Good fortune and anxiety

What a busy few days! Am very much in need of a break and some alone time, to recharge my batteries, but I’ve got some friends to see this weekend first. In terms of Skye, the week has gone like this…

Sunday was moving day, as already written. A corsetry friend came to stay that night. We had such a drama… because of trains and a lack of phone battery, she was essentially lost to me for two hours! Walked all around town looking for her. Had covered about 14 miles by the time Sunday was done. 

 

Monday…

She stumbled a few times on this first day. Not over the branch so much, but over her own feet! That’s why she especially needs this landscape. We’ve been fully inspired by the ideas of the Intrinzen people in this regard. I want to give her as much variety of sensory input as possible.

We did a little photoshoot in the morning, which was ace. The sun shone brightly and we used the quirky industrial backdrops of the boatyard. Am looking forward to editing them. Rushed her to the bus station, then saw Skye in the afternoon. 

 
After Moving Day, I had thought, “ah these horses are going to be so happy here that we may struggle to catch them for a week or so…” But no, as easy to walk up to as ever. Basil was stuck to her like glue, with Monty not far behind, and they both came with me as I lead her to a little wooded area in the field. She was distracted by their antics, but very obliging. We went over a fallen branch, up and down small but steep-ish slopes, backwards both on the flat and uphill, and generally explored. The boys kept leaving the woodland then coming back, confused as to why Skye was still there with me, which was a distraction. At one point, I was stood arm’s length from Skye with the lead rope loose between us. Monty barrelled through in a fast walk and when his chest hit the lead rope he paused, then carried on, with a look that said, “I’ll get you free, Skye!” To her absolute credit, she just stepped out of his way as the rope dropped from my hand. He bumbled off and she just stood patiently. 

So it was a very good start. 

 

Tuesday…

On Tuesday we did much the same routine, but I had my instructor-friend with me, to show her the land. I’d also forgotten to pick up the cavesson and lead rope. Need to get into a routine here. So I used the waistband of my treat-bag as a loose loop around Skye’s neck. Though the boys weren’t quite as stuck to her as the day before they were still keen that she run off with them, and without the better control/communication of a cavesson we did struggle to get any decent work done. But that’s fine, it just shows me all the things I need to improve on. 

The friend liked the landscape and all the happy horses, and commented that Skye’s back-up was looking a lot better. She moves in proper diagonal pairs now, with the head a bit lower and the back no longer dropped. It’s hard to tell from right by her side, but it seems that she may overbend her neck slightly, “cheating” on muscular strength by putting some of the work onto the nuchal ligament, but at this stage that’s absolutely fine. 

John and the friend also picked wild blackberries to eat and there was this lovely moment where Skye was doing the same in the foreground. I see her eating from varied heights quite often in this field, which is exactly what I’d hoped for. That reaching neck posture, to gently strengthen the longus colli and scalenus. 

 

Wednesday… 

Even on Tuesday I was starting to feel a bit irritable (I think just because I’ve not had a day to myself in weeks), which isn’t brilliant for the horse. She needs my absolute patience and gratitude, and even if my slight irritability didn’t change anything you’d see on the outside I think it did change my focus and the vibes the horse got from me. 

I decided to brave the jumping field today, to explore some new obstacles. She’d walked through it on Moving Day and I knew the others would be coming for their horses soon, so we’d have company. Whilst we had company she was great. A bit quick in her walk across the grass, but then she’s just keen, and with the softer footing she can zoom along. Not so myself, so between the two of us it was a bit messy. In the field she was fine. A little distracted by all the smells and sounds to take in, but not at all worried by anything I asked her in terms of stepping over poles, big tubes, and between cones. 

Eventually, the boys and one of our livery-owner’s mares were going out for a mini-hack, and Skye was very upset by this. Whinnied heavily, began spinning around me, oblivious to the fact that I was there to help her. She settled a bit for walking and being given tasks to focus on, but otherwise she was the most unsettled I’ve ever seen her, and that includes the first week I had her. 

Once she’d settled, we put her back in the field and she was happy again. 

 

Thursday… 

Moment to moment. These are Skye’s two types of trot. It would be good to also have a “stretchy” trot in her repertoire, but I think that’s a question of unlocking her topline and perhaps using targeting to encourage that reaching posture. On the lunge, at this stage, she just braces in the trot. But many roads lead to Rome, so we’ll experiment and see.

Thursday was likewise mixed in terms of success. We went to the jumping field again. In the distance she could see the colts’ field, and those boys had come up to the fence to look at her and prance around. But she settled to our obstacles quite well. Lots of diving her head to the ground to stress eat though. Then her boys went out for a hack again. She was less outwardly worried this time, but I was helping them at the gate and she did start becoming bargy in a way that was borderline dangerous. Just oblivious to my presence. Got a bop on the nose for that, and you know I’m not one for punishment. I tend to think that 90% of the time you’re better off ignoring the unwanted behaviour than punishing it. And I don’t know if I called it right really. As I say, I was becoming irritable this week, so I’m unsure of my judgement in that moment. But hey ho, it’s done now, and I don’t think it’s hugely affected how the horse thinks of me. And I’m not against a bop on the nose, I just don’t know if that was the best option at that moment. 

A few more obstacles after the boys had gone, and that was fine. Oh, I brought the gymnastics mat down! She didn’t mind it at all really. Assumed it was for stepping over rather than on, but I captured/clicked a few moments with her foot on the mat or knocking the mat, so we’ve made a start. 

Then back to the field. She was alert but attentive walking back, halted whenever asked (which is just as well, as I can’t walk quickly over that ground yet). But I made a poor decision once in the field. I’d thought I’d lead her over to her new horsey friends, or at least for a few steps, so as to avoid getting into the habit of having her bolt away at the gate. Just to instil some patience. Teaching patience at gates in her old yard had been easy! But no, she couldn’t see her friends from there and all she wanted to do was go. Managed to get the cavesson off, but she was on her toes spinning around me so it wasn’t ideal. Got a tiny moment’s pause before letting her free, so at least she hadn’t fully forgotten there as as a human attached to her. Then off she went, walk to gallop, which settled into a forward canter with whinnying and high tail. 

I’m seeing the silver linings though… my horse cantered! In her last field, they didn’t play. There was no-where for horses to disappear from sight, so they never bolted off looking for one another. There wasn’t much to interest or inspire. She had been a runner when in the field with the boys, but once she got moved into a small paddock with two girls it all stopped. Her quarters even got smaller through lack of use. Am so pleased she runs here! 

Anyway, I didn’t want bolting off to be the last impression she had of our session, so I went over to find them all near the wooded area. She was grazing with her new friends as quiet as a lamb, and happy for me to go up to stroke her. No hard feelings, just got anxious about being away from them. The entire herd is very friendly and curious, especially the coloured mare and the dun filly, so I hung around for a bit to fuss them. Skye didn’t send them off, but a couple of times she was a bit, “wait, isn’t that my human?” I think this is what she needs, for me to hang out with the herd for a few minutes every so often. Zero pressure, just chilling together. 

Whilst there I saw the others take themselves over and around all the natural obstacles of the trees and was pleased. Happy, healthy ponies. 

 

Week Overview… 

My task is to help “unlock” her superficial dorsal lines. But hopefully, herd life in a richer landscape will encourage a few more of these effortful trots naturally. She’s not tracking up and she can’t “stretch” over her back yet, but look at the balance and the lift through the withers…

But what I’ve realised is that I’ve actually asked quite a lot of her this week. When I look back to the first week I had her, all we did was walk up and down the yard, and sometimes practice standing for grooming and feet. The constant movement was the best thing really, the only thing that let her calm her mind. As she has moved to the new yard with both myself and two of her favourite horse friends (plus their humans, who she knows quite well), I’ve taken it somewhat for granted that she would settle faster. But no. I need to be more conscious of not stressing her out. 

It’s very curious that she’s displaying separation anxiety now though, when she never really did before. I’ve a theory that she’s so happy in the herd that she has a terror of losing it. Like rescue dogs that have been deprived of food who are then aggressive at dinner time. So I’m going to endeavour to ask smaller questions and maybe have a few more days where we use the fallen branch rather than the man-made obstacles of the jumping field. That way she doesn’t have to be taken away from her friends, but we still get the postural exercise and human contact in. Maybe I should use this as another opportunity to practice targeting too. See if it’s still over-stimulating when it’s loose in a field. Take things slow. 

I’m so thrilled by the landscape though. The forage, the variety, the gentle inclines and divots in the ground, the grassy bits and dusty bits, the tree roots, the brambles and thistles and the paths through the bushes. Over the last two weeks Skye’s posture had collapsed a bit for lack of work as I’d not been available. But by the end of this week, when I stood next to her she seemed a bit taller and flatter again. Just a bit. And all we’ve done is walk over some raised obstacles and have her live a more natural life. 

 

In the first five days there I’ve seen her do all of the following: 

  • multiple canters. 
  • one gallop. 
  • effortful showing-off trots. 
  • not so good trots, but at least it’s movement. 
  • graze uphill, downhill, and on the flat. 
  • browse varied plants at varied heights. 
  • communicate fairly with all her new friends. 
  • babysit the boys, who she loves. 
  • walk over and through the stream. 
  • plus the tasks I’ve asked her to do, backing-up on varied terrain and walking over raised obstacles. 

 

Some of the cantering will no doubt calm down as she becomes more settled, but with a mixed herd including some young fillies I reckon they’ll have cause to play every so often. 

Oh, it’s just wonderful… If what you want is richly varied sensory input, such as will keep a horse healthy, then you couldn’t ask for much more. And in Birmingham, no less! 

She’s now going to have the weekend off as I’ll be visiting friends. Hopefully in that time she’ll mull over this week, get used to seeing her friends come and go, and begin to trust in her good fortune. 

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Moving day!

It’s hard to write when you’re singing, and I’m singing (poorly) along to Corinne Bailey Rae tonight as I’m happy. 

My friends and I moved our three horses to the new livery, the one I described with the varied ground, varied grazing, natural herd life… So thrilled. They were all golden on the hack down (I was leading Skye, the others were riding), and my lady took the lead for much of it as I think she quite likes being out in front to explore. Once she gets past her anxiety that is. Which happens sooner and sooner these days. 

It was a 5am start for me. I walked into town past all the partygoers from the night before, and all the lost and broken people that sleep on Birmingham’s streets, and all those starting early shift work, and met the owner of my volunteering place who gave me a lift out to the yard. What a star she is. Was first on the yard and Skye came in as quiet as a lamb. Her usual mix of chilled and impatient for standing around for grooming, but very chilled and gentle vibes. Which was just as well, as I hadn’t slept for excitement/nervousness. 

As I say, they were all golden on the roads down. I’d felt mildly apprehensive as I hadn’t had a chance to take Skye that route before, every single aspect of it would be new to her. But she was great. A bit snorty at first, and a couple of her trademark mini-spooks, but mostly just keen to see everything. In season too, apparently, as towards the end of the journey she decided “winking” at the geldings behind was of the utmost priority. A charming view for the riders behind! 

When we got to the new place we had to wait a second for the owner to arrive and let us in. The boys instantly put their heads down to eat, but Skye just stood looking into the distance. Ever curious. When we took them in, some of the lady’s colts (in a separate field) noticed us and came prancing over. Monty (my friend’s coloured cob) nearly lost his shit, he’s such a funny character, doesn’t quite know how to be a horse. Spun his backside into myself and Skye, but she wasn’t much bothered, just got herself out of the way. The livery owner said, “she’s a nice chilled mare” and I was pleased. “She wasn’t sold that way!” 

We lead them across to their section of the land (paddock is the wrong word, they’ve got a quirkily shaped area with stream, woodland, bushes, a higher flatter bit and a lower bit, some dry, some boggy), and they were all pretty keen. The ground is uneven and I thought, “nevermind the horse’s proprioception and stability, this is going to do wonders for mine.” We turned them away and off they went, together as a trio, to meet the existing herd and have a run around. It was all rather uneventful, but very sweet. 

We then had to fetch tack and such from the old yard, so that took up an hour or so. Afterwards we went to check on the ponies again, and they were loving life. Skye and Basil clocked us and were like, “no way mate, this is heaven, we’re literally never leaving…” and Monty, conflicted about whether to see his human mama or stick with his horse friends, followed behind. The rest of the herd all said hello though, and eventually our three realised they could say hello to us without instantly losing the lovely new home they’d found. 

I’m just so pleased for them. Especially Skye since this sort of landscape will help maximise the work I do with her. I haven’t been able to do much with her the past couple weeks and physically it’s showing. Mentally, she’s as wonderful as she’s ever been. But her posture has started collapsing again. So I need to get back onto the stability/proprioception work, general stamina (walking out), and so on. The wooded/covered area of their field is small but dry and uneven, with a medium sized branch down on the ground. I clocked it and was instantly like, “I’m using that…” Natural obstacles. 

And oh, postural and nutritional variety! The three of them were straight away plucking thistle heads and blackberries and high grasses, holding their necks out in reaching horizontal postures. It’s no thing to them, the tiniest amount of effort possible for a tasty snack, but if they never have that variety of movement, if their eating is always down on the floor, they’re not getting the work to the base-of-neck muscles that they need. Work that matters even more, not less, in a ridden horse. There are so many reasons to keep them a bit more naturally, even if only from a selfish human point of view. 

I’ve a corsetry friend visiting tonight and was teaching corset pattern drafting yesterday, so it’s been a weekend where near every aspect of my life has been functioning at peak level. Which is probably why I can’t stop singing. Happy, golden, moments. “There are days we live as if death were nowhere in the background.” Blossoms and blackberries and thistles and nettles and hazel leaves and happy ponies and blue skies and golden sunshine. 

Saddles!

Visited lovely old Fred.

I was home last weekend which was lovely. Though, my mother’s on-off poorliness may have become something more extreme, which is a worry. Going back up before the end of the month to attend a hospital appointment with her, find out as much as we can. I’ve not got much more to say about that, sickness of loved ones is too real for something like a blog post. 

Coco saying hello to big Diego. Here I’ve painted most of the skeleton, the nuchal ligament, hip flexors, and deep base-of-the-neck muscles so that we could discuss healthy posture with the kids on pony camp.

We also had another pony camp this week at Summerfield. So all-in-all, it came around to Thursday evening and I hadn’t seen my horse in a full seven days. 

Though frequency and consistency matter, horses thankfully don’t seem to process the passage of time in the same way as we do. Skye forgave my absence and came out of the field the same as she always does. The girls had said hello to her once over the weekend and sent me some cute selfies with her, so at least I knew she’d had a bit of pleasant human contact. 

Her posture hadn’t changed either. She seemed fatter again and it’s all on the belly (I swear to god, if this horse is accidentally in foal…), but her back looked as well as it ever does. Did a belly lift and pelvic tuck on the yard, very good. Picked up her feet alright (just sticky on the fronts as it’s still hard for her), and let us tack her up with bridle, cavesson, pad, and saddle. 

Oh, but I had my instructor-friend there… It’s so funny but Skye, bless her heart, always side-eyes her with great suspicion. She clocks her instantly as The Professional and gives the impression of a horse that, every so often, someone new has tried to “sort out”. The reason it tickles me is that this friend is the person I would most trust in the world with my horse. With any horse, in fact. So I’ll be softly laughing and saying, “ah Skye, if only you understood…” whilst the horse is consistently keeping a wary eye on this untrustworthy person quietly and confidently pottering around her. 

Amanda got an insight into her character on the yard. I’d left her holding the horse and some children were playing with a hose pipe. As it uncoiled and sprayed, Skye did a mini-shy, but then rather than want to get away from the scary thing she took a curious step towards it and watched them. This is what she’s like, and it’s why I love her. 

It doesn’t fit and the pad isn’t the prettiest, but I think she has potential to look very smart all tacked up. I think on the next few in-hand-hacks I’ll start leading entirely from the reins (with cavesson/lead just there as back-up) and see how we get on. She can probably have the cavesson off soon, since she’s becoming confident that I’m not going to abuse her with the metal in her mouth.

We tacked her up using my old VSD saddle, which did not fit… But it sat there without squeezing or annoying her, so we thought it would do for a quick lead out just to see what she thought to carrying a girthed-up saddle. She’d been uncertain about being saddled but I think that’s because I tasked the friend to do it whilst I held the lead. Probably should have done it the other way around, as she’s already had me saddle her before and was quite serene about it. Anyway, we went for an in-hand hack along the usual route, quiet roads and a small bridleway. As ever, horse was looky and a bit shy for the first part then perked up once we hit the bridleway. Perhaps it is the softer ground? Perhaps the mud compacting in her feet has a cushioning function even once we’re back on the road? She’s always more forward after the bridleway too, you see. 

She settled to Amanda’s presence, but not 100%, and at one point my friend stumbled in a ditch behind her and the horse spooked forwards shoulder-barging me into the air for a tiny step! It was actually funny more than anything. Skye’s shies are small, leg-splayed, freeze-frames, and they’re getting less and less as she grows in confidence. But here we were with no other horses, a professional, and a saddle on her back. She did great really. 

Despite this face, she actually perked up a lot during the course of the walk and was positively enjoying herself by halfway round.

Halts were attentive as ever, and her walk opened up super-keen at the bridleway. We were struggling to keep up a few times! She seemed very happy and forward (but still very attentive), so I invited trot a couple of times on the road (I’d have sunk in the mud on the bridleway!) and she obliged beautifully. She just loves to explore and have a look around. I was able to halt from body language, vocal cue, and lead or reins, and I was able to pick up and fiddle with the reins (no pressure, just the weight of them bouncing around), and she didn’t care one jot, was very merry in her mouth. Given how she stiffened the first time I put a bridle on I’m really impressed with how quickly she’s relaxed and gone, “oh right, I see, it’s like before but nicer, no need to worry.” This is the experience we need to recreate for every “new/old” thing that she has preconceptions about, and I’m glad that yesterday she carried the saddle happily. She didn’t lift or drop her back, she didn’t mind it moving (it really doesn’t fit), she didn’t even mind when we whipped the pad out from the back (it had almost slipped out itself anyway), and her walk was the same as ever. And she was volunteering trot from eagerness, so she clearly didn’t care that it was there. So pleased with her, and may use the saddle (or a different/cheaper one, I could do with selling this really) just for tacking and untacking every so often to get her chill about the process. 

Friend said that from behind she looked surprisingly straight and that the only thing standing out was the dropped left hip. I will need to think about where this comes from and how to help improve it. The chiro helped, I’m sure, but I’d like to know more and be in a better position to focus my efforts so as to help the horse. 

We pushed our luck upon returning as I wanted to make use of my friend being here and see if we could re-back the horse. 

Saddle off (friend is very confident backing, doesn’t mind doing it bareback), into the arena, touching all over, jumping by her side, legging-up and just holding it a second, plus walking around the mounting block and halting. 

Now, aside from the legging-up, Skye has done all these things with me and has been chill about, but with The Professional, it was a different kettle of fish. “You can’t trust them, these professional sorts, they climb aboard and do all sorts of things to you!” Horse was a sweetheart, but just said “nope!” in the mildest ways possible and got a bit stressed about the whole thing. So we let it be and I may try again with one of my yard buddies in a few weeks, since she sees them more often and knows them a little bit. I’d do it myself (think she’d be happier about that, to be honest), but I’d really rather it was a small/light person given she’s not strong yet, and my friend agreed. Said she thinks she’ll do the job fine once she’s strong (and that may come more swiftly than I expect, if I put the time in) but that for now a smaller load would be better. I may bump the lunging to twice a week (Jec Ballou’s outlines for “bringing into work” suggest this would be fine), but otherwise I think continuing as we are (subtle postural stuff, plus lots of walking, more than we have been doing really) is the thing. I’m looking forward to playing with the gym mat I’ve bought for her. Having stood on it myself I can really see how it would be something like standing on the boat. Firm enough that you are only very slightly destabilised, which should switch on the deepest postural stabilisers. Apparently even 5mins a day is useful. I’m thinking to begin this once we’ve moved yards though. Plenty to get on with in the meantime and if I take it down I’ll only have to move it again before the end of the month and it’s surprisingly bulky! 

Just over 2″ thick and about 6′ long. I’m hoping if it’s just there, in the background, for a while the horse will accept it, then perhaps accidentally walk over it, and ultimately be happy to stand on it.

I finished by doing some free-following, but even that isn’t much fun for Skye. I think she may have had join-up done to her in the past, possibly in a very “effective” way, as although I never send her away when she’s following me off-lead she gets a rather dejected look and subservient posture, as though she’s been made to follow before, and so following has its own associations. “I’d better follow, or she’ll chase me!” After all, she’ll lead at my side fine enough, it’s only when behind me and off-lead that she gets concerned. It’s a very specific set of circumstances, which is what makes me think someone’s drilled the join-up thing at some point. 

Just another thing for me to think creatively about. I need to let her know that she can be alongside or behind or wherever, but that she doesn’t need to blindly follow, that I do welcome participation rather than obedience. I tried to make it interesting yesterday by going over poles and then sort of zigzagging back and forth in-between them. She didn’t perk up, but she did as asked so at least our communication is coming along. 

So horse had a few questions asked of her, perhaps one or two more than I should have asked, but she handled them all great. My friend said she’s coming on really very fast for an animal with so much baggage and I agree. I was sad to have “lost” a week, but her consistency just goes to show how much she’s settled. We were talking about the fact that though she could be easily wound up (and she’s spirited enough to react badly), she’s actually a really easy and sweet beastie. Love her character ever such a lot. 

Delight

Beautiful couple of days with Horse. 

On Wednesday we all did pole work in the jumping field, the girls riding and me, naturally, just leading Skye around at this stage. She’s a good lass. Confident working over, past, and between all manner of obstacles. To some people I’ve met stuff like that is an automatic expectation (horse gets thrashed if it doesn’t comply), not something you would bother spending time training. But I consider it just more small opportunities for confidence-building. Frequency is the thing. Tiny victories stack up, one atop the other, until you have an animal (or person!) who approaches new situations with a subconscious assumption that everything will be fine. Over-facing isn’t just about jump height. 

Before all that though, we popped Monty the cob’s saddle on her back, to see what she thought about girthing, flapping stirrups, walking with the saddle on, all that stuff. The answer she gave was, “urg, this again, I thought you weren’t one of those humans, but okay, I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt…” Such an annoyed face! But so obliging. Walked up and down a bit, then took it straight off again, horse was fine and her annoyance disappeared instantly. Assuming nothing physical going on, I’m sure we can change her feelings about the saddle easily enough. Same as with the bridle and bit, I just need to convince her that I won’t do anything mean or frightening just because we’re “working”. 

Skye is now almost like an ordinary “on the forehand” horse, rather than a squiffy rehab version.

After that, had the proprioceptive bandages on Skye again as when I got her in from the field on Wednesday her back looked a little bit improved for the last session we did with them. I need to remember, slow-and-steady as I am going, horses can actually improve very quickly. Had the bridle on beneath the cavesson and though she still closes her mouth against putting it on she was relaxed enough once it was there. It no longer puts her off eating or causes the insta-anxiety face like it used to. She was so chill about it that towards the end of the session I put my lead rope through the bit rings rather than on the cavesson to see how she felt about light touches on her mouth. No bother at all. But this horse, I feel that if you’d thrown tack and a rider on, on day one, and tried to manhandle her head into an “outline” (all too common), she’d have exploded. I’ve only know her explode once and it was because I’d accidentally been rough with her head (and not even via a bit). 

 
But oh, the loveliness continued. We were all standing around whilst the girls chatted about their respective ponies’ progress, and as Skye was so chill I thought I’d try a Masterton Method stroke that I’d been looking at. Just following the bladder meridian from poll as far as the scapula, and looking for responses. I was amazed at how much I got! 

On the right-hand side, she found it relaxing and looked almost surprised by it. About halfway down the neck she would blink, and this response was repeated nearly every time I went over that area. So I thought, “hmm, maybe there is something to these super-light touches after all…” 

An articulated skeleton, for Summerfield Stables. I’ve positioned it a bit like Skye, when I first got her! But she was worse than this, to be honest. This skeleton was modelled on a gelding with uphill build and shorter back, so no matter how much I try to demonstrate a strung out, slumped posture, it’s never going to look quite like her. She’s improved such a lot, I just hope I can help improve her health and happiness further still.

On the left-hand side (the much tighter side, especially along the Superficial Dorsal Line which overlaps with the bladder meridian, hence wanting to try that), the response was huge. She blissed right out. Her eyelids were fluttering and flickering as I stroked along the entire length of the neck. She relaxed, trance-like, for much of it, and at other times turned her head around towards me in an affectionate gesture. It was astounding, actually, and the lighter and more slowly I went with my touch the more it seemed to work. (She also seemed to have what looked like lymphatic drainage lines at the end of the session, which I hadn’t expected. Will need to research that.)

But I shouldn’t be surprised. One reason I thought to try this type of light massage was that my lad John has such magical hands. If I can’t sleep I demand hair strokes because he just has this ability to bliss me out with the least effort. Back of the head/upper-neck is especially good. And where was I stroking Skye? Well then. I thought, if a gentle touch can do so much for me, surely it can do a lot for a beastie too. 

 
So I will try this more, I think, especially this particular stroke since she’s still tight along her topline. But as she’s such a fidget I will have to pick my moments. No point trying it if her mind is elsewhere. 

Then yesterday, I took her out for a walk on the road. Bridle/bit beneath cavesson. Reins on the first, lead rope on the latter. Walk/halt, usual drill. Couple of mini-shies (ooh, those troublesome birds and dogs hiding behind hedgerows!), but otherwise one of her most chill leads out. Confidence growing all the time, didn’t even mind not having other horses with us. Halted with usual cues, then spent some time transferring it over to the reins. Just the lightest bit of pressure. Horse was perfect every time and didn’t worry about the bit once. Spent some time walking whilst holding the reins and just playing with them lightly to see how she felt about that. Answer: fine, not bothered at all. I think she’s going to demand a lot of tact from me, I’ll have to level up as a rider for sure. 

So much fun making these boards and muscles. I’m considering finding a printers to scan in the skeleton board. With some tidying up in Photoshop, it could make a cool poster. With a set of laminated muscles, it could be a really cool beginner anatomy set! Don’t know who’d even want it, but I fancy making it all the same.

These two days, I’ve begun tying her up on the yard too. Since she would previously panic if she reached the end of her rope I’ve been taking that slow. But now, touch wood, when she reaches the end of her rope (which she does, because she fidgets and gets bored and wants to walk off) she just goes, “oh right yeah, I’ll stay here then.” Zero drama. Getting ever better at picking out her feet too, and I’m convinced that’s mostly down to core stability. Oh good posture days it’s easy. On slumped days, it’s hard. 

In other news, I’ve finally finished the stick-on bits-and-bobs for educational playtime at the stables! The articulated skeleton was especially good fun to make. I want to think of more things to make though, am sad to have finished! Laminating was unreasonably good fun, in particular. Greek times. 

We’ve another pony camp next week at Summerfield, so if there are any rainy days we’re prepared! Mind you, it’s slightly irksome that the BHS have removed muscles when creating the new exam pathways. I’ve created a beautiful set of superficial muscles for the girls to teach the youngsters with! Still, even if they’re not used for training up the youngsters they’ll still be good for those of us who are a bit older and want to learn for the sake of it anyway. At the very least, it certainly helps to know which muscles should be big, which should be small, whether they’re over-tight or asymmetric, so on and so forth. 

This set was made to illustrate some fitting and safety issues. Any guesses?

Am now going home for the weekend. Happy to see mum and everyone, but sad to leave horse for four days. 

I think we’re going to pop to the Lowther Horse Trials tomorrow. In the main arena there’s meant to be a display by a falconer on Spanish horses. Imagine that! Birds and beasties! Might see if there are any goodies to be bought too. 

Hindquarters

Today, Skye looked heavier on the forehand, not lighter, and with a weaker backside! Not what we want. I think I’ve not been vigilant enough with the raised poles (and poles in general), as I’ve been favouring the things we both find interesting. Namely, going out for a walk. Which is beneficial, for sure, but it isn’t very hilly here so it doesn’t automatically engage her hind end. Ah well. 

But, excitement, we are moving to the new grazing! I’m hoping I’ll be able to set out some “permanent” logs or raised poles there. If they’re always out it’ll be far easier to incorporate them into Skye’s life every time I see her. If it’s easy we’ll do it (environment matters) and she’ll receive the benefit. She has been getting a little bit bored which I think is even more reason to work it into our routine rather than have it be a focus of some sessions. Let it be second nature. 

Second farrier visit today. Horse perfect when I picked out her feet, then fidgety for the farrier. Ain’t that just the way. She wasn’t bad though and wasn’t worried by it like last time, was just impatient and didn’t see much point in standing around. Like horse, like human, I’m impatient too. 

He started with the hardest foot though! So at least that was over and done with first. Said they were looking a lot better, we’ve almost got the tiny cracks grown out. At one point we were all talking and he said people didn’t realise how much more horses could do than we ask of them. I agree, in terms of general stamina and distance. Posted on Instagram just last night about the distances wild horses cover. Domestic horses do far far less (less than half, usually, and that’s when living out). Little need to travel when food is plentiful. But travelling is to their benefit. So, in terms of replacing what’s lost in domestication, hacking is of great benefit. 

We then waited around for Monty the cob to have his trim and front shoes. Skye really didn’t understand why we were standing on the yard, so dull! She also wasn’t thrilled when we did some lunging with Monty likewise working at the other end of the arena. She did the job though, and I kept trots short and sweet (never more than a circle, but generally only half a circle) as it is the transition I want more than the trot itself, at this stage. 

She was pulling herself along on the forehand in trot, but it was slightly improved from before as today we went back to using the proprioceptive wrapping technique. It looked, to me, as though her cervicothoracic junction was straightened out by the “sling” of bandage around her chest. She didn’t fully go into the beautiful posture we want, but her withers were a bit more up than usual and you could see her trying to figure out her balance. So I must remember to keep trying this when we lunge once a week. 

But yes, I am thinking to get a saddle or someone light on her soon. She’s gained weight again which doesn’t help and I don’t think I’m going to be able to achieve much more in terms of her posture without levelling up the challenge or hours put in. She needs some general fitness now, to keep the belly off and thus help the back, but I don’t want to lunge more than once a week. 

I read some maths on lunging. When you work it out, about twenty-five 20m circles equates to one mile travelled. In one lunge session you could easily do fifty circles, so about two miles. Two miles of trot would be great for fitness, but on a circle?! That’s very intense on the joints, especially if the horse isn’t carrying herself properly yet. So as far as I’m concerned, lunging should be about getting that supple bend (ie: educating) rather than just getting the miles in. If you want to get the miles in, do it in-hand or under saddle. 

It’s a conundrum at the moment, for sure. Progress has gone backwards, a touch. All I can think is that it’s down to this: her belly is pulling her down (bloody rain, bloody rich grass!)… I’ve neglected the raised poles so she’s re-lost a little bit of muscle tone through her thoracic sling… and perhaps her quarters are no less weak than they were, but with the big belly they’re looking it. So, get poles involved again, get her moving for longer periods of time or under a light load, and persist with transitions and focussing on quality when we lunge once a week. 

Openness

I really appreciate Skye’s expressiveness. Getting to know her is proving a pleasure. Nuno Oliveira said:

The horse is the best judge of a good rider, not the spectator. If the horse has a high opinion of the rider, he will let himself be guided, if not, he will resist.

And:

A horse will never tire of a rider who possesses both tact and sensitivity because he will never be pushed beyond his possibilities

Something to aim for then! Not to ride as well as Nuno (impossible) or to have that wealth of knowledge, but to have enough feeling and empathy (enough tact) to be fair with Skye. Because, if a horse could articulate such things, would she also describe getting to know me as a pleasure? It’s worth considering that question. How would the horse describe the handler to its horsey friends? 

Skye had a play-date with my friend’s pony Basil yesterday. He’s like a mini-Skye and is very keen on her, it’s so cute. There was a thunderstorm in the distance, rumbles and cracks of lightning, but the horses did not especially care. As I said to my friend, it’s just weather to them. But it was our first time with both of these horses in a storm, so we decided to let them free in the arena. Basil is a springy and punky little thing, Skye looked rather lumbering by comparison! But they had a bit of a hoon around and I’m hoping that when we all move to the new grazing later this month they’ll enjoy becoming part of a herd on larger, varied terrian, and will keep themselves entertained with regular gallops there too. 

I think Skye is becoming bored in the arena though, and is ready for a bit more variety or challenge. 

I’ve been thinking about enthusiasm and playfulness. In being for +R I’m not against -R. +R is certainly beneficial in many ways, but I imagine you could create a machine-like dead-behind-the-eyes animal with either approach. You could even create a more expressive looking animal with -R or +P, which could be mistaken for enthusiasm. Anyway, what I found myself thinking was this… There are probably plenty of people whose ponies express genuinely intrinsically playful behaviours, with spontaneity and enthusiasm, without the owner ever consciously encouraging it. The owner may even be a purely -R person in terms of training, but if they have tact and a gentle touch (training rather than forcing) the horse can still develop enthusiasm for its working life. Before I had Skye I wasn’t able to implement any +R with the horse I rode as he wasn’t mine. But he would still spring his way over to the gate when I collected him for a lesson, and we had some rides where he gave me far more than I asked for, as though he wanted to impress us all. I think he could feel that I was always pleased with him, whatever he offered or managed. 

With Skye, I haven’t begun actively clicking/rewarding “badass” behaviour just yet (for practicalities sake, farrier/vet/etc., I did want to get basic handling sorted first), but she’s begun volunteering it anyway. Only a step or two at a time as she trots towards me (it’s physically difficult for her to sustain that posture, I think), with a proud neck or a little head toss, when I call her name. Not every time, but more often as the weeks go by. It feels genuine. It feels like it’s coming from nowhere but herself. 

And this is where her openness matters. She’s really educating me. The basic things that we do that she gets rewards for (walking, halting, all that stuff), she picked it up quickly and it’s really useful for getting her attention and focus at the beginning of a session or if she’s distracted. I mean who cares, let her be distracted right? But if there’s cars coming through or a vet to stand still for or any number of other things then I need to have a way to get that obedience (for want of a better term), despite obedience not being something I especially aim for. Togetherness is more the thing. Shared input. 

Anyway. Previously, if we tried something harder and she struggled (eg: backing up) we’d have to drop back down to just walking and halting. Lower the criteria to keep it motivating. But now, if I spend too much time in those lower criteria, she drops her head way down to the ground and performs the task at a crawl. This happened yesterday. She and Basil ran about a bit, then she found her way over to me as though she’d decided she’d like an opportunity for some carrots. We walked, halted, went over a small cross-pole, and her enthusiasm waned. The head dropped lower and lower. The only time she picked up again was when I asked for backing-up. Where normally this task is hard and she gets annoyed after a couple of steps, yesterday she would have just kept on going for as long as I asked. We backed-up on curved lines in both directions, purely off body gestures, no touches or ropes. 

She told me she wanted to work, then she told me it was boring, then she told me the harder task was worth her time. So my job is going to be keeping her interested, keeping her at the edge of her abilities and gently shifting back and forth whenever she needs calm reassurance or something slightly more challenging. Hacking out in-hand is currently the best example of this. She’ll be at the edge of her comfort zone for about 40% of the journey (maybe less), but she’ll be forward and curious to explore. It’s the most keen I’ve seen her. Which is great, because it’s also such good exercise, just walking and walking. 

I need to be careful not to swing up onto her back too soon, but I’m thinking the overlap may work differently to how I’d originally thought. I’d thought, get her “working” with good posture in walk, trot and canter, before putting anyone on her back. Now I’m thinking to possibly take it gait by gait. I’m increasingly feeling that trot is overdone anyway and I don’t want to trot her on circles for weeks just to get her fit. Too much risk to the joints. How else to get fitter then… Walking for longer periods of time, or over varied terrain, or under an additional load. So perhaps in a few weeks it’ll be time to back, then walk her once a week with a light rider, then with me, then more often or over different terrain, and so on, every so often testing the strength of her posture in trot in our free work or when at play. There’s no rule that as soon as the horse is ridden it should be doing all three gaits under the rider. So long as the walk is marching and healthy, it’s great exercise. 

But don’t forget what you learned at a recent lecture… Breathing hard develops the serratus dorsalis, amongst others, which as a secondary benefit strengthens the topline and gives the saddle somewhere to go. So lunging once a week is still a good idea. 

Thoughts on stability

One of the reasons I’m excited for the (possible? impending?) move to new grazing is the landscape. In fact, that’s the main reason. Even if I preferred my current yard, I feel that the horse will benefit from the change and it’s her requirements that matter most. 

The land is undulating. Just gently, but roughly, and enough (I think) to contribute to postural stability and wellness. 

I’ve been inspired by so much of the work Intrinzen are sharing on Instagram, and I’m loving the management ideas and core exercises from people like Gillian Higgins and Hilary Clayton. But some of it is to replace what’s lost in keeping horses in domestic settings. I’m thrilled to have the option of throwing the horse out onto land which will be ever-so-slightly more “natural” and conducive to healthy movement. 

That said, I have ordered a cheap 2″ thick gymnastics mat (as inspired by Intrinzen) to incorporate into Skye’s activities with me. If she fancies it. I can well believe that subtle challenges to balance can have a profound effect deep down, regardless of whether you can “see” it from the outside or not. 

When we moved onto the boat, my right knee (injured three years prior and never quite right) improved dramatically. It’s not perfect, never will be, crunches all the time… But it’s stable enough and has potential to improve further, if only I could make myself get to the gym! And there you have it. Enforced exercise is not motivating, and I’ve never been one who could make myself do something I didn’t want to do. But make it part of your everyday life… part of your natural environment… well, then it happens as a side-effect. The boat sways when you walk through it. So lightly that I forget until a visitor points it out. To board (or leave), I have to extend my stride just slightly to reach from towpath to stern as I don’t have a plank (I’d rather trust my own feet!), and walking through the bedroom and engine room to get out involves a couple of high steps, which helped hugely with the ability of my muscles to support my knees. I’d been feeling weak, feeble, and as though I was on a downwards slope to constant discomfort (in my early thirties!), and the boat changed that just for the tiny bit of extra physical challenge it presented to my deeper stability. Volunteering with horses then improved all that further, and I’m hoping that having Skye will ultimately level up my strength and stability once again. Your environment matters. 

I clocked three miles more than I would have yesterday, on account of taking Skye out for a walk. Would I have gone for a walk by myself to make myself get the exercise? Tired after volunteering and sore from camping on hard ground the week before? No. But there was a fun motivator, so I did. 

So I’m excited for things to come. Some gentle slopes for both horse and human to deal with on a regular basis. The mat, to gently challenge horse’s balance in the way that the boat challenges mine and keeps me ticking over. Environments which will enhance our baseline stability and let the “work” we do together be more productive. 

Tired and happy

After volunteering at Summerfield Stables on Wednesday we took the founder, wonderful Ros, and her great-god-daughter along to meet our three beasties. What a lovely time we had! 

We all groomed and tacked up, introducing each horse to Ros who was very kind and enthusiastic about them all. This is why Summerfield is so lovely, because the founder (and her daughter George who now runs it) have this lovely ethos of sharing the joy of horses with others. Where some may see problems or unnecessary effort, Ros sees potential and an animal that deserves a kind home. She loved Skye (“good strong mare”) and noticed very quickly how attentive the horse is, how well our budding connection is going. Felt very gratified by that. Skye even did perfectly for picking her feet out, with Ros at front to hold and entertain her (more than can be said for the following day, when she really wanted to plant those forefeet and it took us a while to get them picked). 

We all three went up to the dressage field for a play and so that Ros and the kid could see what we were each working on. And ultimately, although we’re all at different stages and approaching it in different ways, we’re all working on the same thing. Self-carriage. We are each trying to encourage healthy movement (or at the very least, trust, confidence, and mental relaxation) in our horses. 

Skye was very stimulated by the rich rye and clover in that field, so we didn’t have as much concentration as usual, but she was still great. 

The kid then rode one of the ponies and we all went into the jumping field. I was just in-hand grazing Skye and chatting, but I did lead her over some ground poles and between jump wings. I realised I hadn’t done that, in that field, since the first week I’d tried it to test the waters. What a difference. She was willing with a little coaxing even in that first week and I imagine, to the outside, it wouldn’t have looked much different. She still looked at them and hesitated when doing it this week. But the feeling I got from her was wildly different. Much more confident. Much more prepared to give me the benefit of the doubt. 

Yesterday, again after volunteering, a couple of us went down and had a walking hack (Skye in-hand) for about an hour. So I’m shattered today, but in a satisfied and happy way. 

Things of note: 

  • She went through the bollards without hesitation (this is only the second time we’ve tackled them). She’s a quick learner. 
  • Slower and less sure at first, think because it was with different horses (her favourite, Monty the cob, wasn’t with us). 
  • Loved the bridleway, once again, and we’re wondering if it’s because it’s softer going? She doesn’t seem footsore, but she is still only a couple of months back into roadwork and her posture/fitness still needs a lot of work, so perhaps her joints or feet feel the road more than the mud of the bridleway. Or perhaps she just finds it more inviting. 
  • Once again, after the bridleway she had more confidence. Our hesitant walk changed into that lovely, “we’re going somewhere with purpose!” walk, so we both got a good little bit of exercise. 
  • She shied a couple of times, doing her splayed leg thing much to the girls’ amusement, and I reflected again that one would probably be safer on her back than beside her. My poor toes were at risk a couple of times! 
  • We even had a tiny bit of trot. It was more of a jog, but… her neck stayed forward, down, and out! A nice horizontal balance. So that’s promising. 
  • Oh, and after I felt that her back looked a bit flatter and up for the exercise. Truly, never underestimate the power of purposeful walking and just getting the miles in. 
Once we got back, the girls had a brief go in the dressage field as they’re both trying to improve their horse’s trots at the moment. It’s the usual story, the horses brace and lift their heads (dropping/bending their cervicothoracic spine) in a protective move. My friend’s pony did it even as soon as he felt like trot would be coming (ie: when the reins were gently shortened to maintain a contact before asking for trot). But he walks lovely and big and swinging, especially after a recent McTimoney visit. So we tried trotting him from a walk on a long rein and oh, an instant improvement! A beautiful looking trot, nicely balanced, which was described as feeling “floaty… and it never has before.” And all because he didn’t feel the need to protect himself from the contact. This is a pony who was previously ridden in a three-ring gag with martingale (logical) and quite inverted. But he’s got such potential. It’s that old thing, we need him to seek out the contact happily, not have it imposed upon him. 
 
Before returning them to the field, I borrowed a friend’s saddle to see how Skye feels about having one near her and put on her back. Answer: fine. She had a “what the…?!” sniff of it, but couldn’t have cared less really. Given how she feels about the bridle, I wasn’t sure if the saddle would have similar associations. Placed it gently, but then moved it around, dropped the girth, reached under, smoothed the numnah and pad, rattled things, and let the girth run across her back when I took it off again. Horse didn’t batt an eyelid, was too interested in stuff happening off up the field. Very pleased. 
 
Back in the field, Skye was pissed off! Her field is rather bare. She’s gotten fatter this last month but even so, she is annoyed that she can’t access the clover on the other side of the fence. It gave rise to some lovely expression though, and it’s a pleasure that she’s starting to tell me these things. She’s starting to consider me as someone worth sharing her feelings with. She wears her heart on her sleeve, as it were. I’m happy that she feels confident enough to express anything except worry! 
 
So a wonderful couple of days. 
 
Oh, I find myself miffed this morning though! I’d collected up my drawings at Summerfield yesterday, thinking to get them photocopied today. Then they need cutting out and laminating. But, stupid Hampshire, I’ve picked up the wrong stuff and all the drawings are still at the stables. Sigh. I’ll need to do it next week as the week after we have another pony camp and I really want to have these bits ready and available incase they’re wanted for teaching. The weather has certainly been unreliable, and these sorts of educational games (selecting bits of tack, sticking superficial muscles onto my diagrams, things like that) are definitely good rainy-day options. 

Curiosity

Lovely day, yesterday. 

Went for a hack-in-hand with a friend and her cob (ridden) to show the way. We ventured further afield! Down the usual lane, then between some scary bollards, down a road, up a drive, along a bridleway, back onto the roads, then back to the bollards and the lane. Skye did great! She’s not bothered by traffic at all really. Likes to have a good look at everything else though, which is where the mild snorting and shying can come from. She gets het up when she can’t take a good look at things, or can’t see stuff well for it being hidden behind hedges. 

Going between the bollards, my friend led the way. But as they were waiting for Skye and I to sum up the courage to follow, the cob got himself alarmed and bolted for home! He does cute mini-bolts and gets himself settled again very quickly, but it was quite funny. Skye was alarmed by it, backed up and reared lightly, but got her feet and mind back down to the ground with some gentle words. Then we led the way through the bollards. It involved edging closer, rewarding, patiently standing whilst she took a long look beyond into the distance… Then she just walked through, no bother. What a good horse. 

It reminded me of discussing water obstacles with another friend. Frustrated kids being told to just wallop or kick or yank their ponies to get them into the water. And her saying, “you might need to just stand there for a while.” For the more sophisticated species, we’ve often a surprising lack of patience and big-picture thinking, especially with horses. 

Skye’s lookiness persisted as we continued down the road. So many things hidden behind hedges, so many suspicious looking gateways! We won’t know until we get there, but you get the impression you’d have an easier time on her back than by her side when out on the roads. Mind you, the clinginess has descreased such a lot over these past two months. Sometimes now, when I’m leading her down the lane, she drifts away from me as her nose curiously reaches out to explore things previously considered scary. 

By the time we got to the driveway which leads to the bridleway, Skye had settled and the lookiness had moved from mild anxiety to joyous, open, curiosity. Her walk opened up, her neck relaxed, and she had the happiest expression on her face. The look and walk of a hacking horse on a mission to explore. How pleasing! Fingers crossed for more of that. And once again her halting to cue was 90% perfect. Consistent and reliable. It only really failed towards the end of the trip when I’d instructed John, who had accompanied us and was eating blackberries from the roadside, to share some of the berries with Skye. After that she somewhat switched off from me, having decided John was her new best friend. I got her attention back though. 

Another tiny thing we pushed yesterday was reins. I lead her out on her cavesson, but with reins clipped to the sides rather than a leadrope. She couldn’t have cared less. Reins being put over her head and taken back down, fine. Leading from one rein or both, fine. Halting with a bilateral squeeze from behind the withers (ie: a simulation of a ridden rein aid), fine. So that was all good. 

After returning the horses to their fields, we went to look at a field for potential 24/7 winter grazing. Ooh, I’m keen… I need to think over a couple of the practicalities and I’ll be staying put for August anyway now, but I’d always said I wanted to keep Skye unstabled if possible and this might be a good option. 

You lose some things when you swap to this sort of land. There’s no arena, electric, or plumbed water. There’s some ragwort that they’re hoping to deal with in one of the main paddocks. 

What a tense neck. We don’t know what started Skye on the path of holding herself in a poor posture, but emotional tension certainly doesn’t help! Hence, all our work together has to be done with relaxation ever in mind. If she’s too tense, I can’t help her. This photo was taken back in June.
Isn’t that starting to look better. More like a horse and less like a giraffe! And that’s just two months of walking in-hand, some poles, some back lifts, and lots of +R rewarded with a long, forward, down neck.

But… there is a shed and stable for storage and emergencies… there is a stream which has been tested safe for horses… there are trees and hedges all around, for both shelter and foraging… there are thistles, nettles, blackberries, and so on, lovely rough browsing options, and though there’s a lot of grass it doesn’t look so rich as to be unmanageable… there’s a flatter field for riding and though it’s overgrown it’s big enough that you could have lovely little faux-hacks in there, in fact it’ll be bigger than most of the nearby bridleways… there are plenty of quiet roads for hacking and, if you go for an hour or so, you’d connect up to the areas I currently have access to… I can get there on public transport slightly faster and easier than the current yard… it’s closer to the stables I volunteer at… there’s eleven other horses currently and, aside from the colts, they live as a herd and all seem very healthy and happy… and [drumroll] it isn’t flat! The land is gently undulating. 

22 or 23 hours of each day, I don’t see Skye. She grazes a flat paddock and in winter would be doing the same for 12 hours a day then standing still in a box for the other 12. Which is fine. But since my current focus is resetting her posture, I figure anything that will help with that mission is a good thing. 

A sand arena, electric, these things are useful for sure, and my current yard is lovely. But for Skye, this winter, she’d benefit more from living in a slightly more “natural” way. Varied terrain, grazing and browsing from varied heights, a younger/larger herd which might encourage more movement/playing, nutritional options other than grass… all of these things equate to a greater variety of challenges to her balance and core stability. All day every day. We’ve done good work together, so far, in improving her posture and relaxation. But how much more effective my small sessions would be if the rest of the time wasn’t spent in poor posture undoing the good work we’ve done? Remember what Sharon May-Davis said about the longus colli and scalenus… Long Slow Distance work. Browsing, moving, varied gradients. 

So I need to have a think, but I’m feeling like it would be a good move for the horse. 

In the co-op on the way home I was reminded of a thought I’d had a while ago. People often expect better manners of their horses than they actually have themselves. Skye gets bored standing on the yard and often begins taking herself off. Doesn’t see why she shouldn’t. I always just gently bring her back or at most give a small correction. It’s not a fight I’m going to pick. Partly because I do the same! And I know that being shouted at or forced never works for me, I just rebel. We’d gone through the co-op checkout and John was dallying around with something or other. I walked off. I don’t like waiting or standing around. I do it all the time and whilst I know it’s bad manners I don’t care enough to force myself. Sometimes I try to be better and exercise more patience. So whilst both horse and human could stand to learn more patience, I’m not going to curse her for it when I’m no better. Left a Facebook group or two recently as I got bored of people posting about their horses being “bastards” and “shits” just for, well, being horses. 

McTimoney visit

So, having been unable to see Skye for four days, I found her today back to being a little more uncertain and skittish. Only a tiny difference, but it was there. A hesitancy about being caught in the field, which has come from no-where. My lead-rope seemed to have gone walk-about too, so I wonder if she’d needed moving or catching without me and got a bit worried by it. At any rate, I brought her in and thought that if we worked before the McTimoney visit it would release some energy and let her relax for the treatment.

Not so much. 

It definitely was a better idea than doing the treatment straight from the field (she’d have been too impatient), but there was such a lot happening on the yard that even though she relaxed quite well she never really switched off her “alert!” setting. There was road surfacing stuff being tipped out of trucks just outside the arena, vehicles, fast motorbikes on the nearby road, and even the sound of a lawnmower, god forbid! Horse wasn’t especially alarmed by these things, just very looky and keen to investigate. Which I mostly let her do. But the lookiness persisted into the bodywork visit. Which wasn’t the end of the world, but I’d have liked it for her if she’d enjoyed the massage a bit more. I’m sure as she becomes more familiar with this stuff she’ll be happier with it. And I’m glad that she showed us what felt strange, by stepping away, fidgeting, or lightly stamping a foot. 

But all that is by-the-by, the real reason the four-day break was mildly frustrating is that her posture seemed to have dropped a touch in the interim. Just goes to show, they really do need that consistent work. I suppose the four days off for her is like me having four days of sitting writing or sewing rather than walking and volunteering. It doesn’t seem a lot, but it has a huge impact on your posture and general feeling of health. 

Anyway, it was an interesting session! Lots of good done, I hope. 

I can’t remember everything, but I’ll make a list of what I can remember for future reference: 

  • Bit of tightness in muscles behind poll, especially on left-hand side. 
  • Struggles to bend to right-hand side, through body and neck. 
  • Trapezius and rhomboid very tight, likewise. I’ve read that over-development or tension of the cervical trapezius can “lock” the scapula somewhat forwards, so this might have contributed to her being so heavy on the forehand. These muscles loosened up as Rachel worked. They’re a place for emotional tension though, which Skye neatly demonstrated today. She wasn’t convinced about the treatment and, as already noted, was having an impatient and slightly tense day, so she stood with her head somewhat up the entire time. Didn’t relax it down like she normally does these days. At any rate, we’ve removed some tension there so hopefully over the next week or so she’ll find it easier and easier to offer that reaching neck posture. She can do it well when standing and walking, but we want it next in trot. 
  • Brachiocephalic and shoulders overdeveloped, obviously, nothing we didn’t know there. 
  • Didn’t learn anything new to explain why she occasionally stumbles on the right fore (the one she seems to put more weight through), though I accidentally caught a bit of video footage of her doing so and it seems to be that the toe goes into the ground too soon. So I guess she sometimes isn’t lifting that leg high enough to accommodate the length of stride. Like when you get tired and drag your feet. I couldn’t say why it happens though. 
  • Dorsal processes of withers into back were laterally curved relative to one another. Like a gentle “S” shape, if you viewed the spine from above. I don’t know enough about it, but I’d guess muscle imbalance pulling things out of alignment? This improved for the session too. 
  • Back wasn’t too bad, though the right-hand side (beneath where a saddle would sit) showed spasm when the loins of the same side were worked on. Was the spasm coming from the top edge of the latissimus dorsi? Or the thoracolumbar fascia? Or the longissimus dorsi beneath? I’m unsure. This eased too. Left-hand side was okay, if I remember right. 
  • Pelvis unlevel, left hip dropped. This levelled up quite well during the session, but I’ll keep an eye on it. 
  • Left hind stepping short, in part due to the above (though which came first, who knows…). She has dragged her left hind toe a few times, so now I know why. Left hamstrings very tight and knotty, think this was the worst area. Which I suppose means that she’s been pushing off with that leg strongly and putting a lot of weight through it, but not been able to let it travel very far under the body, hence the stepping short. This is the leg that has an old injury to the cannon, which could have been related. Hopefully now that it’s been released a bit she’ll be able to step through better, and begin levelling up her musculature. 
  • Right-hand gluteals quite overdeveloped. Left slightly wasted. The muscle imbalance makes the pelvis look uneven still, so I need to look for bony landmarks when keeping an eye on her. 

But, it’s all good news really. There was nothing especially shocking or surprising found, just the usual stuff you might expect from a horse who has been moving on the forehand and in a compensatory way for years. Rachel seemed positive and said I was doing the right kind of work with her. 

So, my task now is to continue as before. 

Walking, straight lines, poles, reflexes, stretches, proprioceptive bandages, a little bit of lunging, etc. Attempt long-lining again, as straight lines and that “seeking” posture really are the thing. It will be very interesting to see if she has a moment where she realises it might be possible to comfortably reach forward and down in trot. I’m hopeful for her.