Archive for November, 2002

PostHeaderIcon JR’s Journal – The Dentist

When JR had his first general examination and fall shots as a yearling, the vet said to me that his teeth were great. “This is a horse that will need to be floated maybe never or once every 3-5 years or so.  He has excellent teeth.”  We were both proud. The vet. peeked in his mouth the next two years for his general examination and last year, he did float his teeth.  It didn’t take long…and we were all proud of JR’s mouth.

A famous Equine Dentist moved to Kansas City and gave a demonstration speech and then worked on various horses during the Longview Horse Park Trail ride last October.  My friend is a new horse owner as well as a medical doctor.  She was fascinated by the dentist’s performance, the ugly things discovered in horses’ mouth and the pain free result.

She decided to have the dentist come to her barn.  Perhaps she could get some of her barn people to employ the dentist.  Nope.  She offered me the opportunity to engage the dentist and I jumped at it.  I’ve been to two equine dentists’ presentation before.  I need no more convincing.  Velvet has been worked on by an equine vet dentist specialist traveling from Lincoln.  Our own vet now has a power tool to help float teeth while using the speculum.  Life is good.

Who would I take?  I can afford two horses.  It’s a given that Velvet gets to go.  She never has eaten normally.  She always spills grain. And, my next oldest.  JR.  Hay!  I’m going to start riding JR with a bit pretty soon.  He needs a bit seat.  The dentist won’t find anything in JR’s mouth, but a bit seat is something that he does need.

The big day came and we arrived at the barn.  The dentist had just finished two year old Jazz.  He had an infected baby tooth in his front teeth.  His breath stank…not that anyone noticed it until the dentist propped open his mouth.  The horse before him was young too.  He had some extensive remodeling in his mouth so he could chew without biting his cheek. 

Oh hum…it’s JR’s turn.  The moment of truth came after the speculum was inserted and the dentist’s head light illuminated the inside of his mouth.  Oh dear.  I saw scar marks, chew marks and a big fat abscess on one cheek.  His teeth were razor sharp and when he ate, the razors tore up his left cheek.  The dentist vet said that he had started chewing up and down like humans do instead of side to side like horses do.  Chewing up and down doesn’t get the food ground up nearly as much as the normal sideways chewing.  Visions of colic leaped into my head. 

My perfect JR was the winner of the worst mouth in the stable!  His cost was $50 more than any other horse and we are now thrilled to be on the 6 month schedule.

The dentist said that she likes to see horses as young as 6-7 months.  She can fix things then that can’t be correct later like a mild parrot mouth.  The cost for young weanlings is only $50…well worth a lifetime of teeth problems and pain.  Remember mouth pain can result in horses dangerous to humans!

The main point of my story is to have your vet put a speculum put in your horse’s mouth.  A lot of regular vets now have them along with the power tools.  At least you’ll be able to see whether or not your horse might be in a lot of pain that could be FIXED! 

JR now makes that comforting munching noise when he eats his hay.  I didn’t realize that this sound was missing before JR MET the Equine Vet Dentist!

PostHeaderIcon JR’s Journal – Dealing with the Pace

JR, the hard-wired to fox trot horse, starting pacing about my eighth ride.  He was started by Jennifer Vaught and got a solid flat foot walk, a beautiful fox trot and a lovely canter with her.  After my eighth ride on him, he did the pace walk, the regular pace and we lost our nice smooth canter.  When JR cantered, every leg was going to the beat of a different drummer.  Rough?  I was flying out of the saddle at every beat.  

Why did he start pacing soon after I rode him?  

  • Remember that fear that I talked about on our first rides?  I tried to relax, but it was there.  
  • My emotion and body language made him fearful and worried and he started hollowing out his back.
  • He discovered the pace and liked it.  After all, it requires a lot less work that the other gaits.  His feet just skim the ground.  He can go at any speed with the pace…slow or fast.  

Here are the parameters:  In my world of natural horsemanship, we start horses with only a halter.  We teach the horse the responsibilities of backing, stopping, turning on the fore and hind quarters and side passing before ever putting a bit in the mouth.  (We save a lot of wear and tear and keep that mouth very soft and delicate.  After about 300 hours, we are ready to refine the horse.  He knows his rein responsibilities by then.

We do start asking for a soft feel which is just the tip of the iceberg for vertical flexion.  

So, here I am with a pacing horse, no bit and no vertical flexion.  How can the pace be fixed within these parameters?  

I did what every red blooded gaited horse owner does!   I ran JR over poles on the ground.   I did this from the ground and while I was riding him.  It worked while I was riding him for almost 4 steps. 

Here’s what I really did:  

  1. Quarter Horse Walk-Get JR to WALK  (This is #1 Heart of Stopping the Pace)JR and I would go for a ride anywhere…in the arena or outside.  We would start out at a Quarter Horse (QH) walk for about 2 seconds and then he would start to run.  When he started running, he raised his head, hollowed his back and started pacing.  I went on long rides pulling him back with a one rein “slow down” action for hours and hours.  Finally, we went on long enough of a ride that he got quite tired and started to QH WALK.  On the next couple of long rides, we tried to QH Walk again.  It took several weeks and many rides before he would just plain QH walk. 

    Finally, he stayed at the walk and relaxed enough to lower his head for long periods of time.  JR relaxed.  We got a consistent Quarter Horse Walk

  2. DOG WALK- After much QH walking, we went up to a Dog Walk.  A dog walk is faster than a walk, but slower than the flat foot walk.  The dog walk is very uncomfortable.  Your seat goes forward and backwards quickly and uncomfortably.  The Dog Walk builds up the muscles in the back that a horse needs to be able to do and sustain the flat foot walk and the fox trot.It’s difficult to hold them in this one speed.  JR wanted to break into a faster gait (and pace). Or, we slowed down to a regular walk. We did this for quite a while. We didn’t get very good at dog walk consistency, but we did manage periods of dog walking. The dog walk is a four beat gait (unlike the 2 beat gait of the pace. Doing the dog walk got his feet in a four beat gait so that eventually we carried that 4 beat gait right into a flat foot walk.
  3. Flat Foot Walk on Uneven Ground – JR started being able to hit a flat foot walk as long as we were on somewhat uneven ground. We couldn’t do this in an arena or a smoooooth field. We could do it on trail rides.
    At first, we did a lot of breaking into the pace. We were out in strange new places which made him very suspectible to throwing his head up with the corresponding hollowing back and we would start pacing.

Here is the #2 Heart of Curing the Pace.  Every time JR paced, he suffered a CONSEQUENCE.  When he paced, he was made to:

    a)  Back – this is stop to a back with no pause. orb)  Sidepass, orc)  Disengage the hindquarters

At first we started out just with disengaging the hindquarters a step or two. This was something that we could do when riding with others. It didn’t slow us down very much; we could keep up with our trail buddies.

JR had to back with effort and sidepass with effort. After a few times of this, he became aware that pacing meant he would have to do things (with effort) that he dislikes.

Here’s all the great things that has happened when giving JR one of the three consequences.

    a)  Communication -JR became aware that I was telling him I didn’t want him to pace.  He figured that out!  After doing this for many days, I can tell when he’s about to hollow out his back, but he catches himself!  It’s like he’s remembering, “Oh no! I don’t want to pace because then I’ll have to do one of those horrid things, eccha!”b)  All those three actions set JR up with self carriage.  Upon being asked to sidepass and back, he collects himself!  When he self collects, his body is set up to perform the a 4 beat gait.c)  When sidepassing, a horse develops his front end/shoulder muscles.  JR’s human friends are now starting to notice some really significant widening of his front end.  He’s building up valuable muscles.

    d)  Backing: Backing gets a horse’s weight off the front end.  Backing loads the weight to the back end.  The back end is where the power comes from.  Gaited horses tend put their weight on their front end.  Teaching a horse to load his back end gives him a lot more power and eventually true collection.

    e)  Great practice on sidepassing and backing.  The better a horse can sidepass and go backwards, the better he can do everything else.  This consequence has given us lots of opportunity to practice.

By the way when JR gets into the flat foot walk, I rub him on the neck.  That’s another form of communication to let him know that he is doing the right thing.

NOTE!  Many people pat their horses.  Horses hate that.  Horses like to be rubbed.  Patting is actually hitting.


JR is now ready to start the fox trot.  We’ll probably have to use our 3 consequences actions to teach JR that the fox trot is another preferred gait.  He can do the fox trot now when he’s excited as he now self collects himself, rather than falls into the pace.

    How exciting it is to own a gaited horse!

PostHeaderIcon JR’s Journal – A lot of Excitement in Learning How To Stop

I was going to ride JR at home and was doing the pre flight check up.  He did his version of the bucking bronco.  He has no suspension when he bucks.  It just looks like a rocking chair canter with the head down!  This went on for a while.  Then the wind came up and the rain clouds approached.  I decided this was not the time for valor!  We loaded up and went over to Pine Dell.

Well, the arena was being used for turn out for a weanling and older friend.  So, we rode outside after all.  He was nice and pyched up, but we managed to have a beautiful ride up and back in the 40 acre hay field.  He did a smooth fox trot the entire time!  He had been switching back and forth between the running walk and the fox trot. 

Then, one of my friends told me that she was having a lesson with Jenny at 4:00 and would I like to join it.!  whooppee.  Jenny was late, but husband Tony was there to start us out.  I complained about JR’s stop at the canter.  It takes him too long to stop after I ask.  Tony asked me if I wanted to get a REALLY REALLY good …almost reining horse stop.  I said, Yes!.

Passenger riding is the answer.  Since I don’t have a great stop at the trot either, we elected to do this at a trot.

Passenger riding.  In an arena.  You do not hang on to the reins.  You don’t tell the horse where to go with leg aides.  His job is to travel nicely in one direction next to the wall…that’s when I get to ask with my body for him to stop.

Traveling nicely along the wall is not the horse’s idea.  They like to go in small circles…get next to other horses in the arena…visit places they like to stop at the middle.  My job is to keep JR trotting…even in the tight little circles.

In the arena is the weanling (loose), Tony is training a spooky horse and two other women riding.  Did I mention that JR was fascinated with the weanling.  He kept trying to visit the weanling.

All set.  I let the reins loose and get set…GO! WELL…all JR wanted to do was chase the weanling!  We zipped along towards the weanling and the weanling took off…and so did JR!  Forget the passenger riding, our game turned into a Cutting Horse Game.  I let out my famous quiet scream and soon the cutting horse game came to a stop.  Tony decided that my passenger game needed to continue without the weanling.  The weanling was delivered back to his stall.

I have a COW HORSE!  JR hooked onto that weanling like he wanted to eat him for dinner.  I’ve been wondering how JR would do at a cow clinic and now I KNOW!

Well, the passenger game continued.  We tried really hard to run into Tony and the spooky horse.  I have to urge JR to go faster when we turn into the middle, which really spooked the spooky horse.  Tony did appreciate this.  It helped the spooky horse to learn that nothing was going to eat him.  Then we decided to go help the cantering horse.  We were fox trotting ..heads even… with the horse that was cantering.  The cantering horse was on the wall and JR and I were on the inside.  We looked like synchronized swimming there for a while.  The end of the arena came…we both made the turn and JR cut her off on the far long wall.  But, no matter!  I apologized to everyone before we started.

We did some more nice little circles and fast turns here and there and finally JR discovered that being on the wall was the nicest place to be.  I asked him to stop several times and he didn’t listen, so he got pushed to go faster….but we did stay in the fox trot almost the entire time this went on!  Finally, his body told him to listen to my body and he stopped.  We stayed stopped for about 5 minutes.  That’s the release that teaches!

We got to do this once more and it didn’t take near as long …nor near as many quick little turns for him until he was floating along the wall and then came to a stop when my body told him.  This time the stop was almost reining horse stop!

The lesson with Jenny was pretty nice.  We fox trotted nicely.He cantered nicely.  We pretended to do flying lead changes.  Jenny complimented us at the end of the lesson!

I had a bunch of fun with JR today.  He is SO Much Fun to ride now that he has the gait back!!!


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