Monday, June 19, 2017

Lateral Flexion - How Much is Enough?

I gave a client a series of things to do with her horse as a warm up or pre-ride check, not only to check to see if her horse with her before she rides but to continue getting her horse softer and more responsive. One of the things was to ask her horse for lateral flexion. I showed her how to ask it for it during ground training while her horse is in a halter, and when that gets good it transfers to when in the saddle, however from horseback she'll have to ask for lateral flexion with the reins, whether she is riding in a bit or a hackamore.

After working with her horse she got back to me with some questions which are likely pretty common so I am including them in this article.

"Why does my horse do well (giving softer to the feel on the rein asking for lateral flexion) for a couple times, then start to be harder to pull around?"   While you want to get to the point that you can barely pickup the rein to get your horse to give laterally (or vertically when asking for that), sometimes in the beginning when you pickup the rein, if he doesn't bend, you will have to bump him (short tugs)  as a stronger suggestion to get him to give. As soon as he gives and is not pulling on the rein then release, but you need to hold until he does give - meaning no tension on the rein.

I like to wait a few seconds before asking again even if asking on the other side. This gives him time to absorb the lesson about giving and getting a release. If you rapidly ask and release, ask and release, ask and release, then there may as well be no release because that's likely the way he see's it.

"How far should I bend him (how much lateral flexion is enough?)"   I know some people want the horse to give all the way so his nose is touching your stirrup or leg. All horse's are different so there are some that this would be physically hard to do. I don't see the point in it anyway. I can't think of anything I do with my horse where I need this over extended flexion. If a horse gives you, say around 100-110 degrees each and every time you ask, then how much more do you need?  In the photo at right, my horse is giving me well over 90 degrees. I can use that much lateral flexion.  In the photo at the top right of this article, the horse is giving me somewhat less than 90 degrees - I need a little bit more than that. 

I know some people are going to write me and say horse's should be able to give all the way so their nose is touching their barrel.  Yep, I see horses bite their sides and do other feats of equine gymnastics all the time, but that doesn't mean I need for them to do that when I'm in the saddle. 

In the diagram below,  I tried to draw a horse display straightness and then lateral flexion - BTW I'm not artist and I know that surprises few people, but if we can't agree that the picture below looks like a horse from above, then we simply can't be friends - anyway in Figure 2 below, it's supposed to show the horse giving to around 90-100 degrees of lateral flexion. Figure 3 shows a horse gives much more than that, somewhere around 150-160 degrees lateral flexion and again, some people actually want their horse's to touch their nose to the rider's boot or the horse's shoulder. While I'll admit I don't ride high end performance horses, I can't see any point to asking for such lateral flexion.  Let me re-phrase that,......I see some trainers really cranking on a rein to get the horse to give laterally as much as physically possible.... I while I can see asking for as much as the horse can give, I just don't see the point in demanding it. 


Friday, June 2, 2017

More on a Horse That is Suddenly Spooky

Dinka D wrote a comment on Horses that are suddenly spooky. "I hope you don't mind me posting another question on spooky horses. I have an 8 year old Arabian who is usually bold and inquisitive out on the trail. Not much phases him, but there are times when he seems to check out mentally. I work with him on the ground and I ride him several times per week. I have noticed that he is particularly spooky in the late afternoon, both on the trail and in the sand arena. He can be downright dangerous in the arena. Last night I was forced to up my energy and ask him to gallop around on the lead line, because it was obviously what he wanted to do. His eyes were on stalks as he stared at a couple of children playing in the distance. It was just ridiculous. He worked up a lather and still wanted to spook, but I got him to calm down somewhat. I then rode him, asking for only a walk, since this was the most challenging thing for him. I managed to walk him for a good 20 minutes or more, even to relax his frame and lower his head. Yet he still kept trying to look over to the side of the arena where he obviously felt there was danger. I could not get him to focus properly or to bend his body, mainly because touching him with the lower leg set him off into a jog. Speaking of jogging, on the trail at dusk he will jig jog like an idiot. I have used different methods to cut out jigging in the past, but it seems it all goes out the window at a particular time of day. My problem is, with full time work dusk is often the only time I can ride.. and I am tired of dealing with a nervous wreck. I wonder what else I can do, besides what I've done so far."

Right off I think there are two main reasons for horses mentally checking out, demonstrated by looking away or not paying attention to the handler or rider, or not taking cues in a timely manner like they usually do. First of all in a new area, like trailering to a new arena or trail head, it would be common for many horses to be curious or outright concerned about the different environment and events around them, especially if there is lots of activity. I was riding a horse the other day who I have had on cattle many times. He was routinely drawn to a fence line with signs, where he could only see the feet and lower legs of the cows on the other side. So when loping circles closet to that fence I had to keep redirecting his head to the inside.  Second, if you are doing the same thing over and over, the horse may be getting bored. It will usually be evident as your horse will be late on cues and dull in gait and speed transitions, and turn arounds. The difference in the first and second reason is that when the horse is bored you will be able to feel and see a lack of body tension and mental tension.

With you horse having issues seemingly only in a certain time of day, like the late afternoon as you describe with the lower direct sunlight, he may have a eye condition. One of these would be Equine Recurrent Uveitis (ERU), which many people call Moon Blindness, which is an immune response type condition where the horse body's own immune cells may attack eye tissue. These attacks produce signs such as squinting, tearing, "red eye," a cloudy eye, swelling and sensitivity to the sun. Horses can get it from a bacteria infection caused by dirt or dirty water, or a viral infection, and flies can bring in a disease. And obviously any visual impairment could cause a horse to be more easily spooked.  I have an older horse, around 20, who we thought had ERU or otherwise an eye condition which clouded up his right eye and make him spooky on things to his right (blind) side. Many tubes of Opthalmalic ointment did nothing. Later I went though a bottle of Vetricyn eye ointment and ensured he always wore a fly mask when he could. Much to our surprise his condition cleared up. Much of his anxiety with things on his right side (his bad side) went away.  So I would think any eye or vision problems is something you have to look at to rule out.

Something may spook a horse at a specific location, which could have that horse looking for it to happen again until that current expectation dulls with time. I'd make it a point to set up a rest at that location.    

It can be really frustrating correcting a horse who is continually buying into to his own fear.  I would make doubly sure that my frustration is not apparent or otherwise contributing to his anxiety.  I would be inclined to do a lot of things to keep that horse focused on me and what I was asking.  I am not saying to wear him out physically - there is a perception, really a misperception, that a person can work the buck or spook out of a horse through sheer density of his workload, as you need to change his perception not get him head dropping worn out.     

But what I would do is set things up for him to think or search for the right thing.  I think the thing to do or a least to try on your Arab is to get his mind engaged.  After all we're trying to put a thinking pause before that fear reaction.  So I think it's key to give our horse's a pause to learn. An example may be when you ask for lateral flexion and when he gives it don't release. He may likely try to pull his head away, but just maintain that hold.  It may take him 5 seconds or 45 seconds but he'll look to do something else to get the release.  Since his head is bent, it is likely his move his back end away from the bent, and just as soon as he tries, give him a release, a rubbing on his neck, a 10-15 second pause to absorb that lesson before you do it again.            

If I'm doing turn arounds on the fence, after getting it right with a good effort, I may stop and let my horse rest.  I may set it up so the rest spot is the location where he has the most trouble with spooking.  If I'm loping circles and changing speeds (sitting trot to a posting faster trot) and he puts effort into doing that, again I'll stop him recognizing his effort and stop him again at the point where he has the most mental trouble at.  In the beginning he's likely to still have happy feet - showing his anxiety by moving his feet.  I would correct him immediately by directing his feet such as trotting or loping tight circles, or even backing in a circle then offer him a chance to stand again. 

I fear I haven't been much help but I really hope you can get your horse to quieter place as you have many years ahead with him.  As an Arab he is more hot blooded then say an average Quarter Horse, but I've seen too many good Arab not to know its possible.  Good luck and safe journey.