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

Saturday, January 24, 2015


I'm so behind on posting!

On Sunday after the Expo it rained all day so I wasn't able to ride until Monday. I caught Lily in the field, trimmed her feet and tacked her up in the barn with the Alta and the new S-hack that I kept meaning to try on her.

This is how you DON'T adjust an S-hackamore. The noseband was on its tightest setting but still too loose. This is pretty high on her nose as a result: I wanted there to be some sort of chain action if I needed it.   
Correct adjustment of an S-hack with an appropriately sized noseband.  Photo from here. You want it to sit on the bones of the nose (too low and it will sit on the nose cartilage, which can create breathing issues when pressure is applied). Bottom shank of the S-hack should be close to the mouth, giving the appearance of there being a bit when observed at a glance.  Note how differently this sits on this horse's face when compared to the S-hack on Lily above.
I also want you to appreciate how much my TB's face shape resembles this Arab's! :)
I've slowly been training Lily to neck rein over the last year so I figured if the S-hack as it was was ineffective, I still had brakes and steering. It looked so weird on her face to me as a result of the inadequate fit. I had ordered a cob-sized noseband from The Distance Depot, which arrived on Tuesday.

I also tied the new 10' lead rope around her neck for the second part of the experiment!

Despite the S-hack being too big with the current noseband, I had no problems steering, stopping or doing reinbacks with Lily with minimal contact and either direct-reining with both hands or neck-reining with one hand. So I moved on to phase 2, which was using the lead rope as a neck rope only! (My regular reins were draped over the saddle pommel in case I needed them.)

Lily's steering was not as sharp as with the hackamore but I could certainly get her to turn, circle and even do some side-passing with just the rope around her neck. All at the walk. Braking was nonexistent with the rope alone, but she stopped if I engaged my seat and requested a verbal "Whoa". So. freaking. cool!

I was grinning from ear-to-ear after about 10 minutes of work with the neck rope alone. I then removed the rope and went back to the S-hack. We worked on trot and a couple of canter sets and Lily was absolutely wonderful, especially given the fact that she was being worked bitless on a loose rein like you would a Western horse. I was SO proud of her!!

Up next was Gracie. I tacked her up with the French link snaffle bit and hopped on bareback. She curled her neck and balled up initially, almost like she was thinking about bucking, but I asked her to walk out  and stretch, and then worked on alternately walking and halting and she relaxed. I was soooo tempted to ask her to gait or trot but the footing was muck and I decided to not risk it. She relaxed and was SUCH a good girl. I worked on some of the stuff from Liz Grave's presentation at the Expo, doing some light lateral poll flexions (shoulder-fore), circling with a correct bend through her body and figure 8s, and G-mare was completely receptive to all of this.

I would also halt and then ask her to back up by tapping her shoulders with my feet. Wouldn't you know it?! She backed up SO much easier than when requested with the reins and seat! I had to repeat it a couple of times to make sure it wasn't a fluke!

We ended up riding for a good 30 minutes and I was SO happy with her! Another great bareback ride on Gracie. :)

The dusting of snow that we had on Tuesday. It sadly didn't stick!


  1. Silly question and I may have answered it while contemplating: did you attach the bridle to the ring on the s-hack because of the issues with the width of the noseband?

    I like the idea of using a lead rope as a neck rope while still having the bridle on. I may have to experiment with that myself - thank you!

    1. So I want to say, "I totally did that on purpose!" but the truth is this: Fig, thank you for this observation as it actually explains why the S-hack looked so off on her face to me! Derp. I was having the hardest time pulling up pics on my cell to compare to while adjusting it on Lily: we have horrible phone reception at the barn. I'm used to seeing the Zilco hacks with the separate ring for the cheek pieces: http://www.ridingwarehouse.com/Zilco_S_Hackamore/descpage-ZSH.html
      But you're right: if I'd attached the cheek pieces to the hackamore on the loops correctly, the noseband would have fit even looser and would have been even less effective. Thank you for noting that, as I will make sure everything is attached correctly when swapping out the factory leather noseband for the cob-sized one. :)

    2. This was going to be my question too :)

    3. Yes, definitely a de-de-dee moment!

  2. You said something interesting today (in my blog)- "It was like I ceased to exist when I was on Lily's back." Hmmm. I always wonder about this bit of horse psychology. We can speculate...I sometimes speculate it's too much responsibility - "Oh great now I have to save us both from danger" but more likely it's simply "Oh great now it's gonna be harder to save myself." *shrug* I used to ride a horse (that I will feature in my blog soon) who was a total freak on the ground, generally unsafe, but once you managed to climb on him, he was brave. The "Centaur effect?" Amazing.

    OK Vet Tech, here's a question for you. If horses can only breathe through their noses, how is it that they vocalize through their mouths? : ) My vet answered this question for me the other day, but I'm not sure I buy it.

    1. I've met horses like that, that were soooo much better under saddle than on the ground. I will look forward to reading about that horse on your blog. :)

      I had to look up the answer to your question, as it is a good one. We covered all of their diseases and some husbandry in tech school but we didn't go into too much detail about weird parts of their physiology. I had read *some* of this before, but some of it was new to me. Horses are considered obligate nasal breathers (I didn't know that term existed!) right along with rabbits and rodents. It's an adaptive mechanism meant to protect them from aspiration so they can breathe while constantly grazing. It also allows them to scent predators while eating. The horse's epiglottis in its normal state forms a seal, separating the oral pharynx from the horse's trachea. Basically the only way a horse can breathe through its mouth is if there has been some damage to the throat. I can't find a specific explanation of HOW a horse whinnies, so I'm going to go with this: they open their mouth to project sound but the air is still coming out through their nostrils. Which would also explain how they can nicker with their mouths closed. :) What was your vet's explanation?

    2. My vet said simply they breathe through their noses but can vocalize through their mouths (whinnying not nickering), based on their physiology, we'd have to look inside the horse to fully understand it. *shrug*

      What I find interesting is that I've never read anything about this. When I asked him he paused and then smiled like, "Never heard that one before!"

      So horses are obligate nasal breathers like cats are obligate carnivores! My vet gave me a small packet of Science Diet i/D to try when she had no appetite, and I informed him there's both corn and wheat in there (although she did eat it, and then vomit it up on the only carpet in the house). There's a lot of Science Diet haters out there and I don't feed it but would like your opinion. I understand that dry food has to have something in it besides meat to give it structure, the one I feed uses beet pulp. Interestingly, every time my cat kills a mouse, the only part she does not eat is the digestive tract, confirming to me what she doesn't need in her diet.

    3. It was very interesting: there's tons of information as to *why* they whinny but none really about *how*. They have guttural pouches that are thought to contribute to their vocalizations but apparently no one really knows their real purpose. It is also thought that they contribute to the horse's incredible hearing. There is soooo much we don't know about horses still. At one point I seriously considered going on to vet school so I could specialize in equine internal medicine to work exclusively with the strange and unexplainable in horses.

      Yes to cats being obligate carnivores! :) I'm in the Science Diet hater group. You can always tell which cats are fed Science Diet long term because their coats are dull and greasy. The company has been coming out with some newer non-prescription Science Diet foods that are lower grain or grain-free, like their Ideal Balance line (http://www.hillspet.com/ideal-balance/ideal-balance-cat-food.html) as a way to compete against Wellness and Blue Buffalo. We do keep it as an option for hospitalized patients at work that don't have dietary restrictions, which is nice. Cats do tend to like it. I still tend to shy away from Science Diet for my own cats.

      You are right about the dry food: they need to add some sort of starch to be able to bake it into kibble, and a lot of grain-free varieties will have something like brown rice, oats, barley, or potato/sweet potato in the first 5 or 6 ingredients for this reason. I personally love Fromm's cat food (the boys get the canned variety http://frommfamily.com/products/four-star/cat/can/). I'm careful with the completely grain-free dry cat food (like Wellness Core, for example: http://www.wellnesspetfood.com/product-details.aspx?pet=cat&pid=23#ingredients) because I've had some varieties give previous cats explosive diarrhea. At the moment I stick with Blue Buffalo. Astarte has a sensitive stomach and some ingredients make her vomit (I've always thought she has some mild form of IBD) but she does fabulously on Blue Buffalo's Sensitive Stomach dry (http://bluebuffalo.com/natural-cat-food/blue-for-cats/blue-sensitive-stomach-adult-chicken-and-brown-rice-recipe/) They have other varieties that are grain free, like their Multi-Cat (http://bluebuffalo.com/natural-cat-food/blue-for-cats/blue-multi-cat-health-adult-chicken-and-turkey-recipe/) but Astarte did vomit at night when I had them on that one. I break all of the rules with her: she will only eat Friskies or Fancy Feast when it comes to canned cat food and would rather starve than eat the super healthy stuff, so I've thrown in the towel and she gets what she wants. She does well with it so I don't sweat it too much, and I figure at age 15 she's entitled to eat whatever she pleases. Haha :)

      Cats *are* obligate carnivores but some individuals will still eat greens when offered. My first kitty Shakti loved to be taken outside on a leash so she could eat grass. It was pretty funny. She'd just lay outside flat on her belly on the grass while wearing her purple harness and scarf away! She also loved lettuce: I used to keep a head of romaine in the fridge for her at all times. When she had a craving, she'd sit by the fridge waiting for someone to open it and give her lettuce. If you opened the fridge, she'd find it herself too. She also enjoyed watercress and spinach. She was a weird cat. :)

    4. I love the discussions you and Lytha have!! The neighing thing is so interesting!!!! I was told the reason horses can breathe while choking is because their throat and airways are separate but I always wondered if that's true why does gunk come out of the nose when they choke?

  3. i like the look of that hackamore! hopefully with updated adjustments it'll sit just the way you like it! also - glad some of the expo take-aways worked out in your rides :)

    1. Definitely! The Expo is a great source of inspiration during the winter slump. :)

  4. Yay for trying the hackamore and yay for bareback! I'm excited to read more!:)