Saturday, January 22, 2011

Listen to the horse, they have all the answers.

I may have mentioned, once or twice, that the bulk of my business at CedarCreek is with re hab horses.  Animals that have been started elsewhere and may or may not have had some sort of career in the show pen.  They come here to my farm because I will take the time to unwind the issues and rebuild the athlete.  My program follows the outline of the 3 F's.

When a horse comes here I have my farrier balance the Feet.  I work with Peter Van Dyke. An amazing farrier who I am pretty sure I couldn't help half the horses with out.  Together, Peter and I decide if proper flooring and flat shoeing will be enough or if we need to shake things up and really make a change.  My favorite change is to add wedges to the hind feet. This lifts the heel, closes the angles in the limb and changes the force on the foot so the heel can grow.  I do this when the toes have been allowed to grow too long and the heels have dropped.  In these cases, the majority of them, the horse is restricted from balanced forward movement because the foot gets in the way and they jam into the ground toe first.  I look at it like wearing flippers and trying to walk forward.  Think about it.  They tell you to walk into the water backwards in flippers, don't they?

Once the feet are balanced I check the Fit of the saddle.  When a saddle does not fit the shape of the back correctly the horse will drop away from the pressure, hollow their back and shift their shoulders. they adopt a very crooked way of going to compensate for their restriction over the back.  I usually find that this crooked way of going leads to the first rib being in spasm as well as the psoas muscle in the lumbar area.  Once I have addressed the glaring issues of crookedness and taken the body out of spasm, I begin the slow process of physical therapy to maintain lift in the shoulders, engagement of the hind end and overall straightness.

The one thing I haven't mentioned yet is Food.  I feed a simple diet of organic dry land grass hay and Dynamite vitamins.  Clean simple food helps keep the body strong and the mind focused.  I'll top dress with supplements like Vetra Calm.  It's high in magnesium and helps the muscles relax.  I also find that horses who have been in pain have digestive issues like ulcers so I feed Miracle Clay to coat the tummy and alleviate pain.  Vitamins can take up to a month or longer to have an effect on the body so the first 30 days in the program are the most intense.

Now, here is Max.  My clean slate baby, or so I thought.  Max is healthy and had been very well taken care of.  He's had nothing done as far as training other than being handled going in and out of the pasture and being held for the vet and farrier.  The very basics.  Perfect.  However, I have noticed a few things with regards to Max's posture that made me take a step back and do my usual "re hab once over".

The first thing I noticed was that Max's hind feet had started to drop at the heel and the toe was a bit pointy... Like a flipper.  His hip and hock angles were really open and it looked like he was doing some pulling from his front end because his neck had a small muscular development on the underside.  My farrier quickly addressed the issue of Max's toes but drew my attention to the fact that Max's right hind was slightly collapsed medially and Peter mentioned that I would want to encourage Max to weight the limb in such a way while moving that would allow the foot to re balance.

This fact weighed on my mind.  The collapse was not farrier caused, it came from somewhere in Max's body.  His posture was making his foot grow unblanced.  "As above, so below".  Now, I had addressed the issue pertaining to the over development on the underside of the neck by taking off Max's toes and closing the hip and hock angles.  This allowed Max to re position his weight to his haunch. I also released the spasm in his first rib on both sides, most likely caused by pulling himself from his front end.  Max started looking totally different,. He lifted at his wither, lowered his head and had lots of push from behind.

Still I noticed an imbalance in his movement from behind side to side and Peter's words came to mind.  How do I get Max to move in such a way as to encourage weight on the lateral wall of his right hind hoof? There is only one foot involved in the imbalance so I focused on the right hind limb and it came to me. Max was out in his hock.  The difference was slight but he was different side to side in the hind end.  Nothing glaring and if I hadn't been looking for it I would have totally missed it and gone forward with conditioning, hoping the work would sort things out.  Max's calcaneus (point of the hock) was shifted laterally causing him to overweight the medial aspect of is right hind hoof.  This is an easy fix.  I just popped the joint back into alignment.

Max's hock is still aligned. Yay... Some of his compensatory issues from the hock were presenting so I spent about 20 minutes in his stall going over him.  It is amazing to me to see and experience this body work and alignment in such a young body.  Max knows what he needs and when.  He has started getting pushy about showing me his "spots".  He is always right.  He knows where it needs help. Today I straightened his hips, released his girth ribs and decompressed his felocks in front.  All things he showed me. Thanks Max.  Good boy.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Maximus, the little prince, and my adgenda... Not

Yesterday was my first day with Max.  I waited patiently for my farrier, Peter, to come so I could begin with Max.  I knew I wanted to balance his body but Jill had mentioned he was due for a trim so I waited.  It is always best to have the feet balanced and then work with the body.  Makes the work easier.  I had a plan and I was ready to begin.

I was thinking I would just head off into the arena and begin with Peggy Cummings "Connected Groundwork".  Not as straight forward as I thought.  Max has been living the life of a horse.  He has been in a pasture with an older companion. Perfect, right? Absolutely! I realized very quickly, however, that I needed to change my approach to these first steps with Max. 

I tried beginning with Peggy's "drawing the bow" and "combing" then moved into touching his cheek and neck with equal and opposing pressure and here is where we had some trouble. Max didn't like me touching him on or near his head.  His posture with me changed and he started using his head and neck like a battering ram.  He threw his weight around and shouldered into me.  I know to stand my ground but I realized we had to establish a level of respect before he was going to let me touch him and move him in any sort of connected manner.

Do over.... I sent Max out on the line.  I worked from his hip and had him move forward.  At first he was persistant about facing me and changing directons.  I continued to move him forward, staying at his hip.  Max was really mad at first, his reign as king was coming to a close. I probably worked him for 10-15 minutes walking and trotting before he stopped challenging me.  I brought Max to the barn and he was different.  More present.  He looked to me to move and he followed. I was able to put my hands on his head and rub his ears... whoa, cool...

My big lesson,  commit to a path with Max. Let go of the plans and roll with whatever comes....

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

People say I'm crazy...

I get that all the time.  I am pretty scattered when it comes to any one direction in my life.  I am a saddle fitter and body worker. I own CedarCreek Performance, so I teach, train, mentor and muck when needed.  If someone asks me what I do for a living I sort of get that "deer in the headlights" look. I wear many hats but my favorite one, that I pull on everyday, is that of horsewoman.  I have been thinking for some time that I want to focus my attention and skill in one direction. My goal being to utilize and employ all the lessons I have learned, with a clean slate...

Meet Max... (picture coming)

He is a 2 year old Paint (actually 2 in May) by the magnificent stallion, Unchippable. My plan with this blog is to document our journey from pasture to show pen utilizing the skills I have honed over years of unraveling problems and re building equine athletes.

Max is not the first horse I have ever started, there have been a few.  The first was Hildegaard, a dutch mare I met in Canada.  She picked me.  Called me all the way from the Great White North. I think she knew I needed her help.  She was a lovely partner to work with... I emphasis work "with" because my attempts to control and dominate the mare, to bend her towards my agenda in the beginning, were totally ignored.  Hilde made it known, in no uncertain terms, that she was to be asked... I didn't know how to do that.... Until I found Penny

Enter Penny Jones...

An amazing Horsewoman and mentor.  She said to me one day, "when I die and go to heaven, God's not going to ask me how many blue ribbons I won... He's going to ask- "what lessons did you learn from the animals I sent you?""  I still get teary thinking about how humbled I am by those words.
I listened, and from that day forward I had a new presence in my life... Horses

I want Max to benefit from  the lessons I have learned from the horses I have helped and who have helped me. I know he has something to teach... He's been calling me from the pages of Dreamhorse for days.  He's on his way here now.  Thank you Jill.
More to come Tuesday