Friday, January 29, 2010

Showmanship update.

Junior is doing so well with the showmanship I am shopping for a show halter! I would really, really like a beautiful heirloom quality vintage sterling silver halter, but I'm not going to try that out of the gate. Great way to look like a newb! Instead I'm looking at getting a nice new halter for now, and I can continue to hunt for the diamond in the rough. I lost an ebay auction by a dollar last week :( on a lovely halter, but I would have had to find a lead to match and probably go as far as having to re-dye one piece or both. I've done leather dying before, but for stage and NOT for something as close-up as a showmanship class. Showmanship is a class that's all about details and having mismatched leather or a bent buckle makes the presentation look sloppy. The judge is so close you have to be very detail oriented, much more than under saddle. A vintage halter might say "I have no idea what I'm doing here!" instead of "Look at this beautiful piece of Western Americana!" So I'm spending a bit more than I originally intended to get a new quality halter. I'm not going super high-end, but I'm going to the upper middle class, so to speak. I tend to not like two-tone, but I find this one very attractive. What do you think?

Our lesson on Wednesday was great. I (we both) got really frustrated at one point, but by the end we had executed a pretty decent beginner pattern. We made huge strides on pivots and backing, including 360's and 90's, so he's getting not just a 180, but to begin the pivot and end the pivot when and where I ask him to. Our backing is straighter, but still needs work. The biggest thing that is going to be tough to get through is his tendency to anticipate. His willingness to please sometimes gets in the way. For instance, now that we're learning that when I move into his neck he begins a pivot, when I lead him to the mounting block, and then turn to walk to the saddle he moves away. He started doing this when I began teaching him to back, so I know that if I am consistent and patient he will understand the differences in body language. I'm also trying to only put the chain under his chin when we're doing showmanship to try to associate the movements of showmanship with the tack configuration...... I'm assuming, of course, that he can do advanced cognitive reasoning.... THIS ARTICLE is a great introduction to how horses learn. A lot of teaching showmanship is a form of Operant Associative Learning. In other words, we make the right thing easy and the wrong thing hard. If when I step into you you do not move away, I will tap you on the shoulder with my lead. I worked with a jerk of a jumper-guy when I took the gym class horseback riding while I was in grad school. (That could be a whole blog entry by itself.) He, just like every horse person in my life, taught me something useful. He taught me "Ask, Tell, Make." Ask the horse to do it. If he doesn't do it, TELL him to do it, and if he still doesn't do it, MAKE him. The goal is that the horse learns to do it when you ask him. Life is simply easier that way. Luckily my pony is inherently eager to please. I usually only have to growl at him to let him know he needs to stop doing whatever it is he's doing, which is a good thing because I am constantly aware that I cannot physically MAKE an 1100 lb animal do anything he doesn't want to do, I can just sort of annoy him into compliance! LOL!

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Equine Nutrition: The Plan

Here's what I'm certain you've been dying to find out: Junior's new feed ration!

You may recall my student/friend, TJ spent a term using Junior as her project for her Equine Nutrition course in my college's Equine Science Department, taught by my Vet/Friend. She (TJ) began to teach me what she learned. I didn't know the first thing about Equine Nutrition until late November. Now I know a little more, or at least think I do. Science and Math were not my strong subjects in school and creating rations takes both. Don't be afraid. It shouldn't be nearly as complicated as I made it, but as my mother often reminds me, I've never really done anything the easy way.

I won't try to fit everything I learned in to this post, but here goes. Horses evolved grazing on grass and other ground forage. They ate for about 18 hours every day. They ate slowly all day long in order to get the nutrients they needed. Once we domesticated them we made them work all day instead of eat. We needed to feed them more calories and nutrients in more concentrated amounts, so we began feeding them grain. And the horses loved it. So now we have two forms of feed: Forage and Concentrates (grain) to feed. Ideally for a mature horse a 100% Forage diet is best but that's not always available or practical, so a 90:10, 80:20, or 70:30 F:C ratio becomes common. You really don't want to go below the 70% forage.

The NRC guidelines will tell you your horse's daily requirements: National Research Council Table
You start with bodyweight. Most horses in light work should have 1.5-2.5% of their bodyweight per day. We'll take that 2% of bodyweight (for JR we estimated it's 1150lbs) which is 23lbs and make 80% of that Forage and 20% of that Concentrates.

In addition to ratios and percentages, you need to make sure the horse is getting the right amount of energy, so you find out how many Mcals are in your Forage and Concentrate. In order to find out how many Mcals are in your Concentrate, you can call your feed company. For your Forage, you can have it analyzed for a fee. You should have your hay sampled each time you get a new batch.... yeah right. Like anybody does that!

Then you just make sure the horse is getting all the vitamin and mineral needs and you're all set. Sound complicated? It is, but it doesn't have to be. The reality is that the hay he's being fed today probably isn't at all the same as the hay we sampled, but hay doesn't differ all that much if it's the same type (ie Grass vs. Alfalfa). It's all a bunch of guess work, really. Most equine feeds have the nutrients they need.

Bottom line is to feed good quality forage and add grain or ration balancers if needed. If your horse is healthy, in good weight, and is performing how you want him to, then you're doing just fine. We're NOT doing just fine. Junior is overweight. He was underweight when I got him in September of 2009, but the pictures on his coggins papers from October 2007 show him to be overweight, too. It seems he's an easy keeper.

His current ration was supposed to be 4 flakes (12-13lbs) of hay and 6lbs grain/day, or at least that's what we thought he was getting. It is difficult to estimate with the "1/2 scoop" method and when I actually weighed on of his feedings I found he was getting 5.5lbs of grain IN ONE MEAL. So he was getting way more than he should've been getting. I began weighing and pre-bagging my own feed the next day.

We're going to go with 2% of his bodyweight and an 80:20 ratio. Junior has a BCS of around 8 so he could really stand to lose a few lbs. Since September he's been feed approximately 25% more DE (Digestible Energy) than he needs, NOT including the grazing forage he was still getting at the time. So we're going to start with 2.0% and then if he doesn't get into a better BCS I'll drop him to 1.5% but it will take a while to see progress.

He'll be getting 6 flakes of hay (approximately 18-19.5lbs) and 3lbs of grain per day. The Concentrate will be a 50/50 mix of the barn grain and Seminole Wellness Safe & Lite. The mixture is purely to save $$. Since the hay will be costing me an extra $30/month using some of the grain I'm already paying for with my board will be better. The Safe & Lite has 26% fiber which is really high and will actually bring up the digestibility of the fiber in the forage.

You shouldn't make drastic changes in your horse's feed, so this past week I've gradually lightened his grain from the 5.5lbs he was getting to 3lbs. Over this next week, that 3lbs will lighten to 1.5lbs and he'll get one extra flake starting midweek. Then over the next week I'll slowly swap out half the barn grain for the Safe & Lite, and add the 6th flake. Then we'll have to see how it goes. I'll take the 5th and 6th flakes away during the summer good grazing time and hopefully he won't balloon again.

Oh, and I stopped the Smart Calm. When I started pre-bagging I did every-other day, than a third day, and then just stopped it. I haven't noticed a difference yet, so that's good. I have a whole month of it sitting and waiting to see if I need it, but I do not anticipate that I do. The Safe & Lite contains Magnesium anyway.

In addition to what TJ taught me, I read this book: Equine Nutrition and it helped me a lot. It's written for the average horse owner in plain English.


We've had two SMS lessons now. I like to have video of my training sessions for two reasons: 1) I suck at judging things like speed and angles while I'm mounted/leading and 2)I like to have a record of where we've been and possible progress. It's only our 3rd time doing it and our first time doing it without KAT there.

This was our worst of the 3, and our best is still a very long way from ring ready, even for the little shows we go to. Remember, when I did showmanship it was simpler and easier. So far we've been working on teaching him the body language cues of HALT, Squareup, pivot, walk, and jog off, and back. He doesn't really like to stand still and he gets bored and tries to nibble everything in sight. Our sets are not perfect. Right now "close" is good enough. We'll start asking for better and better sets. KAT says you don't want to demand perfection yet because if you shift them constantly the horses get really unsure of their feet and end up sort of dancing around.

So the following video is full of mistakes. I was dismayed to realize our "backs" drift to my left. In an attempt to keep his body aligned by pushing his face away from me (he tends to swing his rump out) I've been pushing his whole body left. Ooops. He's definitely "getting it" but we have a LOT of work to do. Hopefully someday I'll be able to do a comparison video and we will notice some improvement!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

New Buddy

Junior has had a rotating set of turnout buddies since we began turning him out last spring. He started with Max, Lefty, and Zippy. Lefty went to another barn early last spring. Then Vienna, the little Arab mare started going out with them and Max went on stall rest and is still not being turned out with the others. (He and Junior get to go out together on weekends, though, when Max's mom is there to watch.) Then we sadly lost poor Vienna. Recently, a new addition came into the group, a little Welsh Pony gelding named Charlie. or "Chuckles" as I've heard some people call him. I have a soft spot for Welshies and it seems Junior does, too. I've not witnessed it yet, but I've had many reports of the two geldings playing halter tag and play fighting. It seems Junior finally found someone who will play rough with him. We're constantly finding little scrapes on him, but his attitude is GREAT. He's having so much fun! Here's Charlie and then a few pictures (taken by one of Max's girls) of Junior messing with him. I was told JR dragged him backwards by the tail flap..... sure hope that's a strong blanket!


"What? What'd I do?"

Thursday, January 14, 2010

The Day the Earth Stood Still...kind of. And by "Earth" I mean my pony.

This entry will be dual purpose. First I will tell you about our very first Showmanship lesson, then I will entertain you with stories of Megacals and Forage to Concentrate ratios!

Part One, in which Junior holds still for 2.1 seconds....
I did showmanship in 4-H. So I have a basic grasp of the concept. I do NOT, however understand how Showmanship has evolved from sort of a Kudos to the Handler who presented his halter horse with style and presence to this bizarre series of walk-halt-square-quarter-back-180-jog-360-back-720-jog-reverse 180-jog-halt-square----- gulp. The first Showmanship class I saw at Congress made my brain hurt. When I showed it was: walk to judge-square-quarter-180-jog-halt-square. That was it.

For the few of you who haven't a clue what I am talking about Watch This and This.

I must admit the allure. The training and precision involved is very difficult to attain, but in some ways I liken it to what trail class has become. Instead of opening gates and mailboxes and flinging jackets over your horses face (you know, stuff you might encounter on a trail or hack) it has become "Poles" class. When the HELL will you ever encounter a need for that skill OUTSIDE of that class? Even if you actually found an entire field full of fallen trees (whose trunks happen to be white and uniform in size) you wouldn't go loping over them and turning little circles inside them. Or at least I wouldn't. But I digress.

Junior had his feet trimmed in the morning and spent the day in his stall. He was very pleasant when I brought him to the arena and was kind of lazy. Pleasant, but lazy. KAT got us started with setting up square (all hooves square under the body) and quartering (moving around the horse's head in relationship to where the judge is walking around the horses body) and then we started turns, walking and jogging. He was a bit mouthy as I expected and he needed a few stern reprimands but he was pretty good overall. He actually stood WAY better than I expected. His head didn't hold still as much as his feet did. He learns SOOO fast, but he simply chooses not to do what is asked sometimes. I can see it in in his eyes. He's nine going on three. Thinks he's a baby. I should start calling him Peter Pan. GROW UP! Anyway, it was kind of fun and I was really happy with how he did. It seemed KAT was pleasantly surprised with him, too. She has a shoulder injury right now so she couldn't take him from me and teach him anything, but I think we learned a lot! He started getting really bored, though and suddenly KAT said "Oh! No wonder they're getting bored! It's 6:15!" Anyone would be bored with 75 minutes of showmanship practice! So I made him square up one more time and stand, then I took the chain off and scratched him all over under the halter and took him back to his hay. I'm trying to make having the chain under the chin mean "work time" since it's the only time I put a chain there.

Part Two: When good numbers go bad!!!!
And now on to Nutrition! I ordered a new feed! Yup, I finally made a dang decision! My brain is still swimming with numbers. Who knew it was this complicated!!! I have a fear I'm over calculating but we'll just have to see. I sent my final calculations to my "teacher" TJ tonight and I'm very curious to see if I messed it all up or if I actually got it all. She's been trying to teach me what she learned in a 10 week course for Equine Science and Pre-Vet majors. She's doing a good job, but there's just a lot to wrap your brain around and math and science were NEVER my strong courses.

So, before I reveal ALL the details I'm asking you to share YOUR feed rations with me. And if you're like I was up until the end of November when TJ presented me with a 1/2" thick packet of Junior's current ration analysis and possible new rations, I'd like to know that too! Answer all or some! So:
  1. What percentage of your horse's body weight are you feeding?
  2. What is the weight ratio of Forage(hay/pasture) to Concentrates(grain)?
  3. What brand/type of Concentrate do you feed?
  4. How much does it cost you to feed your horse? Is it included in your board?
  5. Do you weigh your hay and grain?
  6. Have you ever had a hay/pasture analysis done?
  7. What do you base your feeding decisions on? (yes, that's vague, but before November my answer was "it's the food that's at the barn" which is the food that 90% of my barn eats and they are just fine.)
There are no wrong answers here. Please share. Then, pending TJ's vast frustration with how NOT correct my numbers were, I will share with you the math that plagues my dreams as of late.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Ha! I did it!

I did it! And I didn't die!

Okay, so I didn't think I would DIE, but something has kept me from riding my own horse bareback for 16 months. Yes, I know we're sans saddle in my avatar and side-bar pics. That was the first and last time I attempted it and those are pretty much the only two pictures that don't look like he hates me. Here are two examples that show how much fun we were NOT having on that day in October '08:


Compare this one to my avatar.....

I'm not really sure it took me so long to try it again. I kept telling myself that I should ride bareback more often since it is one of the many ways to become a better rider. I kept telling myself to do it but somehow kept on not actually doing it. Then I realized that I was afraid to do it but I could not rationalize that fear, and believe me: I am AWESOME at rationalizing my fear!!! So somehow I talked myself into doing it today. And it was just fine!

He stood perfectly still for me (something I absolutely DEMAND he learn to do) on a loose rein while I mounted and tried to get myself situated. I can clearly see his fat deposits when I'm up there without a saddle to hide it! I couldn't really ride up close to his withers since I don't have a pad - ouch - but I found a comfy enough seat. I asked him to lift his back and WOW did I feel the change in his back muscles and spine!!! He didn't want to keep it there and I wonder if having my weight concentrated over one area rather than spread out on the bars of the saddle makes lifting his back uncomfortable. He wasn't very good about keeping his neck flat and relaxed, but I wasn't being very good about monitoring since I was too busy monitoring my balance and how weird it felt not having a saddle underneath me. I don't know how long it's been since I rode a horse truly bareback. It might be since my 4-H days! I walk-jog-loped in both directions and did a few pivots but not much else. So it's done. We've done some bareback.
I will never feel as comfortable bareback as with a saddle, but I was relieved that I could ride all three gaits and I didn't lose my balance and scare myself, nor did I have to ask him to stop or grab mane or bounce on him. It was pretty easy. The last horse I rode bareback (with pad) was my dear Banee last summer. She is an interesting case because she is so sensitive that I learned to ride nearly without using my legs. Any leg pressure she takes as a cue to do something fancy. You want a lead change? Just nudge her. Another one? Nudge her with the other leg. She would do tempi changes! So when riding bareback, you have to be careful. If you close your legs for balance she goes faster or does something a lead change...or three. But today with Junior I was able to close my legs around him and that was very helpful and quite comfortable. If I had had a pad to cover his withers It would have been even nicer. He was a very good boy.

I was thinking to myself about how the Native Peoples (and most likely the Europeans and Asians, too) started riding bareback. As impressive as it is to watch those historical re-enactors gallop bareback while shooting a bow, I also know that they used saddles when appropriate. Just like any technology - if they had had it, they would have used it. So I shall not feel too badly about using my saddle, but I will remember it is a saddle and not an easy-chair.

I start my western lessons back up tomorrow and Junior and I will be starting SHOWMANSHIP lessons soon! This will be interesting!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Smooth Move.

With classes and my theatre work up and running, I'm riding 3-5 times a week. We've been doing fine. When he's on he's ON and that is increasing all the time. Last night he did a text-book perfect (at least from what I know) lope to jog transition. Usually I have to ask him down, he TROTS and I need to urge his spine up and bump his face until he slows down. I didn't have to haul on his mouth or give him a spur reminder or even ask him to slow from a trot to a jog. I just asked him down and there he was, jogging along in the same manner and frame as we were loping. It happened so fast it took me a second to accept it. It'll probably never happen again, but it was a great feeling! I gave him a ton of "good boys" and was glad he did it fast enough that I didn't adjust him so he was able to see that if he does it that way he gets left alone.

We're still having right lead weirdness. I don't notice it at all when he's lunging so I'm fairly positive it's me. I've been trying to ride that lead with no stirrups to keep my balance true, but it's still weird. One of my barn mates is speaking with an Equine Chiro about her horses and I asked her to find out the initial cost and that I was interested in sharing a barn call with her. I just hope it won't cost me so much I can't eat for a month! I fear it's a combination of saddle fit and my balance. There's always something? Right?

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Halters and other broken things.

I gave JR the day off yesterday (Saturday) so I could try to get caught up with work stuff since classes start tomorrow. Don't get me wrong, I love my job, but the first day of school still sucks, for students AND the teachers, but the teachers have to be upbeat and give the impression that the term is going to be enlightening, stimulating, and a barrel of fun, lest the students tune out the ENTIRE quarter. Students get to sit there mopey eyed and stare at the clock hoping the prof. will let them out early and not give them homework on the first day. I WILL let them out early, but I will also give them their first homework assignment. But I digress...

Today it was a whopping 14 degrees outside, and that is without the windchill. It was 20 degrees in the barn so I needed to let my buckets thaw in the heated bathroom while I did my stuff. He still had some flowing water, but there was about an inch of ice all around the bucket and a horse nose sized hole in the top, and the other bucket was empty with just a coating of ice. I didn't feel like riding and I didn't want to spend much time in the freezer so I took him to the arena, took his blanket off, lunged him, put his blanket back on and took him back to his stall with fresh water. He took a drink right away.

I was surprised that I was not cold but I was wearing a stocking cap, Champion Baselayer top (like Underarmour but 1/3 the price), turtleneck, fleece, down vest, long underwear bottoms, fleece lined jeans, my Mountain Horse Inferno jacket, my Mountain Horse Thinsulate paddock boots, and my Thinsulate leather gloves and I was there for less than an hour. There was noone around to hang out with so I did my thing and left. His halter still looks good, but I don't think he's been turned out since he got it so time will tell. I've only had adjustable nosebands with him and I like the non-adjustable better for lunging. It didn't get all twisted around with the chain. I cut the rest of the noseband off his green halter that he broke (after investigating he broke a little piece off the chin buckle detaching it from it's nylon) and replaced it with the leather noseband of his leather halter that he broke last summer. So now it's his emergency Frankenhalter which will be in his bridle bag in case he breaks this new one. I can see he's been chewing on one of his nylon bucket straps so I'm just waiting to have to Franken-something while I take it home to fix. I also had to replace one of the clips on his legstraps that broke while I was away. It's a good thing I can sew! I had to put a plastic clip on since that was all I could find at JoAnns, so i know it won't last, but it was a $2 stop-gap until I place an order to Schneiders in the spring when he earns enough lesson credits to buy himself a new blanket, :) or I find a metal one at Rods on Friday.

I'm going to open a checking account just for horse stuff. I am terrible at budgeting and keeping track of purchases in my head. I think if I have a second checking account that I put my horse budget in each month, I will know exactly what he's costing me, and then when show season comes there will be $ in there for shows. I'm putting in there my same budget as before he was in the lesson program, so his lesson credits sort of "earn" him money. I can always transfer funds if I need to. We'll see when I find the time to get to the bank!

TJ is back from Christmas Break so we can get back to our feeding project, and she's leasing a horse at the barn so we'll get to ride together way more than once a week. Stay tuned for the details on that. What am I talking about? Go Here.

With classes starting I will be back down to Monday-Wednesday-Friday rides and one or two weekend days per week. Sometimes I'll have to skip one or more of the weekdays. At the end of the summer I was riding almost every day. Junior wasn't any skinnier but I was. I actually had lost 1/2" from my calves and 1" from my thighs since the spring. And now? Now I feel like the stay-puff marshmallow man. I never measured my waist but I can tell the definition I had in August is GONE. As soon as classes started in the fall and I cut back to 3-5 days a week instead of 5-7 days/week I lost muscle and metabolism and started gaining weight. I can still wear all my clothes and everything, but this has got to stop. So we're going to try to eat better. It sucks though because I've used food as a reward for myself for YEARS and I've yet to find something to replace it with. I tried buying things as a reward but that just makes me broke. I lost 30 lbs once, but I was living with someone who had just lost 60lbs on Weight Watchers and she was an incredibly effective tool. I simply started eating like her. If she didn't go back for seconds, I didn't. If she said no to ice cream, I said no. It worked. Hopefully this time I can do it by myself. Any ideas? Just don't tell me to exercise. That's just not going to happen. Trust me.