Wednesday, February 29, 2012


It is very rainy this morning so I am procrastinating going to the barn and doing a blog entry. Dinah continues to improve and we had several big achievements yesterday. The first one was that when I arrived she had a bog solid poop in her pen! Don't worry, I will post a photo. When I went back later in the day she had three! The barn has switched from oat hay to something that is much more green and looks like orchard grass, and I think it is agreeing with her much better. She is also still on the probiotics, so that is probably helping as well. I got to the barn pretty early yesterday and got Dinah all tacked up and took her to the round pen. I longed her each way and her focus is getting better and better. She is keeping her inner ear on me, which is a sign she is focusing on me, and not everything else. A horses ears are a indication of the direction they are looking or where their attention is. When working with a horse, you want their attention on you, not everywhere else. After the longing session Darby brought the mounting block(thing you stand on to get on) into the arena and we let her get used to that and practiced standing next to it. Then I stood on the mounting block and moved around above her so she could get used to that. Next I pulled on the stirrups with my hands and jiggled the saddle around on her back. Then I put my foot in the stirrup and stood halfway up on her back, petting her and praising her. Then Darby longed her a bit more just so she didn't feel trapped. Then we brought her back to the block and I put one foot in the stirrup and brought my other foot over her hind end and moved it around. Next I went all the way over and sat on her back!! Again, lots of praise. She was very aware of what I was doing but didn't seem panicked. We did this about three times from each side and then took her tack off and let her graze. Darby was a great handler, it is very important to have a capable horse person helping you the first time you back a horse to make sure it is a positive experience. In the afternoon I went back to try long lining her. Long lining is like double longing, where you have a longe line attached to each side of the bit running through rings on a circingle and then coming back to the handler. Its a bit hard to explain but imagine normal longing with an extra longe line on the outside of the horse running down the side and behind the haunches. She was a bit panicked because there were a lot of ropes on her and that can be scary for a horse. Two times she ran off and I had to let go of the ropes. Sometimes you have to do that to show the horse the ropes are not going to eat them. If you try to hold on, the horse will feel trapped and panic, so it is better to just let go. So once she got over the ropes, I started longing her around. I was using a heavy cotton rope and I discovered why people use driving lines. The cotton rope was too heavy and it was too much pressure on her mouth. Driving lines are thinner and lighter, so I will try to use those next time. The purpose of longlining is to teach the horse how to turn and stop before you get on their back. It is also called ground driving. Basically you are just trying to teach the horse to give to pressure. I taught her to turn around in the long lines, after a few times of running into the fence, she got it. She is so smart and it only takes one time for her to get it. It is cold and rainy today so probably no riding, but weather permitting I will try to get on her again tomorrow. Happy trails!!

Monday, February 27, 2012

The Dinah Report

Dinah has been doing quite well over the last few days. I have been continuing to review all the skills we have already learned as well as introduce a few new ones. One of the things I am constantly having to remind myself is how important it is to go slow when working with a young horse. There are so many things for them to take in and in addition to learning new skills Dinah is still adjusting to her new environment. She seems to be feeling better, I got her probiotics (digestive enzymes) in a paste form, which she has been getting 2x per day for 3 days. Her back legs seem a little better, I have been using sports medicine boots when working her, so hopefully those are giving her some extra support. I begin each workout with her grooming, then tack her up, I am now doing all the tacking up while she is tied up, which I am really happy about. After I get her tacked up, I take her to the round pen and work her in hand from both sides, me leading her from her left and right and then I longe her on both sides. Today after I longed her I brought the mounting block into the round pen. I practiced leading her up to the mounting block and standing on it. I also started putting weight in the stirrups and moving around above her so she can get used to a person being above her. She took this all in very calmly. In her afternoon work today I first worked her in the round pen, and then I took her to the covered arena and worked her in hand there. We had to have some reminder lessons that she is not allowed to come into my space and she is also not allowed to push past me. After I got her walking politely next to me, I longed her in the covered arena. This is much harder than longing her in the round pen because in the round pen she has the fence as a guide for where to go. The covered arena is much bigger, so our communication must be really on in order for her to stay under control. She did great in the larger arena. I have not been able to get too many picture recently because I have been by myself, but I will try to get a video up soon. Thanks for reading!

Friday, February 24, 2012

The little things

The more time I spend working with horses the more I realize how important it is to notice small changes in your horse. If you can be very observant and pay close attention to their behavior and stance you will be better able to understand what is going on with your horse. This blog entry is going to be about some of the challenges I have faced with Dinah's health so far. At the end I will include pictures of all of the things I have talked about. One of the most important things to think about when getting a horse is diet, what kind of hay, grain, water and how much are they going to get. The person needs to consider breed, size, activity level, and nutrition history to help pick the correct feed for the animal. I didn't know much about Dinah's feed before I picked her up, but I did know that she is small, mustangs are generally easy keepers (don't need a lot of feed), and her activity level was going to be low, at least at first. I made a mistake in that I did not discuss with the barn manager what they were going to be feeding her, so when she first arrived she was getting straight alfalfa. Horses are very sensitive to extreme diet changes as well as extreme jumps in the levels of nutrients they are receiving. If they suddenly get a diet that is very high in nutrient content it can cause a problem called laminitis, where the lamina that connect the bone in their hoof to their hoof capsule can get irritated and inflamed. I think that Dinah potentially had a mild laminitis in her hind feet because when we trimmed her she had some bruising in her back feet. Also the first few days she was at mvr she kept breaking her water buckets an creating a mud puddle to stand in. This is what I mean about noticing small changes. Some owners might just think the horse is being bad and breaking the bucket, but she was being smart because her feet hurt and she knew she needed to stand in mud to cool her feet and help decrease the inflammation. I also think the 7 hour trailer ride contributed to the laminitis. One of the other things that has been going on with Dinah is diarrhea. She has had varying levels of diarrhea since I got her. This is probably due to the diet changes and also stress. I started feeding her probiotics, kind of like yoghurt for horses, it is to help supplement the beneficial bacteria in the gut that keep the horse healthy. So I was feeding her that and it seemed to be helping, but then I became concerned about giving her extra nutrients, so I took her off the probios. I also switched her from alfalfa to a wheat/ oat hay so is fed about ten pounds of that hay twice a day and that's it. She still has diarrhea, so I have been talking with my vet from pony club who has been kind enough to answer my questions via Facebook, and I am going to try worming her and also start her on a product called psylium. Psylium is a feed through product that helps clean a horses intestine out of sand of any other debris that could be irritating their bowels. Since horses eat off the ground, sometimes they also eat sand or dirt which then stays in their belly and can cause digestive problems. If these things don't work, I may try to switch her to a different hay, but a different forage hay(lower in nutrient) not alfalfa (too high in nutrient content). Her right eye has also been consistently weepy, which is probably a result of the diet and environment change. It is another way the body can push out toxins,
So if a horse has very weepy eyes, there may be something wrong with the diet or something the horse is allergic to. Dinah is also not standing straight with her back legs. Her fetlock joint (round ball above hoof) is not straightening all the way ( see picture). I did some research and I think it may be a inflammation of the joint, again as a result of diet. My vet said not to worry about it too much, just to try to get her diet balanced and it should resolve itself. She said it is probably a result of all the changes in her life and I shouldn't worry about it too much, but it's hard not to worry! One of the thoroughbred babies that I worked with at cal poly had this same problem, since horses are so big and grow so fast sometimes their bones grow faster than their bodies, and it takes a while for the outside to catch up with the inside. When her body all of a sudden got a high nutrient diet, her bones said oh time to grow! So I just need to be patient and not work her too hard physically, but mentally she can still work hard so I will be doing a lot of ground work with her at the walk, putting in all the controls so I can get on next week! Yesterday I put reins on her bridle and started teaching her how to give to the pressure of the bit, this is how she will learn to turn. She learns so fast and is so smart, it is amazing. She is coming along quite well, and I have learned so much already, which was my main goal for doing this. :) I also included some pictures of her front feet so you can look at the wear pattern. It is important to look at how a horse is wearing their feet, because this can give you a heads up for potential lameness. Her right front is wearing much more evenly than her left, can you tell which is which?

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Saddle time!

Yesterday, I put on Dinah's saddle for the first time. She was very good about it and didn't get upset even when I tightened the girth! Some of my students came to visit Dinah yesterday, so she got a chance to make some new friends. After putting the saddle on I took Dinah to the round pen for a longing session. There was a lot going on so she was a little distracted but otherwise very good. She got a little concerned when she heard the saddle flaps moving around on her back, so tomorrow I will work on desensitizing her to that noise. After the round pen I took her out on a walk and she was again well behaved. It is time to start getting ready to ride! She is such a sweet girl, I am really enjoying our time together.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Stair steps

Yesterday was a big day of progress for Dinah. I started with grooming and I was having a little trouble getting her to pick up her back feet. She was wanting to move her body into me, so we had to have a lesson about how that is not ok. Up until this point I have been using carrots a lot as a reward and she is starting to expect them. Now it is time to start doing things for a voice reward or scratching, and start to use carrots a little less. I want her to do things because she enjoys learning and I set up positive experiences for her, not because she expects a carrot. However, the carrots were important to gain her trust at first, now we can start to move away from food rewards. After grooming I began to work on desensitizing her using a rope on her body. I allowed her to walk a circle around me and I continued to move the rope on her. When she stopped walking I praised her and decreased the pressure. That way, she learns the way to get the pressure to decrease is to stop and think about what I want her to do, instead of panicking and running off, which is a horses natural flight instinct. After awhile she really got it and I was able to move the rope all around her body on both sides and she remained standing and relaxed. Then I moved on and did the same thing with the saddle pad. This time, the saddle pad was no problem. After that I took her to the round pen and continued what we did yesterday, working on staying out, keeping attention on me, and transitions. She was great! It is so fun to watch her learn, she is so smart it seems like I only need to teach her things once and she says, I know you taught me that yesterday I got it! What's next?? After the round pen I took her out on the same loop behind the property and we also climbed a big hill to start working on her endurance. I was glad she didn't try to run away at the top of the hill, because I was very tired. I guess I need work on my endurance too! When we got back to the barn area I decided to try to walk her over some of the obstacles. One of the great things about moon valley ranch is that they have lots of wood bridges and steps and logs and platforms to practice walking the horses over. Many of these skills will be required at the competition, so it is great to have this stuff to work with. The first time I tried to walk her up the steps she did it no problem. Then she figured out she was up on something and she wanted to come down. These kind of exercises are challenging because it requires that the horse think about each foot individually and where they are going to put it down. It requires a lot of thinking and is a "high pressure" exercise. After the first time I got her up she didn't want to walk straight onto the platform again. I decided to just work on her front feet. I got her to put her front feet up, and back down and I was happy with that. It was a good lesson for me that you really need to plan and think out each thing you are going to ask of the horse, to make sure they have the skill set they need to be successful. This creates confidence and a desire to keep learning, it is a lot like teaching kids! Really big dangerous kids though. In the afternoon Darby went and worked with her some more. She worked on Dinah's pen to make it smooth and level so we can work her in her pen without worrying about hurting her legs. The rain we got made the pen soft and easy to work on and it looks great now. Darby took Dinah over some more obstacles and even over a platform that moves! She also has trouble with Dinah moving into her when she was working on her back feet, so that is an area she needs more work on. This morning I did the same thing with the rope and practiced putting it around her feet and belly. Then I put the circingle on and she was unfazed! I think she is almost ready for the saddle.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012


Dinah continues to progress and improve each day. Today she took her bridle calmly like she had been doing it for months. After the usual grooming, I took her to the round pen for some more work on longing. She tends to get distracted and want to just canter around me so I worked a lot on transitions today and her listening to my body language. When I step in front of her shoulder I want her to slow down or stop depending on the voice command I give. If I move toward her hind end I want her to move forward or go faster again depending on voice command. It took a bit to get her to focus on me but by the end I had her walking and trotting when I asked her to on the longe line and responding to my body position. Then I took her out for a walk on the property and she was great. She went out behind the property away from the other horses and past a truck, through a gate and wasn't worried at all. Then I took her into one of the other arenas on the property, and she was again, unfazed. In this arena I walked her over a small cavalletti, which she stepped right over. She is handling everything very well and so now it is time to introduce some new skills. Tomorrow should be a big day! Hopefully I will be able to get some video soon. In the first picture she is drinking, she was a very thirsty girl after her workout.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Dinahs adventures in the round pen

Yesterday morning I took Dinah out of her pen and walked her to the round pen. She was very well behaved and walked into the round pen without hesitation. Once in the round pen she got a little stressed but I went back to what she knows, walking, halting and backing up, and she calmed right down. It was still pretty muddy in the round pen so I did a little longing and then decided to end on a good note. She also got to see another horse being ridden around outside the round pen. I feel very fortunate that Dinah is so forgiving and when I make mistakes she let's me know without a kick or a bite! It is amazing to have a horse that is a "clean slate", I know that everything I do with her will stay with her for the rest of her life. It is a lot of pressure and I wish I could do it without making mistakes, but I am thankful to have a horse a good as Dinah to work with. I returned in the afternoon and repeated what I had done in the morning, except this time there were a lot more distractions. There were several horses out riding around the property, a few being groomed, and two loose horses. Dinah took it all in stride, and maintained everything we had worked on in the morning. She was afraid of noises that she couldn't see behind the round pen, but we worked through it and she calmed down. After the round pen I took her to the wash rack and introduced her to water. She was very curious and good about having her front feet washed but she wasn't so sure about the back feet. We will need to work more on that. When we were walking back to her pen, the loose horses ran up behind her and she just calmly waited for instruction from me. We turned around and walked the other way back home, I was very happy with the way she handled this situation. Once back in her pen, I groomed her and worked on putting the saddle pad on her back. She got a bit scared at one point so I backed off and allowed her to approach the saddle pad. I then put it on her back a few more times and quit for the day. Many of the other Norco trainers already have their horses saddled, but I think Dinah is learning fast and progressing well. If anyone who is reading the blog has suggestions or exercises I could work on with Dinah please leave them in comments. Thanks for reading!

Monday, February 13, 2012

Dinahs first trim

Today was a very rainy day but we were still able to accomplish a lot with Dinah. We started with her usual grooming, and watched her reaction to the rain on the roof of her shelter. She took the rain in stride, so we decided to go ahead with trimming her feet. Darby brought all of her equipment into Dinah's pen so she could check it out. Then Darby began to trim her feet, and with some carrot motivation, she was very well behaved. Part of having her feet trimmed is putting her hooves up on a hoof jack. It took her a bit to understand she needed to leave her foot on the jack, but once she figured it out she was very good. Darby did a great job improving the shape of her feet and giving her a positive first experience with having her feet done in spite of the rain. After we finished her feet, we groomed her one more time and then left for the morning. We visited her again in the afternoon, and I practiced looping her rope around a wood post to begin learning to tie. I groomed her and again worked on leading from both sides. The pen was really muddy so I didn't work on lunging this afternoon. I put on her bridle and leg boots again and let her eat some hay with her bridle on, which she did with enthusiasm. Tomorrow we go to the round pen!

A little background

The extreme mustang makeover is a program created by the BLM to promote the mustang breed and make the horses more adoptable to the general public. I had to fill out a detailed application as well as provide two references. I was chosen as one of the 30 trainers to compete in the competition on may 18-20 in Norco, California. The trainers have 90 days to completely train the mustang, from halter breaking to being ridden under saddle. The competition requires that the horses learn to walk, trot, and canter under saddle, perform lead changes and turn on the forehand. There is also a body condition score as well as a score for catching the mustang in a round pen. The top ten finishers after this competition move on to the finals and perform a freestyle competition. Each horse and rider combo has 5 minutes to show off their horse to music. Check out mustang magic 2012 on you tube for some great videos of the past competitions. The day after the freestyle competition, all of the horses are auctioned off and it is time for the trainers to say goodbye and the mustangs will go home with new owners. For more information check out extreme mustang makeovers website or Facebook page. We would also like to say a big thank you to Toni Venza for picking up Dinah all the way from Ridgecrest, CA near Death Valley and donating her time and trailer for a very long trip!! Thank you so much Toni!!! Darby and I decided to take on this challenge as a fun way to continue to enhance our learning, grow in our horsemanship skill set, and challenge ourselves in different ways with horses. We are enjoying the relationship with Dinah Shore so far!

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Dinahs first week

On Friday feb 3, We picked up Dinah Shore from the BLM holding facility in Ridgecrest, California. The trip was quite a journey up and down a few mountain passes, it was an all day adventure. The first horse I was assigned had a terrible club foot (irregular shaped foot) so I asked if I could redraw, I was assigned #4695. a three year old bay mare born in Wyoming and brought to California as a weanling. The wranglers put a halter on her in the shoot and she easily loaded in the trailer. I think it would be fun to work for the BLM, riding horses around and taking care of the wild herds. When we got her back to Moon Valley Ranch she wasn't so sure she wanted to get out of the trailer. After about 15 minutes of trying to convince her to come out, we used the plastic bag method, and it worked. She jumped out of the trailer and immediately walked into her box stall. We made sure she had water and then left her for the night. Over the next few days we used carrots to work on haltering, leading, brushing, and some longing. Dinah is a quick learner and she is very willing for a carrot! After 6 days in the barn we moved her to her bigger pen. She handled her first experience out of the barn like a champ, walking calmly down the shed row and into her new pen. Now that she is in a bigger pen we can really work on the leading and longing. Tonight we put her bridle on and worked on leading and longing from both sides. Tomorrow she will get her hooves trimmed and we are going to wash her tail. I will try to post her progress every day.