The Bridle

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After my last post there were a few questions about different parts of the harness so I thought I would do a post about them! I’ll start with the bridle.

As I stated in my last post I like to have only one wrinkle at the corner of my horse’s mouth. When I was in 4-H I was told to have 3 wrinkles and I remember the judge checking that! But I was told by an old cowboy friend to do that to myself and see how it felt. It didn’t feel good so I started having only one wrinkle or if the horse will allow, no wrinkle. (No wrinkle means the horse really has to hold the bit. When the bit is this loose they can get their tongue over it and that is very painful for the horse!)

The photo on the left is a close up of one wrinkle. Then I took a photo a bit farther back so you can see how the bridle looks. Not too loose and not too tight!

Photo on the left shows 2-3 wrinkles and a bridle that is much too tight. Not only is the bit too high in the mouth but it would be very difficult to get the horse’s ears into this bridle without bending them in half. You do have to slip the ears into the bridle but needing to cram them under it by bending the ear means everything is just too tight.

I like there to be a bit of space between the corner of my horse’s mouth and the bit. I don’t like the sides of the bit to touch the corner of the mouth.

This bit is from Chimacum Tack and is the 4″ bit. However when you measure it with a soft tape it measures 4 1/4″. Her old bit measures 4″. Even that little bit mattered! When I put this bit in her mouth she completely stopped chewing the bit and was less reactive when turning.

Here is a video of how I bridle Sky:

The horse’s eye should be in the middle of the blinders. Not higher and not lower. This can be tricky to adjust and sometimes you need to put a hole in between the holes on either the upper part or the lower part of the cheek pieces. When we were adjusting this harness for Sky many years ago we realized that Sky’s eyes are actually set quite high on her face. We hadn’t really noticed that before!

You can see that her eye is exactly in the middle of the blinders!

In the above photo you can see that her eye is too high inside the blinders. This means the upper part of the cheek strap needs to be tightened up! But if your bit is sitting just right and you have to tighten the top strap to adjust the blinders, then you need to adjust the lower cheek strap down one hole so your bit doesn’t get too tight.

Hopefully this cleared a few things up for those that had questions. If it brought up more questions please feel free to ask!

Proper Driving – From Posture to Harnessing

Proper Driving From Posture to Harnessing - www.theessentialhorse.com

Miniature horses have some of the biggest hearts of the equine world… especially pound for pound. They will throw their entire body, heart and soul into working for someone they love and have a connection with – contrary to popular belief that all ponies and minis are a$$holes! (Believe me I’ve heard that over and over in all the years I’ve been driving ponies and minis!!)

With that in mind what can we do to help make their job easier and more enjoyable? There are many little things that add up to a happy horse and happy driver!

First of all – posture. Posture is very important when riding, though I feel it’s often overlooked when driving. After all, we are sitting in a cart not on the horse – so how could our body position effect the horse? The answer is A LOT! I see so many people driving their horses like this:

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Arms straight out, back rounded, leaning forward in the cart. Surprisingly I see many people driving like this in the show ring! The posture in the above photo isn’t even as bad as I’ve seen. Typically when someone is driving like this they are putting pressure on the saddle of the harness which is putting weight and pressure directly on the horse. If you find yourself driving like this… lengthen your reins!! Typically people are doing this when they feel a bit out of control and are shortening their reins too much. A rule of thumb –  don’t put pressure on BOTH reins at the same time as that just causes the horse to push into the pressure more. Hold lightly with one rein and put a little bit of pressure on the other. Not turning pressure but “talking” pressure.

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In this photo you can see that the cart is tipping slightly forward, messing with the carefully managed balance of the cart.

Just as when riding, you want a bend in your elbow when holding the reins. There should not a straight line from the horse’s mouth through to your shoulder, but a straight line from the horse’s mouth to your elbow…

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This is Sky’s power extended trot. She is such an amazing mare! This trot is the most awesome thing to sit behind! Notice how the cart is now balanced correctly. The shafts are literally floating the shaft loops. Here’s a video of that as well:

 

 

Something that I notice is often missing is the single tree. This is actually a very important thing for every single cart to have. If your cart doesn’t have one, buy one and put it on! The single tree helps the horse pull the weight of your vehicle by allowing the swinging motion of the horses shoulders. If you don’t have a single tree your horse will become sore in both the shoulders and the neck. Also please, please do not wrap your traces around your shafts before hooking them to the single tree. If your traces are so long then get shorter ones.

Here is a video of the single tree in action:

How you sit in the cart will directly effect how well your horse can do it’s job – give you an enjoyable ride. You are not sitting in a recliner so don’t kick back and be lazy. If you are driving an easy entry cart, have one foot forward to prevent you from bouncing forward onto your mini if you hit a big bump or your mini stops suddenly or spooks.

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Contrary to popular belief there is a weight limit per mini. As a rule of thumb I do not expect my mini to pull more than her own weight for long periods of time. If that means I have to lose some weight then so be it! I have lost over 30 pounds since February in order to make Sky’s load more equal to her weight, including the cart. For shorter periods of time and with a properly fitting harness and well balanced cart a mini horse can pull 1 1/2 times their own weight. With a properly fitting harness and a well built four wheeled vehicle a mini can pull twice their body weight on flat, smooth ground for short periods of time. Typically my mini pulled this much weight when we were in parades with my wooden buggy, pulling me and my two little boys plus, our combined weight plus the wagon weight. You will hear many different opinions about how much a mini can pull, most of them are wrong. To make a small, fine boned mini pull more than their own weight is unfair and will ensure your mini does not have a good time when driving.

I always pay attention to how my mini feels about me catching her (or him!). If they meet me when I’m carrying the halter or even meet me at the gate then I know I’m doing a good job of keeping them comfortable and they are having a good time. This does not mean you can’t make your mini work! Sky pulls me up some pretty steep inclines, we bounce across fields and through ditches, she walks, trots and canters in cart and we explore all over our area. She comes home sweating but she is always happy to have me halter her and most of the time her ears are forward and happy when we are out and about! If she walks away from me when I go out to catch her I know that the last drive was a bit much. So I’ll make sure to take it a little easier on her this time and see if that changes how she feels about being caught. It always does!

Now onto the harness! Please, please make sure your harness fits your horse well. A too small or a too large harness will make their job more difficult and less comfortable. A harness that is not adjusted well will make their job more difficult and uncomfortable. Your harness should be adjusted the same on both sides. If your girth is on the second hole on the right side, then it needs to be on the second hole on the left side.

**The girth on a harness NEVER needs to be tight. Don’t tighten it down like you would if you were riding. It’s just not necessary.

Make sure your saddle and back strap are in the middle of your horses back…

 

 

 

 

Sky was resting a foot in this photo, but you can see how everything is properly centered. And note that her crupper is on the first hole on the left and the right! I have seen horses get some pretty bad sores from a crupper that isn’t balanced on both sides. That leads me to having the back strap adjusted correctly. It should NOT be loose. The crupper should have just enough space for one finger to slide under it when your finger is flat to their body. This is mostly adjusted by the back strap.

Next is the breeching. This must be about half way down the horse’s butt. I often see it far too low which could result in sweeping the horse’s legs right out from under it as you go down a hill. I’ve actually witnessed this happen to someone else’s horse and it wasn’t pretty! The breeching should be adjusted in such a way that when it engages on a hill it doesn’t tighten with a slap! My rule of thumb is I should be able to just fit three fingers between my horse’s butt and the inside of the breeching. This allows the breeching to engage without “grabbing” my horse…

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My breeching loop on my cart is too far back. I have adjusted my wrapping to make up for this but I recently found out that Patty’s Pony Place sells adjustable breeching loops! I have a set on order so I can adjust my breeching more correctly.

**Side note! We do some pretty rough driving around here so I am also going to order Patty’s Pony Place suspension kit for my easy entry cart.

As for the bridle I don’t like to have that too tight. The old rule of thumb was to have 3 wrinkles at the corners of the horse’s mouth. I had an old cowboy friend have me pull my lips tight and see how that felt after a few seconds. It did not feel good! He always let his horse hold the bit. You have to adjust it a little bit so it doesn’t drop down and hit the horse’s teeth, but I like just one wrinkle, leaving some room for them to hold the bit without it being jammed into their mouth…

 

This bit is from Chimacum tack. It’s the 4″ bit. She had a smaller 3 1/2″ bit earlier in the year and it fit exactly to the corners of her mouth. But when I switched her to this bit she was much happier, less chewing of the bit and less dramatic turning. I like to have a little space on each side of the bit once it’s in the horse’s mouth. There is no need to have everything jammed up as tight as it can be, nor hanging down flapping around as loose as it can be. There is a happy medium!

The horse’s eye should be in the center of the blinders. And a bridle that doesn’t have the wire holding the blinders is not worth having! Without that wire the blinders will often sit right on the horse’s eyes. The blinders should not touch the horse’s eyelashes!

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If there is rubbing from the buckles on the girth and the shaft loop straps you can get a girth cover to help pad that area. You can also cut the foot off a pair of socks and use the tube part to pad the girth! I’ve done that so many times! This is a big black fleece I found on Amazon.

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I need to make a few adjustments to it. It’s a bit too wide so I’ll cut it and resew it to a better width.

There are many ways you can make your horse’s job easier when pulling a vehicle. This information plus much more can be found in my book, Step-By-Step Guide to Training a Miniature Horse to Drive.

Now it’s time to get out there and enjoy your horse! I wish you many happy trails 🙂

 

Spa Day!

Spa Day - www.theessentialhorse.com

Today was the day to bathe and trim and clip some ponies around here! I love having nice, neat, clean ponies. Then I can stand back and admire them. There is just so much to admire!

And of course here are some before and after photos!

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First up is Sky! The before photo is from this spring. I thought she was fat then… and yet she looks fatter now! I do love how her topline is rounding out with all the driving we are doing. I can not believe she can be so round with all the exercise she is getting. I feed all the ponies 2 flakes of hay in each of the 4 hay nets plus 2 flakes of loose hay spread out on the track. That’s it in a 24 hour period! And they always have hay left over in the nets. Sometimes they have loose hay left over as well. So they don’t eat everything in site. Sky gets 2 Tablespoons of Crypto Aero, 1/4 cup of timothy hay pellets topped with 1 teaspoon of Thyro-L and California Trace. I just recently bought some Mojo to address her soreness. I have been thinking that maybe she is getting arthritis. So I’ll slowly add that in. I won’t feed her California Trace at the same time I’m feeding the Mojo because I don’t want to double up on things. We drive 4-5 times a week between 3 and 4 miles a drive. Sometimes we take Zorro and sometimes we go alone! We have only been able to fit in the one hike so far. Life got so crazy and both my truck and my Tahoe broke down so I didn’t have a tow vehicle to get the to the mountains. But the Tahoe is fixed so maybe next week we’ll go hiking! I did have her blood drawn when I had Bonnie’s done and everything came back totally normal. I don’t understand why she won’t lose weight.

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Next up is Bonnie! If you look closely at the summer photo you can just see her ribs. She is completely losing her topline. No hiking, no muscles! She is getting a bit of a belly and I wish I could give her more protein but I have to be so careful because she doesn’t utilize protein very well. She is bright eyed and loves being out on the track all the time with the rest of the ponies. She walks, trots and canters around all the time, snacking on the little things she comes across. So far so good! I keep my fingers crossed all the time. She is getting the same hay as above and I just lowered her back down to 2 Tablespoons of Crypto Aero, 1/4 cup of timothy pellets, 1 teaspoon of Thyro-L, and 1/2 a scoop of California Trace mineral. The only exercise she gets is life on the track. I don’t want to cause any mechanical founder by taking her out on the road.

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Now onto Zorro! Boy does he looks good!!! I wish every single one of you could come here and see him in person. He really is a stunning boy. It’s very hard to get him to be expressive in these photo shoots as nothing startles him or causes him any surprise at all! He stands there sighing and so bored no matter what I throw at him, plastic bags, umbrellas, buckets of grain, the cat, Angus…

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He just thinks it’s all so NORMAL and BORING. I got the expression in the above collage by showing him a peppermint with the wrapper half ripped so he could smell it. Then he got to spend some time licking it….

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He loved it!!

Zorro is such a wonderful boy. I keep saying that but it can’t be said enough. When I go outside I can call his name from anywhere and he will come running to me. If I go out to catch Sky for a drive and don’t take him he tries to body block me from getting to her. He stands at the gate with his head resting on the rails just watching us get ready. If I do pick him he is so so happy! He loves going out no matter what it is we are doing. Sky does kicks his butt when driving because she loves to trot and trot. He does his best to keep up but is very relieved when we get to walk a little bit. He is still a baby. He’ll grow into himself! He gets the hay listed above and 2 Tablespoons of Crypto Aero, 1/4 cup of timothy hay pellets and 1/2 scoop of California Trace.

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Last but not least is Captain Planet! The track life has made such a difference in him! WOW!! Also roaching his mane was a really good idea. He is heavy but he is built to carry it. He has signs of being IR or at least metabolically challenged so I treat him as such. He gets the same hay as above and 2 Tablespoons of Crypto Aero, 1/4 cup of timothy pellets and 1 scoop of Remission. He is a pet and a companion and does that job perfectly! He and Bonnie will pick on each other a bit. It’s actually funny to watch them. He knows all the buttons to push to make her chase him! But Bonnie doesn’t put much effort into being mean so it’s over almost as soon as it starts.

I just to love my track and so do the ponies!

 

Pasture Analysis: What the WHAT!?

Pasture Analysis: What the WHAT!?

Since Bonnie has been diagnosed with Insulin Resistance I have been obsessed with sugars. Sugars in the hay, sugars in the feed, sugars in the grass, sugars, sugars, sugars. I am so tired of trying to guess where the sugar triggers may be! But I did know that the pasture has a good chance of being high in sugar so I decided I better test it.

I took my first sample on June 24th at 7:30 in the morning after a fairly warm night.

While grass tends to be lower in sugar/starch during the summer, the situation changes as the night time temperatures drop below 40 degrees F, making it especially challenging (and dangerous!) to allow pasture grazing.  -Dr. Julie Getty ‘Testing Your Pasture – For Peace of Mind’

According to the research I’ve been doing my grass ‘should’ be lowest in sugar and starch early in the morning after a relatively warm-ish night. And yet my test came back high in sugar and starch. Sigh. I was so frustrated. It seemed that I wouldn’t be able to use my pasture at all for my ponies.

Trying to decipher the pasture analysis was very confusing. I followed Dr. Getty’s suggestions in her article, Testing Your Pasture – For Peace of Mind

She says you read the “Dry Matter” column for pasture. You need to know the NSC (Non-structural carbohydrates- this will not be on the report. It is calculated as WSC+Starch) and the ESC (Simple Sugars= ESC+Starch) levels. She says we want grass that has NSC below 12% and the ESC+Starch less than 10%.

My analysis shows the ESC is 11.5% and the NSC is 14.3%. Far too high for Bonnie, my IR pony, and too high for my other healthy ponies as well.

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So I thought I would do another analysis in the afternoon. I waited for a very hot day that had a very cool night the night before. That turned out to be July 4th. It was nearly 100 degrees out that afternoon. I took the sample at 3:30 in the afternoon. The results surprised me!!

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The NSC is 9.1% and should be below 12%. And the ESC is 6.5% and should be below 10%!! What the WHAT!? I feel like I’m in bizarro world. EVERYTHING I’ve read says this should not be. Everything. I don’t understand what is going on here, at my place, but everything seems to be backwards. So now my ponies can go out on pasture for a little while in the afternoon/early evening! I don’t let them out every day and I don’t leave them out for more than an hour and Bonnie wears her muzzle, but they do enjoy their time out!

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So if anyone can explain what is going on around here I am open to an explanation! I am on a mission to learn and understand everything I can so I can help Bonnie and keep everyone else healthy and happy!

**A little update on Bonnie –> She can now go all afternoon without her boots on. She is starting to really grow some sole! Whoot whoot! She has also graduated to spending nights out on the track without her muzzle. She is so happy being out with everyone. I have a few adjustments to make with the track and my new hay shed and then she will stay out on the track 24/7. I’m so excited about how well she’s doing! I pray for her every day. I pray that she will continue to do well and will winter well. I’ve been running around trying to find low sugar/low starch hay, testing hay stacks here and hay stacks there! It’s definitely getting expensive, but I have to know what is going on with the hay and my pasture. I will know that I’ve done everything I could to help her be healthy. Now it’s up to her body to repair and rebuild.

 

Our Hike

We went on a beautiful morning hike today. I brought Sky and Zorro. I’ve hiked with Sky around our house and into BLM but we haven’t been able to go up into the mountains until today. And Sky is a hiking MACHINE!!! She absolutely LOVED it. Zorro, on the other hand, looked pretty miserable until we were going downhill. LOL! He was so funny. I think he was pouting because he had to wear bear bells. But they both sounded so happy walking and trotting up the trail… even if Zorro was making faces!

Turn up your volume for the video!

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Sky felt like she should be the leader. So if my boys were ahead of us on the trail she was literally dragging me up the trail to be in front!

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We were standing on the side of the mountain. Zorro looked longingly down the mountain.

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Sky is a wonderful trail horse. When we got into the thick rocky areas she would lower her head and really watch where she was putting her feet.

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Her miniature horse back pack was awesome! I am loving it. I need to save up and get at least one more. That way when we all go hiking the minis can carry our lunch, our water and our sweatshirts.

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At the top of our climb the trail opens up into a lovely meadow. That was our destination today, just a short hike to start Zorro out. Once there I let them graze for a little while.

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Then we started back down the trail! Zorro had a few moments of confusion and rebellion. Interestingly when he is having a little fit he will throw himself down on the ground. We had another mini that used to do that when we made her mad! LOL! It’s an experience! My boys and Sky watched him having his temper tantrum with interest. Finally he was ready to just walk or trot straight down the trail while not body slamming either myself or Sky. Phew! I’ll bet the next time we go hiking, next week, he will follow the trail perfectly! This boy learns things so quickly.

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We have to cross the creek to go up this trail. There is a nice bridge and with a little time to think about it Zorro walked across beautifully! Sky confidently stepped right on and strode across… no thinking needed! LOL On the way back down I wanted to let them look at the water. Zorro was very interested, Sky just wanted to eat.

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Zorro walked right up on the bridge on the way back across! Smart boy! They both were watching the water. I love Sky’s ear in the photo below…

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What a wonderful way to start the day! The plan is to take the ponies on a hike once a week until the snow flies. It’s a great way to exercise them as well as get my boys out of the house and off their computers 😉

 

Sure Foot® Pads!

Sure Foot Pads - www.theessentialhorse.com

Finally! The post about the Sure Foot® pads. I know, I’ve kept you all waiting on pins and needles! I wanted to have some time to use them… to see if there would be any changes worth blogging about and may I say WOW! Definitely changes worth blogging about!

Here is a little blurb about the Sure Foot® pads from their website:

A unique, innovative way for the horse to be his own teacher. Developed by Wendy Murdoch, this revolutionary way of improving your horse’s balance, confidence, movement and performance shows that the horse is always present and ready to learn if we can only find ways to access his intelligence. This approach allows the horse to experience his own habitual patterns of movement and provides the horse with an opportunity to explore and learn new ways of standing on his feet and utilizing the ground for greater ease, comfort and confidence.  -Sure Foot® | The Murdoch Method

I wanted to try these first because of Bonnie’s laminitis and second because Sky has been ouchie on the road even with boots on. Sky has been acting off for about 2 months and I couldn’t pin point any reason for her to be! I’ve been keeping all the horses off the grass — except for the night of the 4th of July. Sky got spooked by the fireworks and busted through the electric fence, breaking several insulators, putting Sky, Captain and Zorro in the middle of track where all the grass is, all. night. long. Sigh. Sometimes I feel like they are trying to kill themselves. Anyway, I ruled out laminitis because she is eating low sugar/low starch hay and is not on grass. I figured the Sure Foot® pads wouldn’t hurt and maybe they would help! (I decided on the Soft pads after Wendy suggested them because of Bonnie’s laminitis. Both girls have been wearing boots with pads in them so the idea of a springy surface didn’t bother them at all…)

One of the things that intrigued me about them was the idea that the pads help horses have a new connection with the earth. They can find a new way to stand and move.

With SURE FOOT®, using a variety of stability and balance pads, horses discover how they are habitually standing. The pad gives under the horses’s weight bringing his attention to where he is placing his feet and providing new information to the balancing part of his nervous system. With this awareness the horse explores, shifts and alters his habitual patterns of standing and moving by himself, ultimately choosing a more secure and effective way to stand and move. The horse retrains himself to stand better without human interference.  -Sure Foot® – The Murdoch Method

I figured this would help Bonnie as well. While I know her soles are very thin and her coffin bone is rotated, I have been working diligently on the angles of her heel and toe to help alleviate pressure. However she was not changing how she moved very much. I wanted to try this thinking she may be conditioned to walk very carefully and be extremely lame. Whether that is true or not, since I started using the pads, Bonnie will now gallop around the track, bucking and rearing and racing. She is walking out completely normally when booted and has even started going without boots for several hours a day. She walks carefully when ‘barefoot’ but is not getting sore footed at all!

Bonnie falling asleep with both feet on one pad.

Another thing is Sky has been very spooky, barn sour and buddy sour and kind of a stinker when driving. This last month has been absolutely crazy for me and I haven’t been able to get her out much, except to brush her, file her feet a bit and put her on the Sure Foot® pads. She is a bit funny about her feet so she wouldn’t stand on the pads for more than a few seconds at first. And I quickly found that she only liked to stand on one pad at a time. (Bonnie will put both her front feet on one pad!)

Sky standing on one pad. This is how she liked it at first.

It took a lot of putting her foot on the pad, having her step off, me taking her for a walk about, then putting her other foot on the pad, having her step off, me taking her for a walk about, then putting her other foot on the pad, having her step off, me taking her for a walk about… Sigh. Finally on the second or third day of the pads, I put her foot on the pad and she sighed, dropped her head, licked and chewed and set to swaying. She spent quite a few minutes on the pad before stepping off and when she stepped off she gave a big sigh and YAWNED. Beautiful!

She has been using the Sure Foot® pads for about 2 weeks 3-4 times a week and when I was able to start driving her again on Friday, last week, she was a different horse mentally! I am totally amazed at how much calmer she is. She is more forward when driving. She offers the canter and can hold her beautiful extended trot for longer and longer periods. She is also starting to fall into her extended trot more readily.

In addition to reprogramming the balancing portion of the brain there is obviously an affect on the instinctive part of the brain. While it cannot be fully explained there is a calming effect, shifting the horse from the fight & flight reaction or sympathetic autonomic nervous system (ANS) response to the grazing or parasympathetic (ANS) response. Some horses experience an even deeper level of relaxation believed to be caused by a release of endorphins somehow triggered by standing on the pads.  –Sure Foot® – The Murdoch Method

I was intrigued by the above statement and wondered if the pads would help Sky let go of some of her anxiety. I would say they have!! We are able to go miles away from our house now. I’m driving her places I’ve only dreamed about because I couldn’t get her more than a mile away from home without her having a minor melt down. I didn’t want to push her too much and cause a problem when I didn’t really have one so I went slow and easy. Now I don’t have to do any online warm up. I harness her and hitch her right to the cart! We trot around the side yard once and she powers down the driveway in her extended trot, ears hard forward looking at where we are going instead of worrying about what the horses at home are doing! It’s amazing! She is pulling me up some pretty steep hills and just won’t stop. She puts her head down and leans into her breast collar. I have to jump out as she is going when the going gets too steep because she won’t stop. I am so impressed!! She is going to have muscles in places she’s never had muscles!

Sky's pretty face. - www.theessentialhorse.com

I love looking at the pads when I they are done. The hoof impressions are pretty cool!

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This is Sky’s hoof impression.

Bonnie’s hoof impressions.

Here is a video of the girls standing on the pads the first day. To get this video I had to kind of hold Sky on the pads. When I untied her and let her decide she started the one foot on, step off, walk, another foot on, step off, walk….

And this video is from yesterday! They both have it figured out. Now Sky will sometimes step off and then put her feet back on all by herself. And she will stand on both pads at the same time now!

Please let me know if you have any questions about the pads! I’ll do my best to answer them. I know when I was trying to decide, to buy or not to buy, I couldn’t find enough information! So I’ll do my best to help you make a decision.

 

 

Paddock Paradise Track System

I thought I would share a bit more about the Paddock Paradise track system idea. I’ve been hearing a lot of feedback from people, some good and some not, so thought a bit of clarification was due!

The track system idea came about from people watching the wild horses of North America. They tend to travel in small herds and follow paths they make in the large open areas where they live. They move all day long foraging and walking to water. Sometimes they can travel up to 20 miles in a day. While I’ve been doing research about the track systems I came across the wild herds in Europe as well. They tend to live in marshy, wet areas and have access to lots of green grass and forage so their living situation is vastly different than that of the American wild horse. This can cause some confusion and create arguments between people about the validity of the horse track.

I have read lots of information for the track system and lots of information against the track system, however I could see the benefits for, so decided to go for it!

Horses are pattern creatures so having a track system would definitely honor that. Horses need movement to digest their food well and keep them healthy and happy. Again the track system fills that need. Horses love to forage and search for nibbly bits. The track system, when implemented correctly, also fills that need! Horses love to run and play a little bit here and there and my track system certainly makes that possible! Horses do best in a herd situation and my track system honors that.

Lots of the negative I’ve heard from people really had to do with their mistakes when setting up their track. Making it too narrow or too wide, not offering enrichment for the horses on the track. Making the corners too sharp and squared off. Not putting the food far enough away from the water. I’ve heard of horses being big of bullies on the track system and wonder exactly what their track looked like. When I had the little bully mare, Chantelle, here she LOVED chasing and picking on Zorro as often as she could. With all the areas in my track, the jogs and the size of it, he was always able to get away from her. I put food out in several different spots of the track which allowed him to eat all the time without Chantelle being able to hog all the food.People also complained that the track systems aren’t pretty. In my opinion putting pretty ahead of my ponies well-being is a silly.

Many people complain about their horses getting into the middle of the track and eating grass. I guess I’ve been lucky on that front. I have a fairly small electric fencer and only one strand of fence but so far they haven’t pushed that boundary. I’m not saying they won’t, but I cross my fingers that it doesn’t turn into a problem. I guess if I had that problem I would figure out a different fence for the inside of the track.

I had my pasture grass tested last week. I gathered the grass at 7am when it was still cool- after a night that didn’t get too cold- and found out it’s too high in sugars for Bonnie to ever be out there. (The NSC is 14.3% and the ESC is 11.5%. The NSC should be below 12% and the ESC should be below 10%) After testing it I’m worried about any of my minis being out there for very long! I’m going to test it again this week and send in an afternoon sample. It’s supposed to get really hot this week with warmer nights and I thought it would be interesting to see how our drought grass handles that. Do the sugars go down or get higher during the day? I’ve always thought they get higher but I want proof! Anyway, I haven’t been turning anyone out in the pasture. Though today Sky, Captain and Zorro escaped the track through a gate that didn’t get latched and spent an hour cavorting around our pasture. Sigh. I knew I wouldn’t be able to catch them so left them to it and just crossed my fingers that everyone will be alright!

The amount of movement that my ponies are getting is amazing. They had this same area when it was one big dry lot and they hardly moved at all. They would have their times of day when they played chase and galloped all over the place, but the walking and constant foraging that goes on now is more consistent.

Sky’s toes are growing a bit and her heels are coming down. As you can see I haven’t trimmed her in a while! Her heels are opening up as well. She has been battling thrush because her heels were so contracted and tight. Bacteria just settled in there and it couldn’t dry out. Now she is feeling so much better!

I have been working on getting Bonnie’s heels down to alleviate the pain she was experiencing from the laminitis. I needed to get her angles better so she could move around. The pigmentation you can see in her toe area is her P3, coffin bone, pushing on her thin soles. I think the after photo is interesting regarding the P3… Has her foot changed shape internally? When I can’t see the pigmentation clearly any longer will that mean her soles have thickened up? So many questions!

I am thrilled with how their feet are looking and the changes I’m seeing! Sky’s has gone from TALL contracted heels to a nicer angle with a wider heel. She still has a way to go to having healthy feet, but they have never looked so good! Bonnie’s feet are changing too even though she has to wear boots all the time. When out she will gallop around, bucking and rearing! She loves to run through the manure pile and play chase with Zorro. She is now out on the track for several hours, muzzled, and seems to enjoy herself pretending to forage. She hasn’t figured out the muzzle so there are times of frustration. She follows me around begging me to push hay and tall grass through the muzzle hole and of course I do it for her! She can be on the other side of the track and if I call, she will book it around to me so I can feed her. So far when I enter her pen to put her muzzle on she will shove her nose in all by herself to get to the cookies. It hasn’t been a struggle that way. I do hate the fact that she has to wear it at all. It’s painful watching her try and try to snack with it on.

So after a few weeks living with the track system I have to say it’s a total success for my ponies! It is a bit more work for me, but I don’t mind. Seeing the positive changes that have occurred with each one of my guys is worth all the extra work!

I wanted to share a couple of link here. These are articles I read before implementing my track. I also read Jamie Jackson’s book, Paddock Paradise many years ago and refer back to it often!

Track Systems- Are They Actually Worth It?

Jamie Jackson NHC Services

Dutch Hollow Acres – The following page is dedicated to our experiment using the Paddock Paradise Track System made popular by Jamie Jackson.

Paddock Paradise – Information about the paddock paradise.

This video is long but worth it! I have serious track envy for this one!

My Tiny Horse Track

My Tiny Horse Track - www.theessentialhorse.com

I have been loving my tiny horse track and so have my ponies! The changes I have witnessed in three of my mini’s hooves is amazing. And in just 3 short weeks!

They all move more. I look out and they are always on the move. They don’t run around much, but they walk all the time. The trick to this is putting your feed station far away from the water. I also have a forage station that is far away from the feed station and the water station. They seem to have a different place to laze around every couple of days. I love watching them lay around as a little herd.

Bonnie goes out on the track with a muzzle on in the mornings. She likes wandering around the track pretending to forage because she hasn’t figured out the muzzle yet. She does love it when I push hay and the tall grass through the hole in the  muzzle for her and will follow me around begging. She spends time scratching on the scratch post and just walking and walking. Sometimes I let her walk around without her boots on and other times I leave her boots on!

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We’ll take a little photo tour of the track… then I’ll share a video!

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This is the beginning of the track. The gate into it is just beside the water trough. To create a water station I allow the water trough to overflow by leaving my hose on a very slow trickle. This makes the ponies have to step into the water to get a drink. They also have to walk through the water to go out to pasture in the morning. I gave them a shade cloth so they are always able to get out of  the sun.

 

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This is the south side of the track. I consider this the front part of the track. This part is 10 feet wide and goes up to the manure pile and opens up into the area that houses the old street sweeper that is a scratching post.

 

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Here is the open lounging and scratching area. They have access to the manure pile and sometimes they lay in it for a nap and they often climb it and dig in it!

 

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The feed station is on the east side of the track. The water station is on the west side. So in order to drink they have to walk around at least half of the track! I have four Hay Chix hay nets out tied to the T-posts so they can’t roll them into the middle, under the electric fence. I do have T-post toppers, I just need time to put them on!

 

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This is also on the east side of the track and connects the feed station to the forage station. This part is 8 feet wide to encourage the horses to move through here and not hang out. Narrower parts of the track encourage movement!

 

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This is the north east corner of the track. I bring the hay in through the little homemade gate there to right. (I built that gate all by myself! You can totally tell! LOL) This is a large corner and sometimes they lay around here and sleep. To the left there is the beginning of the Forage station.

 

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The forage stations are rocks piled up. Sometimes I put hay under the rocks and then I sprinkle timothy hay pellets among the rocks. I also put hay, spread out, under the log. They move the rocks and the log around with their noses. I love watching them make a beeline for the forage area!

 

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This is the north west side of the track. It was one of my little dry lot areas when the grass started to over take the dry lot. I felt it was too small because Sky would just stand around and eat the hay net all day. Now she walks around and eats all day! But the amount of movement the track has encouraged is amazing!

 

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This little section connects the north west side of the track to the south west side, where the shed and water station are. It’s a little jog around Bonnie’s dry lot area. The ponies hang out in this corner often and sleep next to Bonnie’s area.

 

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This is on the south side of Bonnie’s dry lot and connects back to the beginning of the track! Two ponies can fit in one side of the shed and the other side is for Bonnie. I provide the shade cloth for anyone that can’t get into the shed.

 

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My three wonderful ponies!

And the video –

I have shared this track on Facebook and the back lash was surprising! I have found that people feel the T-posts are very dangerous. I hear that. We rent and most everything has to be temporary. We will have to reseed the dry lot when we move. So putting in wood posts for the track was not an option. We also have high winds and deep snow in the winter so putting in a permanent post and rail fence, or even using the corral panels as the interior of the track is not an option as the snow would get caught by the rails and make huge drifts. I have to put the corral panels up when winter comes or the snow will build up on either side in drifts as high as 6-8 feet tall.

There are many things to consider when putting together a track. I’ve had quite a few years to think about this and design it! I’ve very happy with it and how it turned out. My ponies are happier and healthier this year than last year! I am most excited about the changes in their hooves. Sky’s heels have widened and her frogs are healthier than ever! The same for Captain Planet and Zorro. I can’t wait for Bonnie to be able to be out there 24/7 without her boots. I think it will make a big difference for her feet as well.

Fun on the Farm!

Fun on the Farm! - www.theessentialhorse.com

The weather around here is finally starting to calm down a little bit! We did have a huge wind storm yesterday, but it was blowing the storm away not in… so today was gorgeous!

Two days ago I wanted to take Sky for a little drive and went to get her Cavallo boots only to find that she has worn holes through the soles of them! We got them last November and maybe put about 10 miles on them because of the winter. I can’t believe they didn’t last longer. I emailed Cavallo and they are sending me another pair, hoping that this pair was defective somehow. I hope that is the case as well!

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I will say that they are so slippery in the grass, I can’t drive Sky in grassy areas with them on. She just slips and slides around, proving they would not be good boots for CDE’s! So after using them just a little bit and watching Bonnie wear her Easyboots off and on since December I have to say the Easyboots are longer lasting. They are very well constructed and Bonnie seems very comfortable in them even though she rarely gets to have them off. I will be purchasing more Easyboots for the rest of my ponies, but will not be buying the Cavallo boots again. I love having the options and appreciate their customer service, but can’t afford boots that can’t be worn anywhere we want to drive!

Sky and I went for a nice relaxing drive. Because she didn’t have boots we started out driving around the front yard doing long figure of eights and circles then crossed the driveway and drove around the hay stack and then went out on the road a little bit. They just put down new gravel and it’s deep and lovely so she didn’t have too much trouble out there! We wandered down to the corner where our neighbors gate was open… we couldn’t resist! We went through the gate and walked and trotted around the corner of their field. Sky was so interested being somewhere new! The sun was shining so pretty and I just felt so very happy!

When we were walking back home there was an antelope in the middle of the road. I didn’t get that on the video because I couldn’t drive her one handed while encountering an antelope! LOL But she did great and the antelope panicked and crawled through the fence to run off with it’s brother or sister. Antelope make a funny ‘honking’ sound when they are calling to each other. I hear it often and look around trying to figure out what is making that sound only to remember it’s the antelope!

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Sky looking at the Antelope alongside the road.

When I got home I brought Bonnie out and we went for a short 15 minute walk in the very soft deep grass in the front yard. I took her boots off she she could have a little break. I also took my shoes off so I would be sure to stay in the very soft area and not wander into the harder ground. She isn’t ready for that yet!

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This face! I love it!!

Bonnie’s blood tests came back positive for IR, but negative for Cushings. Based on the numbers (which I don’t totally understand yet but am researching!) Bonnie may do well on the Thyro-L powder. We will give it a try and if it doesn’t help we have some other options. This goes to show that it’s a good idea to get a couple of opinions as another vet I talked to about her felt Thyro-L wasn’t the way to go, but I can’t remember why!

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Sky’s blood tests came back normal so we are going to really start driving for reals now! I have access to a beautiful mile and an a quarter drive with little to no traffic and lots of beautiful scenery so I will be hauling Sky down there to drive a couple times a week! I think sometimes I’ll bring Zorro along and pony him behind the cart to get him in shape too. I plan on ground driving him this summer, with the idea that he will pull the travois this fall. He is just a two year old so I won’t hitch him to the cart this year. Sky looks thrilled in this photo, but she was very happy to be out driving tonight! And even when we left the farm she didn’t get silly or anxious, but stayed curious and connected the entire time. We are having so much fun!

Just wanted to share a little of the fun on the farm!