Monday, March 26, 2012

Wrap It Up

This afternoon, I picked up Dundee's shipping boots. They were on the lawn. Like a good horseperson, I had washed them off immediately after using them and then set them out in the sun to dry. Like a slovenly horseperson, I left them out for a several days so that they got rained on and then blown all over the yard. Oops.

Using shipping boots is a fairly new concept for me so I am not quite used to the maintenance. Before this, I was a staunch shipping WRAPS user. Wraps go right into the washing machine after a use. The drying and re-rolling is still maintenance but it's maintenance that I am familiar with and know how to manage. The boots are, by far, easier and quicker to apply. One piece, a couple of Velcro straps and done! Shipping wraps start with bell boots, then a quilt - wrapped evenly and smoothly, in the right direction, snug but not tight, making sure to cover the top edge of the bell boot; then the wrap - even and smoothly applied with enough tension to keep the whole package secure, but not so much as to cause bandage bow (yes, I did that once & felt horribly guilty), making sure to finish with the Velcro closure at the top. A nicely done, completed shipping wrap should look like a brand new tube of toothpaste, not the tube of toothpaste that my 9 year old son has been using and looks like someone tried to strangle it round the middle.

The quilts have to puffy, yet firm. Thin, measly quilts are too hard to use and do not offer enough protection. The outer wrap has to have a little stretch but not too much. The test is whether the cloth gets narrower when you pull on it. Too much stretch can constrict and create pressure spots within a wrap. With so much that can wrong with shipping wraps, it's surprising that they can do any good at all.

The great thing about (correctly applied) shipping wraps is that not only do they protect against bumps and scrapes, but they also support the horse's leg. After a day of showing, or even just a long trip standing in the trailer, good shipping wraps can prevent swelling around the tendons and ligaments of the lower legs. I can attest to the protection factor. One of my horses ( ) was my very own shipping wrap testing facility. Gretchen made several attempts to sever her limbs via horse trailer and while she did sustain injury, everything under the wraps was intact. Previously in this post, I made mention of making sure that the wrap covers the top of the bell boot. Gretchen once cut her leg, just bad enough to require three stitches, in the half inch of space between the bell boot and shipping quilt. I made darn sure to cover that half inch every other time after that.

Since Gretchen, I've had 3 other horses that all traveled quite nicely in the trailer but still, I used the wraps. Just because a horse travels well doesn't mean a thing if someone cuts you off in traffic or some fool rear-ends the trailer, or something worse (which we don't like to think about). Your horse may not be kamikaze like Gretchen, but that doesn't mean an accident won't happen.

However, after spying a set of really nice shipping boots - you know the ones, they look like Kevlar, come up over the knee and hock and all the way down over the hoof - in the consignment section of the tack shop for less than half the original price, I bought 'em. And I used them. And then I got lazy. The thought of taking fifteen minutes to wrap my horse when I could slap some boots on him in about three minutes, seemed foolish. I know the boots don't offer the same protection as a set of hearty wraps, but (here comes my justification) the wraps don't cover the knee and hock like the boots do. Those parts are valuable too, right? So I should take the opportunity when it's presented to protect the upper joints too, right? That means I can take the lazy route, right?

I do not like putting my horse in a trailer without something on his legs. Just like I don't ride without my helmet or drive without my seat belt. You just can't predict when an accident will happen. Some horses don't like having wraps on and they do the Ministry of Silly Walks when getting from the barn to the trailer. I know one horse who would practically turn himself inside out trying to get his shipping boots off while in the trailer. There are horses who will kick constantly in trying to shake loose a shipping wrap or boot. Those ones are the only ones who get a pass. If it's just a matter of him channeling John Cleese or Houdini, the wraps can stay on. If a horse is going to kick in the trailer then I will take the risk of a possible accident rather than deal with the definite damage to the trailer and my horse's legs. Most horses can learn to wear wraps and boots if you put them on and let him wear them while he's in the stall. He shouldn't wear them outside in the paddock, there's too much freedom of movement and the possibility of a wrap coming undone is too great.

It never pays to get lazy with horses. Efficiency is great, but cutting corners is not. Snap the throatlatch on the halter, use a leadline to take your horse to the stall, use the hoof pick, and use some shipping wraps. Practice doing them correctly before hand. It takes a couple of tries to get them right. As a comparative reference, I will send you some photos of slightly strangled toothpaste tubes.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Physician Heal Thyself

At one point, while teaching a lesson today, I uttered (okay, I shouted) the following brilliant gem of wisdom:

"Put your legs on and ride!"

Out of context the sentence is baffling. At the moment, it was profound. The situation was such that during the lesson my student was having trouble turning her horse left on a circle. Oh sure, it sounds like it should be easy, but when 1,500 pounds of horse says he'd rather go right than go left, there's not a whole lot a rider can do about it. The horse was doing an excellent job of teaching his rider that should she want to go left, she ought to SEND him there rather than PULL him there. The horse (and who can blame him) did not want to be dragged around by his face. His method of pointing this out was to go around his circle as if there were strong magnets in the fence at the other end, and he was made of steel.

Given the instructions that she could not let go of her saddle pad strap while using her inside rein (to limit pulling), this rider was faced with how she was going to get the left turn. What she had forgotten in the heat of the moment, is that she had many other more influential aids that were at her disposal. What she was trying to do was like trying to win the NBA playoffs with all the best players benched. If I were a person that paid attention to such things I could have provided actual names of some "best players". My familiarity with basketball ended when Michael Jordan retired. The first time.

It is easy to get distracted by what the horse's head is doing. It is right there in front of you. Or at least it ought to be. If it's not, you need more help than I can provide here. Being motivated by our tactile sense, it is easy to use our hands to manipulate that which is right in front of us, but there is a better way. Let's say that someone wants you to move somewhere. The person in charge of moving you can either stand on the opposite side from where you need to go, and then push you there. Or, person in charge of moving you could grab hold of your lower jaw and haul you there. Given the two choices, I bet you'd take the gentle shove.

It does take time to teach a horse to move away from leg pressure and we use the inside rein pull to help the horse understand where to go. Eventually, the aids should be refined such that the horse is able to follow the rider's weight and leg aids and the reins used just to point the horse in the right direction. The horse in this lesson was entirely capable of following leg aids, should they be given. What was happening was that the rider was doing damage control rather than preventative riding. Instead of telling the horse where he should be going she stalled out in the middle of the road and the horse carried on without her. By the time she got back in the driver's seat, she was now stuck trying to change the horse's mind after he'd already made the decision to go the other way.

In telling her to "Put her legs on and ride!" I was reminding her that she needed to push that horse through the reins from her legs, not pull him or get caught up in his efforts to bulge out of the circle. Riding positively and riding forward will help you get to your goal much quicker and easier than flailing around after things have gone haywire. Keep the horse's energy moving forward rather than letting it go bursting out the side and trying to reclaim it. That is what is meant by "Put your legs on and ride!".

After struggling against the temptation to pull that left rein, my student got the horse around the circle to the left and then did some to the right and then came back to the left again. When she was riding, the horse went beautifully around his circles. He was perfectly happy going around those circles once he was asked to do them in a way that made sense to him. She looked like she was in charge of the situation ('cause she was) and like she and the horse were one unit instead of looking like a tin soldier Scotch-taped to a Slinky.

Shortly after that lesson, I saddled up my own horse. We circled around a bit but soon I started having trouble because Dundee was losing focus and balance every time we had to go past the White Barrel With Really Big Teeth And Claws. I struggled a bit and grumbled a bit and finally said, not even to myself but right out loud, "Put your legs on and ride!". Once I did - BANG! - went Dundee, jumping forward like the White Barrel With Really Big Teeth And Claws had just pinched his butt. The next time past the WBWRBTAC, Dundee tensed up but moved straighter. The third time, he powered through with confidence. Sometimes we need to take our own advice.