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Today we visited Elvis.  We hadn’t seen him since Monday, when we dropped him off.  I was surprised that as we drove up, he wasn’t in his assigned pasture.  We got out of the car and ran into the BO, who was finishing up working a horse.  We stopped along the fence line to chat, and she told us that she had decided yesterday that Elvis wasn’t happy in his old group.  Tuesday we had spoken and, at that time, he was doing OK.  He wasn’t fully accepted by the herd boss, but things weren’t unusual.  Sometime on Wednesday though, the BO noticed Elvis standing by himself in a lonely corner of the pasture.  This instance, coupled with the fact that he had gotten a fresh kick mark and she saw him trying to bond through play with the lowest horse in the group with no success, caused her to decide things weren’t working out for him.  The problem though was that he was already with the most mild group, the herd made up of the most subordinate horses!  There was one other option though… the pony herd!

The BO has a mini donkey (pictured in the last post), two small ponies, and one medium.  She figured that this would be a very non-threatening group, even if somewhat untraditional for a horse to join.  To make sure that he had the best chance at building confidence, she put him in a smaller pasture with only one of the ponies.  He’s now been with his new friend for a day or so, and things appear to be working out much better.  At first he was frightened when the small hairy beast boldly trotted up to him, but then was pleased to find that the diminutive equine was friendly.  They have reportedly been seen galloping in circles in play – Elvis may have found his first friend!

For such a bold horse, I find it amusing and interesting that Elvis can have his confidence shaken within a herd of horses.  I tend to believe this will change with time and maturity, but what an interesting thing!  The BO sees him as extremely immature.  I do as well, but then again she has a fresh pair of unbiased eyes.  Perhaps he’s even more of a baby than I realize on a daily basis!  Aww, that makes me think he’s even more adorable.

Elvis and his Little Friend.

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Well,  I have something special to share with you all!  About a week ago I took some photos of Elvis after having body clipped him.  This gave me the opportunity to step back and look at him for the first time in weeks without his blanket on.  At the time I was in a rush, so I didn’t see what was standing before my eyes until I was at home and flipping through my photos.  Apparently, Elvis has changed!

There are a few things that this year-long transformation illustrates, and I think it’s important that they be shared.

First, it’s the structure of the horse that matters.  I’ve spent a lot of time learning how the horse’s body works and functional conformation.  I’ve worked hard to develop an eye that can look past the surface layers, even the musculature of the horse, to see how his bones work together.  Over the years I’ve seen tons of horses passed on because prospective buyers didn’t see the horse underneath.

Second, proper work produces proper conditioning, and this can transform a horse.  Elvis still has a long way to go, he is only in the beginning stages of learning how to use his body.  Each stage presents increasing challenges in movement and form, which need more strength for development.  When done properly, the shape of the horse changes much.

Below is the photo taken by Elvis’s breeder last February, when I asked for recent shots and some video.  This photo is the one I used most to make my decision, as well as a 30 second video clip of him walking.  The photo showed his structure, and the video showed me arguably the most important gait when evaluating a horse.

Elvis, February 2009.

(Please Note:  Above photo was flipped horizontally to match the orientation of the photo below.  This is why the socks don’t “match”.)

I laugh every time I see this photo!  At first glance, he looks pretty unappealing.  However, this is Elvis today…

Elvis, February 2010. Also, one inch taller.

I sent these two photos to Elvis’s breeder, Mary.  She laughed also, and said she wouldn’t have known it was the same horse.  I also sent the photos to my good friends, who helped me evaluate him last year, they too had a good laugh!

Mary did exactly what I had requested, and provided traditional sport horse evaluation materials for me as best she could – I mean, this was during a northern Wisconsin winter!  I asked specifically for traditional conformation shots, and at least a walk video.

When I look at these photos today, I am proud of myself.  I always champion a few things: type over breed, functional conformation, and the effects of correct work based in dressage.  If I wanted to, I am sure I could find plenty of people who would argue these things with me until the cows come home.  However, I’ll never change my stance and these photos are for me, a trophy.

I can’t wait to see the changes next February brings!

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To my readers:  I’m sorry I’ve been so lax with updates for nearly two weeks now.  I’ve had a lot going on in my non-horse life with family obligations and travel, and sadly Elvis has had to take a back seat.  I’ve been riding him an average of three times a week, and will return to my normal training schedule in the near future, but until then here’s to hoping some time off for Elvis will do him well!

Anyway, our lessons have been going swimmingly, in fact my last lesson, given after a week of time off, was super!  I wasn’t sure what to expect.. Elvis hadn’t been worked in a number of days and he is just a four year old, so I thought he might be a little on the distracted side.  He did have some focus issues, but all things considered I couldn’t be more happy with his performance.  The instructor continues to love him more and more, and during this particular lesson she couldn’t stop giggling to herself quietly whenever he’d… well, whenever he’d be himself.

In other news, my husband sat on Elvis for the first time!  I wish I could included a photo of that event in this posting, but he wouldn’t be thrilled with his image on the internet.  He also complained that he felt like somewhat of a child, because I insisted on controlling Elvis from the ground with a halter over the bridle, just for safety’s sake.  In all honesty, I think my husband is feigning indignation;  he’s seen Elvis’s athletic ability, and isn’t at all interested in being a crash test dummy.

With my husband’s help, I’ve also clipped Elvis again!  This time a high trace.  Things went better this go around with the help of Mr. Twitch.  Elvis stood quietly and focused on his nose as opposed to the giant whizzing clippers.  He’s a pretty sensitive horse, so I know that the sensation is really unpleasant for him.  The hair was falling so fast (and in such giant clumps), with such little protest that I kind of lost track of what I was doing.  As a result, I’m sad to report that I wasn’t reading Elvis as closely as I should have been (which for this horse is pretty darn closely) and he reached his “done” moment unexpectedly.  You know that point, right?  The time at which the 1k animal has run out of patience, and can’t be expected to learn any more?    Well, this put me in a pickle.  I couldn’t just let him decide when we were done.. especially since he showed me this decision by whacking his twitch against the fence with the express purpose of removing it, and removing it he did.  Somehow I had to set up a “win” situation for me with only my two hands to control a cranky 4yo who is smarter than he really should be, keep a non-horsey husband out of harms way, and not paint myself into a corner.  This task added about an extra 40 minutes to the procedure, and of course it took place a mere ten minutes before I would have been done otherwise.  Elvis had a few (controlled) outbursts of frustration, entirely encouraged by the fact that he had identified my husband as the weak link, but by the end I was able to do some pressure release work with him and the clippers where I called the start and end times.  Yet another reminder that with young horses, nothing is cut and dry.

Finally, a small but happy thing is that Elvis’s long overdue dressage bridle finally arrived.  He looks great in it, and Bartville Harness Shop supplied me with another fantastic piece of leatherwork (semi-custom fitted) for a great value.  For those of you who have shown frustration with scratches, I’d like to let you know that I also ordered two pairs of the inexpensive Roma Form Fit Boots.  Until spring, I’ll be putting my fancy neoprene/stomatex wraps as they just don’t dry out after washing (and I must wash them frequently, because I’m just like that).  This irritates Elvis’s scratches, plus it puts strain on the boots which are too fancy to ruin in one season.  So, I’m using the neoprene-free Romas this fall/winter.  For an inexpensive boot, I’ve always loved them.  I just wish they weren’t so hot, otherwise I’d happily use them in spring/summer.

As penance for my neglect, here are a few photos taken by my husband from yesterday’s ride.  The ride was a great one, as Elvis was consistent the entire ride, yay!  Photos of the clip job will be posted later.  My husband convinced me to snap a few shots as a trophy of our hard work and a job well done by all – including Elvis.

Good Boy!

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