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Never Stop Learning

by Nel Sanchez

My grand-father was a stockman and farmer who grew up in country NSW, Australia. What we Aussies call the bush. The stories he used to tell about the things he and his mates did on horses always had me in awe.

He had two phrases I remember hearing a lot. The first was “the best rider is always the one sitting on the fence”. Now as a 10 year old that didn’t really mean too much to me, but as a wiser woman in her early 30s I’ve come to understand it many times over.

The other phrase was “you never stop learning with horses”. And this one resonated with me very early on.

If you have been following The Happy Canterer you would have heard Ali herself mention the famous ‘barn rat’. The kids in the barn that watch everything and ask a million questions. When Ali was growing up, learning everything she could from everyone she could, I was on the other side of the world doing the exact same thing. I talked to anyone who would listen usually, asking about their horses and watching the different things they did with their equines. Every horse magazine I could get my hands on I read. I started pony club at 12yo where I completed all my D level certifications in the first few months of starting.

Me at 17, trying SJ on loaned horse Tonto. 
 I didn’t have horsey parents to learn from, not one of my school friends had horses or knew how to ride. I delved into Pony Club like it had been created just for me. My horse, Mustang Sally, was young, a 3yo quarter horse/stock horse cross, who was a sensible and quiet trail horse, but who shied at every new scary thing Pony club threw at her. And yes I fell off. And there were many times she walked right over the top of me. She was strong and green, and so was I. But I kept going, and I kept learning and I kept trying. It wasn’t always easy. But we bonded. She was the one that taught me the most. We learnt things together and became a partnership. All the learning that I had engrossed myself with as an excited kid had become not only one of my best investments, but a foundation for my time with this mare and all the future horses I worked with.

My heart horse Mustang Sally at Mounted Games
Having maintained an open mind toward learning has helped me become the horsewoman I am now. And will help me become a better horsewoman in the future. I encourage my daughter, who is 8, in the same way I encourage my friends and fellow equestrians, to never be afraid to ask questions! Ask the vet to show you how to give an injection, ask the dentist to show you the sharp edges on your horses teeth, get the farrier to show you what thrush/bruises/white line disease looks like. A friend’s horse has ulcers? Get her to show you the warning signs that prompted the diagnosis. Attend every clinic you can, whether you participate or spectate, there is always something to be taken away from clinics. Cross train, don’t focus on one specific thing all the time. The race horses I used to ride, used to be broken in and do cattle work before they ever saw a race track. The famous ‘Valegro’ went on regular trail rides. Watch your friends when they have riding lessons. Ride other people’s horses. Try something new. Read articles and books and magazines, go to shows and events to watch. Video your friend’s dressage tests and re-watch them with a copy of the judge’s comments. There are so many different avenues to learning that we can take advantage of. Even if you don’t have a horse yourself. With learning comes confidence and with confidence we learn more.

Ruby and Tahlia learning about hoof care. 

Flash forward to today and my grand-fathers wise words still ring true. Over the years I have learnt to take the “fence sitters’ with a grain of salt. But no matter how old I get, how much experience I gain, I never stop learning.

About the author:  Nel Sanchez is an Australian horse lover living in the Bay Area of California. Her first job out of school as a 17yo was on a Thoroughbred property in the Wollondilly Shire of NSW. It was here that Nel learnt the fundamentals of really ‘knowing the horses’ from a tough, but fair manager, that she continues to build on to this day. 

Hey, wanna see something gross?

Yesterday my two and a half year old asked me, out of the blue, if Max has a boo boo.  I answered, “probably,” because that 4 year old Andalusian knows how to find trouble.

This post is a collection of the pictures I’ve recently sent owners and vets via text message, and that have been sent to me for my advice.  Maybe you will learn something by looking at the photo and my comment, or maybe it will be a fun game for you to see if you can spot the problem before reading the caption.
The aforementioned Max came in with a cut and lump.  He was a little bit lame, so he didn’t get worked that day.  Generally I would have dressed the wound and covered it with a standing wrap.  Max is a bit of a special case, so he got antibiotic cream, fly repellant ointment, a kiss on the nose, and back to pasture.

Max again, same injury, one week later.  The wound looks worse because Max likes to chew on his scabs. The swelling was pretty much gone, and he wasn’t lame, carrying heat, or tender to the touch so he got ridden that day.  We did the ointments again and eventually it healed up.

Rooster is looking a bit, erm, thickened.  Turns out he was stocked up in his sheath from recent inactivity.  We didn’t do anything to this, and his sheath returned to normal size with regular exercise.

Farrah had some serious snot coming out of her nose.  A little clear or white mucus is no big deal, but this greenish snot looks indicative of infection.  Taking the horse’s TPR would be a good indication of the urgency of the situation, so be sure you are prepared to do it.  Sniffing the odor coming out of her nose and tapping on her sinuses would also help diagnosis.  However, as advanced as technology is, I can’t take TPR, smell snotty noses, or tap on sinuses through my iPhone.  YET.

Max again.  See that nail in his foot?  That’s not supposed to be there.  However, it is a horse shoe nail going through the spot where a horse shoe nail should be.  I tried to pull it out and couldn’t.  It ended up falling out on its own before the farrier could arrive.  Had this nail been in another part of his foot, it would have been a freak out emergency.

Sookie’s other eye is open.  This eye is closed and she’s crying like her boyfriend broke up with her for a cheerleader.  I don’t mess around with eyes.  My suspicion was of a corneal scratch so she got to see the vet on the same day.  She did indeed have a scratch and got prescribed drugs and darkness.  Eye maladies can be time sensative, and as they say, it’s all fun and games until somebody loses an eye.  
Oh, Bucket.  This is an old picture, but one of my favorites.  Bucket’s owner asked me to check if he was unsound.  Guess what, he was unsound.  Upon picking up his foot, I saw this and texted the owner that I think I know why her horse is lame.  Incidentally, it took a second person and some tools to get this rock unstuck.

I’m definitely not a vet, my low calculus and chemistry grades in college put an end to that idea.  But I am a horse trainer, and a horse trainer should know when to call a vet.  A horse trainer should also know how to treat something minor.  A horse owner should at least have friend to send a picture to for advice.

About the author: Ali Kermeen loves horses, and loves educating others about horses.  She once tried an office job in human resource for a few years, but prefers bossing people around about their horses over bossing people around about corporate policies.  Ali loves learning new things, mostly about horses, but also about raptors, history, and general trivia.

Oh, Corny.

Corny has had some recent unsoundness again do to another thrush flare up in his right front.  After a couple weeks off, he was right as rain today, at least for the first part of his workout.

Then he went horribly lame on his left hind.  What the heck, Corny!  I took him back to the cross ties and Nel and I started at his foot for awhile.  Then we saw it…


A sprung shoe!  That’s not so bad, right?  It wouldn’t have been so bad except Corny has clips on his shoes.

The offending shoe after it was removed.



Neither of those clips was depressed, so poor Corny had the clip sticking up into his white line.  Luckily, Jay had some tools to remove the shoe and I didn’t have to bust out the leatherman tool.

We also noticed that the nails appeared to be copper.  This was surprising to us since copper is a soft metal that we wouldn’t expect to hold a shoe on.  So we asked our farrier.  He said, “Copper plated nails are a new thing farriers are trying. Better in regards to bacteria, better for the hoof they don’t corrode or rust inside the hoof holes etc. They’ve been out less then a year. ”

Corny has quite a dent where the clip was sitting.

Corny is getting his shoe replaced tonight.  Fingers crossed that he will go back to being right as rain!

Golden Gate Blue

Olympic Blue at 5 years old, being a kick ass racehorse
Last week I was fortunate enough to screen some of Blue’s race footage.  He’s one of the thoroughbreds I’m taking to the thoroughbred makeover in Kentucky. It was really fun to watch him run, and especially to watch him win.  I also enjoyed being with his owners, Ann and Mark while we watched the races and seeing how excited they were to watch their horse.

Blue went on a winning streak starting with his first race after having his blinkers removed.  I’m learning so much about racing, the blinkers are used to help the horses run straight.  It was funny to watch Blue serpentine down the track and win anyway! He won the next 3 or 4 races after that.

I also thought it was really cool how the commentators talked about Blue.  He was a big deal!  They had graphics about his successes, and even sang a little song about him!

Blue’s home track was Golden Gate Fields.  Mark and Ann still have some racehorses there, and it is a great community of horse people. Today I learned that GGF is going to be one of our sponsors on our trip to Kentucky.  I’m grateful for their support and hope we will do them proud.  

Blue has been steadily improving in his dressage training.  Last week he started to understand the concept of inside rein and outside rein.  His brother Corny is unfortunately having another bout of unsoundness from severe thrush so his training is on hold.

Olympic Blue, last week, 7 years old and in his way to being a kick ass dressage horse

Crosstie abandonment

Part of becoming confident is being comfortable by yourself.

This is true for horses as well as people.  Many colt starters will have a “patience pole” where they can tie up a young horse so he can develop that comfort of being on his own.  I do the same thing, but in stead of a patience pole, I abandon the young horse in the cross ties.

Corny is not having this patience thing!  On his first day in the cross ties, he pulled back and hit his head on the roof.  He learned from that experience and hasn’t pulled back since, but he isn’t as mellow on the tie rack as I would like.  

So I put him on the cross ties and went off to teach an hour of lessons.  I didn’t go far, I could see him from where I was teaching. He did alright for the first 30 minutes when there was another horse tied in the rack as well.  After that horse left and he was alone, he started to get antsy.  He lacks confidence and tried many diversions instead of cocking a foot and taking a nap.

He pawed He rattled the chains He made faces Lots of funny faces

The next time he was alone in the crossties, he did much better! Standing alone in the cross ties nicely with his foot cocked

Corny’s still going to do a few more marathon sessions in the cross ties.  I want to build on the progress that we’ve made.  I still have a goal for him to take a nap in there!

A little bit about bits

I love talking  about bits.  Last year I did an unmounted lesson for our pony club and the leaders had to shut me down after I had been going on for an hour and a half about bits.  While I don’t intend to be a hoarder, I think everyone should be allowed to have a collection of one thing.  My one thing is bits.

I started both geldings off in my go-to bit for green horses.

A three piece D ting snaffle bit

I choose this bit for green horses because it works on their lips and tongue.  It may also work on the bars of their mouth, depending on the position of the rider’s hands.  Because it had three pieces, it does not have a center joint that pokes the horse in the roof of the mouth.  The dee ring shape encourages green horses to learn to take a cue  for turning by pushing on the opposite side of their face from the activated rein (e.g. when pulling on there left rein, the right side of the bit will be pushed against the right side horses jaw).

Did you follow all that?  No?  Here are some diagrams that may help you out.

Anatomy of the horse’s lower jawParts of the snaffle  bit

Did that clear some things up for you?

Well, niether brother liked my choice of bit for them, so it was time to go to my bit box.

Blue’s bit

Blue accepted the bit easily.  He seemed to fuss quite a bit with the mouth piece though, so I decided to put him in a slightly more rigid single joined snaffle. His new bit had a thinner mouthpiece and was a few sizes smaller than the original bit.  In subsequent work outs he seemed very happy with the way his new bit fit and carried the bit quietly with a relaxed mouth.

Corny’s bridle on the left, Blue’s bridle on the right.

Corny

Yesterday’s blog entry talked about Corny’s tongue acrobatics when wearing a bit.  He would twist his tongue, flip it over, draw it up, or loll it out his mouth when wearing a bit.  After one of his early workouts I noticed that his tongue was purple on the bottom.  I don’t typically study the underside of horse’s tongues, are all horse tongues purple on the bottom?  I checked out the other horses that were currently on my tie racks. Neither Dom, Poni, nor Blue had purple  bottomed tongues.  While my sample size was very small, I felt confident that the purple  tongue was not normal.

My theories for why Corny’s tongue is purple were:

  1. Bruising from getting his tongue over the bit
  2. Some kind of dental problem
  3. Lack of circulation to the tongue
  4. Metal allergy or sensitivity

I decided to change Corny’s bit to one that offered plenty of tongue relief, without encouraging fidgeting.  I choose a Mullen mouthpiece (no joint) with a port (an upwards swoop in the center).  To address the metal sensitivity post of my theory, I selected a plastic covered mouthpiece.

It worked!  While the tongue issues have not gone away, they have drastically reduced.  Corny showed improvement the next workout with the new bit.  After he got dental work, he improved even more.  

Bridle set up

You may have noticed that there are no nosebands on the brothers’ bridles.  I could probably cover up some of Corny’s mouth issues if I slapped a noseband on him.  However, it would only be a cover-up and not resolve any of the issues that cause the mouth issues.  I’d rather address the issues and solve them in the early stages of training , rather than fight against them for the rest of his riding career.  Niether horse actually needs a noseband until they begin jumping or competing.

Since they don’t have nosebands, there is a danger of pulling the bit all the way through the horse’s mouth.  To mitigate that risk, I’ve attached a chin strap connecting the rings of the bit.  I simply use a spur strap, but purpose built chin straps do exist.

I’ve been working the horses with their halters under the bridle so I can hook my lines to the halter, or to the bit.  That way the horses can learn to move with the bit in, without also being responsible for responding to it.

Management Strategies, part 2

We got some much needed rain in the brothers’third week of training.  California horse people have a love/hate relationship with the rain.  We love rain because our state is in a constant drought that requires mindful water rationing at all times.  We hate it because when it comes, it dumps too much water on our riding surfaces.  HC Equestrian is located at Indian Hills Ranch; we are lucky to have a nice indoor arena there.  However, it is very difficult to get good photos or video marking the brothers’ progress in there.

During week 3, I took off one of my long lines and worked again on longing with one line.  The thoroughbreds are really getting the idea, especially Corny.  However, as we continued to work, there consistently became signs that the brothers had discomfort in their bodies.

Teeth

It had been a year since the horses had their teeth floated, so I scheduled them to get done. 

 Corny has some issues with the bit and does acrobatics with his tongue when wearing a bridle. I’ve noticed that sticks his tongue out the right side of his mouth. Before I try to pick up reins, he needs to learn to accept the bit and hold it steady in his mouth. I want to rule out, or address, any physical issues that could be causing this behavior.
Corny’s tongue. Notice that I have the lines on the halter, not the bit.

I got them scheduled for dental work as soon as I could. Both horses were reported to have needed lots of work done. 

Amy Scripps floated both horses

It worked!  In two workouts since their dentistry,Corny has gotten much quieter with his tongue.

Chiropractic 

In his first month of work, Blue had a hard time holding a canter lead, especially with his hind legs. Corny always started off extremely stiff. Both horses acted as inverse Zoolanders and had a hard time turning right.

Derek Zoolander can’t turn left

Fortunately, I can get Wally Palmer, DVM, to come to my barn. Some of you local folks may know him as the guy who took over Mike Gleason’s chiropractic practice. Anyway, Wally is great. He gave me a good assessment on both horses, adjusted them, and sedated them for Amy to do dental work.

In the next two workouts Blue has been holding his canter lead better, and Corny is more capable of bending.
The brothers are up to date on vaccinations and shoeing, so we don’t have to worry about that right now, though there are definitely some improvements that can be made in their shoeing.

Eight things horses have taught me about parenthood – So far 

 

Smiley meets his littlest sibling.
Smiley meets his littlest sibling.

My little daughter is only 3 months old.  Over these months, I’ve been thankful for the lessons and experiences that my life with horses has given me.  They sure have come in handy!  Here are some parallels I’ve noticed so far:

  1. I’m used to my body being used as someone else’s handkerchief.  Spit up is less gross than horse boogers.
  2. I know how to go over another creature daily and notice problems. Is this baby/tendon hotter than normal?
  3. I understand non-verbal communication and how to watch for signals that the tide is about to change. A fist that unclenches is similar to a horse licking and chewing.  That’s the time to try something new.
  4. I can accurately apply a salve to a wiggly creature.
  5. Less is often more. Don’t overstimulate the baby or over face the horse.
  6. I have experience with worrying to varying degrees. My horse has put me through a lot of worry with his health problems.  Vets have told me on two separate occasions that I should consider euthanasia.  These experiences were absolutely horrible, but did help me temper my anxiety when my daughter had a predicted fever after her vaccinations.  I wanted to freak all the way out, but I didn’t.
  7. I can make a big deal out of a small victory. Did my horse finally make a transition without bracing against my hand?  Woohoo!  Did my daughter do 30 seconds of tummy time without crying? Yippee!
  8. It’s about the journey.  I enjoy the hours of caring for my horse, hard work, responsibility, and dedication that it takes to have a thriving and happy horse.    All these elements are needed in caring for a baby, and I’m glad I have some sort of experience. 

Many of you have been parents for much longer than I have.  What are some similarities that you’ve encountered between horses and children?