Writing something else

If I’m conspicuous by my absence here it’s because I’m busy writing a professional (I hope) article. Professional as in “regarding a profession”, and as in “of a serious nature,” not as in “I’ll be paid for it”.

Anyway, the week-day lunchtimes when I usually get round to glueing some words together for you are currently filled with a different type of word-gluing. Also, lunchtimes are the only point when I can get access to the archive material I need to inform some of the words.

The main thing I have learnt by reading minutes of meetings from the 1920s and 30s is that nothing ever changes except technology. I would minute meetings so much more nicely if my minutes were going into a massive leather bound volume, but I’m glad our department is no longer having to make a case to get a typist because hand writing the index cards is taking too long.

An update on clicker training

Once Drifter was back to the usual summer turnout pattern (3pm-8am) we no longer had the problem of him being more interested in a haynet than me. I bring him in to ride, clicker train afterwards and then turn out again. This works well.

We’re currently working at liberty on the yard outside his stable. It’s a small courtyard surrounded by stables, with the exit at the other end, so there are often people coming and going which is distracting for him, but as the livery owners around us are usually not there at the same time as me we’re not too much in the way. At some point soon I think we’ll move into a school, when one is free, as we’re moving around more than we were at first, but for the moment the yard is fine for us. This week some stables are being reallocated to different horses so it may be that it won’t be quiet enough to do that soon, but I’ll worry about that when it happens. I do have some concern, working at liberty, that he could escape, bolting, if something horse-eating suddenly happened. I cannot deny that there is some risk. But there is risk whatever you do, and considering the horse and the yard layout I think that risk is not too large. While any horse has the potential of bolting, some are far more likely candidates than others! I think I feel more vulnerable in that sense because no one else does anything at liberty and if I see anyone else doing any groundwork it usually means the vet or physio ordered it.

So what are we doing when we play with the clicker?

“Touch the target” is going well, and so is it’s close friend “Follow the target.” I feel like maybe I should be stepping this up to make it harder, but it’s quite useful having something nice and easy for when he’s not getting a new concept. Instead of keep asking for something he’s not understanding yet, we can do some “touch the target” for a break and then go back to the new thing again.

We are also working on “Back.”  Drifter is good taking the first few steps away from me, but getting him to back further than that is not yet consistently getting through. I think he thinks back means “get out of my space” rather than “step backwards regardless of where I am”. Some days I can get him 4 or 5 steps back. Other days 2 seems to be the limit. I think I’ll have to be patient on this one.

Another one to be patient with is “Open your mouth for the bit.” When I go to put the bridle on he has never been eager to take the bit. And he can be a bit anxious once the bit is in but before everything is buckled up. There are no dental issues (although of course there may have been in his past) and the Happy-mouth eggbutt snaffle is perfectly suitable. I would prefer to hold the bit up to his mouth and wait for him to accept it rather than sticking my thumb in his mouth. Sometimes he does open of his own accord, but often not. I have a friend who holds out the bit and the horse walks towards it, puts it in her mouth and waits nicely for everything to be done up around her. That horse was not trained to do it but made her own decision to do that one day, and the owner has gone with it ever since. It would be nice to get Drifter that far, but I’d be perfectly happy with him just opening his mouth willingly most of the time. The difficulty with this one is that he’s got years and years of experience at not opening his mouth, so it will take longer to change a behaviour, as opposed to rewarding a new one.

We started looking at bitting with a clicker at the weekend. Yesterday he opened his mouth very quickly for the bit but was more agitated about it. I hope that the agitation is going to reduce once this becomes more normal. I think it’s kind of understandable for him to be extra anxious about changes to a process he was already a little anxious about. Also the clicker sounds strange when we’re putting a bridle on because I have to have it in my teeth so I can get the click at the appropriate moment while holding the bit/bridle with two hands. It’s a work in progress but I’m pleased to have the progress!

The last game which we only began yesterday is “Stay.” This one I thought would be hard, because he hates to stand still. In hand or under saddle he hates to stand still. But on our first session he got it! I didn’t go that far away from him, but it worked. I hadn’t read up on how to train a Stay, because I only thought of doing it right that moment. What was I going to click on? I held up a hand and stepped away and clicked when he didn’t follow me. It worked like magic! The horse that never stands still stood still!

I think the biggest challenge with clicker training will be staying ahead of him mentally. The responsibility is on me to keep it interesting and challenging; to keep asking for new things but not confuse him; to give treats for the achievements rather than for almost anything; to keep the sessions the right length to stop while he wants more. I wasn’t really prepared for how quick he’d be at picking it up. Horses are awesome!

Getting back to normal

Getting Drifter back to normal was not looking that great until the end of last week, hence the lack of posts. Under saddle he felt awful. Trotting around a corner, particularly on the right rein, was scary. Even attempting to go in a straight line was challenging, as he wobbled first one way, then the other, then stumbled. I saw small improvement from ride to ride, but all within the general scale of pretty awful. On Friday, which marked the start of our second week of trying to get back to normal, towards the end of the ride, I managed to get a slightly less horrifying trot, which was the first glimmer of hope.

In the early hours of the next morning we were treated to a most un-British thunder-storm. The only time I’ve known a storm like it was on holiday in Croatia. The thunder and lightning were incredible, as was the rain. The horses were out in it. I hoped he wouldn’t hurt himself if they were running around in panic.

I went to the stables after lunch and he was still a bit damp in the mane, tail and feathers, but otherwise none the worse for the storm. So after the usual preparations I hopped on board. We went through the usual slow warm-up in walk, with rein length varying although always much longer than I would expect him to work to when in good shape. When we moved up to trot things seemed better. There was less hollowness, even on this first trot of the day. He was more relaxed, more “normal”. Over the course of the ride I asked for more roundness and got it. His right hind, now easily the sorest of his legs, needs nagging to keep him using it, but the more he uses it the better it gets, so my right leg is getting quite a workout! Only a few days ago that leg could nag as much as it wanted, he wasn’t going to step through, but now he can.

So we carried on working our unexpectedly good trot, with lots of walk breaks in between, until at one corner on the left rein he decided to offer canter. I held him back in trot, not having expected him to be ready to canter yet and evaluated the trot. On this left rein, it was a trot good enough to ask for canter, so when we next got round to the corner in which he’d suggested it, we cantered. Only once down the long side of the school and back to trot for the corner, but we cantered! It was pretty slow, which in him means he’s not very comfortable, but it felt safe and balanced. We cooled off and finished. I was delighted. There was no way he was ready for the other rein, but I had canter back, which I’d thought might still be a week or so away.

On Sunday I moderated my expectations; yesterday might have been a one-off and I couldn’t get upset if he didn’t manage as much again. But he blew my socks off. Even on the dodgy right rein the trot was adequate. And again, on the left rein he offered canter before I’d even considered asking, so we cantered. Again I wanted to keep it to the straight long sides of the school so that he didn’t have to worry about corners, but he overruled. I gave my usual tiny “come down from canter to trot” aid and he totally ignored it and carried on around the short end of school, demonstrating that he was fine in the corners too. I was somewhat amused. After some more trotting on both reins and more cantering on the left, he offered canter on the right rein and I deferred to his judgement, as the trot was much improved. It was a bit of a scary canter, and we both agreed that corners were a bad idea on that rein, for now, but hey, it’s a canter and it’s way more than I expected we’d get. I’m so pleasantly surprised to have both directions of canter back so quickly, and have him keen to canter under saddle again.

I don’t know what happened in that thunder-storm, but whatever it was it seems to have done him good! Of course it’s also possible that his loading dose of glucosamine, which he started on Tuesday, is helping!

What did we do on Friday?

I was feeling a bit frazzled, mentally rather than physically, and the vet could only see us in the middle of the day on Friday, so I made the necessary arrangements and took the day off work. It felt weird to be using a day’s leave because I was mentally tired rather than physically tired.

After my lie in, and subsequent leisurely reading of blogs and Ravelry fora, I had breakfast and did a little crochet.

Next I pulled my bike out of the garage.  I turned it upside-down, removed the wheel, levered the tyre from the rim, took out the old inner tube and cleared the bright green slime out of the inside of the tire. Or should I say Slime – it’s a brand name after all.* Unfortunately because I’d left my Slime-filled tyre pancake flat for a week, I had green slime everywhere!

After the green slime was gone I put the new inner tube in, got the tyre back on the rim, the wheel back on the bike, and put in the own brand orange slime I had to hand before pumping it up. I sorted through my old puncture repair kits to replace old tubes of glue with new ones and realised that I could make my frame bag from my old bike fit this one if I found an allen key, removed the drink holder and cannibalised an old rubber-band based rear-light fitting. So I did that too.

I’ve gone through every phase of that in detail because I want to highlight that it was a relatively arduous physical process. I would have struggled with all of it a few months ago. Having to clean up the old slime would have been a major blow because it would have been energy expenditure I hadn’t budgeted for. But now it’s not a big deal.

Packing the frame bag with food for lunch, I cycled the 6 miles to the stables. Ta da!

On arrival I cleaned Drifter’s sheath. Box rest is not good for a horse’s intimate hygiene. Understatement. And then I strip-cleaned his bridle and ate lunch.

The vet arrived and we did trot-ups and flexion tests with more trot-ups. The swelling had reduced massively, although there was still a tiny bit left. The lameness had gone and the flexion tests were normal. Hurray! The vet prescribed a return to normal routine in both exercise and turnout! Hurray! However, he could now see the lameness at the back which has been slowly creeping up on us. I wasn’t at all surprised, nor disappointed really. I knew there was stuff going on and it was a relief to have it finally visible as a true lameness. Also, I expected it to get bad at as a result of the box rest. The vet thinks it is coming to the point where we need to intervene at the back but he suggested that we get back to normality for a bit before we start investigating the back leg. I was happy to go with that, so for now we have a glucosamine supplement and exercise, but soon we’ll start playing the vet game again. How soon will probably depend on whether it eases with exercise or not.

Honestly I’m sure most of the staff thought his back leg troubles were all in my mind so it was good to be able to tell them that the vet can see it now. It’s likely that the front end issue might have been caused or at least exacerbated by the problem at the back because it’s the right hind and the left fore that are sore.

As we were suddenly back to normal routine I tacked up and got on and rode in walk and trot! (Canter is now allowed but I never canter unless the trot is reasonably good). The trot was not pretty. That didn’t surprise me, but it was hard work to ride. He was hollow, unbalanced and unrhythmic. I just tried to stay out of his way and let him go in whatever way was comfortable for short trots and then walk again. It did get better… until I changed the rein. Now we were on the right rein and I was rising on the correct diagonal for the rein but it was not the easy diagonal for Drifter, whose two bad legs were now on the ground each time I sat. Everything got very hard for both of us. If I was any good at sitting trot that would be a good solution but I’m not. It seems like a bad idea to rise on the wrong diagonal but right now it seems like a bad idea to be on the right one too! I just hope that next time I ride it will be a bit easier for him as he’ll have moved more which will improve the back leg. We kept the ride quite short, not least because the heavens opened and we got drenched in seconds. There have been times when I’ve tried to work him in weather like that and he went on a bucking and (tiny) rearing tantrum. Aware that he might have lots of energy to spare from the reduced exercise I didn’t want to take any chances so we went for cover! For now my exercise priorities are just to get him moving again. It may be a long time before we get a trot I’m happy to canter from but that’s OK.

Once we’d both dried off it was time for him to go out. Exciting! I was prepared for it to be a little too exciting so wasn’t at all surprised when his walk to the field had something of the trot about it, but he was reasonably mannerly. When I took the head-collar off he did get told off for bucking a little closer to my space than I’d choose, although there was no real danger, and once I was out of the field he galloped… with enough commitment that I got to see his attempt at a sliding stop when he reached the fence on the other side. After that he trotted. Quite a lot. Which I took as an opportunity to observe the very subtle lameness at the back. There was a point where he tried to canter. Two awkward strides on his easy left rein and he decided against it. Trot and gallop were his two gears until he remembered that the green stuff he was running on was made of food, and settled down to eat. I was glad that he didn’t seem any lamer for the outburst and that he’d settled. I’m glad that I was there to see it and seeing those two awkward canter strides was useful – I knew that he might have lost his right rein canter but I hadn’t realised the left rein would be so hard, even at liberty. When the time does come to ask for canter under saddle I’ll be much better informed for having seen this. Hopefully though, turnout will do him good and he’ll loosen up. If he’s a little sorer in the dodgy legs that will be an acceptable balance for the increased wellbeing of the rest of the horse. I’m pretty sure he thinks so!

With my horse in the field there was nothing left to do but get back on my bike and do the 6 miles home. On the way my chain came off, so I popped the bike upside down, twiddled gears, helped it back on, righted it and got on my way.

I got home, showered and didn’t feel that tired. Seriously.

I’d done lots of mechanic tasks, cycled for a total of 12 miles (having done almost no cycling for years), rode a truly awful trot that took loads of core strength just to keep my balance (having not trotted at all for a few weeks), ran up and down for trot-ups, hung upside-down sheath cleaning, groomed, tacked up, removed tack and strip cleaned a bridle, and I didn’t overdo it. I think I’m really fixed!

As for my horse, he may not be quite as fixed as me, but I’m content. He’s out of the stable and a lot better than he was. This morning I was braced for the call that he was really lame again, but it didn’t come. He’s having the day off from structured exercise today, to recover from his night in the field, but tomorrow we’ll do some more trotting and we’ll see where we go from there.

———

*I always use either Slime tube sealant or an own-brand equivalent. If you get a small hole in your inner tube, such as a thorn would make, it repairs the hole for you. It can’t cope with everything, but it does really cut down on manual puncture repairs, which is great if you’re out and about and you end up going down hawthorn hedged lanes that the hedge trimmer has been through recently (you might be surprised how often that’s happened to me.) The other thing that’s useful is that if it can’t seal the hole for you, at least you can find it easily because there’s luminous green slime bubbling out of the hole!

Disparate thoughts and updates

Blogging

According to WordPress, and I have no reason to disbelieve it, it is 5 years ago today that I registered with them. Wowzer! I wonder if WordPress and I can make it to 10 years together.

It makes me think that there’s quite a lot of my life documented here – does anyone know how I could (easily and ideally for free) back up all the posts I have here? I’d be upset if something happened to it.

Lameness report

Drifter is moving much better. We’ve had a couple of little rides in walk (as prescribed by the vet) and while the first felt awful, as if all the legs were trying to go in their own directions, the second felt much more normal.

Clicker training

As an addition to my anti-boredom campaign for Drifter, I started clicker training him. We’re working on touching his nose to a target stick. I bought the clicker and did some internet reading before I started and somewhere read the advice to begin by getting familiar with the stick and clicker and treats before I got anywhere near the animal I wanted to train. Had my husband been at home I would have practiced with him, but as he wasn’t, I used the cats as guinea pigs. (Metaphorically.)

They didn’t really get it. The internet tells me you can clicker train cats but they didn’t really catch on. They did give me plenty of practice at handling everything and getting my timing right though and that was the point. They also gave me the feeling that I might need to be very patient with Drifter and not expect too much.

But Drifter got it, and got it really fast. It occurred to me that horses, unlike most cats, are used to the idea of being asked to do something, doing it and then receiving a reward. They’re also used to the idea that humans might want something both specific and apparently pointless and will keep you at it until you get it right. By the end of the first session (only a few minutes) he understood that he had to touch the black bit at the end of the stick to score the treat, and could target it every time it was in an easy to reach spot. He was more challenged when I held it up higher or lower, so we worked on that during the next few sessions. One thing that does confuse him sometimes is that the handle is also black and the same texture as the target at the other end. If my hand is closer to his nose than the end I want him to touch, he goes for the handle and then gets frustrated because he thinks he did it right. As long as I keep the handle further from him than the target, he gets it.

It’s also been really interesting as an exercise in how he sees. When I hold it in some places which seem easy to touch I realise that he’s ignoring it because he’s not noticed it. Practicing at the door where it’s bright he’s much more accurate than in the relative gloom inside the stable.

Unfortunately, since our time together once more includes exercise as well as entertainment, clicker-training is not so much of a focus. The best time for him to be interested in clicker training was just before the night-time hay nets were handed out. Now I tend to ride/hand walk at that time and when we get back he has a haynet, which he’s more interested in than my treats (my treats are deliberately small and lower calorie to avoid clicker training adding too many calories) so he’ll only choose participate with the clicker training if I make it really really easy. (i.e. the target is really near his nose!) While I could take his haynet off him, that would be a negative thing for him to associate with clicker training. I think it’s probably detrimental to try to train when he’s more interested in the hay, so we may just play with the clicker on weekends when the timing works better than in the week.  Another solution would be to click first, exercise later but that doesn’t work so well for me.

I haven’t really decided whether I’m going to take clicker training any further than being a game we play in his stable with a stick, but I’m impressed with how easily he picked it up so far.

2nd opinion, 2nd plan

So the x-rays that were sent off to the experts came back with the verdict that it is not a break / fracture / chip / bone damage. Yes his pedal bone has a weird looking bit but it’s just a funny shape and probably always has been. As my GP says, wherever you run tests you find something, but that doesn’t mean it’s a significant or relevant something.

The box rest has improved the lameness massively. It also meant that our first attempt at a trot up included some galloping on the spot, and when the vet asked to see him on the lunge there were some moments with something in common with flying a kite, but even when he’s acting out he’s careful to do it away from my personal space. In the stable he’s been very well-behaved so I was expecting him to need to let it all out sooner or later.

There is still some swelling directly above the hoof and a little lameness. I was offered two options. 1. Do a nerve block. 2. Do another week of rest and see if he’s sound next week. As the nerve block would only confirm where the pain is, which we think we know anyway, I went for option 2.

We also get to introduce some walking; initially in hand, but also under saddle later in the week. Wish us luck!