From Endurance to Dressage
My elephant's name is Fear.
I try to regularly check my website's statistics. It's pretty interesting stuff. You all come from a variety of different places and you visit for a lot of different reasons.
Don't panic. I don't actually know who you are, but I can see what you Googled in order to land here.
So far no one has Googled elephants, but Fluphenazine is a frequently used search word. But if you'll remember the Fluphenazine posts from the winter, you'll know that my elephant was large and in charge. I thought it was time to do an update.
On January 5, 2011, Sydney received a 5 cc IM dose of Fluphenazine to help lessen his anxiety. Sydney did not demonstrate any negative side effects after the injection. I am not sure that the Fluphenazine did anything for him, but it certainly helped my anxiety level! Just knowing that it should have a positive effect on him helped me to relax which in turn helped him to relax.
For a couple of months things seemed to be going well. By March however, it was clear that Sydney's anxiety about contact was still present and growing. Welcome back Mr. Elephant. As Sydney's anxiety grew, my elephant got bigger and more powerful until I was petrified with fear. It took every ounce of courage to get on Sydney. His bolting and rearing got so bad that I quit taking him to lessons and very seriously considered selling him.
My husband is pretty supportive about the whole horse thing and recognizes that it is a need that I have to fill. When I told him that I thought I should sell Sydney, he looked at me and asked why I was giving up on this horse when I hadn't given up on any of the others. He reminded me of how difficult each one had been. He suggested I keep trying and give Sydney through the summer.
I thought it over and realized he was right. Since I really didn't want to get hurt, I couldn't keep doing what I was doing. While watching Sydney during turnout one afternoon, I had a moment of inspiration. He was trotting around happily and seemed to be enjoying himself. I decided that that's how I would ride him: a long rein at a trot that wandered aimlessly around the arena.
Thank goodness for inspiration. Things have done nothing but improve steadily since that day. He hasn't reared or bolted since March. I have learned that I must start out at a nice walk on the buckle. As long as I shorten my rein slowly with lots of gentle sponging of the reins, Sydney doesn't mind the contact. We can now trot anywhere in the arena that I want to and as long as I keep a soft, steady contact, Sydney's ears flop happily from side to side.
We had a lesson last week and JL was very pleased with what I was able to accomplish on my own. Her directives are to continue the long and low work that I am doing while adding lots of half circles, serpentines, and random circles.
My elephant seems to have found a new home. He hasn't sent his new address, and frankly, I don't want to know it. When I ride now, I am nothing but smiles and find myself saying, that was fun! Sydney is now fun to ride. There's very little tension left in his body, and he's actually behind my leg (which sounds like a bad thing, I know). I have to bump-bump-bump him with my leg to get him going forward. I rode on Tuesday and was so happy to be able to trot around anywhere in the arena I wanted to go without worrying that he might bolt or rear.
Elephants and Fluphenazine ... glad to be rid of the first one, and don't think we need the second one. Here's to relaxed and floppy ears!
My lesson with JL went really, really well on Wednesday night. And it was partly due to all of your suggestions about how to improve the canter. I was able to think about what you suggested, and by the time my lesson rolled around, I had a clearer idea of how to discuss Sydney's stiffness.
Oh, and did you just ask how well it went? It went so well that I laughed and giggled about how much fun Sydney was to ride!
Yep. You heard me. He was FUN! When we finished, JL couldn't get over what a different horse he was from two weeks ago when she last saw him. He was friendly to her, eager to be scratched and pet, his ears were floppy, he got right to work, and there was none of the tension in his body that's been present since day one.
I wish I could pinpoint the exact reason for his more relaxed attitude, but I know it started with the Acepromazine. The Fluphenazine has certainly had its effect as well. I suspect the pharmaceutical help created an atmosphere that allowed me to lose my fear, which in turn helped Sydney relax. Smartpak's daily calmer pellets might also be having an effect other than creating expensive poop. And to top it all off, feeding him while tacking up in the afternoons seems to have removed any of the last of his anxiety. Whatever the reason, we can now really get some work done!
Before we started the lesson, I explained to JL what I was seeing in the canter and what you all suggested. She nodded thoughtfully and had me try an exercise designed to get Sydney off my leg. She had me trot in the smallest circle that I could manage (to the left), so small that she could touch my boot the entire rotation. The point was to keep Sydney's nose to the inside with my inside rein while still allowing him to bend on the outside which meant my outside hand had to move forward - think bicycle handle bars. I also had to bump, bump, bump with my inside leg while keeping my outside leg ready to keep his hindquarters from popping out.
Once I had this under control, we went to the right. OHHHHH! I had to use LOTS of leg to keep him moving forward and then to keep his butt from swinging out.
We moved to the left lead canter where JL had me try a second exercise. For every two strides I was to rock, rock the same rein. Think about rowing: two strokes on the left, two strokes on the right. Rocking the rein on the inside was easy, but when I tried to rock the outside rein, he turned right. This revealed that I wasn't using my outside leg or seat. Repeat. I rocked left side, left side, right side (add leg!) right side (add leg!). This is when the lesson got fun. Feeling the rhythm of the canter and asking him to swing his neck helped us both immensely. We both got more and more balanced and Sydney got pretty darn quiet.
When we moved to the right, it only took several starts to pick up the canter without him falling completly into the circle. The third "exercise" wasn't really an exercise as it was more about my body position. I have a tendency to "help" my guys pick up the canter by leaning forward. Big no-no. JL had me focus on staying tall in the saddle as I cue for the canter. That helped a lot.
Not only is Sydney stiff, but he also tilts his head to the outside which allows him to escape the bend. To help with this, JL had me lift with the inside rein to keep him from twisting his head to the outside. AHA!
That helped almost more than anything.
The final piece of the canter lesson had to do with NOT over bending. As Sydney leans on my inside leg, I have a tendency to increase the bend in an effort to get him off the leg. Nope. This just causes him to fall in even more. That's where the rocking motion comes in. JL gave me two choices: rock the inside rein, or give him a big upward pull to say, HEY! LET GO!!!!! And if that still doesn't work? Stop him hard with the inside rein and regroup. I had just been pulling harder and harder to the inside which wasn't getting us anywhere.
I had the most fun riding this horse. He has a really nice uphill canter that feels powerful with lots of lift and impulsion. Now that we've fixed a bunch of tension/anxiety issues, we're going to be having a lot of fun!
Sydney's nose buried in the hay bag.
I am not really sure this is Fluphenazine related, but since it was the Fluphenazine that got this topic going, I figure this is still a follow up.
But before that update, here's another: Sydney is on day 3 of Smartpak's SmartCalm Ultra Pellets. Smartpak says, Is your horse especially anxious, inattentive or spooky? SmartCalm Ultra Pellets are an herb-free formula designed to support proper nervous system function, helping to minimize skittishness. SmartCalm Ultra Pellets offer a comprehensive approach to calming by providing 10,000 mg of Magnesium, 550 mg of Vitamin B1, 2,000 mg of Inositol (a B vitamin relative), and 125 mg of L-Tryptophan. This essential amino acid is converted into serotonin, a hormone that may increase feelings of wellbeing and contentment, helping to calm and soothe.
I put zero stock in its efficacy, but hey, maybe it will do something productive. By the way, I did run it by Dr. B. first. Her response? Probably won't hurt, might help. Basically, she and I both feel that it just makes his poop a bit more expensve. In any case, I am giving it a try. It's not terribly expensive, and if it helps, then it's worth it.
Back to the hay discussion. Erica, over at Of Academia and Horses described Sydney's food anxiety perfectly. She referred to it as his food alarm. That's precisely what it has felt like! Tuesday's feeding schedule worked perfectly. I pulled Sydney out of his stall and plopped a hay bag in front of his nose. While his head was buried in the bag, the neighbor came by to feed the other three horses. Sydney never even looked up. He munched as I groomed and saddled which took at least fifteen minutes.
I headed out to the arena and was pleased that he already seemed slightly more relaxed. I hopped on and discovered that I still had a pretty naughty boy.
Me: Are you sure, Sydney?
Sydney: Yes, OMG let me RRRUUUUNNN
Me: Okay, If that's how you feel, but you're going to have to move a lot.
As I asked for the canter, I was rewarded with some small bucking, some small rearing, and a hell bent for leather gallop which I was forced to pulley halt. After that, I was able to keep him on something that resembled a circle as we galloped. Around, and around, and around. Little by little, he began to let up and the gallop became a softish canter. After asking nicely for a downward transition and getting no response, I pulled him to a hard halt. I immediately sent him the other direction which started out just as ferociously as the left circle had.
He finally asked to trot, but I put my leg on and pushed him with my seat forward into more canter. I could just hear him thinking, crap. Good! I finally asked for a trot, and got it! He gave me some pretty decent trot circles both directions and offered something similar to a stretch. Okay! This was something I could work with. We tried to finish the whole thing off with some stretchy free walk, but he decided to be a stinker in our far corner. This required some more Oh, crap! work, but it served the purpose. As soon as he walked by the corner without a freak out, I halted in the corner and hopped off. I hand walked him through the corner a few more times to really make my point and then we were done.
When we got back to the barn, I put the hay bag away, placed him on the cross ties, and took my time unsaddling and grooming. My point was to make getting finished not such a wildly rewarding experience. When Sydney went back to his stall, his feeder was empty. I could see the wheels turning as his eyes followed me to the hay stack. I grabbed his dinner and nonchalantly tossed it into the feeder. This may not sound all that encouraging, but last week I accomplished nothing. Zilch. Zero. Nada. Goose egg. On Tuesday, I at least got some decent trotting and even achieved some stretch. I think we're on to something.
Did he learn anything? I don't know, but I am hoping he catches on to the idea that the afternoons mean LOTS of cantering if he's not relaxed.
And the testing continues.
This video was shot ten days after the Fluphenazine dose. We have lots of work left to do, but man, oh, man is he getting quieter and quieter. Much of it has to do with me taking control, but I think I am able to do that because of his less anxious frame of mind. Have a look.
Several friends, that is vet friends, encouraged me to shoot a video of Sydney (on Fluphenazine) that showed him not whacked out, violent, or dying. Most of the YouTube videos of horses using Fluphenazine were doing one of those things. Those videos are far more interesting than the one of a horse standing in his stall quietly. That's why you can't find successful examples of Fluphenazine. Who wants to watch ten minutes of nothing? So in an effort to balance the available info of this particular drug, I uploaded a video to YouTube. Here it is.
About the Writer and Rider
I am a lifelong rider.
I began endurance riding in 1996 where I ultimately completed five, one-day 100 mile races, the 200-mile Death Valley Encounter, and numerous other 50, 65, and 75 mile races. I began showing dressage in 2010.
Welcome to my dressage journey.
About Speedy G
Speedy went from endurance horse to dressage horse. After helping me earn a USDF Bronze medal in the summer of 2020, he is now semi-retired. Speedy is a 2004, 15'1 hand, purebred Arabian gelding. His Arabian Horse Registry name is G Ima Starr FA.
Izzy was started as a four-year old and then spent the next 18 months in pasture growing up. I bought him as a six-year old, and together, we are showing at the lower levels. He is a 2008, 16'3 hand warmblood gelding. His Rheinland Pfalz-saar International (RPSI) name is Imperioso.
National Rider Awards
State Rider Awards
State Horse Awards
CDS Sapphire Rider Award
Third Level: 63.514%
Third Level: 62.105%
2023 Show Season
(r) Ride-a-Test Clinic
2023 Show Schedule
*** SCEC 10/15-16/22
2022 Completed …
(*) Tehachapi 5/22/22
(*) Tehachapi 7/24/22
(***) Tehachapi 8/28/22
2023 Qualifying Scores
Regional Adult Amateur Competition (RAAC)
Qualifying Training Level
3 Scores/2 Judges/60%:
Score 1: 62.115%