Reschooling the Thoroughbred

Chapter 4: Sole searching

When my farrier, Derek Poupard, arrived and removed the duct tape I had applied to Xcel's feet, he could hardly believe how soft and thin Xcel's soles were. Xcel was sore in both front feet and particularly his right one, which Derek found to have some bruising.

And of course Xcel, who already had trouble standing still for the farrier, was not going to stand any better for Derek now that his feet really hurt. The biggest problem was that he had to stand on one sore foot while Derek was attending to the other, and this was obviously quite painful for him. He tried hopping off the one front foot he was standing on and a couple times he even buckled his knee and threatened to crash to the floor. I did the best I could holding and calming Xcel. I used the hair slides on his mane, which had worked before, and they helped, but it was a still a struggle for the three of us.

Derek managed to put shoes and pads on Xcel, hoping the pad would protect the sole. He did not use any packing under the pad however, thinking it would cause pressure on the sole which could make him lamer. Once the shoes were on, Xcel was more comfortable, but still obviously sore, especially in the right front. I put him on a couple of grams of bute for a few days to keep him more comfortable. Just as I thought I was to the point where I could concentrate on doing some ground work with Xcel, I couldn't because his feet hurt. So instead, I decided to focus on his lack of manners.

Xcel was mouthy, fidgety and gleefully explosive. The most obvious of these unmannerly behaviors was his mouthiness. Xcel wanted to put his mouth on everything! It was difficult to halter him because he would grab the halter first. I would have to pry it out of his mouth and quickly slip it over his head. Then, lacking the halter to grab, he would grab the lead rope. All of this he accomplished with what seemed to be the equine version of giggling. Xcel is a very happy, playful horse--really, he is very babyish. But however happy he seems, some of his behavior is downright dangerous and is no laughing matter. Xcel acts more like a three-year old than a five-year old. I find that many horses off the track seem to be almost emotionally stunted compared to their non-raced counterparts. They just seem to be less mature.

Xcel is also a bundle of energy. Instead of standing still when I am holding him, he is always moving either his mouth or his feet. This non-stop nervousness is common in horses off the track. Xcel will have to learn to change this behavior and I will have to teach him how. All of this mouthiness is a reflection of habitual tension in his body. This is not necessarily something a horse can control by himself. But TTEAM and TTouch are very effective in reducing this tension and teaching self-control. This tension in the body is created by a number of factors until it becomes a confirmed habit. In order to break this habit we need to introduce to the horse's nervous system TTouches and movements that are non-habitual.

One way to do this, and to specifically address the mouthy behavior, is to use mouth TTouches. These are probably the strangest looking TTouches that we use. And like all the TTouches, they are very effective. These involve carefully slipping our hand into the horse's mouth and doing very specific touches under the upper lip, on the horse's tongue, inside the lower lip and on the roof of the horse's mouth. I had already done some of this work with Xcel but now I decided to really concentrate on it.

These TTouches are quite different than just playing with your horse's mouth, lips or tongue. Just playing can actually make your horse's mouthiness worse. TTouch actually breaks the habit of mouthiness. In addition, the mouth is a direct connection to the limbic portion of the brain that controls the emotions and is also responsible for learning. Doing mouth work on your horse serves several purposes:

1. It lessens mouthy behavior 
2. It calms the horse 
3. It helps the horse learn. 
4. It prepares the horse to accept a bit, paste wormer, and other things we must put in our horse's mouth.

Maybe you don't mind if your horse chews on everything. Some people find it cute. However, this constant mouthiness is mindless behavior and shows that the horse is focusing on what he is doing with his mouth rather than what his handler would like him to. This makes it difficult for the horse to learn anything! Even worse, it can be a safety issue for the handler who could be bitten!

I began doing these mouth TTouches for a couple of minutes almost every day and Xcel has shown steady improvement. He is much less inclined to chew on the lead rope and on me. And, while he still puts the halter in his mouth, he doesn't do it every time and also doesn't usually try to grab the lead rope afterwards. I know that the more I work on this, the better it will get.

The reasons for Xcel's mouthiness though, are his habitual tension in his body and his inability to be still and calm. The TTEAM viewpoint on this is that there is a connection between the mental, emotional and physical qualities of the horse and if you affect one, you affect them all. By introducing relaxation to the physical body, you will calm the emotions and thereby, the behavior. Xcel definitely has much physical and emotional tension. In addition to his perpetual motion when I am handling him, he tends to stall walk when there is anything but absolute peace and quiet in the barn. While things such as work, turnout and less molasses in the diet can help relax the horse indirectly, TTouch works by directly relaxing the body. It actually teaches the cells that they are capable of relaxation. This is because TTouch works directly on the nervous system by creating new neuropathways (possibilities) for the nervous system to utilize. Where the body once knew of only reacting in tension to a particular stimuli, a new neuropathway can give it an alternative such as relaxation. I continue to do lots of TTouch on Xcel, as I do on all of my horses.

Though TTouch can be effective on sore feet, it wasn't enough to help Xcel's thin soles. After two weeks with the pads on, Xcel's sore feet showed little improvement. I decided x-rays were in order to rule out any structural problems for his continued soreness. 

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