July 5th 2019 Hoof Trimming Success!

July 1st, Sunny getting his feet trimmed. He put his feet on the hoof stand and everything. Just an old pro!

July 1st, Sunny getting his feet trimmed. He put his feet on the hoof stand and everything. Just an old pro!

The last few months have been spent largely trying to decipher why Sundance is so reluctant to have his feet handled. With everything that happened in May and June I had very little time to spend with him. When I did handle him it was most often to see if he’d let me pick up his feet. He has been lame for some time, and there is visible evidence he’s developed ringbone in both front feet, worse in the right. So of course my thoughts go to the possibility that his aching joints make him reluctant to stand on three legs.

But, he was also moving really oddly behind. I knew he had a history of hind end lameness. When he came to me the working theory was that he had fractured his pelvis pulling back and falling down. I never saw evidence of any significant lameness but he was always super reluctant to pick up hind feet. I don’t know what shifted in the last 6 months. One theory is that he has finally become comfortable enough after 5 years here, to let me see what’s going on. Another theory is that he re-injured himself - which is highly likely given how hard he likes to play with the other horses.

Whatever the case, the hind end lameness that was clearly there but not obvious before is now obvious.

Of course it’s been driving me crazy not being able to trim his feet. I kept trying to explain to him that I thought I could help. Over time he started to allow me to pick up a foot here and there and I could maybe nip a few of the worst spots before he’d insist on having his foot back. Each time I worked with him on this I paid very close attention, hoping to discover the source of his reluctance to hold his feet up.

Right around this time Joyce and I started doing some trades where she did craniosacral sessions on Sunny in exchange for me working with Merlin. Maybe Joyce will chime in at some point and talk about some of the things she found when she worked with him - but suffice to say there were many layers of trauma - both physical and emotional that she worked to release. After a month or so of BCST I wasn’t seeing much improvement in his movement. And ultimately noticed that he seemed to be having trouble stabilizing his pelvis when a front leg was held up. He just couldn’t hold his balance for any length of time at all. I can kind of relate, having had issues in my own pelvis and low back where things would ‘destabilize’ and I could easily throw my back out and really seize everything up. What I felt when I ‘tuned in’ reminded me of that.

With that crucial piece of information it was clear what had to happen. I had to find a way to build functional strength so that he could hold himself up. We pulled the plug on the BCST because the other thing I realized in observing both Sunny and Merlin is that they were not benefiting from the bodywork like I felt they should. In fact, they both seemed almost more prone to injury. Merlin sprained his ankle right in this time period as well. Understand that it’s not that Joyce’s work was not valuable - I believe it did a lot of good, especially on the emotional front and in terms of releasing patterns that were held from past injuries. But, I realized that unless a horse has a certain level of fitness, and is in some kind of work, body work that relaxes them is somewhat counter productive. All of a sudden I got the message really clearly why I had shifted away from doing primarily body work with a little bit of movement to doing primarily movement with a little bit of bodywork. You can see an example of that in the session I did with Gin July 6th in Unit 7 on the Facebook page for the group.

Anyway, with this idea in mind we quit doing CST on it’s own and I embarked on some experimentation to discover how I could help a horse that is quite impulsive and refuses a bit find their balance. That meant that I’d be working with a halter and lead. I decided to try carrying a dressage whip with me so that I could try using that as a way to touch different body parts I wanted him to pay attention to that might be out reach. I knew it would be really important for me to have super clear body language and intention so the whip allows me to reach without losing my own structural integrity.

Sundance has developed a movement pattern wherein he shuffles along on his front and hind legs - very short, quick strides. He locks his back down and does not articulate through his back - effectively not using his core at all.

There is no point just asking him to follow me around and go for walks to build strength because his walk pattern is so poor - it’s not something I want to reinforce and it only makes him hurt more to walk like that. I can’t lunge him or ask him to work hard because again, it’s too hard on him given the degree of lameness. So how do you get a really lame horse back in shape, and help them become sound in the process?

By changing the movement pattern and getting them to walk in the good pattern as often as possible.

I’ll post video of Sundance in the next day or so, but what I was able to do was a modified kind of work in hand. It’s a bit of my work with postural reflexes as well as the reflex to stand, walk and turn combined with some of Jean Luc’s ideas about work in hand. Some of you have heard me mention something called conscious inhibition. It’s an idea put for in the Alexander technique - this idea that you pause for a moment and think before you execute a movement (like standing up, for example) that moment to pause and think allows you to consciously inhibit the habitual pathways you use to stand up and replace them with healthier patterns. Horses tend not to be so great at thinking before they move. Especially horses that are trained to hurry up and respond in order to avoid escalating pressure. Like Sunny.

So the work in hand is focused on getting him to stop, follow my body lead to shift his weight off his left front leg (if I’m standing on his left he’d lean to the left front) so that leg becomes unweighted. This is where the whip came in handy because I could stay in position and gently touch that shoulder. I had to be super specific and tactful with the whip so as not to scare him with it. He had to know that it wasn’t being used to hurry him along or punish him - only to bring awareness to a part he might not be feeling. In that way I could also use the whip to touch his opposite shoulder while in motion to help him notice how he was falling to the right, or in front of his chest to help him feel that he was falling forward too fast and losing his balance.

My ultimate goal was for him to be able to pause long enough to feel what I was doing with my body and respond to it consciously - research in his own body - how does this feel if I lift too? How do I take a step off in balance? How do I engage my core? So he slows way down, takes slightly longer, softer, lighter steps and stops the hurried, tense shuffle. This is a walk that is like a Tai Chi walk - literally one step at a time. One. Two. Three. Four. My job is to literally choreograph each and every step. I have to go slowly enough to find a way to create a space for him to move into that invites him to move forward in balance.

Sometimes I’d have to decisively step across in front of him so that I was walking in front, facing him, creating a full body barrier for him to play off of or he’d scoot to the right, dropping his shoulder and doing hurried, tense, very incorrect and unproductive lateral work. It truly is a dance. Most often with horses that are heavy on the forehand, tense and hurried, I find it works best to attempt to get just a few steps before stopping and asking them to rebalance in the halt. If they get up any kind of head of steam they just plow through me and lean. So the more frequently we stop the better.

This proved the case with Sunny and before long he figured out how to do one step at a time. Once he was committed to working this way everything started to change. In the beginning he’d see me coming with the halter and leave. Each day he’d spend a little less time leaving, or leave with a little less commitment. After about a week he would meet me and ask for the halter. Joyce and Karin have been coming and practicing with him as well which I think is great. He’s learning to relate to multiple people with all our small variations in how we ask for things - effectively learning to engage in a conversation that is a thinking/feeling dialogue with anyone.

I should also mention that we did start him on herbs and things to manage pain and inflammation several months ago. He’s been rotating turmeric paste and devil’s claw/yucca - and then if I knew I wanted to work on his feet in earnest I’d give a day or two of equioxx. A few weeks ago my neighbor came and did a test run. She was able to get a bit of work done on both front feet and he was better, but not good enough yet to handle all four feet.

This last week he’s been doing so well in hand that I decided to have the regular farrier give it a go. I gave equioxx the day before and day of just to make sure pain wasn’t a factor. He had really consistent work the week prior. On July 1st the farrier came and we just did it. He quietly held up all four feet and even rested them on hoof stands. Nippers, rasping, the whole nine yards with no fuss at all. i could clearly see that he was able to stabilize himself and keep his balance.

I think the work in hand accomplished two things - one - of course - building some functional strength, but the second thing is that he learned that he was allowed to pause, to think, and to respond instead of reacting. He also learned he could have a conversation with any human, not just me. So much good stuff! I’ll post video in the next few days so you can see the work in hand in action.

March 2, 2019

The weather has stopped us all in our tracks for several weeks now. We had a small window today to get some feet done. Yay!

AJ and I were working on Huey when Sundance walked over and started investigating AJ and his tools. He then hung out with us the entire time AJ worked on Huey. Alternately observing and chewing on the lead rope. My comic relief for the day - Huey holding himself followed by being held by Sundance - pair of goof balls!

When we wrapped up with Huey I asked Sunny if he’d like to try. At first I thought he was just going to put his right in the halter but he changed his mind. As he walked away I reached out and took hold of a hunk of mane briefly just st see if he would stop if he felt that connection to me. No luck, he left with more determination after that so I had to apologize for trying to force the issue and re-negotiate. As soon as I backed off he stopped, turned back to me and was ready to be haltered.

He’s always a bit hesitant to pick up his feet, and he tests a bit to see how we’ll respond. AJ got his left front cleaned and started to nip when Sunny just couldn’t take anymore, rearing back to get his foot away and ducking sideways at the same time. Getting out of dodge!

He circled around me a few times but did not bail out all together as he would have in the past so I decided to day was a good day to work with conscious inhibition. Traumatized horses often fall into habitual patterns of reaction that cause them to have to move their feet to feel okay. It’s fine with me if he needs to move to release pressure, we all need a pressure release valve, so to speak. Over time they get to where, as Sunny is, they are able to contain that energy and stay connected instead of just bailing out all together.

So I’d let him move in a circle around me if he had to and then ask him to get himself stopped by picking up some contact. Sometimes he tried to push through but most of the time he would respond and get stopped. I find this re-training of finding a way to get themselves stopped is really key. They learn to consciously control their response to fear so they can think and feel instead of just bailing out at the first sign of trouble.

Sunny was able to have all four feet cleaned nipped and rasped today. He even let AJ put his hind feet on the hoof stand cradle to trim them! Another first!

We talked quite a bit today about how cool this process is. Sure, it’s taking more time but this is such a fundamental, primal, thing for this horse. We both agreed that anything we did to try to bypass this particular horse’s fear would have backfired on us - sedation, rewarding with treats, clicker training - he was abused with food so it just felt wrong to use that against him now. And he was starved to the point he was too weak to object. Out with sedation and food rewards then.

The benefits of taking the time it takes are profound. Sunny is learning how to control himself, face his fears in small doses, release his anxiety on the deepest of levels. And he’s learning there are some trustworthy people in his life that he can count on. I can’t wait to see how he is tomrrow. I have to imagine those feet feel better!

This has been a difficult process. Sunny has not been sound for at least 6 months, maybe more. The only reason for the lameness was the imbalanced feet he would not let anyone touch. So easy to get frustrated watching this and try to find a short cut to get the job done. I sure started out doing it that way with him. It never worked. He just got less and less trusting. Working at his pace, on his terms has totally paid off!

A good reminder to play for the long game instead of the short one.

February 13, 2019

Today I took my hoof pick and nippers with me when during evening feeding, planning to do a follow up session with Sunny and get that right front foot rebalanced if he’d let me…

Talking with him the entire time I approached with the halter, I explain that I really think I can help him feel better if he’ll just give me a chance. He let’s me place the halter on his head and lead him to a flat spot that’s clear of the other horses. It’s important to both of us that he doesn’t feel crowded.

He always looks so leary as I approach. I’m learning to rest a hand on his pectoral muscle and just breathe. I don’t know why this is so comfoting to him but it is. So I hang out there and breathe until he’s breathing with me and not leaning away with one foot out the door.

AJ does this cool thing where he just persistently massages their fetlock until they lift their leg. No squeezing or pulling or prying so I do the same in hopes to provide some consistency in handling. It takes him a minute to sort out his balance, organize himself so he can lift the foot. Once again he lets me pick it out with no fuss. I set it down and praise and thank him for working with me on this.

We breathe together and I ask again, this time with nippers in hand. The nippers make him a bit nervous but I remind him I’ll listen and I won’t hold his leg up long. I really think he’ll feel better if I can take a little bit of that outside wall. He gives me his foot - albeit guardedly - and I explain that I’m going to have to hook his leg in the crook of my knee so I have both hands to nip with. I promise I will not squeeze his leg between my knees as I know that can feel a bit too trapped. This way, I explain, he can take it back if he needs to without any problem.

He stands quietly, lead rope looped over one arm, while I nip the outside, high spot. Done.

Success.

This is the first time since he’s been here that he has been able to allow me to trim his foot without someone holding him for me. It’s the first time he felt comfortable about having the foot handled.

Hooray!

February 12, 2019

This is how Sunny felt about having his feet handled a few years ago. Small improvements.

This is how Sunny felt about having his feet handled a few years ago. Small improvements.

Sundance has been gimpy on his front feet for some time. I was thrilled when he finally let the new farrier work on his feet, and he showed significant improvement in his comfort. He’s due for a trim now and the soreness is back. Good to know I need to keep him on a tighter trimming schedule. I’m not overly concerned because he still goes out and plays rough with Smokey and does all his normal things. At noon today though he was all balled up. Standing funny and just stiff as a board. Probably played too hard - as he often does!

Why don’t I ever do long distance check in’s with my own horses? I don’t recall doing a single long distance check in with Sunny. So strange. So today I decided to expand my experimentation with using long distance work as a full on addition to my work with my own horses.

It was a brief and powerful session that I recorded:

During the session I felt Sunny’s whole top line let go. I was excited to go out and see him in person.

I found him walking around 75% better than when I saw him at lunch. His top line relaxed and only that bit of lameness in the right front remaining. So cool!

He allowed me to halter him, which I did with the thought I might end up being able to work on that right front foot. I took a rasp and hoof pick along just in case. The body work session we did was pretty amazing. He was so in tune, so responsive to subtle things. Enough fun it made me want to develop my own body work modality again. Sigh. The body work felt like a dance in itself. He responded so well. Relaxing his poll, his pectorals, his shoulders, his sacrum, his right hind. All areas that showed up in the distance session.

Then I did some additional work on his right front leg and he allowed me to pick it up and pick it out. This is unusual. Normally he won’t hold it up that long but he did. He even let me take a good look at it and assess the issues. I can see exactly what’s causing the lameness but it’s going to take more than a rasp. I’ll tune in again tomorrow and then go try to nip that foot before I leave for the night.

Thrilled with this first test run! Validated the long distance work in a big way.