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

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Planning for the Unexpected

There's a saying that goes something like "you can run cattle in a field for a hundred years with no incidence but put a horse in there and within 10 minutes he'll find every gopher hole, loose wire, stray branch, etc."

It just seems our equine friends are prone to injury.  I've encountered the routine cut or skinned leg along with the not-so-routine hoof puncture and corneal ulceration.  Through the years, I've seen the importance of a well-stocked first aid kit.

In the short time I've owned horses, I've managed to assemble a pretty decent first aid kit.  It started by combing the Internet and looking for suggestions.  It grew from the practical experience of actually doctoring my horses.  Each year I go through the contents and check inventory levels and expiration dates.

In their article, Your Barn's First Aid Kit,The Horse* recommends the following items:

  • A rectal veterinary thermometer—the plastic digital kind is safer around the barn than a glass one, and gives faster readings.
  • A pair of safety scissors (with rounded ends so you don’t accidentally cut into your horse if you’re snipping off a bandage).
  • Another pair of small, sharp scissors, for suture removal.
  • A stethoscope (inexpensive ones can be purchased through medical supply stores or pharmacies for less than $30).
  • Self-sticking bandages such as Vetrap.
  • Gauze squares at least three inches by three inches (where horses are concerned, larger is better!).
  • Vaseline or another type of lubricating jelly (for the thermometer and for protecting the tender skin of your horse’s heels from chapping if you have to cold-hose a leg injury for several days).
  • Medical adhesive tape.
  • Gauze bandage such as Kling.
  • Some type of cold pack, for days when cold hosing a new injury just isn’t possible—chemical packs that create "instant cold" are available, although in a pinch you can use a bag of frozen peas from your freezer.
  • Stable bandages and quilts.
  • An antiseptic wound cream (yellow furacin ointment is a popular choice) and a spray-on wound treatment such as furazolidone or Topagen.
  • Hydrogen peroxide—its bubbling action is useful for cleaning dirt out of fresh wounds and for dealing with thrush (a fungal infection of the hooves), but don’t use it routinely on a healing wound as it will inhibit the healing process.
  • An antiseptic scrub such as Betadine (povidone-iodine, or "tamed" iodine) or Nolvasan (chlorhexidine).
  • Latex gloves.(consider latex-free just in case anyone treating your horse has a latex allergy.)
  • A flashlight to help you see wounds in a gloomy stall at midnight.
  • A bottle of saline solution—useful for cleaning out wounds in delicate places like around the eyes. A bottle of contact lens saline solution with a squirt nozzle is perfect.
  • A roll of sterile cotton.
  • Pre-moistened alcohol swabs (you can find these at your pharmacy, individually wrapped)—good for cleaning small wounds or creating a cleaner site for injections.
  • A bottle of rubbing alcohol, for sterilizing instruments.
  • Forceps or tweezers, for removing splinters, ticks, or other nasties.
  • Epsom salts (magnesium sulfate)—mix with warm water to soak an abscessed foot.
  • Iodine shampoo—good for various skin conditions, as directed by your vet.
  • A quick-to-apply poultice such as Animalintex (which can be used hot or cold).
  • Thick sanitary napkins (the obstetrical pads you can get at a hospital or pharmacy are good) or disposable diapers, for applying direct pressure to a bleeding wound.
  • A hoof pick—you can never have too many.
  • A farrier’s rasp and nippers, for removing a shoe if you need to (ask your farrier if he has cast-off ones he can donate to your cause).
  • A hoof knife.
  • Duct tape—useful in any emergency, and especially good for hoof wraps, as it’s water-resistant, moldable, and fairly durable.
I am proud to say I have just about everything on that list in my first aid kit.  And almost morbidly proud to say I've used it all!  The article also makes suggestions beyond the basics and I plan on checking out some additions to my kit.  A few extras I have in my first aid kit:
  • a roll of garbage bags - makes any bucket a clean bucket
  • a couple tubes of electrolytes
  • safety razors
  • human first aid supplies
  • antiseptic wipes (in addition to alcohol wipes)
I have also recently ordered Dr. Eleanor Kellon's book on basic first aid for horses.

So, have you checked your first aid kit recently?  Might be the time to do so.

*The Horse may require registration to view the article. Registration is free and the site is an invaluable resource as all articles are veterinarian approved.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The Importance of Footfalls

It's about time I better understood footfalls.

I've been reading Wendy Murdoch's Simplify Your Riding and I just finished watching Eitan Beth-Halachmy's Poetry In Motion: Understanding Your Horse from the Inside Out.  I also have Mark Rashid's Understanding Foot-Fall and Influencing Movement but have yet to watch it.

I know the basic sequence for each gait and I know the phases of movement for each leg.  I know which diagonal I should be posting and I know that the canter is initiated from the hind.  I know lots of stuff about footfalls but I don't truly understand them.

It's high time that changed.

To understand footfall is to know, at any given moment, where the feet are - both in sequence and in phase.  It means feeling the movement of the horse and timing a request at the moment the horse is able to make a commitment about where the foot will next land.

Simplify Your Riding, a fabulous book that is no longer in print, has wonderful photos and information about timing requests to the footfall to effect the movement you want.  So timing your trot request at the right moment in the walk sequence allows you to rise on the correct diagonal on the first beat of the trot.  Timing a downward transition at the right moment allows you to ease into the lower gait.  Pretty cool?!

I wish this had been impressed upon me earlier.  Not that I could have done much about it.  Until the last year or two, most of my time on Cricket's back has been about survival.  I started getting a good feel for footfall about 2 years ago when I was up at Carol's in the deeper sand of her indoor arena.  I played with it and got pretty good about feeling the landing phase of each foot at the walk and getting a feel for the trot diagonals.  Then everything kind of went by the wayside when I started working on canter and freestyle riding.

In the last month or two, I've started gaining a better appreciation for the connection between how Cricket moves and how she feels.  When I can influence her body to be correct and balanced, her mind is much more relaxed and obedient.  I've not completely given up on my freestyle riding or finishing my L3 but I am exploring ways to improve Cricket's physical response and in turn I'm seeing her offer more.  Hmm, how interesting!

Monday, April 4, 2011

Those Moments

The horse. Here is nobility without conceit; friendship without envy; beauty without vanity. A willing servant, yet no slave. ~ Ronald Duncan

I have often fallen into the debate of mares vs. geldings.  And I always stand in defense of my mares.  Geldings are jolly and playful, existing in a state of constant adolescence.  Mares, especially alpha mares, are mercurial; as changing as quicksilver.  Their role is leader, protector, mother and teacher.  They know to conserve energy for flight from danger.  They know how to yield for the good of the herd.  They demand respect but cannot be commanded to be respectful.  You must win the admiration of mare; merit her obedience.  Those moments are fleeting, golden and powerful.

When, by chance, luck and a dash of skill, I manage to evince one of these moments, my breath is stolen and I stand in awe of my sweet mare.

Saturday afternoon I decided to ride ride Cricket and get a little help on my left lead canter.  I know my riding dynamic is affecting Cricket's ability to move correctly into her left lead just as it's inhibiting my ability to comfortable ride her left lead.  Through my own experimentation and observation, coupled with discussions with friends, I've figured out that the what I need to do is somewhat counter to what I've been taught in Freestyle riding.

My friend Kathy has been successfully using a weave pattern to set the horse and rider up for clean, correct canter departs and she coached me through the pattern with Cricket.

We started on the right lead so I could get a feel for what I was doing before I moved to the more challenging lead.  The first time through on the left, Cricket picked up the correct lead but I was a moment or so behind on my request and so it was a little disjointed.

The second time through, I kept my focused and timed my request at the exact right moment.  I wish I could have seen a picture of what I felt.

Power.  Control.  Grace.  Athleticism.  Collection.  Obedience.  Exuberance.  Flexion.  Lightness.  Elegance.

There are no words that adequately describe what I felt.

Cricket departed from the hind and powered over her back, picking up a soft and collected left lead canter.  It was the most amazing thing I've ever felt.  Not to be too graphic, but it was orgasmic.

In a moment, she gave me everything.  Willingly.  I hold onto that moment as a glimpse of what is possible with my horse.