what I needed.  You can also put pads in them if you want.
  • Once I got the adjustments right, they've been very secure through W/T/C/small jumps.  I've learned that the length adjuster seems to be what prevents twisting, so you need that snugged up.  It won't put pressure on the back of the heel because that part cleverly moves with the horse.  No rubs so far.
  • Aggressive tread has had good traction everywhere I've used it (I'm mostly riding on grass)
    • I've gone through mud puddles, boggy ditches, streams with no issues.  I did not buy the special "mud strap," but haven't needed it so far.
  • Insanely easy on/off:  two steps include slipping on boot, then snapping pastern strap in place.
    Rear flips down for easy on/off
  • Boot itself feels heavy duty & durable, pastern straps are heavier duty than Scoots, I've not had any breaks there.
    • I used the extra pastern strap locks that came with the Scoots since I already had them, but I only put them on inside of each boot, since Echo is base narrow & more likely to interfere there.  I haven't put any on the outside since those straps fit very firmly over the metal knobs & nothing has come apart.  
      Just 1 strap lock on inside of each also helps me ID which I fit to its unique foot
    • I really like that they don't come with any of the weird warnings that the Scoots did about not using hoof stuff on, uh, hooves.  Apparently Scoots' material cannot deal with any type of chemical (they even warn against vetwrap, which raised my eyebrow).  EasyBoots are cool with you treating your hooves like hooves.
  • Fairly "clean" design means they're quick to hose off/clean.  They don't come with drain holes, but if that is important to you, you can drill holes in them.  They also dry quickly.
    • Once thing I like about EasyCare is they are practical &  understand horse needs -- one of their videos shows you how to take a saw to the boots to trim off unneeded heel material so it doesn't catch an over-reach.  I suspect this may effect returnability though, LOL.
No problem levitating in them
 Cons
  • My biggest dislike is probably that the adjustment for heel height does take a special tool, which is currently awful & that it's not super fast.  But it's not the worst & if you don't have enormous hands & aren't the clumsiest person ever (like me), your experience will probably be better than mine.
    • Height rivets notched on the inside for special "tool"
    • There are also two holes to choose from on the heel height adjustment, which means if you want to move it from one hole to the other, you have to take the rivets completely apart.  And then drop one piece, then curse loudly while retrieving it, then drop it again while trying to screw it back in with tiny leprechaun tool.  On the plus side, you shouldn't have to do this very often, because you can make minor adjustments via sliding, by just slightly loosening those rivets.
  • The heel capture strap, while padded (but could use more/softer padding), does put pressure on the top of the heel bulbs.  It's not constant, just when the foot is lifting.  It's something to watch, especially on sensitive guys like Echo -- I've not had problems with it in 60-90 minutes of riding, but the vast majority of our rides are 20-40 minutes & longer rides are all walking.  I broke them in slowly so he could callous if he needed to, & I watched his heels like a hawk, checking them after.
    • You DO want to be SURE this strap isn't too tight -- I made that mistake at first & it did make a bruise.          
    • I don't know what would happen on, say, a six-hr mountain ride.  I have noticed some pinkness under that strap after a vigorous ride, but it wasn't sore.
    • It's possible that I need to tweak the height adjustment more to help with this.
    • I have ridden in them in arena footing (said arena has small rocks in it occasionally, which Pony Princess Feet doesn't need to be stepping on) -- I was a little concerned that grit might get under this strap & rub, but that concern was unfounded & after an hour lesson, everything was still fine. 
    • My paranoia about this strap would be lower on Solo, who does not have any Princess Parts & whose skin has very few opinions.
  • One strap did break in the first month, there's a thin part around one screw.  Echo was just trotting slowly, nothing weird happened.  However, Riding Warehouse's great service took care of it, they have a year guarantee, so I exchanged it for a new one at no charge (thanks, people who understand customer service!).  I haven't had any problems since then & no other signs of wear so far.
    Arrow showing point where previous boot tore around screw
So I've been fairly happy with them.  I have noticed that he may be outgrowing them as his heels spread, which simultaneously makes me sad because they weren't free but happy because heels spreading!  It means the boots are doing their job of helping us move towards that consistent heel-landing goal!  We'll see how it goes - even if I do end up having to sell them, they've still been cheaper than 5-6 months of shoes while allowing me to live the joy of never worrying about pulled shoes, so worth it.

Those are the highlights.  I'm happy to answer any questions in the comments.  If you want to try them, DO watch the videos & DO get a couple sizes to try, it will make your life easier.
Has no interest in making my life easier