Arabee is a puddle drinker! This to me is great news - she hopefully won't give me any trouble drinking on real endurance rides! On two separate occasions this weekend she stopped while standing in puddles to drink and drink, once while in hand, the other while riding w/ me on her back. She crouched down - it was fun sitting there on her and feeling her adjust position to get to the water. I was glad she felt comfortable with it!
Now...for this mystery "issue" - I'm not sure if it is equipment, "sour, i-don't-want-to-work" behaviour, slight lameness, or a trimming issue.
Here's the behavior: fine at the walk, but lacking impulsion. At the trot after 3-6 strides, she begins tossing her head. Sometimes she will stretch her neck down towards the ground for several trot strides, and then toss it. Occassionally she will short step (usually w/ her right front) but it is difficult to know whether to attribute this to actual lameness or stepping on a rock or something. It is slightly difficult to get her into the trot....but I mean slightly. She still goes into the trot very well. I can still squeeze her up into a "bigger" trot. She's always been good w/ transitions, and doesn't go trot-walk any faster than usual.
I'll start w/ thoughts I have about the equipment, and what it may be:
- Reins - I have taught Arabee the "head-down" cue - when I jiggle the reins, I want her to lower her head. At the trot (and I am afraid this is just plain poor equitation...) the reins swing from side to side....which may very well be cueing her to lower her head! The head tossing may be in annoyance from not getting "relief" from doing what she's supposed to do. Tonight's ride I will try to eliminate this problem.
- Saddle - I don't think that saddle fit is causing this problem. She has wither and spine clearance, and you can see from the previous photos that the tree angle fits her MUCH better than my other saddle. It just is obvious that my new thorowgood matches the shape of her back much better (one nagging concern - is "better" good enough?).
- Saddle Pad - it's not great quality, there is a seam that runs front to back on either side, and I have difficulty keeping the pad off of her withers. Any suggestions for a good endurance style pad that fits a dressage saddle? I am seriously considering buying a pattern and sewing one of my own if I can find the material I want (wool fleece on the bottom, a nonslip upper to help it hold it's position under the saddle, and I hope to sew on pockets to carry some things, plus strategically placed straps that will also help the pad stay in place).
- Hoof boots - Possibly a cause - but no issues on Friday while wearing them, Saturday she had issues while wearing the boots, Sunday issues but no boots. We have a hit and miss pattern if it's solely in the boots.
"Sour, I-don't-want-to-work" behaviour is a definite maybe. But then....maybe not. Since I've been riding again, she's been greeting me with a whinny, and often will come up to me on her own. She's been hit-and-miss in the past about whether she'll let me catch her easily or not, but lately she's been very good about coming up on her own. But, yesterday it was the warmest it's been with the sun shining, and she was very relaxed (read...slow!) at the walk, and would randomly spook at things she's seen a zillion times. This is something she always used to do when she was bored. Which she probably is because we've been up and down back and forth in the barn lot for months now. Yesterday the ice was finally melted off, and we could venture out, which was a definite plus. She's a smart mare, and probably the first time she lowered her neck and tossed her head and I pulled her down to a walk she thought - "All right! if that's all I have to do to get out of work, easy!" Hard to say
Slight Lameness - I say slight because if it's lameness she's not showing it at all w/ halter and lead rope at the walk or trot. I had Matt trot her for me yesterday, and I couldn't see a thing! He's familiar with checking cattle for lameness and other issues, so I trotted her for him too - he couldn't see anything out of the ordinary either. She didn't show it at a walk, or trot. Once or twice she short stepped after stepping on a rock....but I do that too when I walk on the driveway! I'll be treating her for scratches (though I don't see any scabs on her front legs....and most of the ones on her hinds have gone away) so hopefully that will help. Since I've known Arabee (I got her in 2000), she's had a puffiness on her right front leg around her tendon just below the knee joint towards the rear of her leg. It's never been a problem before, and if I were actually working her hard right now, I'd say the increased work was aggravating it, but since I've started riding again last fall, she has not yet broken a sweat! We are on easy street right now still!
It could be a trimming issue. I've been barefoot trimming her myself since last August (self-taught from the internet, some of the sites I've bookmarked are http://www.barefoothorse.com/ and http://www.ironfreehoof.com/ but I've looked at and read over ALOT of them). My strategy in trimming is to rasp the wall into a "mustang" roll that stops at the white line; ensuring the wall and bars all around the hoof are even with the sole. I never, ever touch the sole, but leave that to her to "wear" the way she needs it. I have been updating this mustang roll when her hooves look more "flat" and less "rolled" which comes out to be somewhere between every 2-3 weeks. I trim the frog back only slightly - when it's overgrown it is easy to trap manure and invite thrush. Her white line right now is nice and tight especially at the toe, but on the sides of her hoof it's still a little loose yet. Her hooves are beautifully concave (which makes them almost self-cleaning!) and she has a nice toe callus. She does not yet have what I would call "rock-crunching" hooves -but I have seen definite improvement in her hoof toughness with each trim. The last trim she had was 1/31/09. So it's been just at a week.
So if I can just get to the bottom of this little weirdness, I really believe I'll have a great endurance partner. By "great" I mean one I can have fun with and who should with training be able to do 50s pretty easily next year, and LD's this year. She's got a nice deep heart girth, and it was very hard to tire her out in our showing days (but then, working on the flat in soft footing is very different than trail riding) and she is getting older, but I didn't think 12 was THAT old. I don't want to act like she's the "perfect" endurance prospect, but if I can get this figured out she should be able to handle my completion and fun-oriented goals. I seriously doubt I'll be a racer, "just" an endurance rider.
I've been having such a great time riding again....and I want Arabee to feel the same way - I don't want it to be uncomfortable for her.