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The “Hourglass Pattern” is an amazing therapeutic approach to conditioning that I have used with all of my equines of varying ages, sizes and breeds. It builds a foundation of symmetrical strengthening at the core involving the ligaments, tendons muscles and soft tissue that support the skeletal frame and promotes even wear of the cartilage between bones in the joints. It can prevent arthritis as the animals age. This is vital to your equine athlete’s health. Chasity and I open the gate to her rebalancing and rehabilitation exercises in the “Hourglass Pattern.”
The red “X’s” in the pattern represent the points where you are to halt, square up, reward and wait. This process becomes helpful as your equine learns to navigate gates properly and learns to wait patiently through repetition and consistency in your behavior. Always go through gates exactly the same way so your equine knows what to expect. Abrupt actions lead to chaos.
We want to promote self-carriage, so we do not hold the lead rope in the right hand when leading from the left side where it can subtlety cause movement in the head and neck from side to side, adversely affecting their balance. Rather, we hold the lead rope in the left hand when leading from the left side and in the right hand when leading from the right side. We lead from the inside of the arcs in direction through the pattern. Always, say the animal’s name, give the command to “Walk On,” look where you are going, point in the direction of travel with your other hand and walk in sync with the equine’s front legs. This facilitates good posture for both of you!
When negotiating the “Hourglass Pattern,” there is an internal pendulum that swings back and forth and comes to center each time the animal halts and is squared up. If you were to work only along straight lines there is an optical illusion that takes place along the perimeter and makes the animal’s body lean to the inside of the track, and when halted, they cannot find the center of balance. Every time you halt, square up your equine and reward with the crimped oats that you keep in your fanny pack around your waist (other “treats” will not work the same way!). Then wait until they finish chewing so they can settle into their perfect balance unobstructed.
As they progess, they learn to bend to the arc of the turns through their rib cage, carry their body erect in good posture supported by stronger ab muscles that round the back upward as they learn to give to the “Elbow Pull” such that it remains loose. When it is tight, they are simply having difficulty holding their good posture and lean on the “Elbow Pull” much like a beginning ballet dancer must use the bar on the wall. Many people think that you do your equine a favor by not putting a bit in their mouth, but you cannot affect their posture without one. The animals that are not bitted and schooled in good posture can have all kinds of postural issues as they age. Chasity is falling in and out of good posture because she is only in Week Three of her training. As she improves, she will be able to keep the “Elbow Pull” loose for longer periods of time until it is always loose.
As this way of moving and standing becomes more habitual, so does their comfort in these positions. When they rest, they will stand 4-square instead of with splayed legs, or a hip dropped and a foot cocked. They are happy and deliberate in their movements and good posture continues to improve until this become their new habitual way of moving and resting. You will see marked changes in their play and rest patterns while in turnout.
Adding rails to the center of the pattern keeps them attentive, alert and teaches exact hoof placement (hoof-eye coordination). As their movement becomes more deliberate and balanced, their confidence is increased as is their trust in you for making them feel so comfortable in their own skin. They learn to wait for your command before moving. They look forward to their time with you and will gladly leave the herd to be with you! No more herdbound behaviors!
We build this foundation through the “Hourglass Pattern” first during leading training, then after obstacles and lunging training during Ground Driving, and finally Under Saddle. Each stage produces new challenges to the equine’s body and mind that add to their overall development in a logical, sequential and healthy way. Because of all these small steps, with gradual difficulty, it is easy and fun for both you and your equine to do. You are never over-faced with difficulty and you learn to appreciate the little victories along the way! Chasity was somewhat of a pushy, bully to start with, but she now waits patiently when I ask and navigates movement in much better posture, even after only three short weeks! More dramatic changes to Chasity’s body and mind are still to come! It’s not just about the end result. It’s all about the journey!
Selecting the right tack for your Longears is essential to success. I rigged a cob-sized English bridle for Chasity with a pony Eggbutt snaffle bit (4 ½-inch), an over-sized Warmblood brow band to accommodate her wider forehead and not pinch her ears, and normal nose band with an “O” ring installed underneath with a lead rope attached. The “Elbow Pull” is the correct length and is put in place over the crown piece of the bridle and wrapped with a halter fleece to prevent rubbing on her poll. She will begin her postural core strength leading exercises to correct her unbalanced posture, her lordosis (sway back) and the enlarged fat roll across her neck.
When first putting on the light-weight surcingle, I loosely tighten the girth at first to allow her to get used to the pressure around her middle.
Then, of course, a reward for standing still is in order and very much appreciated. And it’s always nice to receive a loving donkey head-hug!
After this appropriate show of affection, I politely ask her if she is ready to accept the bridle. Chasity truly appreciates my consideration for her.
When I put on the bridle, I make sure that her ears are protected as I pull the crown piece over her ears by covering them with the palm of my hand. Then, when it is in place, I just pull my hand away from it’s position. I center the “O” ring and lead rope underneath her chin and snugly tighten the nose band.
With Chasity’s enlarged neck, I felt it would be beneficial to use a neck sweat to help to shrink the fatty deposits along her crest during her workout. I then took up more slack on the surcingle girth and loosely adjusted the “Elbow Pull” on the right side.
Next, I went around to the left side to adjust the tension on the “Elbow Pull.” Next, I went to the front, straightened her head in alignment with her spine, and checked to make sure that she could not raise her head high enough to invert her neck and back. It is tight enough to encourage her to use her abs, and raise her back. This positively affects her sloppy tendency to relax her sway back and will bring it into proper posture.
Now we are prepared to begin work in the Hourglass Pattern in the indoor arena. We begin to walk in sync.
After the workout, we go back to the designated work station to untack. I carefully remove her bridle, sliding it over her ears with one pass, lifting it upward as it goes over the ears. Then I remove the surcingle and neck sweat, and give her a generous reward for her cooperation.
The next step is to take the tack into the tack room, wipe it down and wash the bit before hanging it back up on the wall. Taking care of your tack and equipment in this manner prevents dirt build-up, chafing on the animal and weakened tack and equipment. Then, once a month, we spend time in the tack room going over all of the tack and equipment with Leathernew™ to keep it all in good condition. The cabinets where we store harness is lined with cedar to prevent mold and mildew. Once everything is back in place, I return Chasity to her stall and run. When your tack and equipment fits properly and is appropriate for the activity, it promotes success and enhances your experience together!
Grooming is an important activity in your equine’s life and it need not be a struggle if it is done regularly. Chasity was not real sure of us, or what to expect when she first arrived, but she is gaining confidence and calmness with each grooming session that precedes her workouts. Right off, she is rewarded for going to her designated work station. This familiarity sets the stage for the tasks to come.
I begin with a wet towel to clean her eyes, then her nose and finally her ears. When cleaning the ears, I stroke upwards with the hair and try not to go against the way it grows. Most Longears enjoy having their ears rubbed anyway, but HOW you do it can make a huge difference in their willingness to comply.
Then I begin on her forehead and along her neck with a human, multi-bristled plastic hairbrush. If she had mud on her, I would have scraped that off with the shedding blade first. The human hairbrush is much more effective in getting deep into thick donkey and mule hair and will “aerate” the coat nicely where the shedding blade will only skim the top and often break the hair.
Chasity’s teats were as hard as a rock, but were draining a milky-looking substance. At first we thought she had just weaned a foal, but we found out later, that was not the case. At any rate, during grooming, I scraped the sticky drainage from her back legs. Then I discovered some crusty spots across her chest that resembled an old bot-hatching site that had not been addressed.
I used the shedding blade to scrape off the scabs and applied Neosporin to the area. Over several days now, the scabs are beginning to go away. Chasity enjoyed the scratching! They must have been itchy!
Chasity has an enlarged, crested neck and fatty deposits over her body that will need some attention. The crest has fallen over quite a bit, but I do think it is salvagable. It will just take the right kind of feed and exercise, and some time to correct.
On her withers, Chasity has some scarring where the saddles previously used on her were rubbing and turned the hair white. She is also sporting a bit of Lordosis (sway-backed) which should not be seen in an animal of her young age of 13 years. This will undoubtedly result in irregular movement when seeing how out of alignment her spine is with these issues. Equines are not designed to carry weight on top. Rather, their structure supports carrying their weight below the spine. This is why is is so important to pay attention to core exercises to strengthen the top line and abs to prepare to support the rider’s weight. Just because they are big animals doesn’t mean they can automatically carry our weight without undue stress on their bodies.
The crusty discharge on her legs is very sticky, so I sharpen my shedding blade before going after it. It is going to pull the hairs hard enough as it is. I want the shedding blade sharp so it will come off quickly and with as little pain as possible. Chasity appreciates my consideration for her!
Last, but certainly not least, I sprinkle Johnson’s Baby oil in her mane and tail. This protects the hair from drying out during inclement weather, will promote growth and keep other animals from chewing on it. Then I square Chasity up one more time in preparation for either tacking up or for leaving the work station. Although this all seems simple enough, keeping this routine weekly will keep things from getting out of hand and grooming will remain easy each time. A reward of crimped oats from the fanny pack around my waist is always in order for standing quietly in good posture!
If you have multiple animals, just take your grooming tools in a bucket and your fanny pack full of oats with you to their stalls and do them there. If they are all in one pen in a herd situation, do not wear your fanny pack until they can all be rewarded at the same time, at the end of grooming. Body clipping is not a healthy solution and should only be done when showing. During shedding season, it is impossible to get it all done at once and still keep the hair coat healthy. It is easier if you do it weekly and take off the excess hair gradually. When grooming is done regularly and goes easily, it greatly reduces anxiety and bad behaviors.
We determined that Chasity had cataracts in both eyes, worse in the right eye than in the left. This made her hesitant to come to me at the stall door to be haltered. She wanted to come to me, but she just wasn’t sure. I insist that ALL my equines come to the stall door or gate to be haltered, so I knew I would have to train her and win her trust to get her to do it like all the others.
When she went away from the door, I simply stepped to the inside door of her stall and encougraged her to come to me from there, but she was still suspicious and ran to the far side of the pen. I just walked toward her and spoke in a calming fashion telling her to “Whoa.”
She began to get nervous and started to weave away from my approach, but before she could suck me into the back and forth along the fence, I stepped to the side, waved her into the stall and shut the door behind her.
She knew she was confined and went to the corner of the stall. I knew she could not see me very well with her right eye, so I opted to walk along the wall to her left side and approached her from the left side. Before attempting to put on her halter, I told her what a good girl she was and offered a handful of oats. I allowed her to finish chewing them before I put on the halter.
I was careful about putting on the halter slowly so I would not startle her and then gave her a reward of more oats for standing still. She was grateful and again, I waited until she was finished chewing before asking anything more from her.
Then I asked her to square up with equal weight over all four feet. This would become the protocol EVERY time she stops. I want to change her posture and begin to increase her core strength in good postural balance. The repetition of this movement will change her habitual way of standing.
I rewarded her again and then took off the halter while standing by the open door and watched her chew.
I rewarded her for NOT forging through the door, waited for her to finish chewing and then put the halter back on.
We then turned around and walked to the back of the stall to open the door I had closed, did another turn and exited the stall. She will soon tire of me going into the pen and chasing her into the stall. One thing that is also VERY important in halter training is the type of halter that you use. Although they do provide leverage, rope halters have pressure points everywhere there is a knot and the biggest knot is right underneath their ear. Try putting your index finger underneath your ear and ask yourself how long you could stand it just being there? Now put the palm of your hand under your ear. How does that feel? Nylon webbed halters lay flat against their face and do not cause distractions like rope halters will. The equine can focus their attention 100% on YOU and not be distracted by subtle pressure points!
I would much rather encourage my animals to comply happily and willingly than try to use any kind of forcible leverage with them. I have found it to be unnecessary. Building a willing bond between you prevents them from becoming herdbound and being sour about leaving their friends. It enhances the relationship between you so they really WANT to go with you. This particular routine gave Chasity an idea of what to expect and resulted in her coming to the stall door willingly when I call her after only two times of having to proceed this way…completely resistance free. She is a very intelligent girl and learns quickly despite the disadvantage of cataracts. I have other equines with eyesight issues that have been successfully trained the same way. The key is patience, understanding and a careful, respectful and sensible approach.
It was the end of March when Chasity first arrived and the weather was much too cold to even think about giving her a bath, even with our indoor facility. Even though the equines come in to us with Health Certificates and a Coggins Test, we are still very careful about keeping them in quarantine for 30 days and bathing them for hygiene purposes. Chasity would be no exception.
Finally on April 10, it was warm enough to bath her. The water at the outside hitch rail would be too cold, so I opted to bath her in the Tack Barn where there was warm water. Chasity was about to experience her first bath at the Lucky Three Ranch! I began with the lower part of her front legs, then moved to her forehead and worked my way down her neck after spreading a line of shampoo across the full length of her body. I did not use the shampoo on her face.
Ordinarily, I do not use soap during the yearly bathing, but since she had come from another location, I used my Tres Semme Breakage Defense shampoo. It is not as drying as some shampoos and does not require any conditioning. As I sprayed her with water, the suds came up and I followed the sudsy water with my shedding blade to eradicate the dirt from her body as she was rinsed.
As I scraped her with the shedding blade, I just kept the water flowing until no more dirt and suds came from each area. Chasity was not exactly thrilled and moved into me and up against the hitch rail where I could not reach her. I just adjusted the spray to more power and aimed it at her flanks until she moved over. Then I adjusted the spray to be lighter and less penetrating again.
Once she was willing to stand still, I was able to check some questionable spots on her body. He chest had completely healed from the old bug bites, but I did notice a bald spot on her right hind leg. It didn’t look like much and I thought it would probably fill in with hair as her good hygiene was maintained. If need be, I would treat that with Neosporin, too. It works well on most things like this that donkeys seem to get quite often, including “jack sores.”
After the right side was all done, she was rewarded for being a good girl! After chewing her reward of crimped oats, we resumed first with her forehead on the left side.
I worked my way down the left side the same way as I had done on the right side…covered the length of her body with shampoo, followed by water and scraping the suds and dirt from her body with the shedding blade.
She was much better on this side! I sprayed her teats clean and she stood like a trooper!
She now knew what to expect and was amply rewarded for her efforts!
I had prepared to dry her with a hair dryer, but it was so warm, I decided to try her on the hotwalker. I wasn’t sure about how she would take it, but I took it slow, tied her with the chain looped through the ring on her halter and not under her chin. She walked right off as if she had done it all her life!
She dried much more quickly than she would have had I used the hair dryer! I was so proud of Chasity! I think she is finally beginning to trust us!!!
Today, Chasity did much better after two days of rest over the weekend. Her hair coat is much softer and her color is becoming more brilliant. She was moving around quite a bit while being groomed and had to be corrected. After being corrected and rewarded, she stood still.
Today she was much better during grooming after being corrected the last time, although she was still a bit impatient. She wanted to continue forward before she finished chewing during her lesson in the Hourglass Pattern. I expect that will change in time.
She stood still while I wiped the dried milk-like drainage from her teats and scraped off her legs.
I also found dried bug bites of some sort on her chest that I thought could be old scars from hatched bots. I scraped them off with the shedding blade and treated them with Neosporin. It worked well.
It has only been a week of lessons, but we have made some progress with her neck. It is difficult to tell much from looking at the left side of her body. But now, when you look at her neck from the right side, you can see her mane sticking up across the top. We could not see it at all before.
The neck sweat Velcro is overlapping a bit more and I am able to tighten the adjustment on the “Elbow Pull” since she is now more flexible in her neck.
Her back is beginning to look better even from the start of the lesson. Although she still leans on it, she is randomly submitting to the “Elbow Pull” and matching my steps more easily.
Chasity continues to improve. She is happy to stand quietly, is more balanced over the ground rails and squares up much more easily with only slight indications from the lead rope.
With each new lesson, Chasity continues to improve. It is only necessary to do the Hourglass Pattern once in one direction and then cross the diagonal and do it in the other direction, at least once per week and no more often than once every other day. She is now learning to bend through her rib cage while remaining erect around the turns in both directions.
Again, she is balanced over the ground rails, squares up nicely and maintains her good posture. She resumes the pattern and goes over the ground rails again for a balanced finish! There was no need for pulling on the lead rope at all, just slight indications!
Chasity’s overall balance and core strength is progressing faster than I would have thought. This is the reason I tell people that these lessons on the flat ground will need to be done for 3-6 months to gain ultimate postural balance and core strength before moving on to obstacles for the addition of coordination. Some equines do progress faster than others. Chasity appears to be one of the faster ones!
Our farrier, Dean Geesen came out to take care of Chasity’s feet. The first order of business was to introduce himself with an offer of oats! She did not want my veterinarian, Greg Farrand, to pick up her feet on Tuesday, but during grooming on Wednesday, Ranch Manager, Chad and I cleaned her feet, so she was much more compliant today. Getting her hooves in balance will greatly improve her overall body balance. And, getting the shoes off her overgrown front feet will enable the frog to do its circulation job!
Her front hooves were exceptionally long with Borium shoes (non-slip) on them and her back feet were long and uneven. All four feet had been trimmed out of balance.
Dean showed us how the shoes had been abnormally and unevenly worn.
Dean removed the shoes and trimmed her hooves in the best balance that he could for now. Her hooves had been pressured to one side and would need several trims to get them properly symmetrical in alignment.
Dean is a correctional farrier and knew just what to do to get her started off on the right ‘foot’ so to speak. It was a definite improvement from where she was!
She will need to be checked periodically to keep her feet in good shape as she moves forward in her therapy. Sometimes these kinds of things just take time!
She was rewarded with oats in appreciation for her cooperation! Chasity seemed thankful for her newly balanced hooves.
I led Chasity from the stall and introduced her to her new work station. It was clear that there would be a lot of work ahead. Her neck crest was fallen to one side, but was not yet permanently broken, as far as I could tell. She had fat pockets across her body and her hooves were overgrown with shoes on the front feet. At least her feet could be balanced after removing her shoes and having her trimmed. For now, I would introduce Chasity to her new routine of grooming and exercise.
Since I wanted a clean place to set the crownpiece of the bridle without it getting tangled in her hair, I went ahead and clipped her bridle path. She was very good about having the clippers behind her ears.
I wasn’t thrilled to have to do the workout with her feet so unbalanced, but I knew the farrier would be here the very next day, so I opted to get started. I had my Ranch manager, Chad, clean her feet.
Then I proceeded to groom her with the multi-bristled human hairbrush and scrape with the shedding blade what I thought was dried milk from the insides of her hind legs.
I tacked her up in a light weight surcingle, Eggbutt snaffle bridle and a neck sweat to help keep the crested neck stabilized and encourage shrinkage during the workout. Then I added and adjusted my “Elbow Pull” self-correcting, postural restraint to support good equine posture during her workout.
Then it was time to go to the indoor arena where I had the Hourglass Pattern with ground rails set up for her therapy sessions. She hollowed her neck and back, and “trailered” her hindquarters behind when she walked. It was the same when she stood still with an inverted neck and back and camped out behind.
I began her postural therapy…leading her through the Hourglass Pattern in the “Elbow Pull” restraint to encourage her good posture. The neck sweat would begin to shrink the crest on her neck. She didn’t know exactly what was expected at first, but soon “got with the program” of walk and halt in designated places. She was asked to square up with equal weight over all four feet and then be rewarded for her effort. I waited each time for her to finish chewing her crimped oats before proceeding again along the track of the Hourglass Pattern.
As she walked, she submitted to the pressure from the “Elbow Pull” restraint which meant she was holding her own good posture when it was loose. She would lean against it when she could not hold that posture, but I encouraged her to relax and “give” to it each time we halted.
Chasity tracked once around one way and then once around the other way. She walked over the ground rails in the center of the pattern and stopped at strategic places between the cones to do square halts and stand still. I also stood still after dispensing her rewards so she would never feel rushed. She learned to stretch her back and engage her abs, and slowly began to improve even after only one session!
One of my ranch hands, Steve, said that he noticed her back and overall posture looked ever so slightly better when she was done, even after only one session! I think I see some very subtle improvement from the beginning to the end of the workout as well. It will take a long time to get her REALLY correct in her posture, but it is truly exciting when it begins to happen!
I went ahead and did Chasity’s therapy session in the Hourglass Pattern again. She did well in her workout and I noticed that her hair coat is already considerably softer. She had some difficulty squaring up, but it could be soreness from the previous workout. Standing squarely is unnatural for her and it will just take some time before it becomes comfortable. After having her hooves trimmed, she is moving a bit more balanced…not quite as awkwardly. Going forward, I will be doing her workouts at least once a week, but no more than every other day. Muscles need to be appropriately stressed during the workout, but not fatigued, a day of rest is needed in between to fully recover. I expect it will probably take six months before we have redistributed the fatty tissue and solidified her balance in good equine posture. I am fortunate to have such a nice indoor arena in which to work during inclement weather.