Sunday, November 28, 2010

Rescue Horses - A difficult rewarding experience

In June of 2008 I was involved in a rescue operation that was so large that it involved three Wisconsin Rescues. Midwest Horse Welfare Foundation, St. Francis Rescue and Retirement and Refuge Farms. I had not done anything charitable for a while - so I decided to help. Well what a ride it turned out to be.

Hazel and Amore became permanent residents at Hay River Equestrian. Both horses were unhandled and unhaltered adult horses at the time of their adoption. This made it pretty hard to start. I decided both horses would have to be started with food as a bribe. I decided this because it would have been impossible to even try to halter them without grain. Both horses became gentle enough to be touched on their heads while eating and then eventually allowed halters to be slipped over their heads. They were so big and strong that they learned how to lead by following the grain. I would apply halter pressure and if they walked forward and released the pressure, they were allowed a bite of grain. I did it this way because I thought it would be safer than making them stand tied with no knowledge of how to release halter pressure.

They were both very smart and caught on fairly quickly.

Amore was less worried about being touched and allowed us to carefully start petting and touching him farther back on his body and then legs with very little trouble. Hazel was terrified of being touched and could be dangerous if you stood past her shoulder. So many hours went into touching her so she could understand that touch was not so bad. It took using fat soft ropes though to go around Hazel's hind leg so I could pick it up and stroke her leg safely. It took months for me to be able to pick out her hind feet. But it took a whole year before the farrier could trim her hind legs.

Both horses were with me for a year before they were ready to be trained to be riding horses. My friend Pam and I worked with them together until they would take saddles and learned basic lunging. Let me say that they were so scared at times that I had to be on full altert and very awake to be sure I did not get hurt while introducing them to new things. Amore was much more afraid of the saddle than Hazel. Hazel was scared of living things and Amore was afraid of inanimate things. This basic training was the most difficult time I have ever had with ground work. But when I say ground work, what I really mean is I had to change their reality of people and that is why it took so long.

Then I had a young trainer do the initial riding on them and in 2010 they were shown at horse shows. It was quite a reward to see them go to shows and act like well adjusted horses.

It does sadden me that there were 27 horses in this rescue in 2008 and to my knowledge only three of them are riding horses. The two here and one in Milwaukee WI. I now wonder with a 10% rehab rate into riding horses what could have been done differently? How can the rescues get a higher rehab rate? I think that most of these horses were basically healthy and had rehab potential. The biggest issue in my mind is rehab. The rescues do well at saving them - but then what?


Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Horses Engage From The Back To The Front

I recently had an interesting experience. I watched a horse get trained for the period of three months. This horse hated being touched in the rein and was difficult that way. After some experimentation the horse prefered a nickel free bit. This helped somewhat but she still had a significant problem when asked to bend while traveling to the right.

The rider after switching bits just decided not to touch her and keep her happy. But the correct way to engage a horse is to have the energy come from behind and then guide the energy with the reins. This helps the horse relax and build top line and flexibility. When the rider was asked one day to ride the horse forward into the bridle the horse acted stressed out and refused to go and bend. When this happens it is time to check the teeth for a possible floating issue. The horse was floated and she had three year old molars that were in the process of coming off. She had scrapes inside her mouth from this. If the rider would have ridden the horse forward into a little contact, this problem could have been identified and solved right away and the horse would not had to have had so much discomfort.

If you are riding your horse correctly and you encounter a problem. Please take note and look for a physical problem. The worst thing you can do is pacify the horse and possibly cause more discomfort accidentally.


Thursday, June 17, 2010

Eddo Hoekstra Clinic June 11th through June 13th, 2010

Eddo Hoekstra Clinic June 11th through June 13th.

Hay River Equestrian took three horses to this clinic. Jamie rode Hazel, a basic training level mare, and I rode Bacara and Amedeus.

We arrived on Thursday evening and were hoping to get the horses into the indoor arena to show it to them. Le’ts be honest. Bacara and Hazel did not really need it as bad as Amedeus did. He panics at first when away from home. He does o.k. if I can move him around in the arena I later have to ride him in. Minus that and I am not going to have an easy time of it. Well the arena had already been dragged so Amedeus was out of luck. I will have to arrive earlier to be sure next time to get him in there.

Eddo is very straight forward in his teaching style and shows the rider how to ease into and out of movements as to not disturb the horse. That is especially useful if your horses are a bit sensitive like mine are. One thing he had me do was to school the shoulders in and haunches in. What I mean by that is to do shoulder in and then come off the wall and then back to the wall all the while with the same angle. This was really useful in that it made the horse more adjustable within the lateral movement. I see this as universally helpful.

Amedeus benefitted by walk canter walk exercises to help him with his canter elevation. We also mixed up a lot of shoulders in haunches in, haunches out and half pass. I could feel that helping his flexibility and his ability to carry himself.

Bacara benefitted by riding two squares one inside the other. We did half passes in and out and flying changes to change directions. There is a lot going on in the riders head but it later makes the tempi changes feel easier.

Hazel did really well, adjusted to her environment and allowed herself to do lateral movements. Jamie and Hazel have not done that many lateral movements yet and I could really see it loosening the horse. They both picked up a lot of information.

Eddo has a wonderful soft focus that the horses love. He keeps things playful but focused. I noticed the way that this technique made the most out of each horse at the clinic.


Monday, April 19, 2010

Hay River Equestrian travels to Fargo Horse Fair

The weekend of April 10 and 11 Karen, Jamie and I headed out to North Dakota State University for the North Dakota Horse Fair. Karen was invited to do a demo ride while speaking about dressage.

Karen rode Bacara and Sparky the first day to show a beginning horse in Sparky and a more advanced horse with Bacara. She rode just Bacara on Sunday. Jamie rode Hazel, the rescue horse from Trempeleau County both days.

On Saturday, April 10, Karen talked about exercises she does to improve collection in Bacara. She also demonstrated the difference in collection in a beginning horse and one that is more advanced.

Sunday both Jamie and Karen rode dressage tests to show the audience what a test is like. I got a chance to practice reading tests on the fly. To add a touch of humor the arena was put up backwards. To Karen and Jamie’s credit they just kept riding able to figure out a way to keep going even though what I was reading did not match the arena. Even more difficult was Karen was showing Bacara with a third level test, not designed to be a small arena, which was set up for them. Way to go to keep the show going despite whatever is thrown at you. Jamie did well, despite suffering a cold and cough. She even got a chance to let Hazel take a bow at the end Sunday.

Isabella, the dog, went along. She may well have spent her first night in a motel. The first night she yelped at every noise. I spent much of the night keeping her quiet and missing out on some sleep. By the second night Izzy was a pro and snored the whole night after getting a treat off the local Chinese buffet. Izzy loves her chicken nuggets.

Izzy was quite a hit at the horse fair, enjoying the attention, although she is not sure if she is a fan of cows.

NDSU offered demos of a number of different types of horseback riding, including reigning, cow work and some natural horsemanship along with dressage. It was cool to see many different horses at work and play.


Saturday, January 23, 2010

Soft Focus

Learning to ride horses can be a very difficult thing to do. Many people if they have difficulty learning something just focus harder. Focusing harder has a negative impact on the horse. Horses are creatures of flight by nature so anything intense like hard focus, fear or anger can cause problems. Riders will ask: "What am I doing wrong?" I will have to say technically nothing, but the focus intensity is too strong or anger or fear is present.

Fear shows up when the horse is too advanced for the rider. Maybe the horse is too sensitive and reactive for the riding level of the rider. Or maybe the horse is too large and in charge and tests the rider for his or her own amusement. In this situation, enlist the help of a trainer to help you through it, or decide if a different mount would be more appropriate.

Anger shows up when the riders have a certain idea of their own talents. Horses show the riders that they do not know as much as they thought they did. Riders then either go into very hard focus or outright abuse. Either way both the horses and riders lose.

Some riders actually go into hard focus innocently, because they learn best in hard focus instead of soft focus. The problem is that the horse is afraid of hard focus - so the rider has no choice but to learn to go into a soft focus to get the best out of the horse.

Do your horse a favor and practice soft focus - you will be surprised at the willingness to learn that your horse will offer in exchange.