Watching Zorro over these past three months, as we have started really working on ground driving, I decided it was time to do his first round of Hill Therapy.  Zorro was disconnected when he walked. His hind end and front end were constantly doing different things. He would drag himself up hills by his front end and not push much from behind.

Billy Blaze was in such poor condition posture wise when I brought him home that it drove me to do lots of research on what was the best way to help him learn how to use his body properly. Hill Therapy was the thing that came up most often. Billy did Hill Therapy often as a young horse and I watched him go from an ugly duckling to a handsome horse. He literally just unfolded and learned how to use his body properly. So I knew what could happen when done correctly.

Hill Therapy is about helping the horse find a better way to using his body. Here are a few simple guide lines:

  1. You need to remove all the things that could be causing the horse to change his posture and way of moving, namely the saddle and the rider. Or the harness or the bitting rig!!!

  2. You need to exercise the horse for a specific amount of time in a specific way so he can find his way to move more naturally again. In some cases the horse’s movement has been altered from the first day they ever carried a saddle and rider and over the years they have actually habituated to it, they’ve completely changed their natural way of moving even without a rider on them. They need to learn how to use their whole body.

  3. Hills are the best medicine. You don’t want a steep hill just an incline that encourages the horse to use himself more efficiently.  ~From the Parelli PDF

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Billy on the left before Hill Therapy… Billy on the right after Hill Therapy!

There are a couple of things I really like about Hill Therapy:

  1. It allows the HORSE to work through a few things on it’s own, without a lot of micro managing on my part. I find a small incline, preferably with some ‘stuff’ he has to manage while on the circle and then I send him out there to muddle through. The only thing I worry about is direction and forward motion. I don’t care what gait he does, walk, trot, canter or gallop, as long as he continues going forward to the left… or to the right.
  2. I get to actually watch him improve from one session to the next. Zorro went from banging into the end of the rope, leaning heavily on the halter, galloping madly if he got confused, tripping over his own feet… to knowing where the end of the line was, no leaning on the halter, searching for relaxation (and looking at the grass!), and watching where he was putting his feet in just a few sessions. Once he was consistently paying attention to his feet, then I added in a few obstacles, such as more sage bushes and a small hill and ditch he had to maneuver.
  3. You don’t need an actual hill to do Hill Therapy! LOL! That sounds crazy, but I live on a relatively flat pasture. There is a slight incline here and there. But there are plenty of old irrigation ditches, sage bushes, piles of rock, some logs and lots and lots of gopher holes for him to learn to navigate. I did NOT start out in the difficult areas with him as he needed a few sessions to learn to manage working on the end of the 22′ line before he could pay attention to the holes and all the bushes. But once I felt he was ready I tossed as much stuff at him as I could and watched him really put effort in. It was beautiful.

Here is a video of Zorro’s second Hill Therapy Session:

I write in this video about how unorganized he was while going around but also how he is wanting to stretch down more than he did in the first video.

When watching the first video I posted of Zorro doing his very first session, someone had commented that it looked like I was shaking my rope at him when he lowered his head, which of course would be the opposite thing you would want to do when the horse was searching for relaxation. But what was happening is, when he would lower his head the feather line would catch at the grass and bushes. I tried to manage that for him without causing a bunch of movement in the line, but it was simply the nature of the thing. You will often see me doing things a bit differently than other people because I work with what I have. I don’t have a perfectly groomed hill side to do this on, so I do it in my pasture. We both learn to cope!

This is his 5th Hill Therapy session and you can see some very nice things happening when compared to his second session above!

In this video I have added in a ditch crossing and a little hill for him to navigate because he was starting to get nice and organized.

As the sessions went on he just got better and better. I really enjoyed watching him move out and we could walk all over the pasture with him doing nice circles around me, navigating whatever I put in his path!

We will still be doing 2 sessions a week for three more weeks and I expect he will keep getting better and better! But for now here are a couple of before and after photo collages:

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photo on the left taken March 17th, photo on the right taken May 28th

I always felt like Zorro was shrugging his shoulders, tightening up his neck and making it appear shorter. It has always been very hard to get a good photo him because when I would stand him up he would automatically stand as he was on the left. When I stood him up the other day he stood with his neck long and beautiful!

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photo on the left taken March 17th, photo on the right taken May 28th

It’s amazing to me how much his shoulders have moved back and down! With this change his topline has started to level out a bit. I should re-measure him at his withers! Last time I measured him he was 39 1/4″ at the withers and 39 1/2″ at the top of his hip.

He is a bit chunky still… that belly!! But he has a shorter back than his mama which makes him a bit rounder in the rib cage. That will take lots and lots of hiking and trotting to help him slim down.

We have a lovely summer ahead of us with tons of ground driving and hiking opportunities. I am so excited to see how he continues to mature!!

 

Last weekend Sky and I participated in a group drive with a local driving club. It was her first time driving in a group in about 8 years or so. Mine too actually!

The club, Ten Mile Drivers, have Percherons, Percheron Crosses, Fjords, Haflingers, a black and white team, mules and quite a few people that ride along on their horses. It was the prefect opportunity to get Sky back out there! There was a lot to see and lots of commotion. The big horses all took the minis in stride. Sky was a bit of a basket case for the first two miles. She did NOT like having a big horse behind her and in front of her. Not much choice there! LOL The minis were third in line. We were behind the black and white team who were pulling a nice four seater carriage. I stuck Sky’s nose in the back of that carriage and let it help me keep her in check. She was a bit like driving a freight train in miniature.

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Photo by Molly!

The loop was going to be about 11.7 miles but I hadn’t trained Sky for a drive of that length, so I asked if it was alright if we turned around earlier to keep the drive within her fitness level. They said that was fine! My friend, Molly and her mini Goldie joined us as well and decided to turn around with Sky and I. Goldie is a 5 year old mini who is in really good shape, but she hadn’t driven over 11 miles yet this year either! We wanted our minis to have a good experience and over doing it wouldn’t result in them being very happy.

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Photo by Molly! The girls after our 8 mile drive.
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Sky after driving 8 miles!

Now how did I go about preparing Sky for this drive? I drove her as many times a week as I could fit into my schedule and as the weather would allow. We drove at night a few times. Then I got a flat tire on my cart, so I had to go back to ground driving her. I brought Zorro along which pushed Sky to go faster. We worked out way up to 4 mile ground drives and when I got my tire fixed we drove 4 miles as often as we could leading up to the big weekend.

  1. To start I drove Sky in my yard doing lots of circles and figure of eights. This helped to calm her down and prepare her for longer drives.
  2. We moved out into our pasture and did some driving on the large track I made last year.
  3. When she was calm enough we moved out to the road and went up and down the road enough times that we were driving a mile or a mile and a half. I have an app on my phone called MapMyWalk that I use when I drive her.
  4. Then I simply worked up our road drives to 2 and then 3 miles.
  5. When we were ground driving I pushed up to 4 miles a few times a week and because Zorro was with us Sky would trot most of the time. This worked not only her little butt but mine as well!
  6. Then I was able to have her pull the cart 4 miles and up the steep hill that is part of my walk.

This all took about a month and a half. Once I got serious and stopped making excuses Sky started to slim down and build stamina!

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Photo by Molly!

Molly and I stayed in touch during the entire “training” period. She was able to get in more drives that I did and her mare showed that on the day of the drive. Sky was a sweaty mess (some of that emotional sweat!) and Goldie handled the entire 8 mile drive like a rock star. She didn’t even get sweaty! I was so proud of our mighty little minis. They made a great impression on the group and showed that minis are more than just little pets. They can actually DO something!

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Photo by Molly! Goldie is all ready to go…