Friday, December 27, 2013

December Weather, Or New Use For Full Seats

I know how annoying it can be to hear people complain about winter weather - i.e. we live in Canada, get over it. Too bad. I'm writing about sucky winter weather anyway. If nothing else it will be an antidote to reading one more saccharine Facebook post about a storybook perfect Christmas. 
(Just to set the record straight, I'm happier than I've ever been in my life, and had a great Christmas - don't want my family to think I'm ungrateful - but enough of that already. Let's trash the weather!) Okay, here goes...
I don't remember ever having a December with weather as bad as this year; it usually holds off to January to get this much bad weather, this frequently. It started with days on end of record lows, -20's at night, - teens during the day. Our first year running the new stable + early record lows = frozen pipes, scrambling to find a foal blanket that fits our big foal, and running wires for heated buckets with frozen hands and feet. Yes, but that was a mere blip on the radar. This was quickly followed by multiple snow storms, and then a 24 + hour ice storm. Some people are in their fourth day without power, and we didn't loose power, but why not complain anyway? Here are some of my ice storm incidents:
  • I needed to bring in wood for the wood stove, but the wheel barrow was frozen to the ground. In trying to wrench it free I broke off one of the handles, so no wheel barrow. I decided to put wood in the back of the truck and bring to the wood box (of course the truck was covered in a thick coating of ice). The wood box is outside and opens into the living room. It had four inches of ice on it and was so heavy I couldn't lift the top. I carried wood to the back door, but this entailed walking over a sheet of glass and up steps that had curved mounds of slick ice on them. Just so you don't think Doug was being lazy letting me do all this, Mom and I are at home in Noel Shore keeping the house warm and he's at the horse facility much of the time. (We go back and forth and stay in the same place at the same time a few nights a week.)
  • Christmas Eve Mom and I were going to Five Fires (our arena facility) to spend the night in the cabin, so we could all be together. I went to her house to pick up gifts that were left there, and found that her house was surrounded by a sea of ice, all sloping away from the house. Mom waited in the car while I attempted to navigate to the sun porch door. About half way there I realized there wasn't a snow ball's hope in hell I'd make it standing, so gingerly lowered myself to the ground and started crawling to the door on my hands and knees. Looking back, I can see this is kind of funny, but it wasn't funny at the time :). Even that didn't work. I lost my tenuous grasp on the sloping ice and went sliding down the hill away from the house and came to rest on an ice covered snow bank. By turning over onto my full seat breeches I was wearing I was able to sort of crab walk a bit at a time back up the slope until I could grab a corner of the car. From there I launched a reccy at the other door,  and somehow gained the doorstep and entry to the house. I won't bother boring you with how I managed to get presents from the house to the car, but suffice to say it included presents dropping and sliding off into the icy darkness.
  • On Boxing Day some intrepid natural horsemanship people trailered in for schooling with their horses. We thought the driveway, which goes up quite a hill, was fine. Turns out we hadn't factored in the weight of three horses on a trailer. You guessed it - the trailer went through the packed snow onto ice and got stuck. The horses had to be unloaded and we hooked both the tractor and our 3/4 ton truck to the truck and trailer and hauled it up the hill. I'm very impressed with these people though - it was -12  and they were out with their horses! Luckily we have lots of sand and will keep the driveway sanded.
Don't even get me started on dressing for this x%%^$# weather. Currently I'm in double faced wool long johns, with too tight breeches over them (who needs THAT extra layer two days after Christmas?), Mountain Horse winter riding boots with two pairs of socks, fleecy top, hoodie, and getting ready to put on a long down filled coat and lined leather gloves. I'm not sure I'll ever 'feel' my horse again.

That just about brings me up to date. I'm sitting here as snow falls and the road is completely snow covered. We had a snow storm last night and another one forecast for Sunday. I'm heading to Five Fires and will enjoy some riding - I can't forget my riding goals, the first check in being this weekend.
Hope everyone had a great Christmas and has a very Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 19, 2013

In Defense of Sweet Feed

I'm NOT an expert obviously, and I'm not someone who enjoys spending hours reading the latest horse feed research and comparing feed analysis labels. I do consult our equine vet about feed though, and I'll do the analysis comparisons, to make sure the horses are getting good nutrition and that we're getting good value for our money. 
Also, I want to make clear I'm not advocating sweet feed for easy keepers and horses that could be prone to laminitis - there are some very good reasons to keep them on low sugar diets. What's led me to write this post is the results I've gotten over the past few months in feeding Rogo a product that contains molasses. 
Since coming back to riding seven years ago I've noticed that no one feeds sweet feed. When I was a teenager decades ago, it was standard procedure where I lived (rural Nova Scotia) that horses got pasture only in summer and hay and sweet feed in winter. There's some logic to this, but I won't go into it here. However the 'no sweet feed' mantra became so quickly ingrained when I got a horse again, that I didn't even think about feeding it. 
When I struggled with Rogo's lack of energy and forwardness, for years, I was told that's just his natural personality. I consulted the vet about it on several occasions and fed supplements he ordered in for me. I consulted with an equine nutritionist and fed as she directed for awhile, fed a high protein diet, etc. At one point he was on 16 litres of feed a day. Nothing made even the slightest difference in his energy level.

I did get him forward in the past without it, through weeks / months of training with a very experienced, level 3 instructor who pushed us hard three times a week. When Rogo has time off though, we're right back where we started and honestly I just don't think I could go through that building phase on my own. It's completely physically and emotionally draining and I'll tell you that it literally gives me nightmares and leaves me feeling shattered. 
I've tried every trick in the book - hacking out, cavelleti, treats and positive reinforcement, hill work and it always comes back to the same thing - put the weeks / months into a brutal grind of forcing fitness training or have a horse that lives behind my leg. Neither option was / is palatable to me anymore.
Then, .... I rediscovered sweet feed. I might call it life changing, but that could sound flip. Let me just say I'm in love with it. Rogo is a different horse when getting it. He isn't hot or spooky, and he still needs to build fitness after time off, but he's there with me - a happy partner going forward in his work. 
I first tried it this past June and was very impressed - a happy forward horse even though he'd had most of May off and it was getting pretty hot out. Yeah! 
Okay - I'm going to back up a step and describe the feed - it's a pelleted feed with lots of good ingredients, but it includes molasses. It's billed as a foal, lactating mare and performance horse feed and it claims to be low sugar. I'm here to call the low sugar part bullshit. Molasses is high in the ingredients list (impossible to tell what percentage) and honestly, it's delicious. I could eat it for breakfast with a little yogurt on top. It smells wonderful, is packed with omegas and is a sweet, fatty treat :). 
Rogo LOVES it and he is much more forward when he gets it. While he was off in the summer / early fall with a stone bruise I switched him to a performance version from the same company, that had almost the same analysis but no molasses, and he was dead again when I brought him back to work. Back to the molasses version and back to a horse much more willing to work. He / we still need to build fitness, so the forward has staying power, and as we build it I may decrease the sweet feed and increase the non-sweet feed, but it's been a great thing for us.
Sweet feeds wouldn't be a good option for many horses - most / all readers here know more about feed than I do, so I won't go into too much detail.  I'd definitely say proceed with caution and do your research if you think it might be helpful for your horse. It can be associated with increased laminitis risk, i.e. drafts and ponies may be at higher risk. Also, I'm not happy with the idea that it may increase susceptibility to tooth decay (I'm not sure there's proof it does - many horse feeds as well as grass have high sugar levels). 
I'll conclude with saying we feed a very small amount to our draft cross Savanah (she's one I wouldn't give very much too) and when I posted pictures of her on Facebook recently we got comments that she looks the best she'd ever looked. At fifteen years of age her gaits are the best they've ever been as well - uphill jumping canter, big trot, marching walk. Also, our sweet Appaloosa Dan is back to work after several years off, is also getting a very small amount of sweet feed, and is also going better now than when we stopped work three years ago. 
I googled sweet feed before writing my post to see what pros and cons I'd come up with, and here's the first thing that came up: Sweet Feed Whiskey. So if you buy it and decide you don't like it, there's no down side. You're all set for a batch of whiskey. 
There's my anecdotal information on sweet feed. A decent researcher, let alone a scientist, would shoot holes in my conclusions like shooting trout in a demitasse cup, but I'm sold.

Fire and Ice Dressage Challenge

I created a winter activity that I hope some of you might participate in, to help us all stay motivated over the winter. I created in conjunction with our business, Five Fires Equestrian Centre, but you can participate from anywhere and it costs nothing. It's explained in detail here. In a nutshell, you create three sets of date sensitive goals (dates below), post them in the comments here or on the Facebook group page I created (later preferred, so that non bloggers can participate too) and report back on results. Tell us what's working and not working, how you're training to meet the goals, etc.
I coordinate the communication. At the end I enter all those who complete the challenge and meet their goals in a draw for a $100.00 auditor pass for the Arthur Kottas clinic we're hosting in May.
Obviously it will be a little too far for most of you to attend, but maybe I can come up with a prize for those participating from far away - hmmm, okay I've got it - a $25.00 gift certificate towards an equine related book. Of course if anyone wanted to be entered in the clinic draw after completing their goals, and come  to Nova Scotia for the clinic, that would be wonderful!
Dates are:
  • December 29, 2013 (or close)
  • February 2, 2014
  • March 9, 2014
So come on, help me stay motivated, and share your winter training plans and goals. They can be anything from ground work and fitness to specific dressage figures and movements.
Here are my goals as an example:

Weekend # 1 Goals
  • Comfortably sit medium trot, with good position, relaxation and balance, riding one long side and short side
  • Build fitness (we’re coming back from time off) so that we can do an hour session with consistent performance in all Training Level and Level One work
  • Legs – toes in, heels down, knees relaxed (not gripping)
Weekend # 2 Goals
  •  Smooth and effortless, repeating trot / canter / trot transitions on a 20 m circle – no anticipation or tension
  • Forward canter with good hind quarter engagement
  • Relaxation – straight and marching free walk; an ’8′ stretchy trot circle
Weekend # 3 Goals
  • Comfortably sit medium trot, with good position, relaxation and balance, riding a 20m figure 8 and across the diagonal
  • Trot shoulder in, a full long side with forwardness and good rhythm
  • Exceptional :) collected to medium to collected canter
Bonus Goal (I couldn’t resist)
  • Ride Level 2, Test 1 with a score of at least 60% – I know this isn’t an appropriate show goal, but this is a developmental exercise to help me pinpoint where I am and set my next goals.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Pictures, Intro To Mary, Lesson Update

We ran an equine photography short course at our facility the end of October, and I got some great pictures of Rogo to share. His stone bruise was bothering him (before it got equipacked), so there aren't any mounted pictures, but I LOVE these! The photographer here is Naomi Carter. All of the students were very impressive.

I have a horse appearance pet peeve - I do not like skinny necks. Sooo, of course I'm completely in love with Rogo's neck. Isn't it beautiful? Of course with Rubenstein 1 as his grandfather (some may feel his neck was too big), it would be very unlikely to get my dreaded skinny neck :). As Rogo's training has progressed his neck has become more graceful.

I want to introduce you to Mary. She's 15 and helping out at our arena facility and riding Savanah and Dan (our Appaloosa, see side bar). She's also taking lessons with Joan! She and I have lessons together - she on Savanah and me on Rogo. It's very fun and it's great to have a riding partner. We can give one another feedback, plan our rides together and keep one another motivated. Also, it's great to have two people to set up cavelleti instead of just me :).

Dan hasn't been ridden in years, but with Mary riding him he's doing great - really loving the attention and going remarkably well. I'll get pictures of them soon.

Mary and Savanah

Mary has been doing Clinton Anderson natural horsemanship with her Fjords (she and her Mom each have one, full sisters, four and five year old mares). Their manners and behavior are amazing! Mary rode her four year old, bitless (reins on her halter), on a 26 km round trip along the road to Joan's house to ask her to teach her - how could Joan (who hasn't taken students in many, many years) say no! Here is a phone picture of Mary and her Mom Joanne riding in our arena. I can't take my eyes off of these horses - they are so pretty, sweet and unique looking.

 Mary, Joanne, Cookie and Spice

Joan is starting Mary from the beginning with our lessons so she'll know how to start a horse in dressage. With our lessons together, this means lots of much needed reviewing going on with me - transitions within gaits, halts, cavelleti. I should say I've asked Joan to teach me to do low jumps, as I think it would be good for Rogo's body and mind and good for my horsemanship. I need to get a saddle for it, so we'll see where that goes

My light bulb moment this week? Cutting my aids for shoulder in by about 90% to get a better movement and stepping under. More practice with that coming up.

And on a completely different note - stay tuned for my upcoming defence of sweet feed :).