Wednesday, November 30, 2011

If it Ain't Broke, Don't Fix it. Simply Adapt it.

I was expecting to be applying for a job tonight. Or at least that’s what I knew I should be doing. I re-read the essential requirements and it turns out I don’t quite qualify, woot woot! Ok, so it’s weird to be happy about that but I have so few nights off from riding that I wasn’t looking forward to spending it putting an application together. 

Since I now have some time for myself, I thought I’d do a quick update post (or I will at least try to make it quick!).

I met up with Laura at Littlekeebler today and we caught up on our work and horse lives. We’ve been having some parallel realizations, I think, in terms of how we want to approach our horses and deal with certain behaviours. Just about everything she said struck a chord with me, so much that I couldn’t help but relate her experiences to my own. Hopefully it didn’t come across as rude, it’s just so interesting to have someone to relate to. I find most people don’t spend much time thinking, or maybe just talking, about these things. 

With respect to the nudging – I have found that my approach to prevent it from happening in the first place is making a difference. I am always aware when I lead him and just as he starts to reach his head out to me, I correct him right then. Depending on timing, I do this by either giving a quick, firm tug on the lead away from me and to his outside (so the pressure is on my side of his halter) or I will tap his muzzle. Neither approach needs to be particularly harsh or dramatic to be effective; I interrupt the behaviour and we move on. I think this is effective because it corrects the actual behaviour while it’s happening.

Essentially I’ve gone back to the way I handled him before I realized he was moving me – that is firm but calm, not big and loud. I just began doubting myself but there was no reason to change my approach; all I had to do was incorporate my new realization into the mix. Instead, I felt like I needed other ideas but those led me astray for a couple weeks, I think. 

I have also spoken to a couple of the barn staff. One night while a few of us were chatting, one woman described how “funny” he is about “nuzzling” while leading. I was able to tell her in a friendly, non-confrontational, way how he was likely not so cute in those moments but rather was moving us and exerting a form of dominance. It’s tough sometimes to tell any horse person how to handle your (or any) horse, so I was glad it went over well. I had already told one of the barn staff about this idea since her and I are good barn friends. This helped since she told the other employee all about leading him.

Well, since that conversation, I can tell he is being handled better by more of the barn staff.
In the last week, I’ve received positive comments from 4 different people about Willy’s behaviour. I take these as good signs that the consistent handling is generalizing to other people and that I’ve sorted out the remaining issues I was unsure of. 

On a sad note, we are losing the *best* staff member, the one I consider a friend. She is heading to Florida for the winter with a dressage troop which will be fantastic experience for her. She is soooo young yet so responsible, thorough, and mature. She’s also a lot of fun to be around. Good barn staff like her are very hard to find, I’ve learned. It’ll be a long winter around the barn without her!

I was looking for a photo I could post and came across the three photos from the Per Meisner clinic I participated in back in October. Per is back this week (I'm not riding), so I figured I'd post a couple now. The only other one is blurry and bad, so this is it!

Will and I schooling in a clinic with Per Meisner.

Willy is smart - taking a minute to scratch while we listen to Per. 
Apparently my posture was taking a break too!

Saturday, November 19, 2011

What am I feeding my horse, anyway?

I've been wanting to write this post for awhile. I'm a little hesitant because I don't have complete control over what Will is fed, nor do I feel like I know enough to make those decisions myself.  However, I am taking steps to learn as much as I can about equine nutrition and figure out what exactly I am feeding "my" horse. [for ease of writing, I may refer to Will as my horse. Everyone at the barn does, so why not, lol].

To start the process of learning, I've been collecting info on what my horse is fed.  This is probably all a bit much but here is the run-down anyway.

He has unlimited access to hay (round bale, good quality first cut, grown on the farm) during turnout from about 6:30am to 8pm and has 2-3 flakes in his stall at night, depending on the size of flake. My boarding barn is pretty much full for indoor boarders so I've been lucky that Willy has had a stall most of the last 3 months. He did give up his stall for a week while one horse, normally on outdoor board, needed stall-rest. He lost it again recently so that the pregnant mare who usually lives outside could come in at night. He gets it back as of today because someone is moving their horse (yay for us!).

His feed consists of 2 feedings per day of a mix of Shur-Gain Equiline Xplosion, Shur-Gain Medallion, Finishing Touch, salt, and oil. The proportions are, 2 scoops each of Xplosion and Medallion, 1 of Finishing Touch, a tablespoon of salt (blue), and about 1/2 cup of oil (not measured precisely). Since I know many people feed by the "scoop" when it should be weighed, I brought my own kitchen scale to the barn and weighed each portion. I'm sure there is a slight degree of error on these measurements - I would have to repeat my scoops many, many times and take an average to be sure, but I doubt it would improve upon my initial measurements by much at all. I did repeat my own measurements a few times to get a sense of error and it was slight.

2 scoops Medallion = 1lb, 7.75oz
2 scoops Xplosion = 1 lb, 3.7oz
1 scoop Fin. Touch = 0.985oz

Now for the nutritional breakdown of each. I've included (and rounded) the daily totals at the top.

total daily ration =  2.44 lbs/1.11kg
Crude Protein (min): 35.0%
Crude Fat (min): 7.8%
Crude Fibre (max): 15.7%
Calcium (actual): 0.83%
Phosphorus (actual): 0.63%
Sodium (actual): 0.39%
Vit A (min): 9,970 IU/kg
Vit D (min): 1,895 IU/kg
Vit E (min): 394 IU/kg
Selenium added at 0.30

total daily ration = 2.21 lbs/1.0kg
Crude Protein Min. 12.0% 
Sodium Act. 0.50%
Crude Fat Min. 10.0%
Crude Fibre Max. 15.0% 
Vitamin A Min. 11,000 IU/kg
Calcium Act. 0.85% 
Vitamin D Min. 2,200 IU/kg
Phosphorus Act. 0.60% 
Vitamin E Min. 300 IU/kg
Selenium added at 0.40 mg/kg 

Finishing Touch:
total daily ration = 1.23 lbs/0.56kg
(aside: I sent an email to Masterfeeds because the link to their nutritional info page wasn't working. They fixed the problem and responded in less than 24 hours)

Crude Protein (Min)  14.0%
Crude Fat (Min)        18.0%
Crude Fibre (Max)    14.0%
Calcium (Act)               1.0%
Phosphorus (Act)        0.60%
Magnesium (Act)         0.30%
Potassium (Act)     0.80%
Sodium (Act)  0.40%
Sulphur (Act.  0.20%
Flourine (Max)   60 mg/kg
Copper (Act)     35mg/kg
Manganese (Act)  110mg/kg
Zinc (Act)             110mg/kg
Cobalt (Act)         1mg/kg
Iodine (Act)     2 mg/kg
Iron (Act)             115 mg/kg
Vitamin A (Min)   12,000. iu/kg
Vitamin D (Min)   2,700 iu/kg
Vitamin E (Min.)    400 iu/kg
Selenium added at 0.300 mg/kg

And this is about where I lose any idea of where to go in terms of assessing the appropriateness of his rations!  I don't understand why there are no values for sugar/carbs. My main concern was whether he was getting too much sugar and equivalents. My other shortcomings are in knowing what a horse's typical dietary requirements are and how to calculate what he's actually getting based on the guaranteed analysis of his feed. If I could do that, I could compare the two and see where the deficits and shortfalls are. I would also need to know about regional variation - for example, I know selenium is deficient in this area but is there anything else? I have some homework to do, clearly!

Notes about the horse.
Willy is 5. Since I started working with him at the end of July, he has gotten this regime consistenly. He has put on weight and muscle. I was initally concerned about weight loss with working 5-6 days a week when he had been only getting 1 day a week. As the weeks went on, I saw that he was gaining condition and weight overall. He is in pretty good weight now but I'd be happy with a little more.  At stand still, you can't see any ribs but they can be felt easily. This was true even before he started gaining his winter wooly coat. When he moves, however, his ribs do become more visible.  A lot of people seem to like overly fat horses around here but I do not. I would be ok if he stayed the same weight or gained slightly but definitely don't want him to lose any.

Hooves - Willy's hooves have always been good, even when the trims haven't been. I don't want to go into too much detail in this post but it's hard since all things are connected! I will say that his hooves have improved concavity over the last few months. Also, the new growth (of which there has been a lot) is growing in very nice. He has several "ripples" on his external wall surface. Since I've been leasing, the new growth has been straight and true. I attribute this to the increased workload stimulating better growth in combination with better consistency in what and when he is fed grain. He is not "hot", though he can be a little looky/spooky/sensitive these times are quite easy to ride/work through.

All that to say, it doesn't seem there are any obvious problems with his feeding regime. Still, I would like to know how to better assess what he's eating with what he should be eating.  Here's to learning!

Cold (but busy) Feet.

It turns out I can no longer publish posts from work thanks to an out-of-date browser. I shouldn't be surprised since many of my software programs are from early in the last decade. Still, it means I can't get a post in on my lunch hour occasionally. What's more, I a wrote a post before realizing I couldn't post it and then forgot to email it to my home account so I could post tonight. Only I'm pretty sure I emailed it to someone.

In any case, things have been pretty busy this week. I've been applying for a few jobs which I find a painful and time consuming process. I think it will be a little easier now that I have the first few done (it's been awhile since I actively looked for a new job).

Alex is out of town for the next week and I decided to take two days off work to make my life happy instead of the rushed, busy craze it typically is. It's dark out now by the time I get to the barn on weekdays, so riding outside factors high on my priority list for those days.

On to the subject at hand. I literally froze my feet yesterday at the barn. I could feel some toes were pretty numb while I had my lesson but it wasn't until I was cooling out that it became aparent that they were really cold. It was somewhere between 0°C and 5°C, so they really shouldn't have been that bad. Granted, it was partly my fault since I forgot good socks and had to ride in my dress socks (I went to the barn straight from work).

When I got home I stripped my socks off and a couple of my toes were a greyish white. I'm not kidding, they looked dead. I had an issue with this about 10 years ago when my toes would go black-ish but they hadn't felt particularly cold while I was out. I vaguely remember seeing a doctor about this but nothing came of it beyond "keep your feet warm". To be fair, I guess that's all I really did need to do but the fact that I couldn't really tell they were cold maybe should have made me (and the doctor!) more concerned.

I guess I managed to do a number on them since my feet felt cold and sore this morning even while sitting in my 23°C office. I did some Google research (known for being valid and reliable, lol) and I stumbled upon something I hadn't heard of called Raynaud's disease (see articles here and here. Not that I generally recommend self-diagnosis via internet but of the many, many accounts I've read, this phenomenon sounds a lot like me. It doesn't really change anything but it's interesting all the same. Good thing is I know all my systems are in great shape, so I don't have secondary issues to worry about.

Fortunately, I had planned better today and had several pairs of socks :) so I swapped my normal socks for Smartwool socks and passed the day happily. I also have an extra pair of wool socks at the barn now, and my Sorel boots in the car - they will be my winter barn boots.

Bring it, winter, I'm ready for ya!

Saturday, November 5, 2011

The Effect of Indecision on Consistency (aka Dealing with a Pushy Horse)

It started innocently enough. Honest, it did. When I first started working with Willy he was very “looky.” A little spooky, sure, but mostly he would look hard and watch things that freaked him out, until he realized they weren’t going to eat him. He is still like this, though not so bad after months riding out in the fields and trails.

During these early days, I noticed that if he became “looky” while I was leading him, he would often gently touch his muzzle to my shoulder or arm and then look back in the scary direction. I would rub his neck and talk, he would relax, and we’d continue on. The touch really was a touch, not a push, and it never involved biting or liping at all. I saw it as his way of seeking reassurance.

At some point I realized he had started to touch me with his muzzle while I was leading him. Again, it was gentle, barely a nudge really. It felt like affection.

I know, I know! I should have known better. Truth is, I didn’t give it much thought for awhile. He walked relaxed on the lead, a step behind me. I wanted to start getting him closer to my shoulder while leading but I was fine with him trailing a little rather than rushing ahead. Call me a fool but I have to admit those gentle nuzzles warmed my heart.

Maybe I just needed to believe I could share affection like that with a horse after my experience with Brumby?  I have a hard time understanding the bond othrers refer to. Brumby and I developed a good working relationship and I guess there was a bond of sorts but it wasn’t how other people describe it…I’m pretty sure a horse’s willingness to literally or figuratively throw you under a bus is an automatic failure in the horse-human bond department.

In any case, one day Willy gave me a slightly bigger nudge as we were walking and it suddenly dawned on me…he’s moving me!  He’s gentle because I am a good little subordinate and move along right politely! This was around the time Kate was posting about dealing with Drifter’s pushy behaviour and I was reading a Mark Rashid book so if I wasn’t going to clue in then, I never was! I fully credit those two with my epiphany (and burst bubble!).

Since that realization, I’ve tried really hard to set my boundaries and be consistent. My main problem is that I don’t think I believe in my technique enough to stay consistent. I start second-guessing myself and when I do that, I end up letting a behavioural “question” go unanswered.

Some of my issues/questions:
-          I don’t know how to correct him when he nudges me. I’ve been just trying prevent it from happening by being more aware of where he is and stopping his head from coming closer by adding tension to the lead. When it does happen, I’ve tried:
o   “gently moving him back or away from you” as Mark recommends. Yeeeah, um, “gentle” and “backing” are not words that go together just yet if I’m trying to do it without the arena wall next to us and a dressage whip to tap his hip over. Even in the arena I’m still trying hard to get straight(ish) backing. If backing on a 5’ circle was the goal, we’d be, like, GP level ;-)  Anyway, even when this correction goes well, I’m convinced the cause-effect is lost on him.
o   I have also tried the getting big in his face approach. He sometimes puts on quite a show of displeasure and definitely has it in him to fight back a bit (it’s mostly show and he backs down, but I’m still careful). Problem – I feel like an idiot doing this and don’t think I have the conviction to throw a fit if there are people around. Hey, I’m being honest here. I’m also not convinced it works and/or is necessary.
-          I’ve always said that Willy handles better with a soft approach, rather than a loud punitive one. This is why I started with the “back him out of my space” approach and why I have a hard time with the “get in their face” approach. It’s like I’m undoing some of the good understanding we have built together.
-          Is it always bad if a horse touches you with his head? Is he definitely, without question, thinking that by nudging me he is moving me out of his space (and is therefore boss)? Can a touch just be a touch? Can they comfort seek?
-          For awhile I made sure to work on backing in-hand a little, every time I was out. It seemed to help his manners overall (and it’s good for his stifles!). I haven’t done it lately but I should probably step that up again.

What do you guys think? Any advice on keeping consistent in handling or correcting pushiness? He’s not really bad but I feel a lot of responsibility for teaching him the best ways to get along with humans.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Defending Horses by the Numbers

Last night, Alex was bugging me (again!) about how much time I spend at the barn. So I made a spreadsheet :-D Sometimes it's good to be a stats geek! Everything is calculated to November 24th, the day he returns from his next trip.

Since Alex has been back from the field (Aug 28):

- I have spent the equivalent of 7.5 full days at the barn (assuming 5 days/week and 4 hrs per round trip)
- He will have been away 12 days, in 2 blocks of 6 consecutive days (which is clearly more of a "loss" than my 4hr chunks, lol)

The kicker? Out of the 327 days between Jan 1 and Nov 24, he will have been away 104 of them, or approximately 32% of the time.

I showed him the spreadsheet. He asked if he could pay for half my saddle ;-)