Sunday, January 19, 2014

Progress is progress no matter how small

Jazz is currently suffering from winteritis. If there is one thing Jazz hates,  it's bad weather. Also she's the big fancy herd matriarch,  five (I really can't stress that enough), and has an owner with a finite amount of knowledge (I would like to really emphasize that I am not an example to be followed without significant work, research, commitment and knowledgeable people there for backup).

That being said, today did feel like a tiny success,  even if it is several steps backwards from Jazz in her prime (read: Jazz in the summer).  She was dozing out in the pasture today, enjoying the moderately nice weather, so she started out pretty chill, and I took her into the barn.  She was being a jerk standing (so to speak, very little standing was actually involved) tied, so I told her firmly that that was not acceptable, and untied her, putting her into her own space and keeping her there until she was being respectful. It took a few minutes, but I brought her back from standing still but paying zero attention to me, glancing around at every possible thing there was to look at to a nice relaxed,  respectful stand. 

She got a nice reward and I moved into the arena,  where she got overstimulated again because "Mom the roof settles and there's different sounds and everything is plotting to eat me and I just know my friends are out having fun in the pasture without me". With some doing I got another nice stand out of her at the back of the arena and started to take her towards the door when she charged ahead because she thought she'd had about enough of manners for the day. Needless to say she got asked to do a bit more respecting, which she decided to make more interesting for me with a few head flails and a rear just to spice things up a bit, but I did find some remaining shred of manners underneath all that. 

You can't fool me little horse.  I know your three year old brain that wants to learn things is in there somewhere.

I'm assuming I didn't offend her too badly with my demands for basic respect,  since she kept following me over the fence once I'd let her go. Oh horse, you make it so easy to love you even when you're refusing to do the most basic of tasks. It's definitely not without it's challenges to have a young horse,  but it's far from without it's rewards. 

Thing to work on #2:
Space space and more space. There's nothing more paramount than reinforcing my space

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Trim day

Well, after Jazz's less than agreeable attitude towards doing feet Tuesday I was a little nervous for how she would do for the trimmer this week. It went surprisingly okay. Far from perfect, but not bad. Certainly not the hour and a half of pure hell and stress that was her final trim with a previous trimmer, but I'll get to that. 

I started Jazz with a new barefoot trimmer last July, and I'm really happy with how her feet have improved.  They are almost entirely new growth now, and they are just night and day compared to what they used to be.  She has actual heel bulbs now! She can walk on gravel without being footsore!

Of course in classic new blogger fashion, I have no reference photos because I had no blog to post them to at the time, but trust me, they look way better.  

The trimmer herself is definitely a character.  She is very excellent at what she does, and is definitely a knowledgeable horsewoman, but I am very happy I discovered her when I did and not earlier. That isn't to say that I wasn't interested in the best possible care for Jazz and her feet, but I needed to learn a thing or two before I was ready to meet her.  This will become clear in a moment.

Flashback to almost two years ago: Jazz was 3 and still at the horse rescue.  There was a lady who owned two of the rescue horses that did the trimming there.  She was new to it, and was practicing trimming on the horses at the rescue.  I wanted to get Jazz's feet done one more time before I moved her, and the trimmer was there, so I decided to have her trimmed.  This was the first time I would actually be holding Jazz for her to get her feet done.  In the past, the owner of the rescue had always brought her in whenever the trimmer had had time for her. So it was me, who was wholly inexperienced, holding my young horse, who was not having the best of days.  Needless to say it didn't go well.  She reared, fussed, squirmed, and generally acted like the young horse she was.  And I, not knowing what to do, attempted to discipline her properly (read: in a highly counterproductive manor).  It went poorly all around. Jazz never calmed or settled, I got frustrated and had to step out several times, and advice was being thrown at me from all around.  It ended in tears and a very poor trim for Jazz.  Apparently the trimmer's mentor had just recently told her that she had been leaving the horses' toes too long, so unfortunately she overcompensated and took off way too much toe.  Jazz was sore for over two weeks, and I was traumatized, so I can only imagine what she went through.  Poor horse.  That was a definite low point of our time together.

Anyways the point of the story is this: remember how I mentioned the advice coming from every which way? Well, the trimmer at one point started palpating her back around her withers and declared that she was sore and probably it was because her saddle doesn't fit.  Well, that freaked me out a whole lot, and I tried to contact a chiropractor and just generally went a little nuts thinking I was wrecking my horse.  That has traditionally been my biggest problem working with Jazz; whenever she used to act up and I would get emotional about it, I wouldn't think, "what is wrong with this horse she's nuts", I would think "I'm wrecking her this is all my fault she will be ruined for life because of me and she will be labeled a problem horse why did I ever think it was acceptable for me to be in charge of a young horse".  So needless to say someone telling me that the saddle I had been putting on my horse and riding in might be physically harming her threw me into a bit of a tailspin at the time.

So flash forward to the trim this week.  I commented on how Jazz always stands wonky when you pick up a front foot.  She cocks a back foot, and I can't usually get her to stand square and balanced.  The current trimmer replied that it was probably because she lacked strength in her loins.  She palpated her loins, and there definitely seemed to be something to it, but the next thing she said was that it was probably an issue of saddle fit.  Don't get me wrong here, I am open to listening to the input of other knowledgeable horsepeople, and I have every intention of talking to my contacts who are more knowledgeable than me about it, but my reaction was significantly different than the last time I was told my horse is sore and it was probably caused by the saddle.  I highly, highly doubt that it is a saddle fit issue.  To be fair, I haven't checked the fit for a few months, but I have checked it multiple times over the two or so years I've been using it, and have been told multiple times by my riding instructor and others who have checked it that it, "fits her like a dream".  So considering that in addition to the fact that I haven't tacked her up and ridden her in over a month at this point for reasons I won't be getting into (read: if the saddle was hurting her, which I do doubt strongly, it is a significant amount of time for it to still be bothering her).

Which leads me to a new feature: Things I am getting better at with horses:

Thing #1
Considering all the facts before freaking out completely when people tell me something is wrong with my horse

I did remember to take a picture just as we were about to leave.  I just got positively swarmed out in the pasture.  Someone is definitely giving out treats.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Winter Strikes Again

It's days like this that I'm reminded that I own a five year old. I drove up to the farm Tuesday to find a field of incredibly friendly red mares (Jazz and five others, plus one bay that must feel very out of place). Everyone seemed to want to see me but my horse. Well, I suppose that's not exactly accurate. Jazz more couldn't make up her mind;  she kept coming and going until I got tired of it and just caught her. Of course this led to me leading a line of all the mares back to the gate like the pied piper. They do so love to follow their herd matriarch. Also I strongly suspect someone has been giving them treats,  because everyone seemed veeery interested in what was in my hands.

Once I had her out of the pasture,  I saw she had big chunks of ice in her toesies,  so I figured I would head straight into the sand arena rather than risk her slipping and sliding on the concrete barn floor... well, maybe not. The arena door was frozen shut again. Sigh.  There was a horse getting trimmed right in the doorway, so I decided to pick out what I could of the iceballs outside and go in the side door of the barn... or not.  I got the ice successfully chiseled out of one foot and had a start on the second when Jazz decided that standing was no longer what she was up for and plowed past my lovely friend C (who is not experienced with horses but is slowly learning more). About five or six times she got Jazz back to her spot for about five seconds before she was right back off again. Jazz was just super distracted, partially because in addition to the trimmer they were unloading hay bales right next to the barn, and partially because such just seems to be her way lately.  Jazz was starting to get tired of it, and when she reared (only about six inches, it wasn't terribly dramatic, I promise), I took her back and told her in no uncertain terms that that was very rude and very not allowed.  I put her back where she had been and when I got her to stand for a decent amount of time (actual standing, not the distracted-and-high-strung-but-not-moving kind of standing she had been doing before), I decided just to end there and let her go.  

Well, I decided to end there and let her go.  I was about halfway back to the pasture when C said something to the effect of, "Is it good to just give up on her like that? Shouldn't you maybe just work her in the yard again, get her to listen to you?"  I responded with something explaining how I just wanted to end with a win, but I gave in and turned back around. Huge mistake. 

..Which brings me to a new blog feature that I'm going to try out: things I have yet to master 
With horses

Thing #1 
Knowing when to trust my instincts and when to Listen to my well-meaning friends that don't know much about horses

 So I wound up struggling with her for about ten more minutes,  during which she stood still for perhaps fifteen seconds cumulatively,  reared as she had earlier twice, threw her head around about three times, and the coup de grace, did a spectacular mini-rear combined with what can only be described as a head flail in every which direction. Needless to say I was very upset with myself for not just putting her back when I wanted to in the first place.

Oh, how I miss 3-year-old Jazz
And the whole ordeal left me thinking about how I'd handled myself and comparing myself to when C was handling her, and how I really have gotten a lot better at dealing with not only Jazz, but any horse who's having a day like Jazz had on Tuesday.  I watched her take Jazz back and forth about six times without even a pause (Jazz really didn't want to stand still), all the while getting increasingly frustrated.  That is one area where I'm really proud of how far I've come.  In every horse book I've ever read, it stipulates that corrections should be treated much the way a lead horse would treat them in the pasture, with a quick correction based on body language (only escalating to a physical cue like a pop with the end of the rope if necessary), and quickly returning to a neutral state afterwards.  I've found that I can do this much more consistently without getting frustrated and feeling like everything's my fault all the time, and it feels so good.  I remember many an occasion where I would get so frustrated when I couldn't get Jazz to do something that I would end up in tears, but I've found myself much more able to detach from the emotion to find the best way to communicate what I want.  Progress, even a tiny step like this one, is still progress.  Considering our history in our past winters, I am definitely finding myself taking everything less personally.  I definitely look forward to the spring though.  Jazz makes it very clear she hates the cold just as much as I do.  

But how could I stay mad at a cute face like that?

Friday, January 3, 2014

Jazz- the time before me

So I've been thinking a lot about how I want to do the introductions and background information about myself and my horse, and I've settled on a method.  I plan to write a series of posts giving a brief overview of how I got to where I am now, spaced out between regular updates.

I'll start with the basic facts.  My horse's name is Jazz.  She is approximately 14.2 hands high and five and a half years old.  I believe she is a QH/Arab cross, but will probably never know for sure since she's not papered (as if I need a breed registry to tell me I have an amazing horse).

We strongly suspect that Jazz was a PMU foal, and she was rescued from an auction as a yearling.  At the time, half her face was paralyzed.  There are varying theories on how exactly it happened, but the only fact on the matter is that something hit directly on the nerve, and she froze up. It came loose on its own six months later, and has caused hardly another issue since.  She lived at the rescue for about three years, where she learned all sorts of ground manners and how to carry the saddle and bridle.  Several different people worked with her because she was reliable and could be trusted not to do anything too far out of line with inexperienced people. The owner of the rescue told me quite a few times when I started working with her that she was amazed Jazz was still there; that she hadn't been snapped up already.

This was her sale photo.  It is currently her sold photo, which still makes me very happy.