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.