Dulce and Dancer get a vet visit

Today, the vet came by to draw blood on both ponies to conduct a test for Insulin Resistance and Cushings.

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Dancer came to me in January of 2005 and was the first of the horses I bought for my lesson string. She’s been with me ever since, and once I stopped teaching was retired from riding (which she never truly enjoyed anyway).

The vet couldn’t believe that she was at least 30 and more likely 35+. However, age is catching up with her and she had a series of founder attacks over the last 4-5 years when we couldn’t keep her off grass. We’ve finally got her feet looking okay and she is now sound but must be managed (dry lot, grass restriction, even feed restricted).

I fully expect the test to come back positive for IR and she might also be Cushings now due to her age.

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Dulce is concerning me a lot right now. For the second year in a row she came out of winter with a huge hair coat she didn’t shed and loss of topline (both classic Cushings symptoms). She was the main reason I jumped on the chance for this free testing being offered. By free, I mean the test was free but the other chemical she had to give for the test did cost me.

Dulce was rescued from an abusive, animal hoarder who had inbred all the horses; I bought her as a companion for Dancer from the person who rescued her. So I’m not surprised that I got confirmation today that her estimated age of 12-14 is way off – she is most likely 20+.

Her eye has been weeping so I have some ointment for that. Also, her mouth is a mess (this doesn’t surprise me because one of her inbred deformities was a strange overbite), so I have scheduled her in 2 weeks for a full dental.

She is also extremely shy. So I had haltered her two weeks ago and left the halter on as it would have been impossible to catch her at a moments notice. In the mornings I’ve been sitting with her and then slowly reaching over to clip on the lead rope and then brushing her while she ate.

I’m rather ready not to have any more vet bills for a while but this is something that should have been done years ago. Now that our financial situation has improved, I can start caring for all my animals the way that I’ve always wanted too – regular vet care, supplements and medication they need, and keeping the horses in a barn situation that suits their physical and mental health.

Posted in Dulce, Pandora, vet visit | 4 Comments

Massage for Dante

Massage for him today. Something I had noticed and that was confirmed for me was he holds his releases and you need to back off when he starts to fidget and then he will release – he also will release more, if after a fidget, you allow him to walk (see Peggy Cummings Connected Riding to learn more about “walking to process”).

Pain in the Nuchal Ligament which I had noticed myself. Was surprised that he gave a big release on his rib cage (will be adding Linda Tellington-Jones TTouch Lick of the Camel), and some pain on the right side of his spine (about 2 inches out) above his tail bone. Gave some really nice releases on his right stifle and at the deep point of the shoulder.

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Dante Centerfold take 2

Here are some photos that show more of the same stance but differences (more then color) can still be found:

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Dante Centerfold

Dante has been on the Horse Tech Black 3 now for two weeks and his winter coat has finally mostly shed out (just a touch of red under his belly). The question is will he stay black through the summer? BTW that shine is only due to feed and brushing – no shampoo, spray or Photoshop.

But the biggest issue here is the lost of topline ;( ARGH. However, one thing I do like is that his muscles are not as hard as they were when he first showed up. When I saw him in Kansas, the muscles on his upper forelegs and gaskin areas were almost clown-like, like Popeye.

This might have been due to 1.) his PSSM 1 which affects muscle tone and 2.) that he was being worked regularly by a trainer (though she said she had only had him under training for less then 3 weeks and then not every day). I’m sure he was in better shape with her since he was on a workout program and here he is on a more relaxed schedule.

Well, whatever reason, I like how he is looking here except for the back – that has to be our number 1 priority!

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May 29, 2017

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July 2017

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May 29, 2017

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July 2016

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Working towards Panther Walk, moving leg lifts forward

It’s been really exciting to follow @intrinzen (on Instagram) as their philosophy closely matches mine (more then any trainer I’ve ever reviewed) and has been a lot of what I’ve personally been striving towards but without having as clear or developed a training plan as they have.

Their program literally has been a bridge for me to figure out where and how to take Dante to get him stronger and closer to riding! I’d highly suggest checking out their IG account, and if you like what you see, visit them on Facebook.

Panther Walk is a term they have coined for an exercise they teach to help the horse regain his self carriage and pride in himself. It’s a precursor to improving the horses’ movement all through +R. Here is a description by Kathy:

The slow, effortful, exaggerated walk is a near-perfect exercise for mobility and stability/motor control–the keys we need for self-carriage. Imagine yourself balancing by standing on one leg, and then reaching forward and having to catch yourself from falling. This is a “self-balancing” exercise because we do not tell the horse how to move– we give him a goal (like reaching for a target with his front leg) and the horse has to organize himself to keep going without falling. It can take a few months to develop this exaggerated walk (we call it Panther Walk….

I’ve been experimenting to see how I would do that as Dante doesn’t like to move – standing still is more his style 😉 so what he does is instead of moving forward he just keeps stretching and stretching like one of those long slinky Dachshund kiddie pull along toys.

Usually I’m standing at his side, but my videographer needed some space so I’m a bit more forward then I would like to be. Standing in front of him inhibits the desire to move forward; standing at his side gives him more options to move.

Before this video, he had already been exposed to clicker training months back and he had been taught to lift the leg using a short target. Now I’ve changed to a long target (pool noodle mounted on a fishing rod) and I want alternate leg lifts that show some sort of movement forward:

Some different ideas of how to get your horse moving forward after he knows stationary leg lifting:

1.) Ask him to start alternating his leg lifts. Alternating will often move them forward because they sometimes take a step forward when they change legs.

2.) Another direction could include asking him to leg lift once, step forward and then give the second leg lift. Whatever seems more natural to you and your horse.

These techniques above are called Chaining and/or a Behavior ChainA series of behaviors (alternating leg lifts) linked together in a continuous sequence by cues (me alternating my leg lifts), and maintained by a reinforcer (food treat) at the end of the chain. Each cue (leg lift) serves as the marker and the reinforcer for the previous behavior, and the cue (changing my leg) for the next behavior.

What naturally happened is that Dante knows he gets rewarded for a leg lift. He just keeps lifting the same leg though so what do you do? You ignore. This is a Differential Reinforcer. You can find more Definitions referenced here. So it’s important that you wait and give your horse time to figure it all out on HIS OWN.

My experience is that horses that know X (lift foreleg) start repeating that one behavior RRRR (lets say the right leg only) to get that treat! When you ignore it, he will keep repeating until he tires and decides to lift the other leg L. That is when you Click and give him a Jackpot (bigger number of treats, more favorite treat) as the reward and end the session. Eventually he will figure out he has to do RL not RR or LL.

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A big problem for us is when we do standing activities he likes to drop. I’ve got to click when he isn’t dropped because doing so when he is excited in his man parts, literally “marks” that behavior as desired (oh brother).

I decided to work with a long target so he is further away from me (my presence often excites this behavior – I know, I know) and where I can easily see if he has dropped (without bending around and looking under when I’ve just missed the behavior to mark).

If he drops, I have these options: a.) remove the target and suspend the game (ignore); b.) remove the treat reward and give a scratch reward; c.) up the speed – we do a little chase target and when trotting he’ll generally retract; and/or d.) change the game – we go to chasing a ball where he seldom drops.

So the above videos are in no way a completed horse doing the Panther Walk exercise correctly. I’m showing you the beginning of this process and I’ll update as we improve 😉

Posted in Clicker Training, Intrinzen, videos | 3 Comments

Teaching the Horse to Lift a Leg

One of the things I’ve been working on with Dante is Leg Lifts. This isn’t about lifting a hoof to have it picked out or for farrier work (although you could use it for that) but lifting a foreleg higher then your horse normally does when he gives his natural walk.

When a foreleg lifts, the horse’s balance must change to accommodate that loss of balance by shifting the weight to the other remaining legs, usually backwards so the horse can re-center his mass.

  • Improves the horse’s balance
  • Can be done so the back becomes more lifted
  • Opens the shoulders
  • Gives more freedom to the front end of the horse to lift
  • As the front lightens, it allows the hindlegs a place to move
  • Used to improve upward transitions;
  • Encourages the horse’s natural play drive and “proud” stance.

Before starting ask yourself what your eventual goal is. Do you want the leg to lift at the highest point of the knee, or for the toe to be pointed forward?

Also, remember that horses, just like people doing Yoga, will need time to get stronger and more flexible before gaining the highest leg lift or the most forward toe stretch. That’s why I prefer to teach this free of tack and let the horse decide how much to do in order to lessen the chance of injury.

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Here are some different methods, all with Clicker Training that teach this exercise in a very short period of time:

1.) If your horse likes to paw, capture him doing it and click-treat. For example, Dancer and Dante both like to lift up their strongest foreleg when being served breakfast. I could have just clicked and treated when they lifted that leg.

This clicker training process is called “capturing.” This is how animal trainers for Hollywood work – they find what type of activity an animal likes to do and then capture it with clicks + rewards so eventually the behavior is repeated on cue. For example, this stretch bow behavior Dante likes to do naturally and it is one of his preferred activities in the morning when I’m preparing his food:

After capturing, put in a cue for the behavior to start getting the behavior on demand.

2.) Another way to capture, is stand by horse and wait for him to naturally lift a foreleg. Most horses will shuffle when they shift weight so, without putting pressure on him, just wait until he lifts a foreleg and capture that behavior with a click and treat. Your horse will go what???? and move about trying to figure out what he did to get that click-treat.

The key here is your horse needs to be familiar with clicker training (see my page “Need Help?” for links to how to start your horse with clicker training (positive reinforcement only +R). And make sure your click is on POINT at the EXACT moment of the leg lift. 😉

3.) My preferred way is to have the horse reach the leg up using a target. The reason is that “targeting” can be used in a lot of useful activities (i.e. trailering, lining up to a mounting block, entering a wash rack area, leading a horse etc…) and I generally like my horse to know it so I can use it as a springboard to these other behaviors.

In this video, I first reward for one leg touching the short target. Once that is established, I withhold clicks until she lifts her alternate leg (I missed the first time she did it!). The leg must actually touch the target for the click.

I use a soft target homemade of foam covered with a sock which is mounted on a small stick. Place your target stick close to a foreleg, but not touching. When the horse shifts, he will accidentally touch it – click and treat. It will take a few sessions for him to figure it out but generally, I find horses learn this quickly.

Once he knows a leg lift to touch the target, start eliminating the target and use a cue such as lifting your leg. Or trying moving the target in front of him so he has to move to touch it.

The drawback to using a target is the horse can get stuck and just want to stand when lifting his leg – and I will eventually want him to be doing this activity when he walks forward (the eventual goal which I will cover in a 2nd post).

In this video, the target has been removed and I’m lifting my own leg. When I want her to change legs, I change my own leg. For filming convenience, I’m standing in front, but eventually you want to move to her side – shoulder or ribcage – so you are not blocking her way and she has freedom to move forward.

BTW Dulce (the Palomino pony) is subordinate to Dancer so I was able to have her there without issue. She doesn’t get clicker training yet, but I did give her a little (free) treat when we ended our session.

4.) How I taught Dancer was we had a small step on a platform as you entered the tackroom (at a former barn). I brought her to it – and as she lifted her foreleg to step up, I captured the leg rising with a click treat. If you have a place where your horse has to step up to get there, this might be a good option.

The above methods don’t use a pressure system and are positive reinforcement +R only. This is really an easy exercise so resist the temptation to hurry it along by pushing or pulling the horse to make him lift a leg. Remember, the more he does the exercise under his own initiative the more excited he will be about doing it!

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Things you can do with Leg Lifts:

1.) Use it to help the horse step up into a horse trailer, go over ground poles, move onto a mat, into a wash rack area, step onto a platform etc… this is a variation of “follow target.”

2.) The Jambette (or Spanish Greet): Horse lifts one leg very high with toe out, almost horizontal. While many videos on Youtube show how this is taught using negative reinforcement (tapping on the leg with a whip to get the leg to move), just continue the positive reinforcement exercise detailed above, shaping the height or stretch using your target.

Remember, all horses need time to get enough strength to do this exercise; you’ll see that Dante has one leg he favors over the other – and one that he lifts higher then the other. Yes, horses like humans, have natural asymmetry. The best thing though is if using Positive Reinforcement without tack, your horse can then determine how much he is capable of doing and the risk of injury is less.

Keep in mind that if pushed too quickly, the back will become dropped and this provides little beneficial strengthening or stretching.

2.) Jambettes can be performed on level ground or done on a platform. With the later, the Horse puts both forelegs on a platform and lifts one leg high (almost horizontal). When done this way you can start seeing that the horse naturally shifts weight backwards.

3.) Jambettes and pedestals can be used to encourage a deeper stretch to get better leg lifts. With the horse having one leg on the platform and one off, he brings his nose to touch a target between his legs that is lower such as between his knees, then his pasterns, or the height of the pedestal.

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Jambettes can evolve into Spanish Walk. I don’t teach that exercise so won’t be going into it here. Personally, it doesn’t serve any purpose on how I ride, and I also think too many people are doing it with long backed horses with dropped backs instead of the powerful collection that a Baroque horse can naturally exhibit. Without a strong back, Jambette will just weaken the horse’s spine increasing the dropped back. This is when an exercise is indeed a “trick.”

My personal goal is towards something called Panther Walk coined by Intrinzen. So I’ll go into that further in a future post but for now go visit them on Instagram for some fantastic photos and Q&A.

Posted in Clicker Training, Intrinzen, videos | 1 Comment

If Hitler likes -R you might want to change your mind

If you’ve been around the horse training world for over 2 decades listening to the Natural Horsemanship trainers Medicine Show and you know how much of it is actually bullshit you will find this Hitler Rant Parody very funny because it hits the horseshoe nail on the head.

IT WILL ONLY MAKE THE HORSES FAT!!

Thinking about this Hitler seems to know a LOT about how clicker training works!!

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