Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Gimme Some Suga'

I'm typing this with my tea (still) firmly affixed to my left hand, but I am happy to report that I did in fact ride last night, which (between some minor coughing fits) probably helped my overall health, as ponies usually do.

While I tacked up the queen bee, the BO was giving me a rundown on her weekend one on one with the mare.  Mostly good, a few sticky spots (Friday bad, Saturday ok, Monday pretty good!) as well as recapping what her farrier had said about P's funny right hind hoof.  My barefoot trimmer suggested getting a good farrier's opinion since she wears it so unevenly, just to hear another perspective.

Farrier thinks he can help her out with a shoe (they always do), but that she doesn't have much to nail to (maybe glue-ons?).  P did just get trimmed, but her feet are looking FANTASTIC.  Rock hard, self trimming her rolled edges and generally gorgeous, with the one exception of her funny right hind that is squishing itself off to one side...   Anyway, the big question is whether or not it's wearing weird because something is funny "up the line," which would mean that a shoe would stop the wear pattern, but shove the imbalance up into a joint...   OR if the unevenness is exacerbating a slightly off weight distribution, and when it wears funny it could be increasing stress on a joint.

I don't have the training or the eye to determine which is cause and which is effect, but I'm starting to pursue options and just think about different ways to approach it in the future.  No rash decisions being made, but I'm keeping my eye on that foot...

Back to the ride - When I grabbed P's bridle I noticed that her flash had a shiny residue on it, and upon further inspection that the shiny residue was...sticky.... and also... sweet.

"huh." says I.  "what the heck is this from."

"ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh." says the BO "that's probably from the sugar."

Right, right... that makes sense.  Wait.... no it doesn't.  From the sugar??

Apparently, this weekend the BO went back to the basics of operant conditioning and started reinforcing P's good decisions and behavior with sugar cubes.  On the ground.... on the lunge.... under saddle.  Sugar Cubes.  And lots of them.

This, as you can imagine, turned P's normal slobber into a sugary, frosted glaze. Which has in turn, candied my bridle. (charming).

At first I was a little taken aback.  For one thing, I've never successfully seen the mare eat a sugar cube.  Normally she just spits them out in favor of things like mints, twizzlers or skittles, so I was surprised that she was actually accepting plain 'ol sugar cubes.  (though maybe she's just hungry after I axed her yummy grain ration).  The other surprise was the fact that the BO is generally a very low-treat person.  She doesn't feed her horses treats, and typically encourages a "limited treat environment" so as to minimize the obnoxious begging, mouthiness and naughtiness that comes with too many ponies who expect too many treats.

Put these together and you get one very confused girl watching a veritable Treat-Scrooge shoving sugar cubes into a Treat-Foodie's mouth.  But you know what? If it works, it works! Who am I to judge.  I did however de-glaze the flash noseband before we headed out to the ring.. just on principle...

P was a little hyper/unfocused when we got to the ring.  Her ears were everywhere but on me, so I ripped off the side reins and let her buck around the arena for a few minutes.  When she approached me in the center, I patted her (gave her a sugar) and started back with the lunging.  She was much softer, much quieter, and much more focused on the line.  After about ten minutes, I felt like I had a good control and (most) of her attention so we pulled up and I hopped on. 

BO informed me that every time she was good, or made a good choice in a sticky situation, she got a sugar.  So she did.  Our walk was good, a touch anxious, but more relaxed than it has been recently so that was a win.  When I asked for the trot and she moved forward without any objection, she got a TON of praise and then, you guessed it, a sugar.  We worked our canter right away and I only got one buck in one transition.  Otherwise, she was very pleasant with her upward transitions, and mostly balanced (though a few dumpster dives) on her downward transitions.  She got more sugar for light uphill transitions and also for bending as opposed to bracing against my leg and skittering around the circle like a rickety shopping cart.

We popped a few leg yields out, which were decent.  I'm still being a chicken about WRAPPING my legs around her (for fear of a bucking fit), but we made some nice strides.  Thankfully my legs are long, so they are easy to "wrap", and we finally had some awesome, pretty huge half-halts that hinted at some halfsteps.  We zig-zagged our leg yields, with no sign of bucking.  She did grab the bit and dive a few times, but that I can handle.  Finally we did some lengthenings across the diagonal with a brief collection over the center line. 


I know that my standard for "good" has decreased a (metric) ton, but these were pretty nice.  She was up in front of my leg, pushing when I asked, and I even caught a glimpse of her toes snapping out in front in one of the mirrors.  (yay!).  More impressive to me was that on one of our passes when I half-halted hard and squeezed her little guts out with my legs, I felt her lift her back and really sit down on her butt.  It only lasted for two strides, but after she pushed forward again I halted her, praised the crap out of her and then offered up... you guessed it, a sugar.

We ended on that after only about 20 minutes under saddle.  But I was OK with it.  P stayed pretty relaxed (on the relative Pia scale) and really offered no major objections that constitute marewolf status.  So that's a win.  I'm still riding a bit timidly, but all in all, this is a massive improvement from the meltdown we had.

Things that have changed:

Her food (less of her rice bran and envision, more hay)
Her "house" (she's outside 24/7 with a shelter instead of in her cozy stall and run)
Her reward (Sugar. Lots of sugar.)

So, who knows.  I'm a little nervous about her weight with both the outside (colder) and food (less) variables.  I'm not worrying about it yet, but if she drops weight suddenly, it's going to be hard to pack on the pounds in the dead of winter.... Ugh.  Oh well.  I think if she stays sane for a few weeks I'm going to slowly up her feed a bit again and see what happens.

Pia has figured out that sugar cubes come from hands.  And that all hands require inspection...


  1. That's exactly what I do with my students. On a daily, daily, daily basis!! Lol, that's why I think having an EBD horse makes it easier to understand them! Let me know if you want an IEP for Pia!! I can even make her a BIP (Behavior Intervention Plan)

  2. If she starts losing weight, you could always add beet pulp to her diet... good for putting weight on without making them high as a kite. Glad the sugar is working at the moment though, I say go with it!

  3. Hooray for a good ride! Sounds like what you're doing is working, though the scientist side of me wishes you'd introduced new variables one at a time so we could measure which one had the best results.


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