Sunday, March 30, 2014

The Contradictory Horse

This is my horse.

He is a jumbled mess of contradictions that I have yet to make sense of.

You often hear of horses who are one sided, and Trax is no different. The problem is that he is one sided for somethings yet the opposite for others.  Which leads me too believe that when he gets "stuck"  it isn't physical at all, but mental.

But with that being said, as I contemplate more and more about that, I realize that I have to put this under a microscope and dissect it to see if that is really the case.  Meaning, that different maneuvers require muscle tone in different areas, and the places where he gets stuck just might be related to the way he is built physically.  So let me see if I can remember them all and list them out.

Lateral flex at a stand still:   He weighs nothing to the left but has trouble with the right. Not as bad as he used to be, but there is an obvious difference.

Flexing at the poll when standing still:  Pretty soft although still wants to push into the bit as the first resort and then goes to dropping his head. We go through this exercise every time we ride and continue it until he chooses to get soft first, but each time is just like it was the day before.  We have to search for it.

Flexing at the poll when moving forward:  About the same as standing still although by the end of the ride his is usually much much better.

Flexing at the right jaw when moving forward:  Okay this is where things get weird.  To the right when moving forward he gives pretty nicely, which doesn't make sense since at a stand still he is heavier on this side.  So I am wondering if what I am seeing is him actually giving his face or just arching the whole body.

Flexing at the left jaw when moving forward:  This has always been stiff and awkward for him...until yesterday.  I will elaborate on that more later.

Side passing from left to right:  We are lucky to get it done

Side passing from right to left:  Smooth like butter, with very little pressure at all.  In fact he does this so well he will often go from left to right even when I am asking for right to left.  And yes I am making sure that I open my opposite leg to give him room to move, but he still just moves into the pressure.

Roll back from right to left: Makes it 3 steps and falls out

Roll back from left to right: Can do a full circle without too much trouble.

Lead change from left to right: All I have to do is sit down in my seat, let him break his lope for one stride, cue with my leg, and he does the change almost on his own.

Lead change from right to left:  We struggle just a little bit more. He will still do it, but often I have to break down his lope for a couple of steps. (this doesn't make sense to me since when I got him he was a completely left lead horse)

Loping in a circle to the left:  He generally stays pretty calm and will rate.

Loping a circle to the right: Is when he wants to get chargey.

I'm sure there is stuff I am forgetting, but those are the things I have noticed so far.

So fast forward to yesterdays ride; we went to the desert and started by just long trotting and "checking fence".  It wasn't our fence to check but since we were out there and I really wanted to see how much room we have to ride in, I rode one fence line for a while.  Of course there are always trees and bushes around and I used those "obstacles" for our serpentines.

Checking fence

I did find the gates that will allow me into other sections, and they all have signs that say, "Please Close Gate" Which to me means, go on through just don't let our cows out."

We found open areas where we did some loping in circles, some lead changes, and just different stuff.  Anytime I felt him wanting to get chargey we did a lot of "Lope n Stops"  and that would usually take care of that.

We went through the water, we did some spins, we just did anything I could think of.  We stopped for a minute at a stock tank but he didn't want to drink, however when we got to the big "pond" he went right in and got a nice long drink.

We found stuff.

And then we headed back.  Of course being who he is, the minute we headed home he though that work time was over....he was wrong.

When we got to the gate which takes me back to the neighborhood, I asked him to side pass in each direction before I got off.  He WOULD NOT side pass from right to left.

So I took him back out to the desert and we loped a couple circles, did some lead changes, and then stayed there until he would side pass either direction.  Then we made a beeline for the gate....well sort of.

It was more like ten steps forward, side pass to the right five steps, side pass to the left five steps, ten steps forward, side pass left, side pass right...etc, etc, etc.  And we did this all the way to the gate.  By time we were done, he was sooooo soft in the left jaw (just like when he is standing still) and his side pass from left to right was the most gorgeous thing I have sever seen him do.  He was soft in both the jaw and the poll and crossed over correctly.  (remember this used to be his hard side)  But now he struggles going right to left.

I keep trying to determine if it is something I am doing.  Am I holding the reins different?  Am I using my legs different?  I just don't know.   But it makes sense for him to be softer on the left side for this, since he is softer standing still. But this just happened yesterday. So it really doesn't make sense to me at all.

So anyway, we got to the gate and he gave me two very nice side passes, and I got off and let him rest.

Then we headed home and he was so nice an relaxed, and I was enjoying just being up there.....and then the donkey came to the fence and my horse lost his ever loving mind again!

But just for a second and I got him moved away and standing still enough for me to get off of him and take him to the fence where the donkey lived.  Unfortunately the donkey was a ghost, because for some reason I couldn't find him. He literally disappeared.  However a little mini came to the fence and he and Trax sniffed noses, which was almost as good, since he doesn't like mini's either.

After that he was a little spooky just knowing that "Ghost Donkey" was going to sneak up behind him. We spooked at goats, and dogs, and so I went back to side passing him back and forth, and that took his mind off of scary things.

I used my pedometer to track our ride, it was 13.85 miles, and 3.45 hours.  You can see the parts where we were training...they are the squiggly parts.

It seems I have developed and allergy to sun, or perhaps a sensitivity.  I am broke out in hives now, not just where the sun was on me, but all over my legs.  I googled it, and learned that taking an antihistamine before sun exposure will help with it.

*disclaimer- anyone who knows me and knows how much trouble I have with left and right, will appreciate how difficult it was to keep this all straight in my mind as I wrote it down.


  1. As I was reading I wondered if it might be a problem with switching eyes. Is he trying to keep his right eye on you, and resistant to a change toward the left? Some of what you said doesn't seem to fit with that theory though. Hmm. Whatever his reasons, you'll have to work through them just the same, so overthinking it might not really be necessary. Sounds like a very nice ride!

    1. Andrea, you actually have a very valid point. One thing that comes to mind on this train of thought is the day he lost it over the log being on his right side. It almost seems as if when something is in his right eye he really gets upset over it. So this tells me that it would never hurt to start doing more things from his right side. Such as saddling, mounting, etc.

  2. I would say that most of it is condition issues. Let me rephrase that...Most of that can be corrected with continued conditioning/training exercises. It's hard telling how long Trax was 'one-leaded'...which is unfortunately, entirely all too common in the rope horse world. It just takes time to build up unilateral strength and flexibility. Where he is weaker on the right lead, my favorite exercise is to ask the horse to pick up the right lead, as long as they can hold a cadenced canter, I'll let them lope, when I feel them start to fall a part, I'll break them down and let them walk for a little bit, ask them to pick up the right lead and hold it until I can feel them struggling, break them down. Repeat several times. I may or may not ask for them to lope in the other lead that day. The thing about breaking them down when they start to get uncomfortable/struggling to hold cadence and then walking....The muscles on that side are weaker and build up lactic acid quicker. Breaking the horse down and letting them walk for a little bit is so the muscle can shed the lactic acid and become re-oxegenated. Developing unilateral muscling over the hip goes a long way toward freeing up the spine, which Trax is very stiff in his. First he has to get flexible in his ribcage, then his spine will become more flexible from side to side and finally up and down. When you ride him in circles, think of a C shape. His body shape (from head to tail) should match the curvature of the circle - bigger circles, less curve. Smaller circles more curve. Work on some spiral exercises, starting big make each consecutive circle slightly smaller, asking him for more and more body curvature, until he is struggling to hold the correct frame and then spiral out or break them down, walk out to a bigger circle and reverse the spiral. The canter is the preferred gait, but you can do them at a trot, you just don't start with as big of a circle.

    If you think that you might be the problem with some of his one-sideness and have checked your cues to make sure you are matching, think of your cues in pounds of pressure. Most people are also one sided and without even realizing it apply more pounds of pressure without even realizing it. I am very left-sided and my horses have a tendency to be much softer and bendier on their left side vs. their right. I have to really make myself think about lightening up the lbs of pressure on my left side and adding lbs of pressure on the right to achieve uniform softness.

  3. A couple of ideas - first rule out all physical issues before deciding that it is a training issue. I'd start with teeth - if the jaw cannot slide easily from side to side in both directions - you can do this yourself - hold the bottom jaw in your hand, with the mouth closed and slide the jaw from side to side - it should move equally far and smoothly in both directions. If not, teeth should be checked and floated - tooth/jaw issues can result in TMJ soreness which can lead to a lot of the one-sided bracing you describe. Second - after teeth - chiropractic. Can work wonders and sometimes takes multiple treatments. Make sure you get a good chiropractor - a member of the American Veterinary Chiropractic Association is best as they're also vets and are well trained - there are many lousy chiros out there.

    1. Hi Kate! Thanks for joining in. I agree with your rule of ruling out the physical first, and he just had his teeth floated, I think like 2 weeks ago, tops. Maybe less. He had his first chiro adjustment a few weeks before that and will be getting his next one here very soon. So I know that it is not a dental issue, but it could be TMJ simply because she did not adjust that area last time due to the issues he had with his teeth on that day. I do appreciate your input, always.

  4. Knowing what you have to work with and where to start puts you out ahead of anyone who just isn't sure. Ground driving and long line work can help him learn to bend and stretch those muscles without the added weight of tack and rider up there. It will also give you a clearer idea of it being a training issue with him or if its more of what you are doing when you're up there. Like BEC recommends, start in large circles, spiralling down. As you increase the bend you are asking for with the smaller circles, it will increase the stretch on the outside. Some days it will be more about working one side more than the other.

    That's cool about the trip tracker. I need to get something like that. For both me and the pony.

    1. Hopefully our ground driving will help with this too. I'm leaving some time open this weekend for that. will shoot you a text to narrow down a time.

  5. Good advice from everyone as usual. It sounds like Trax is learning to trust you, and that you are getting a handle on what to do when he wants to check out on you. Do you know how to test for soreness in a horse- I don't mean feet, I mean body. Also, you could do some stretches with him, the one where you stand beside him and have a treat in your hand and ask him to stretch as far back to his ribcage as he can without moving his feet, really frees up the muscles in his neck- do both sides- and another stretch downwards, you can hold the treat between his front legs and see if you can get him to put his nose right between his legs to stretch the muscles in his poll.
    Often they will be much tighter on one side than the other; in his case I'd suspect he is tighter on his left side. There is another exercise that really stretches the shoulder muscles, Shayla showed me this when she does bodywork, to take one front leg and see if you can place the foot in front of and on the other side of, the other front foot, like us crossing our legs. Since Shayla reads your blog now, she might chime in with some other things you could do to help your horse. It sure seems like you are on the right track with Trax!

    1. Ya know, for all my body work I used to do with Danny, I do not know why it never occurred to me to do this with Trax. Good ideas.

  6. Sounds like an amazing ride!
    I like to pretend I'm on a huge ranch somewhere checking fences too :) Ahh that'd be the life! Someday.
    The trail documenter software is cool. I downloaded 'map my run' to try while on a ride but always for get to turn it on.