"And, when you want something, the entire Universe conspires in helping you to achieve it." -The Alchemist, by Paulo Coehlo

Sunday, December 21, 2014

The Bungee Straightjacket

Oh boy, I just know this post is going to have some "interesting" traffic...

"Bungee Straightjacket" is Karen's AWESOME term for the Balance Training System that she lent me to use with Gracie after hearing that my vet had recommended using a Pessoa-type system for working on her coordination and hind-end strengthening. The longing system from Karen arrived this week and I'm really liking it. Instead of cotton rope, it has bungee cord, making the whole thing so much more stretchy and forgiving. Her system is this one. The uniqueness of Karen's system comes from the fact that it has Last Unicorn hair on it: Ashke's! It made me smile when I opened the package.

Yesterday I rigged Gracie up in it for the first time. I clipped the "side rein" portion of the system directly to the bit on the loosest setting and let her trot around in both directions to get a feel for it. NBD. I then adjusted it to a snugger setting, but still with some slack in the "side reins." It took Gracie awhile to figure it out. She did a few initial small bucks then settled into this super collected canter that made her look like an upper level dressage Andalusian. I was working her in the small paddock that we use as an arena, but it was quite slippery. I longed her around in both directions across the paddock until we returned to the front of the paddock where it was flatter. Here she finally settled into a really nice, forward, swinging trot.

Initially she braced against the system some. I was happy to see her fairly relaxed though. Note the soft eye and inside ear pointed towards me. 

She gave me some lovely halts when I had her whoa. She would actually come to a sliding stop, turn to face me and stand still at the end of the longe line. I didn't teach her that; she's just started doing that of her own accord recently. I LOVE that she does NOT try to come to me anymore. I would praise her and let her take a break for a minute, me staying in my territorial bubble and letting her stay in her bubble. For changes of direction I would then point where I wanted her to go and she would turn and obediently trot off in the desired direction. She was really, really good. She still slipped a couple of times, but she caught herself...and then gave a huge annoyed buck each time. I burst out laughing so loud that Kathy and Zoe, who'd been in the barn, came out to see what was going on. I'd never seen Gracie do that before and it thrilled me: not only is she AWARE of a misstep, she is ANNOYED by it. Lily is the one that has always bucked in frustration when she slips/trips at liberty or on the longe.

After about 10-15 minutes of work, Gracie started doing some nice stretching down into the contact and her whole topline softened.

On the forehand but softening.
A very relaxed mare working in a nice, balanced frame. Note the slack in the bungee cord. And the spring in her step!
I realized that I've been projecting way too much energy at Gracie when longing her. I was really quiet with my body language and energy this time, and she responded really well to it. Lily is such a sensitive creature that I literally have to put any emotional or mental turmoil into an imaginary box and set it aside before I even try to approach her. I realized this weekend that I need to do the same with Gracie. She is a lot like Lily used to be when I first started working with her on the longe.

Afterwards, I unclipped the "side reins" and hand-walked G-mare around the paddock to cool down, taking the opportunity to also practice halting and backing while being led. She did really well. She seemed a little tense initially but relaxed significantly whenever I stroked her neck or forehead as a reward.

It was a really good session with her. Afterwards I tied her to the fence, threw on her cooler and sheet, and gave her her dinner.

I was also able to trim Lily, which was a huge surprise. Gracie also needs to be trimmed but Lily is just SO GOOD about everything that I knew she would watch out for me if I had any sort of trouble with dizziness. As it was, there was no dizziness to be had while trimming. Her feet looked long from the outside but looked really beautiful and balanced from underneath: some concavity even on her notoriously flatter RF. So all I did was roll her toes a bit. The entire trim took maybe 15 minutes. Afterwards I brushed the little bits of mud off of her legs (Kathy's fields are set on a downhill which is wonderful for preventing water/snow melt pooling; it's just that ALL of MD is slippery in the winter because of the mainly clay footing in this region + overnight freezing/daytime melting) and the motion of bending over to brush Lily's legs DID cause dizziness. Go figure. See what I mean about the same motions causing dizziness sometimes but not others?

Today we gave the Bungee Straightjacket another whirl. I set it up in this fashion:

I had to add some baling twine extensions to make it a little looser than what you see in the photo. The system can also be rigged like this:

Ashke. This is how Karen was instructed to use it.
I will definitely be experimenting with the different settings to work Gracie's body in different ways and figure out what works best for her.

I took no pictures today because iPhone + cold = fail. Gracie started out trotting easily, initially bracing against the system by going above the contact like she did yesterday. She settled into the contact much quicker though and there were no bucks of protest whatsoever. I worked her in the same paddock as yesterday but this time moved her towards the flatter section at the back of the paddock. I then asked for a canter. She kind of took off in a panicky sort of canter, to my surprise: she had been working so well initially. She did slip a couple of times but always caught herself. I just asked her to stay at a trot after that.

Two things I've noticed: she thinks "Good girl!" means she should stop or slow down. Hmmm...someone taught her that. She also thinks "Easy" means "Stop" as well. So she HAS been longed prior to me coming into the picture. She just wasn't taught correctly from the looks of it.

I'd been carrying my dressage whip in one hand while longing and using it to point at body parts I wanted her to move or to get her to step up underneath herself more. Today I simply put it down halfway through the session and she did very, very well even without the addition of the dressage whip. For changes of direction I did as we had yesterday: I requested a halt, she stopped and turned to face me, I let her think for a minute, then pointed with my hand in the direction I wanted her to go. She did great.

We worked for 20 minutes. I then cooled her off by hand-walking her and doing the same as the previous day: practiced walking forward, halting and backing up as I did. I then had her do a turn on the forehand in both directions. She used to have a really hard time with this but she did excellent with crossing her hind legs in both directions whenever I pointed the dressage whip at her hindquarters. She received lots and lots of praise. I rubbed her forehead each time and she'd lower her head and lean into it. This mare loves attention so much that rewarding her with a kind touch is on par with giving her a treat. Once she was cool I tied her to the fence with a haynet while I set about grooming and blanketing her.

Afterwards I turned her back out with Lily, Deja and Queenie. Lily had been supervising from the other side of the fence while I was working with Gracie, but had moved off to graze while Gracie had her hay and I puttered around the barn cleaning up.

Before leaving I walked out into the back field to say good-bye to Lily. She was down by the gate that leads into the park with Deja. I walked down towards her. Deja took off at a trot and I thought Lily would trot off after her. But she didn't. She pricked her ears when I called her name and came strolling up towards me. It always makes my heart get all warm and fuzzy when she does that.

We stood together in the darkening dusk, me scratching Lily's neck while she slowly sniffed me up and down. It's something that she's always done with me and a few other people that she really likes. It's like with certain people she enjoys sniffing out the story of where you've been and what you've been up to all day. She'll start at my feet then slowly work her way up, stopping at my hands and my face. She'll usually then rest her muzzle or her chin against my shoulder. Today it was her muzzle. She touched it against my cheek and just left it there for a minute while I scratched her chest. She then dropped her head again, took a bite from the grass next to my boot, then started all over again with the sniffing. This time she blew softly into my face and I blew back into her nostril. She rested her chin against my shoulder.

A long time ago, I used to be leery of her when she did this. Until I saw her doing it with other horses she really liked. Lily is a touchy-feely kind of horse, which is what sometimes annoys other horses. She's kind of clingy, but only with people and horses that she truly trusts. I let her do this because I know it's her way of letting me know I'm special to her. It's very, very sweet and it means a lot when she does it. A fox barked in the distance and a flock of geese flew overhead as the remaining light of the setting sun disappeared from the horizon. I looked at the sky and Lily turned her head and looked too, and we just stood there together, staring off in the same direction, nothing to hold us together. Just standing there next to one another because that's where we both wanted to be.

It was a really beautiful moment. And then I was ready to go and when I formulated that thought, Lily turned and walked away into the darkness. I smiled and went home.


  1. I love your relationship with Lily. Makes my heart warm.
    Glad you are using the balance system and really glad you were able to adjust it with baling twine. I hope it helps Gracie the same way it helped Ashke.

    1. Thank you thank you for sending it to me to use!!

  2. Gracie looks great! So happy to hear that things are going so well. =) Griffin also seems to think that "good boy" means he can slack off his efforts entirely. I think it must be my tone of voice/surreptitious body language.

    1. Hahaha him and Gracie are definitely similar in so many ways. I hope she turns out as nicely as him.

  3. The balancing system looks quite intriguing! Glad to see Gracie took to it so well.

  4. Gracie is looking better and better! And Quest is the same with "Good girl" sometimes = stop/slow down in her mind though she's very good about turning and facing me at whoa. What a mystery, them mares.

  5. Ha Chrome thinks good boy means he can stop too. We're working on it. :D I'm glad Gracie is doing so well and that the bungee system is helping. Thanks for sharing your moment with Lily. Such a special moment.

    1. It was a beautiful moment; the perfect ending to the day. :)

  6. Interesting! You can see the differences in her movement

    1. I thought so too! Smartphones and blogging go hand in hand for tracking our horses' progress!

  7. It may not be that Gracie was taught to lunge incorrectly. She may not have been taught at all. When I first started lungeing Nimo, he would stop every time I said "good" or "easy" as well and he had no lungeing experience before I started him. He also still comes to me every time I stop him after 10 years of lungeing. I used to try to dissuade him, but the behavior is so much a part of him, I eventually decided to let it go. He does now respond appropriately to easy by slowing down a gait, but it took awhile to train it.

    Anyway, I hope the system helps Gracie - I could tell you were expecting some comments on the use of a "gadget" and I'm glad they were all positive:) Ideally you don't need them, but I think when you're rehabbing or trying to overcome a physical issue, they can be useful in the right hands. And if anyone has the sensitivity to use something like the Pessoa system, it's you!:)

    1. Thank you Gail! :D I honestly hate gadgets, for riding and especially for longing, though I recognize their usefulness in training some horses. I own all sorts of things: a chambon, a neck stretcher, side reins with the elastic donuts, and I used to have a set of sliding side reins. I hadn't used the side reins in over a year, and I haven't used the other gear in even longer, but I keep the stuff around because it's all training gear that can be useful at some point or another. I won't criticize what others use or how they use their gear because most of the people I've known who use these things have known what they're doing. I have honestly found that my horses will learn to carry themselves on a circle way better with *nothing* on at all and that the way the person in the center carries themselves and their energy will make the *most* influence on how the horse carries themselves. That said, I will throw on a gadget for a few sessions when I want the horse to do a specific thing with their carriage, like bending to the inside, or to help them become familiar with the concept of contact (Lily in the very beginning), or to give me more control when they are being zoomy (like when I was rehabbing Lily from her tendon injury: she NEEDED to NOT run around on the longe and I didn't want to drug her for our short longe sessions at the time. Gadgetry helped.)

      I've helped others with Pessoa systems because I know how they should be used and how they're supposed to work, but I never really liked the principle nor the way they're made, which is why I never rigged one up for myself.(Though some horses do respond well to this particular gadget when used by someone who knows what they're doing). Which is why I'm so grateful that Karen sent me her bungee cord version to try. I honestly wrote the post as a way for me to keep track of Gracie's response to the gadget. If anyone had said anything negative, they would have been shot down with "This is what my vet told me to do; I trust my vet, and my vet personally worked with and rehabbed many neurologic horses herself back when she lived in Ohio and was riding in the hunter circuit there." ;) It really is the only reason why I'm using this with G-mare. I'm glad all the comments were positive too, and thank you for the compliment! :D