See! Humans are good for something after all :)
See! Humans are good for something after all :)
It is a sad day in Virginia as the news spreads of the untimely passing of "Teddy" Theodore O'Connor, the pony who took the eventing world by storm. The 14.1 hand Shetland/Arabian/Thoroughbred cross gelding suffered a severe laceration to his hind leg, severing the tendons and ligaments, when he slipped after he spooked and bolted.
According to a statement posted on the O'Connor Event Team website, the staff attended to his needs, and Dr. A Kent Allen was there to exam the horse before it was determined that the injury was irrecoverable and impairing to Teddy's quality of life."
Below is a lovely montage/tribute posted on youtube by ilovehunterjumper
The Great expectations series focused on the experience of breeding my maiden mare Devonessa. The last post in the series of four ended with a very dramatic video of the foaling caught on our webcam and broadcast live on Marestare. I was so eager to bring the story to a close so I could show you the video that I didn't get the chance to properly introduce you to the legend himself... So with out further ado I would like to present Roman Mcvai aka "Riley" born on May 3rd, 2008. Enjoy:)
I received a very special award today from Grey horse matters (which just so happens to be one of MY favorite blogs!) I appreciate this very much considering how completely neglected my poor blog has been until the past two weeks. There is nothing like an adorable foal to get the creative juices flowing again! I hope to keep up with the blog on a more regular basis now and this award gives me just the boost to keep me going! Thanks a bunch GHM!
Now I am excited to pass the award along to a few of my favorite horse blogs! Just about everyone on my blog roll (and then some) are frequent reads for me so this isn't easy:( Let's pick five...three old and two new
1. Mikael's Mania - A blog I read every day! Learn all you ever wanted to know about Arabian horses and so much more! A Great story teller and a Great lady:)
2. Smells Horsey - Lots of variety and lots of fun! Anne is never short on humor or variety... I enjoy the wide range interesting topics and everyday stories of her life with horses:)
3. Simply Marvelous- Great photos and more... Simply marvelous is pleasing to the eye and sure to warm your heart!
My New favorites:
4. Behind the bit: This new blog is one of my favorite reads! Well written, fun and full useful information. Stacey has a knack for incorporating her own style and a great sense of humor into her writing. A must read!
5. Regarding horses: Regarding Horses is dedicated to unpacking the physical, mental, and emotional connection many of us have with horses. Jackie's love of sharing horses with others shines through in each post... A wide range of topics near and dear to horse people everywhere:)
Warning: The video posted below this article contains graphic material that may not be suitable for all viewers
The last few steps to the barn felt like miles. Devon seemed so frantic on the web cam that I had no idea what to expect as I approached her stall. As soon she heard the door slide open she turned and ran straight to me, pushing her head into my chest as if she were trying to burrow inside. She was breathing heavily and her body was hot to the touch. She was so drenched with sweat that I could feel it seeping into my shirt. I was completely taken aback by her reaction and the terrified expression on her face. I couldn't take a single step with out her being right up against me. I had prepared myself to exercise restraint, I planned to sit and watch from a distance unless she needed me. Obviously that was not going to happen. Devon was confused,frightened and adamant that she did not want to be left alone. As I stroked her neck she began to settle and I was able to lead her away from the wall. She started arching her neck and began pushing.
As she took a step away looking for a place to lie down I saw the sack beginning to emerge. I was relieved to see it was white... big sigh of relief... A red bag delivery was one of my top 5 foaling nightmares, especially after we found out she had eaten so much fescue. Devon was circling as she pushed, she kept looking like she wanted to lay down but then she wouldn't. As she turned away from me I saw the first foot, followed by the other slightly behind it, soles down. YES! Everything seemed to be fine... She lied down next to the wall again despite my effort to pull her away. She began to really push as she rocked side to side. I crouched down next to her to see if I could get a good look but she was so close to the wall that I couldn't see. She got up again, this time the foal appeared to be less "out" than before. She was walking in circles again as she continued to push. She finally laid down again in a position that was difficult to see or reach her, she was only down for a few seconds, then she was trying to rise again. This time when she stood I saw the nose and again I was relieved. I figured now it was just a matter of time.
I kept thinking about all the mares I had watched foal on marestare. Many of them would start to get up and then they would lay back down. It was a way of repositioning the baby, getting ready to push it out. I kept thinking thats what she was doing too. A few of the mares would get all the way up and then immediately lied back down again. Devon was just taking a while longer to lay back down. I left the stall to get my phone and she panicked again, jumping up to her feet, this time rubbing the legs against the wall as she turned. I tried to get to the back to check the foal but every time I turned she followed so it was difficult to see what position the foal was in. When she began to go down again she turned enough that I could see the feet again. They were now crossed... There was also now no nose visible. I was on the phone with Susan(our experienced breeder friend) trying to explain what was happening and we decided it would be best she came to help. I couldn't leave Devon's head long enough to help her and I knew she was making no progress on her own.
In the few minutes it took for Susan to arrive Devon got up and down many more times. The last time she went down I was able to get to the back and look and there was barely anything to grab. Just two crossed feet. I could hear Susan entering the barn so I decided to wait. She came in and walked to the back of Devon to check the foals position. I stayed at Devon's head as she uncrossed the legs. She said it would be a good idea to assist Devon as she pushes to help her progress without sucking the foal back in after each push. I was concerned about pulling the foal too much but Susan assured me we would only be holding during contractions and providing resistance to help Devon push the foal out without so much strain. I agreed and thats what we set out to do. The first push went well and I thought we were on our way. Then my poor confused mare stood up...again...
Now the bag was broken and progress had been made, this would have been a good thing if only she was lying down. She was pacing the stall again and I saw her back up to the wall. All along in her pregnancy she pushed against the wall when she became uncomfortable. I think it was a way to relieve the pressure she felt from the foal pushing against her. She was trying to do the same thing now except the foal was already on his way out. I attached a lead to her halter and pulled her as hard as I could off the wall. I tried to go to her hind to look but once again she tried to follow. Susan jumped right in and went to work. Devon was going to try and have this foal standing up. So much for all my damn notes! I was prepared for everything but this. Why would she want to stand? Luckily, Susan was ready and able to help see her through. There was just enough room to stand behind her and break the foal's fall as he came down. I just had to stay at her head and keep her from backing up and to try and keep her calm.
On the way out the foal became hip locked and it took some maneuvering to free him so that he could be pushed the rest of the way out. Devon was shaking and in obvious pain she put her head on me again and started to push. I talked to her and stroked her neck as Susan guided the foal to the ground. I was amazed at how she managed to break his fall so carefully. Holding onto a slippery 100 pound foal that is dangling from a confused maiden mare is no small feat. I was incredibly grateful to have her there to help us. We had a beautiful bay colt. I felt a huge lump in my throat as I kissed my sweet mare on the neck. It's hard to describe what I was feeling but I have never felt so close to her or so incredibly proud of her as I did in that moment.
The colt began calling out to his mama as soon as he hit the ground. She kept looking back wondering what in the hell was behind her. Once the foal was on the ground we had to treat his umbilical cord right away. Unlike when a normal mare foals lying down, the umbilical cord broke instantly when he hit the ground. I ran to get the solution and dip the stump as Susan tied up the placenta. Devon was exhausted but still standing so I turned her around so she could see the foal. All my worries about whether she would make a good mom or not melted away the instant I saw her face against his. She nickered to him and he replied. She didn't know what to do with him yet but she knew he was hers. Devon didn't need any help with this part... She was a great mama from the very start. The others arrived just in time to watch her begin to clean him. The expression on her face had changed drastically from the terrified maiden I met an hour ago. She was perfectly calm and relaxed as stood over her new foal. We left her alone to bond with him and hopefully get a bit of rest. She was certainly going to need it...
It was decided early on that we would install a foaling camera in
the barn. Since there were three of us involved in breeding
Devon it seemed like a good way for all of us to be able to take
turns "foal watching." Besides it was nice to have
extra eyes (friends, family, online viewers) checking in on Devon
from time to time and alerting us if anything looked amiss.
I was introduced to marestare after reading a fellow blogger Mikael at Rising Rainbow Arabians experience with twin foals. Then last year I was held captive along with so many others watching Suerte of Glenhill Farm. Since then I have had the opportunity to be a fly on the wall of breeding farms all over the country and even a few abroad. Although until I was up into the wee hours waiting for my own mare to foal I rarely witnessed an actual foaling in progress.
The first few nights of Devon's foal watch I watched her continuously and analyzed her every move. She displayed a few general signs of discomfort but for the most part she stood in one spot with her butt pressed up against the wall. Despite the building anticipation over the past few weeks, most of the time she was incredibly boring to watch. So I began to flip back and forth watching several other mares who were a bit more committed to getting the job done. Over the course of about 10 days I was able to watch over a dozen mares foal. While lying in bed I observed a broad spectrum of mares foal, there were seasoned broodmares and confused maiden mares, experienced breeders and first timers. Some of them appeared to be to be textbook and others that were difficult to watch.
Let me preface this by saying that in retrospect I realize that it is easy to pass judgment sitting at home watching from your computer while someone is making difficult decisions in the throws of foaling. That being said there were several times I felt a bit uneasy watching mares being assisted during foaling. There were times when only a minute or two had passed and there appeared to be no complications yet the foal was being pulled out, sometimes by two people, one pulling each leg. I realize that every mare and every situation is different and perhaps there were past issues with a particular horse or complications that were difficult to detect via web cam. Either way it was not what I envisioned when I thought of how I wanted Devon's first experience to be. I wanted to allow Devon to foal undisturbed if at all possible. Of course I wanted to be right there if she needed me but it seems to me that as much harm can be done by intervening too early as too late and despite the good intention in trying to help you could possibly do more harm than good.
So that was the plan... We would watch the cam religiously and when the time came I would go out to the barn and sit quietly unnoticed and provide help only as needed. Sounds easy enough right? I had a plan of action, a foaling kit and all the books and notes a prepared foaling attendant could ever need... All I had to do now was wait...
The due date came and went and it became obvious Devon was going to milk this thing for all it was worth (No pun intended) She had constant attention, grooming, bananas (yes I really said bananas!) and every one who passed through the barn fussing over her every whim. She began showing "signs" that she was at least beginning to get ready about 2 1/2 weeks before actual foaling. She was restless a lot of the time, biting her sides, rubbing her tail, pushing her hind end up against the wall, laying down then getting back up over and over night after night. With a maiden mare it can be so difficult to to know if these signs meant she was close to actual foaling or that she was simply getting closer and understandably uncomfortable. Between the three partners involved in project Devon we managed to watch her in shifts all night every night for at least three weeks. The good news was now that as I had taken over as head worry wart of the group, I had plenty of time to do my worry wart research online while Devon proceeded to take her sweet time.
About a week after Devon's due date we finally began to see the udder begin to develop. I also started noticing a change in her shape, she was beginning to soften in the hind, and her vulva was elongated and appeared swollen. Another big change I noticed in the final week was her extreme desire to be near people. She became more affectionate than I had ever seen her before, she nuzzled me constantly and followed me very closely any time I entered her stall. Even her facial expressions were different, she had deep lines above her eyes that gave her a constant "worried look."
There were several nights I thought "Tonight is the night" during the last week based on differences in the way she was acting. I also noticed a window of restlessness when the foal seemed the most active, if she hadn't done anything by 4am I knew I could go to sleep because all activity seemed to halt. The night before Devon foaled she was very agitated at the mare in the stall next to hers. We have a divider up so she couldn't see her but she seemed to be bothered by her being there at all. Based on my reading bout mares wanting to foal in quiet and solitude I decided to put the horses out that night. It was sort of an experiment and a half hearted attempt to will her into foaling while I still had a little bit of energy left.
She seemed fine with being alone at first, I groomed her and fed her dinner then packed up my things and got ready to leave. As I walked toward the door she began to scream. I know scream probably isn't the right term but I have never heard her or any horse make a noise quite like this. It was a painful shriek followed by panic and banging on the stall door. I walked back to her stall and she rushed to the window, her eyes as wide as saucers. She snorted loudly, pushed her head into me and then proceeded to pace the stall, knocking the rest of her grain onto the floor. I went in to get her bucket and she trotted up to me Mares... "So you don't want to be alone but you don't want anyone near you either?" She pinned her ears at me and went back to pacing. I decided rather than bring all the horse back in to just get her babysitter... "Scotch" is a 10 year old Quarter horse gelding that is just a big happy teddy bear. Not much phases him so as far as he was concerned as long as I gave him a little extra hay and grain, Devon could pin her ears and lunge at him through the wall all night long and that was just fine with him. With everyone relatively happy I headed home.
I made a cup of coffee and got into bed. My foal watching shift was until 1:30 so it was time to get down to staring. At first Devon didn't seem to be doing much of anything so I started surfing and checking in on a few of my other "favorites" I'd been following on Marestare. If Devon wasn't ready tonight maybe I could find another that was. I logged on to the chat room to see if there was a particular farm that anyone was discussing that may be close to foaling tonight. No mares were ready yet but I did notice that Mikael was online too. I had also been watching her mare Lucy the past few nights as she seemed much more promising than mine. Around 12:30 I realized Devon had not laid down yet. Typically she was up and down at least two or three times by now. I was so used to looking for her laying flat out as a sign that I never considered her not doing so being THE SIGN. I noticed Lucy looking particularly agitated and commented to Mikael that both our girls were really looking restless. "Wouldn't it be something if they went at the same time? That would make a good blog entry..." Mikael agreed and commented that Devon was "looking close." I switched back to her camera just in time to see her throw a bale of straw across the stall. I had a few bales in the corner to keep her out of the cameras blind spot. She looked frantic... I wanted to go to her but If this was the beginning I certainly didn't want to give her a reason to stop. It was now 2AM and my shift was over but Devon had my undivided attention, I didn't know if she was fooling me again or not but either way I wasn't going to sleep until I saw her lay down.
Then the phone rang... Our experienced breeder friend had logged on to check Devon before bed and called to make sure I was watching. "Kelly, she just entered the first stage of labor, this is it!" I felt my stomach turn as I stumbled out of bed and grabbed my shoes. "But her water" I said "It hasn't broken yet" I was afraid to scare her out of labor but she assured me it was too late for that. I needed get out there now. By the time I reached the barn I heard a rush of water, much louder than I expected. My flashlight in one hand and notebook in the other I could hear my own heart beating. Eleven months of waiting, worrying and preparation all came down to the next few minutes...
The months have passed quickly, it seems like before I could catch my breath spring was upon us. When Devon was bred last spring, the foaling seemed so far off that I felt no real sense of urgency. A few years ago I took a breeding course at Ohio State University. I still had my notebooks and I reviewed them a few times but that's about it. For the most part she didn't even look pregnant, it all still felt a bit surreal.
We were approaching 30 days away from her "due date" of April 22nd and it was time for her final vet check. My regular vet did not offer equine reproductive services and our local equine veterinary practice left me feeling less than warm and fuzzy, so we decided to make a last minute change and go with a different veterinarian.
As soon as I met Dr. Bowman I knew we had made the right choice. He is a rare combination of extremely knowledgeable and down to earth without the slightest hint of an ego. It was obvious that he is passionate about his work. He even seemed to enjoy the questions and explanations that many others find tedious. Devon's exam went well and only took a few minutes. Her weight was right on target and she looked to be progressing nicely,and still being 30 days out it was still too soon to predict much else. To sum it up he basically said that "Maiden mares are a bit more complicated. They can come early, or they can come late, you just have watch and wait." He also said he barely bats an eye until they hit 12 months. Apparently it's not unusual for maidens to go past their due dates. I was a bit surprised about the 12 month comment but I wasn't worried...yet...
Now is the time when most maiden "moms" of maiden mares begin to get cold feet...but not me...I was cool as a cucumber...One of the other maiden moms involved in this project was feeling less secure... She wanted to be sure we were ready for everything. She was reading, researching, and taking notes, lots and lots of notes. It's not that I wasn't concerned, I suppose it's just my personality and my personal disdain for anxiety. I hate to be anxious about anything; it is truly my least favorite emotion. I figured I still had a few weeks to reread my notes and she was worrying enough for the both of us. Besides, statistically speaking, the numbers were on our side.
I assured my partner that everything was going to be just fine. I was having the camera installed that week and we would be able to monitor Devon closely throughout the last few weeks. That's when she handed me the book. Not just any book... The book that strikes fear into the hearts of first time foaling attendants everywhere: Blessed are the broodmares... I remember reading portions of this book in my summer course. Although then the word dystocia meant about as much to me as the words ovary or uterus. It was just information being stored away in the back of my mind, there was nothing frightening about it. But when i was flipping through the pages once again I began to feel worry creeping in. What if we are part of that 5 percent? What if something horrible happens? What have I done to this poor mare?
To make matters worse, an experienced breeder who lives nearby(who ended up being a godsend) stopped by to check on Devon and found some fescue in our fescue free hay! This was impossible! I paid extra for this hay! I took Devon off of grass even before the recommended 90 day period just to be certain this would not be an issue. Luckily, it just so happened that our breeder friend was a fescue expert. After losing a foal years ago to due to a late diagnoses of septicemia caused partly by fescue toxicosis, she educated herself and other breeders on the effects and prevention of this devastating and preventable problem. If you are in Virginia and have an old established pasture, you probably have fescue. Tall Fescue is a hardy grass that is easily established, tolerates close grazing, stands up to heavy horse traffic, and survives drought conditions that wither other grasses. It is known as the most important cool season grass in the United States. Unless you are an expert, fescue is not that easy to identify. It looks VERY similar to bluegrass.
Here are the two grasses side by side. They are even more difficult to to detect when cured in hay. Tall fescue is pictured on the left and bluegrass on the right. In fact, most vets can't identify it either. Unfortunately, it only takes a little endophyte-infested fescue to cause major problems.
These problems may include :
Luckily with the experienced friends help we were able to find it in time to have the vet start Devon on Domperidone, the most effective weapon against fescue toxicosis to date. Domperidone has proven to be successful in reversing the harmful effects that occur when pregnant mares ingest infested fescue hay or grass. When started early enough the drug was felt to be effective in the prevention of fescue toxicosis in 95.2% of mares treated. In one study done at Clemson University data on placental retention was submitted for 1,322 mares. Approximately 93% of the mares (1,236) treated with domperidone did not have retained placentas.
We were 10 days away from the due date when we started Devonessa on Domperidone. At this time she had virtually no bag. This could be cause for concern, or maybe not... Being a maiden mare it is not uncommon to have little udder development prior to foaling. I read several accounts of maiden mare owners who had mares foal with no bag and no milk until immediately prior to or even after foaling. There was really no way to be sure and knowing that there was some fescue in the hay it wasn't a risk worth taking. Domperidone costs around fifty dollars per tube which typically lasts about 5 days. Devon started with a 10 day supply and ended up continuing the treatment through the foaling date and a few days after. It was a small price to pay for preventing serious complications.
At this point we were only days away from the due date and I had the camera up and running on mare stare. I was more anxious than anyone now. I was reading everything I could get my hands on and watching Devon like a hawk. Would she foal early? Would the Domperidone work? Was I ready to handle a dystocia if it were to happen?
I sat outside Devon's stall with my head hanging over the door, she rested her head on my shoulder and I felt her warm breath on my neck. I reached up and slowly stroked her neck. I couldn't let anything happen to her, I couldn't betray her trust. This was the beginning of many sleepless nights watching and waiting, hoping and praying that everything would go as planned. But I had to be ready for anything...
To be continued...
Some time ago I posted the story of how I aquired my mare Devonessa. She is a 9 year old TB/Connemara cross. She came to me from a well known dressage facility that happens to be right next door. After being layed up for over a year due to a stifle injury and mild intermitant lameness it was determined that she would be unable to withstand the vigorous training required to be competitive in the upper levels of dressage.
Devon's previous owner decided to take her to the Verband Oldenburg
inspection in hopes of registering her with the International Sport Horse
Registry. Devonessa scored second highest of the day and was accepted
into the Oldenburg Mare Book.
She was now sound, fit and still perfectly capable of being ridden and way too nice of a mare to not have a job. I had just started my business and was in need of another lesson horse so I decided to take her on a one year free lease.
Although Devon stands at barely 16h she is quite the mover. The problem was the majority of my students then consisted of beginners and a few intermediate riders.That big beautiful trot can be a bit intimidating to a new rider. I couldn't have my beginners flopping around like fish on her back so Devon was ridden by a handful of select students and did a lot of walk work. At first I wasn't sure if she was going to be a good fit in our program. We were just beginning to build a lesson program and I was hesitant to take on another mouth to feed permanent basis. I liked Devon but I kept a degree of distance between us as I knew that at this point she was only a lease. The agreement could be severed at any time and I didn't want to get too attached.
As time went on it became increasingly difficult to remain objective to the possibility of giving her back. I wanted to do what was best for my business and I knew I could probably replace her with a horse that could be ridden by anyone. Another horse that just shuffled along day in, and day out lesson after lesson. There is just something about her... I'll admit that I have a preference for mares. It is true that they can be moody and tempermental, and over all geldings tend to be the more level headed choice. Sometimes you come across a horse that is just special. Devonessa has presence... At the ISR inspection it was obvious that she was in her element. She isn't just beautiful, she is steady, confident and LOVES to strut her stuff. She is always noticed and always complemented by everyone who visits the farm. If I only had a dollar for every time I heard "She is such a nice mare" Everyone loved her... As hard as I tried not to, I loved her too... I knew I would eventually seal the deal and I finally did. Devon was mine.
I was interested in breeding her but I wasn't willing to do so without being certain that I could truly afford to do it right. It was then I was approached by two of my clients with an offer to sponsor Devon's breeding. They would own the foal unless I decided to buy in, so in essence they would be leasing Devon from me over the next 18 months. I would oversee the process and Devon would remain in my care. I was involved in the process of researching and picking the stallion (which was very exciting and educational!) We spent a lot of time planning and researching as we needed to be sure there would be a market for the foal as well, should we decide to sell. It was a great opportunity to breed her without having to come up with the very expensive stud fee (which happened to be the least of our expenses BTW) This process would also determine if I should one day breed Devon on my own. It would be an excellent opportunity to own and train a sport horse of this caliber myself.
In early spring of last year the stallion selection had been narrowed down to two. Both of which were standing at Hilltop Farm in Maryland. We took a field trip to Hilltop to tour the facility and meet the beautiful studs in person. The choice was between Royal Prince and Contucci. They were both breathtakingly beautiful and extremely well mannered. Temperament and ridability were among the top determining factors in our decision. We were able to spend a bit of time with each horse and watch them move as well.
The facility was amazing and it was nice to see stallions treated so well. The stallions were all stalled in a particular wing. The stalls were huge with bars from the chest up so that they were able to see and interact with each other. They also had long narrow runs for turn out each day! Imagine that! Dressage horses actually being allowed to be horses, running and playing OUTSIDE! I think that has a lot to do with how sane and easy to handle they truly were. After we left it didn't take long to make the decision. Contucci was beautiful and built so well... he had a shoulder to die for and looked incredibly powerful yet he was just a big sweetheart who loved scratches and attention. Contucci was amazing but in the end the choice was Royal Prince. He was much smaller than Contucci but every bit as awe inspiring. Watching him move gave me goosebumps. He dances... He has this rhythmic flow in every move he makes. He just looked so nice to ride. Just thinking of the combination of Devon and Royal prince made me smile. Devon never got to meet her Prince but I made sure to tell her he was quite the catch.
The first cycle we sent her off to the vet to be bred. In retrospect I think that was a bad decision. Although they were able to monitor her closely and inseminate her accordingly, she was incredibly distraught. I have come to believe that it is best to leave a horse at home, in familiar surroundings, whether it is undergoing a medical treatment or for breeding purposes whenever possible. She did not catch. The second time we stayed home. She had her mom and lots of bananas to eat while she was poked and prodded. She did great! The next time the vet came to visit we had great news! Devon was in foal and we had a little white blob on sonogram to prove it!
Now I was all excited with nothing to do but wait. Devon went on as usual being alpha mare, giving a lesson or two and suddenly being congratulated by everyone who came her way. She didn't know what all the fuss was about but she had no less than 3 visitors with bananas in hand daily and she couldn't be more pleased. Poor girl had no idea of what was waiting down the road... to be continued...
stay tuned for part 2... The countdown
Everybody's doing it these days. From our favorite celebrities to athletes at the top of their game, even your mom and your Aunt pearl talk about how Yoga has changed their bodies and their lives. Maybe its because I share the attention span of my horses, or the fact that I always thought stretching only came before "real" workouts. I understood the need for flexibility and suppleness as a rider, but I certainly never thought of yoga consisting almost entirely of controlled stretching could make me stronger or more fit. Unfortunately after injuring my knee during a bad fall, I was unable to ride for quite some time. I had to find a low impact solution to regain lost muscle and flexibility in order to be fit enough to ride.
I first tried yoga a few years ago and to be honest I hated every second of it. Part of the problem was the way I was introduced to yoga in the first place. My mother lent me a 90 minute tape of Denise Austin's "Fat Blasting Yoga." You remember her right? The perky aerobics queen of the 90's with endless smiling encouragement as she bounces around aimlessly. Well, picture the same bad music and the same annoying voice while trying to follow, "Down dog, up dog! Down dog, up dog, down dog -- aaand up dog!" Maybe it's just me but I despite my best efforts I found myself cursing the TV rather than relaxing. Her overly cheerful style can quickly become irritating, especially when she coos something like, "This is my favorite stretch!" or, "Yea, YOGA!" So after about 20 minutes I decided yoga was definitely not for me.
I turned to pilates, which I still believe is the best all around workout for equestrians. Allowing you to strengthen your core and work up a sweat all while developing the coveted long lean muscles essential to good riding. While I had a lot of success with pilates the tightness in my hips and thighs persisted. A depressing fact that you may not know is that we all begin to lose flexibility at the age of 16. Like it or not, touching your toes before hopping on your horse just isn't enough, especially as you get older.
It was then at the advice of my instructor I decided to give yoga one more chance. I purchased A.M. and P.M. yoga by Rodney Yee. After the first few minutes of rolling my eyes and grumbling about the new age flutes and speedo on the beach, I gave it a real go. The entire A.M. session was a total of less than 20 minutes. I can honestly say I experienced amazing results my very first day. I felt more relaxed, loose and energized than I had in quite some time. The P.M. session is just as delightful. It is a great way to wind down at the end of the day, not only providing you a well rested night sleep but I awoke with less stiffness each morning. I don't do it every day or even as often as I should but I find that even 2 - 3 times a week will make a dramatic difference in your riding and just the way you feel in general.
In summary there are many ways yoga can help you become a better rider:
After a few weeks of practicing yoga a minimum of 3 days per week you will see improvement:
As with riding, there is no magic to yoga. It takes concentration, consistency, and discipline to succeed. Similar to training horses, yoga is not about force. Some riders are flexible, and others are not. Be aware of those differences and work towards your individual perfection. Work at your own pace and don't worry if you have to modify the stretches at first. In a short time you will find yourself improving your range of motion beyond what you thought was possible. You will learn how to move your body (and mind) away from strain, pain and imbalance toward balance of strength, flexibility and endurance. I think you'll be surprised how quickly you see results in your riding among other things.
I have also included a few clips I found on youtube of one of Rodney Yee's beginner yoga videos. These scenes are not from the A.M. / P.M. video but a lot of the stretches are the same so I figured a little sneak peak couldn't hurt.
We all love our horses and we want them to love us back. We devote our time and our energy, we care for them, we consider them a part of our family. As horse lovers and as human beings it is only natural for us to want to nurture our equine companions. Unfortunately, despite our good intentions we often do them more harm than good when we humanize their needs. We want to believe our horses want and need the same things we do and that in return for our love, they love us, trust us, prefer us and would never hurt us. Many people give treats to horses as a way of demonstrating affection sometimes believing that the horse will "like" them more. Believe me when I tell you that when your horse begins to treat you as his human vending machine the last thing he is trying to show you is affection.
When your horse mugs your pocket or begs for treats he is invading your space and demanding food. By giving up either your resources or space, you are telling your horse that he is in control. I read a great quote on this subject as it relates to self discipline. The quote is "You cannot teach what you do not have". When you fail to take leadership role, the horse takes over, which often leads to spoiled and aggressive behaviors from the horse. You are creating a dangerous and unpleasant animal with no regard for you or anyone else it encounters.
Before you roll your eyes and dismiss this post, understand that I am not implying you should never treat your horses. I do give my horses treats. Depending on the horse and situation, feeding treats can be harmless and fun. In fact I have several horses that I call my "treat horses" because I know that when children come and ask to feed them carrots they will gently lower their heads and respectfully accept. I also use treats when doing carrot stretches with my horses.
Treats can be a useful way to easily get what your after without a lot of fuss. However, I DO NOT greet my horses with hand fed treats. I DO NOT try to reward a horses bad behavior or calm a horse with treats. I DO NOT bribe my horses on to trailers with treats. There is a difference between bribery and reward. If you have to give your horse grain, carrots, etc. to get him to step in the trailer that's bribery. But, if you give your horse the grain after they are in the trailer and standing quietly that's a reward. It may seem like a subtle difference, but the behavior must come before the reward.
Each horse is an individual and they all will respond differently. If your horse is like one of my "kid treat horses" you may never have an issue with your horse becoming aggressive or ill mannered. However if you begin to see signs of spoiling (chasing you or others in the field, mugging your pockets, nipping at your hands or clothes, dancing in the cross ties, or pawing each time you arrive) It is time to practice restraint. Give your horse all the treats you want in his BUCKET. Let him watch you put them there if you are worried that he wont know they are from you.
The bottom line is a good relationship with your horse has very little to do with spoiling them. In fact it has little to do with love either, at least not the way we as humans equate love. What a good relationship is based on is mutual respect. If you love your horse, then respect your horse enough to do what is in his best interest. This is far more important than fulfilling your own fantasy of a human like bond that horses neither understand or appreciate. If you want to show your horse how much you care, make sure he has a clean water bucket, groom him today even if he is only going to get dirty again, exercise him, put an apple with his dinner if it pleases you. At the end of the day what your horse truly comprehends and appreciates is his dependence upon you. He can depend on the fact that he will be safe, warm, fed and treated kindly by the partner at his side.
*** Read this article by Dr. Jessica Jahiel highlighting a letter written by one of her readers entitled "Dear friend of my horse" This can be a tricky subject at many boarding barns. I think printing out this letter and hanging it on your bulletin board might give your unwelcome treaters a little perspective w/out stepping on too many toes:)
Okay so I'm no Oprah, but after watching her annual favorite things show last week I thought to myself why not a gift guide for horse lovers? With Christmas right around the corner, time is running out to find just the right gift for the horse lover in your life. Here is a little inspiration to get you started :) Everything listed in this first installment of my favorite things is not only tried and true but also priced at $25.00 or less!
I will continue to rack my brain for more ideas tonight and see what else I can come up with. If you have a great gift idea we would love to hear them so drop us a line in the comment section or email me
Handheaters from Hotwears
Keep your horse lover warm this winter with a pair of handheaters from Hotwears. With these warm insulating hand heaters your hands and fingers will stay cozy warm!
The Handheaters hold up to 2 hot packs; one at the pulse point of your inner wrist and one across the back of your hand in a fingerless gloves, keeping your hands warm and fingers free. Another Plus: the slim fit lets you use them under your gloves or mitts! Batteries Included: 2 HeatMax® HotHands® (Hot Packs). There are three sizes to choose from: S, M & L
Rhythm Beads by Elated Equine
Price $14.00 - $20.00
Rhythm Beads (sometimes called "speed beads") not only enhance the natural beauty of your horse, but help build rhythm/cadence and help you both to stay calm and focused in stressful situations.
There are other retailers that sell these wonderful beads but what I love about elated equine is the ability to choose your colors, pattern, string and bells using the Design your own bead feature. Log on, pick
your colors and see what your design would look like on YOUR horse, right now, before you decide to buy! You can also purchase necklaces directly from the featured patterns section or contact them with your color preferences and they will create a rhythm beads design especially for you!
Stud Muffins Horse Treats
Price $19.95/50 Pack
Stud Muffin horse treats are called the caviar of horse treats. I found them a bit pricey but after trying to make my own and failing miserably I decided to by a pack as a special treat for my horses after summer camp. They go nuts for this stuff! I've yet to meet a horse that will turn up his nose to these goodies.
Stud muffins 100% hand made with all natural ingredients fortified with extra protein and flax seed, ensuring they are as healthy as they are enjoyable.
Massage Pin Brush by Epona
The massage pin brush by epona is absolutely the best brush I have ever owned. I have two, one for my horse and one for myself! Natural wood brush and bristles, for manes, tails and body. Delivers a soothing, relaxing massage for the body, while softly detangling manes and tails – no breaking or tearing.
Herbal Scented Cold/Hot pack by Horse Holistics
I was given one of these as a gift a few years ago and it has been a god sent. I use it all the time for various aches and pains. brings soothing warmth to larger areas like upper and lower back, shoulders, etc. as well as back pain and strain. Fluted channels keep contents evenly distributed for maximum benefit. Physician-formulated blend of 12 soothing, aromatic herbs in a flax seed base. Unlike rice or corn which becomes moldy and must be thrown out, flax seed keeps its integrity. Hot or cold, they're great for arthritis, sinus headaches, stress relief and many other common ailments. I don't know if it is intended for horse use at all but I did buy a smaller version for my arthritic old dog and he absolutely loves it!
...to not be organized. Our new website of the week is Horselogs.com This affordable online horse management service allows you to safely keep records on an unlimited number of horses. For a few dollars a month you can keep track of feeding schedules,riding lessons, training plans, expense reports, and schedule your vet and farrier visits. In just a few minutes you can record Medical history, Pedigree, Show results, daily journal notes and more without downloading a thing. All you need is an internet connection and you have 24/7 access to record events as they happen and review records from anywhere. There is even an option to keep your horse's vital statistics such as pulse, respiration, hydration and temperature.
This online service is a great way for the everyday horse owner to easily manage their records with very little hassle or expense. My only complaint about the system is that it is not suitable as an equine business mangement system. While I often use the calander and training journal I have still found it necessary to utilize a seperate program for tracking all of my business expenses and creating invoices. Horselogs.com is definitly on the right track with this simple online system. When you register you gain access to all of the premium services the first 30 days for free! So head on over to Horselogs.com and sign up
The seat or weight aid is probably the most important natural aid, as it is the aid that is in the most contact with the horse. Unfortunately it is also the most likely to be misunderstood. Before we can do anything in motion we must be able to sit in balance. Becoming aware of how your body is aligned will help you develop the correct muscles and allow you to stay balanced over the horse's center of gravity.
My first lesson with every new student begins with the "plumb line" This refers to the alignment of the rider which can be seen from the side. The plumb line checklist is as follows... Ears over shoulders - Shoulders over Hips- Hips over Ankles - with a bend in the knee. Everything drops straight down in a line. If your feet are sticking straight out in front of you, your upper body is going to come back behind the motion of the horse. If your legs are too far behind you, your upper body is going fall forward. When the horse feels this, he will move to correct it.
Once we have mastered the plumb line it is time to move on to our seat. Side-to-side balance means that you are sitting with your weight distributed evenly with equal pressure on both seat bones. What if you can't feel your seat bones let alone discern one from the other? This is where our friend Mr. Frog comes in.
Initially Many people have trouble finding what is referred to as the "neutral position" which is the equal weight on both seat bones, no weight on your crotch, with your pelvis open, and with your lower back flat. In order to find your seat bones in the saddle grab a hold of your strap or horn and slowly draw the knees upward until you feel both seat bones against the saddle. Once you feel them slowly bring the legs back down trying to keep that feel. Then you may proceed in the warm up: lifting both legs together, then lifting alternating legs side to side at the walk, isolating each seat bone independent of the other (If you are an inexperienced rider do this only while on the lunge line or supervised at the walk.) You may notice your horse begin to slow or attempt to transition from walk to halt as you perform this exercise. This is a normal response as the horse begins to feel the weight of your seat.
I am amazed at the number of riders I see who are already a year or two into lessons and have not been taught the value of understanding how to use their weight properly. When you are balanced
over the horse’s center of gravity and following its motion, any weight
shift creates the feeling in the horse
that he needs to re balance himself.
Using your weigh distribution as an aid naturally influences the horse to create the shape you desire. Like leg aids, weight aids can be applied bilaterally or unilaterally. For example, to turn the horse to the left,
you simply shift more weight on your left seat bone and the horse
automatically feels like stepping to the left to keep you centered over
his center of gravity. It is important to remember the rider’s upper body position should
not change. It is a common flaw for the riders to do too much when attempting weight aids by leaning or collapsing at the hip. Its just a matter of developing the right feel and the right muscles. Balance is something that both horse and rider will revisit many times as they advance in training.
One of my students' least favorite warm up exercises is dog position. A bit crude but the name of exercise is meant to resemble a dog lifting his leg to uhhem... do his business. This uses the abductor muscles to pull the thigh away, stretching your hips and loosening the thigh. Yes it hurts a little... but its a great way to help cure the grippers.
Thigh muscle suppleness allows you to wrap your legs around your horse's barrel The adductors are located inside the thigh and they do allow you to squeeze and grip the saddle to stay on in rough situations. However used in a prolonged contraction, they can immobilize your pelvis and lift you out of the saddle. Tightness in the thigh causes a chain reaction down the leg that also influences the position and effectiveness of both the knee and ankle as well as upper body position effectiveness. This in turn causes more concussion of the seat and upper body making it difficult to stay in the motion of the horse. The abductor muscles (outer thigh) and the adductor muscles (inner thigh) should work together with the hip flexors and be evenly strengthened bearing weight with little force while you are in the saddle. The inner thigh and knee should remain soft and relaxed in every gait.
There are a number of exercises that riders can use to help themselves develop the “muscle memory” they need to stay in balance with their horses. Muscle tone and rigid strength are two different things ... Think ballet strong, swimmer strong, martial arts strong... Flexibility and fluidity are essential parts to becoming a strong rider. Off the horse exercises and stretches can be equally beneficial. Here are a few of my favorites
So as it turns running a horse business provides you very little time to devote to much else. When the site began I intended to write more, read more, do more etc. I think life and life with horses in particular have a way of taking all of your extra time and hiding it in a place hard to find... Kinda like the black hole that all the my left socks disappear into... I suppose Everyrider has turned into more of a newsletter than a blog considering I am rarely able to post more than once a week. I don't know how bloggers like Mikael's Mania write (and write well) almost everyday in the midst of running a farm!
Although I have only written around 35 articles I have still managed to make so many wonderful new connections in the horse community and found such a wealth of resources online that I never even knew existed. So I thought it might be a good idea to include a few posts that simply review an interesting site or a couple tried and true products. Perhaps I can even throw in
a contest or two! Any other ideas are
more than welcome! Just drop me a line or leave a comment.
I got the website of the week Idea after reading my fellow horse blogger Patricia 's site "The Hinny Whisperer" where she reviews several great horse and hinny related sites, giving you the highlights and reasons why each site is worth the visit. I have tons of great bookmarks and links friends and students have passed along that I thought I might do some passing along myself! So without any further ado here is our first website of the week!
Horses for Life
Horsesforlife.com is an amazing online magazine dedicated to preserving and bringing online the wonderful educational resources that should be available to all riders and instructors. While the magazines focus is on Discussing and reporting on topics related to the classical training of dressage horses there are a wide range of fantastic articles for horse enthusiasts of any discipline and breed. Beautiful images and intriguing video accompany the wealth of in depth articles at horses for life.
While there are many free articles to enjoy, I highly recommend purchasing the subscription. I believe it is 14.95 for a three month money back guaranteed trial or $34.95 for the entire year. Once you subscribe you also gain access to the archives of over 175 past articles full of great information. I think I have read them all! The magazine comes out once a month and usually consists of a dozen articles or so. The horse health articles alone were enough to make subscribing worth it to me. There are several health related articles with all the latest veterinarian research and the possible impact on our horses. A few examples of health related topics are listed below.
There are at least 3 free articles in every issue that you can read without registration so head on over to Horsesforlife.com and take a look ... You won't be dissapointed!
What is it like to be your horse? What do they feel or think when they see us coming? Is the way in which we carry ourselves in our day to day routine around the barn, while grooming or tacking up that important? Self awareness is one of the greatest challenges in learning to ride. When we begin as green riders we often are unaware of the position of our bodies or the tension we carry. The same is true of so many of us on the ground. We are not taught to pay attention to the subtleties of body language that are of such great significance to prey animals. We rarely notice the change in the way our horse is breathing or the cadence with which he walks. When you consider that the horses very survival was dependent upon their innate ability to perceive change, to sense danger and to be constantly aware it is not so strange that they notice the details we ignore. Its easy to have the mindset that the clock begins when you sit in the saddle. Now you are ready, now your paying attention to your horse and you expect the same in return. What about the rest of the time?
At Meredith Manor all of the training is based on a 10-level system called "The Training Tree" There are ten levels (as seen in the illustration to the left) in the training tree that are mastered in sequence. This allows us to break down the process of teaching horses into smaller pieces using a step by step approach with each step building sequentially on the one before. This also gives us a way to identify holes in previous training or break through common plateaus by going back and addressing the missing piece before moving forward.
I remember questioning the first two levels of the training tree: Rhythm and Relaxation. It seemed like they should be reversed. It made more sense to me that a horse would need to be relaxed before they could focus on their rhythm. Then the question was posed... "How do you achieve relaxation?" How does one make a 1000 pound animal relax? The answer of course: Rhythm
Developing a good sense of rhythm requires concentration. To make rhythmic movement an ingrained habit, you need to pay attention to the beat of your walk, the pattern of your breathing, and the bend and swing of your knees, your hips, and your shoulders. A steady rhythm is consistent, relaxing and predictable. That predictability can help an anxious horse stay calm and relaxed. The horse begins to trust that nothing abrupt or frightening is going to happen. Watch the soothed expression on the face of a horse being groomed by a caretaker currying to a steady inner beat and you will see the power of rhythm at work.
Once you master the ability to work rhythmically with your horses on the ground will develop a critical habit that you can carry over into riding. By Developing this mental discipline you will learn to to use rhythmic and relaxed body language on the ground to create calm focus and willing movement in your horse. Then, from the saddle, you learn to apply the aids in a rhythmic and relaxed way to recreate feelings of shapes you want the horse to take. Those even, regular footfalls create a ride that flows smoothly from movement to movement with seamless departs and transitions.
When working with a nervous horse I pay extra attention to my breathing. Counting 1-2- inhale, 1-2 exhale... slow steady and even... in and out. Before long the horse begins to exhale more frequently. He begins to find and match your rhythm. You want the horse breathing calmly and quietly, giving the impression he’s almost bored. Thats okay! Good training should be boring to watch. When your horse comes up next to you and stands completely relaxed while giving you his undivided attention, he is paying you the highest compliment a horse can give. Rhythm is equally important once you begin to ride. It is important to realize that a horse cannot move with any better sense of rhythm than the rider he carries. Some riders possess a natural sense of rhythm while others must practice the skill. There are several ways to help find yourself find rhythm from humming and counting to simply paying closer attention to the beat of the hooves hitting ground. Whether your goals are recreational trail riding or upper level dressage competition rhythm and relaxation are at the foundation. Becoming the rider or trainer you aspire to be takes time and practice. Start small... Practice rhythmic breathing in for 1-2 and Breath out for 1-2... It might make a bigger difference than you think.