Happiness is not a matter of intensity but of balance, order, rhythm and harmony. ~ Thomas Merton

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Nutrition and Cricket's Headshaking

I have fielded several questions about my nutrition program with Cricket so I've decided just to post about it.

When Cricket began headshaking for the second time, I began an 18 month journey into every aspect of my care and treatment of my horse. Initial attempts to treat just the behavior were wildly unsuccessful and often resulted in increased frustration for me and more violent headshaking from Cricket.

The hardest part about dealing with this issue was the seeming lack of connection between each episode. I couldn't tie it to the weather or the time of day or even Cricket's heat cycles.

The beginning of my nutritional odyssey started when I found a website that linked head rubbing with head shaking. The website, which I've since lost, was for a woman in England who practiced Traditional Chinese Medicine. In an email exchange she helped me see Cricket's head rubbing not as itchiness but as an attempt to interrupt the misfiring of her trigeminal nerve. She cautioned me to cease all vaccinations and all chemical dewormers as Cricket's system was too delicate to tolerate the toxins.

On a whim I searched for "headshaking" in the Savvy Club vault and it yielded a brief article from Linda talking about headshaking in horses that are very sensitive but tend to hold everything inside. And that's when I started to understand that this is my horse - highly sensitive and yet extremely internal.

And it was then that I began to see the inextricable link between the physical, the mental and the emotional.

It was all tied together when I read an article in The Horse. It was fascinating research on equine headshaking. And it made total sense. Dr. Madigan of UC Davis, recommended nutritional support to raise the threshold for the firing of the trigeminal nerve. Based on his recommendations and other research, I made some changes to my nutrition program

The two main additions to Cricket's nutrition program were Magnesium and Spirulina.

I feed Cricket 4 oz of Quiessence from Foxden Equine. This provides Cricket with 5 mg of chelated Magnesium and 15 mg of Magnesium Oxide. Magnesium plays a role in muscle function and digestion. Stored in the muscle fibre, Magnesium assists the muscle tissue in returning to a relaxed state following contraction. It also works in the digestive tract to clear glucose from the blood stream. Low levels of Magnesium can contribute to higher blood glucose levels which leads to metabolic issues and an increase in fatty deposits at the crest, shoulder and tail head. Low Magnesium also affects the muscle's ability to relax and Magnesium-deficient horses can be hyper, excitable, nervous and fractious.

She also gets 20 g of Spirulina. Spirulina is available in different forms - wafers and bulk powder. The wafers might be easier to feed but the bulk powder is much cheaper. Spirulina is considered a super food and provides the body with amazing levels of essential nutrients. It is beneficial to the immune system and aids the body in dealing with stress.

Cricket continues to receive Dynamite for her basic vitamin and mineral needs along with Chastetree Berry for her hormonal support. Unrelated to her headshaking but something I will continue is some form of Omega 3 supplementation. Due to pasture depletion and the over-processing of most equine feed, our horses' diets are too high in Omega-6 and not nearly high enough in Omega-3. While both are essential fatty acids, present in the wrong ratio they do not function effectively in the horse's system. A main function of Omega-3 is to control inflammation. Without sufficient Omega-3, the body tries to use Omega-6 but the function of Omega-6 is to promote inflammation.

Note: I am not an equine nutritionist. I have researched headshaking and possible treatments through nutrition. I have made decisions for my horse based on my research and consultation with professionals when I felt necessary.

A Look Back and A Leap Forward

As 2009 draws to a close, I am thinking about everything that has happened this year. It has been a very good year. I cannot help but reflect on how my horsemanship has changed over the past year. I guess it's a picture of how I have changed as well.

Cricket and I started the year awash in frustration and fear. Her headshaking was making riding sessions difficult. While things had improved over the previous summer, it was still unpredictable and unnerving to ride. Cricket was obviously upset and I wasn't able to help her. Our groundwork was deteriorating as Cricket became less willing to offer anything more than the bare minimum on-line. Liberty was a disaster as she refused to draw to me in the round corral and preferred to just leave if we were in the arena.

My low point came in August when I seriously considered getting rid of her and getting out of horses all together.

And then everything began to change. I found a way to help her with her headshaking by adjusting her nutrition. We experienced a quantum leap in our riding during fall camp when it just all came together. Then the thirty day program saw advances I'd only dreamed about.

As the year draws to a close, I cannot help smiling as I think about what we have accomplished. I feel more confident cantering my horse. I feel confident riding her at the walk and trot with just a carrot stick. But it continues to improve and my confidence continues to grow. Playing at liberty has become the dance it once was. Cricket is starting to offer more life on-line.

Now comes the leap forward. Tomorrow starts the new year and my new enterprise with my horsemanship. My goal is to spend time with Cricket every day until my spring camp in May. It doesn't have to be major, 10 minutes of something positive and progressive. To help, I may create a set of "get out of jail free" cards to give me a few days where I don't have to do anything.

It will be hardest during the winter months when it is cold, dark and possibly wet. But I have a covered arena and I can layer my clothing.

The end result, if all goes according to plan, will be my green string. And it's okay if it takes longer. But that's my carrot.

Here's to a new year and a new chapter in the journey.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Getting Back to ME

I am finally getting back to my life as I want it.

Right before Thanksgiving Cricket lost a shoe. Taking the opportunity to give her feet a breather, I had my farrier pull the other three. She ended up sore on all four feet. There just wasn't enough hoof growth to allow her comfort after he tidied up each foot.

The Tuesday after Thanksgiving all hell broke loose at work and I ended up putting in very long hours for two weeks, including working on the weekend.

I was able to get out to see Cricket once during that time. I called to her and she whipped her head around as if to say, "Where have you been?! I've missed you!" It was so hard going from seeing her every day to not seeing her for almost two weeks.

My brother and sis-in-law arrived the week before Christmas and what time I had off was now devoted to visiting with family I hadn't seen in about 18 months.

I finally got out to the barn for some really horse time yesterday. I know the importance of rebuilding the rapport with Cricket. We started in the lush field with hand grazing and some simple "respect my leadership" games. I worked on some circle game with her, asking for canter transitions and change of direction. Her canter was wonderful. Her change of direction was better than ever. I played with the techniques Pat (re)introduces in the new L3 On-Line program. I got at least one FLC from right to left but none left to right. She was, however, more willing to pick up the right lead canter after the FLC. I'm pretty sure I need to have the chiropractor out.

We went into the arena and played a little at liberty. Before the 30 day program, her open area liberty consisted of a left-brain bolt. Now she is very connected and it feels wonderful. I used "late and light" (from the new L3 Liberty program) and our stick to me was better.

More as a friendly game than anything else, I asked her up to the mounting block. I just played with jumping and laying over her back. Cricket can get snarky with mounting so I'm trying to play more friendly game. I decided to get on and when I sat up, she was stock still. I shimmied around a bit. No bad ears, no turning to bite. I asked her over to the rail and I took the string off my stick. We walked around the arena totally nekkid - her not me, this is a family barn, after all.

We did a little follow the rail, some turns and halts. She pitched a minor fit when I asked her to move away from some friend with whom I'd been visiting. She settled down and we just stood in the middle of the arena. I asked her for lateral flexion with the stick. She was pretty soft and I decided that was enough. I hadn't been on her back in about a month and my first ride was bareback and bridleless - not too shabby!

We finished with a little liberty in the paddock. I just need to get to and get that filmed! At the end, I allowed her to graze. She was fantastic.

I am so pleased with her. Despite the time off, she was pretty willing to give me back my leadership. I felt at ease on her even though it had been weeks. I cannot wait to start putting in more time with her!