Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Talk to the leg.

The kidlette is 19 now and would like to be introduced. Meet Clare on Snicket

I'm posting my article for my horse column again. Sorry I missed Mouthy Monday, I'll get on it. I learned something very interesting about my sweet, well behaved mare this morning. One of the barn help offered to catch her for me as I was wearing my work clothes (we were getting feet trimmed).

This horse has manners, manners, manners. I thought. But when a stranger tried to catch her she ran. When she finally was cornered she pinned her ears, squealed and STRUCK.

I was horrified. Luckily the gal was horse savvy and just caught her. Sigh.

I'm going to hang a sign on my pen.

Please Don't Feed or Pet.

Feel Free to Beat Often.

At least I know she'd be hard to steal.

I'm working on a Tally story so stay tuned.

Talk to the Leg
By Janet Huntington

My daughter, Clare, has a very nice cow horse she trained herself named Snicket. He is a solid, good minded gelding and has grown into a beautiful mover and a flashy competitor.

We having been having a blast sorting cows with the Fountain Riding and Roping Club (FRCC) this year. Sorting is proving to be an interesting , laid-back experience for all of us, riders and horses alike.

My horses have taken to it with a healthy amount of curiosity and competence, proving, as always, they could be extremely successful if I would learn how to stay out of their way.

Snicket , on the other hand, has been nervy, chargy and a little anxious.

Part of his problem is he likes to be a booger and mess with my daughter. The other part is he would rather be hot and in charge than listen and do what he’s told.

Clare and I have been trying to dissect the issue and figure out how to fix him.

We have realized this is a two-part problem, which means this will be a two-part article.

One of Snicket’s issues is thinking control of his cow means throwing himself at it like a coyote on a cat.

Since sorting is a game of quietly and efficiently moving your cow (at least with the FRRC), Snicket could get in a little trouble if he comes out of the herd with a mouthful of hide and hamburger.

We also started to think about how Snicket is working off Clare’s leg.

Or not.

“When I started him (as a two-year-old) sulling up was his big issue,” Clare told me.

“He would resist my leg, my hand, everything and then he would blow.”

When Clare talks about Snicket blowing up she’s talking about a big explosion.

As a two-year-old he could bucket harder than most and was a “blind” bucker which bounced off walls, slammed through people and over benches. He was determined to keep with it long enough to be sold as rodeo stock.

I think that’s the reason Clare is so attached to him. She rode through some incredibly nasty stuff to get the sane, responsive horse she has today.

She’s proud of her horse and she should be.

When she was working through young Snicket’s explode-o-meter she got in the habit of being very soft and quiet with him.

She would give him plenty of time to think and let him work through his sulk. Then she found he would move off just a touch of her leg.

“I hardly ever touch him with my spur, he just goes,” Clare said.

Which leads me to think this is the first problem to address.

Our legs need to be a clear method of communication with our horses.

Lightness needs to mean our horse responds to what we are telling him with our legs, not that he blasts forward if dare to give him any more than the slightest cue.

I’ve always trained based on the idea that poor behavior from a horse is 90% because he is misdirecting our cues.

It is usually our fault, because we haven’t made ourselves clear, but sometimes it can be an evasion.

If a rider doesn’t dare take a hold of their horse’s face, or can’t put a leg on him for fear he will bolt, that’s an evasion, not a light horse.

Snicket isn’t that extreme, but Clare has decided she is going to slowly go through her cues with him and make sure she can grip him with her legs, send him forward, side to side and back without him evading her by over reacting.

She is also going to make sure she can bump or pull or bang on him and have his response be to wait and see what she means, not to leap forward.

The trick is to be very careful. Clare doesn’t want to desensitize her horse to her legs, she wants him to wait to see what she’s saying.

It’s easy to get excited when things are going wrong with our horses. Sometimes even when things are going right we’ll get fired up and miscue or over cue our horses.

If I go into the show pen and turn into some Gomer who can’t remember to stay calm and ride my horse (no, not me!) then I need a horse who stays calm and doesn’t start blasting around just because I turned stupid.

If I need to show my horse something she doesn’t agree with, I need her to let me show her what I want, not blow up.

The first step in creating a horse who calmly sorts through our cues is for the rider to be fair and consistent with the cues.

For me, go forward is always asked with my body before I go to my leg. Then I ask with both calves.

Then a smack with my reins or romel on the hindquarters.

I try to remember my spurs are a directional tool, to lift the back or to turn left and right.

I do my very best to ride my horse the same every ride with the same set of cues.

I also, every once in a while just pull them around, or kick them forward or side to side for no reason other than I can.

I’m not mean about it, I’m just staying ahead of my horse and being more aggressive than usual with my hand and leg.

When I feel a hesitation in my horse, almost as if she is pausing and saying, “What in the world are you doing?” I’ll ease up.

This creates a moment where we both can regroup and do things correctly.

I call it a cowboy half halt and it has saved my bacon more than once.

Clare is planning on much the same program, but she is beginning by going through each of her basic cues, left, right, forward, back and making sure both she and Snicket are on the same page.

I’m planning on bringing some popcorn and a beer so I can sit back and watch the fun. Snicket does like to mess with her.

Next week I’ll talk about how we get a horse quiet on a cow.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

I Promised a Picture

Here's Oakie and me in the summer of 1978. This is a pretty good example of a balanced ride stop.

If you look at my line of balance, I'm coming up over his shoulders. I have almost no weight in my saddle seat, most of it's in my legs.

Oakie is two in this shot, I'm 21. He is in standard keg shoes.
Yes, now I know I was a total moron stopping a 2-year-old that hard, but I didn't know it then.

Just look at that stop. My reins are loose and he's really putting them down.

I have changed my points of balance in the following years,but the best thing I learned from this method is to ASK first. I also learned to always be aware of my body and how it's effecting my horse.

So this is basically the beginning of my learning to truly train a horse.

And yes, I'm wearing a halter top. It was the 70's, what can I say.
Shanster: This was at a stable on Harmony Rd. in Ft. Collins. I was an art major at CSU.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

All I Got On Stops

I think it’s time to finish emptying my brain on stops.

No matter how you choose to teach your horse to stop, the Balanced Ride way, by saying whoa and pulling, the key to getting a horse to slide is he has to understand being still.

From the first day I’m on a horse, whether it’s a retrain, tune-up or starting a colt, he is rewarded by standing still.

Standing still is never a command, it’s a gift from me to my horse.

When I first ride a colt I get down when he is still by his own choice.

I keep that up for the first few weeks.

When I ride an anxious, moving horse I let him move.

We lope circles, trot diagonals, go through transitions, I’m not mean or angry I just let him move under my control, then I offer to let him be still.

When I ride my broke horses I have to be honest, I’ll get mad and get after them some for fidgeting. But not much. My yellow mare does it just to screw with me, so I can’t pay too much attention.

When I offer a horse a chance to be still I really offer it. I relax my body and loosen my reins.
Since I ride western I really throw out some rein, but you English guys can still give them their head.

If the horse is restless we move out.

I don’t pull on the reins to fix him, the reins have nothing to do with being still. I just kick him forward and regain contact with his face as we move out.

Every time my horse is still I relax. He very quickly figures this one out. This is what I call hunting a stop.

It has nothing to do with me forcing him forward every step. It just means he appreciates the gift and takes it when offered.

Once my horse understands my gift from my body language I add the word Whoa.

I say Whoa as in Woah. Not Ho. I stretch it out like I’d like the stop to be. Whooooooah. I try to say it the same way ever time.

This is the big present. Because if my horse stops as soon as I say Whoa I do absolutely nothing.

No pull, no leg, no spur, nothing. We just hang out for awhile.

I don’t care if he sniffs my boot or the ground. He can shake, snort, look around. It’s a mental and physical rest. He can rebalance himself or cock a hip. But he can’t move around. No pawing.

The second I feel the need for my reins the second he goes back to work.

They pick up on this concept very quickly. Usually.

Oh dear, there’s a Mort story related to this….

So now we have a horse who stands still. Usually my horses are sliding 5 or 6 feet by now, that’s their gift to me.

If the horse doesn’t have at least a few feet of slide by now he probably won’t be a huge stopper.

But I don’t give up because I’ve been wrong too many times. I just don’t worry about it.

Because now I’m going to work on my slide stop. My youngsters used to be late 3-year-olds when I started my long slides, now they’re late 4-year-olds.

I use the arena wall to start. I make sure I have good dirt. My horse has all four legs protected. My horse has ½ inch sliders which come just past the heel bulb.

I ask for a brisk lope along the wall. I get ¾ down the rail and say Whoa.

As soon as my horse stops and rebalances I ask for a roll-back towards the wall and we lope off the other direction.

My horse has been taught to roll back at this time, just not at speed.

I use my hands and legs through the roll back. I’m not being tricky, just getting him through the turn.

I keep this up at a good pace. Not a run, just moving along where we’re both comfortable.

The only time I’m in his mouth is through the turn. I release as soon as we’re headed the other way.

So my horse begins to anticipate my hands.

When I say Whoa he starts to stop quicker in anticipation of me getting in his mouth.

Pretty soon his slide gets longer and deeper.

Once he stops at least 2 feet longer than usual I catch him before he turns and let him rest.

I sit on him for about the time it takes to smoke a cigarette (no, I don’t smoke).

If he really parks it I get down, loosen my cinch and put him up.

I keep this up over several days until I am getting a good, forward slide on my stop.

Then I move off the rail by several feet and work on straightness without help the help of the wall.

Then I work on straightness and stops in the middle of the arena.

I always reward a good stop with a long rest on a lose rein.

This helps my horses not worry about the stop itself.

If I’m not happy we loop around and try again.

There are technical aspects that start coming into play here. This is where I will pull back, or pull one rein, or kick my horse forward or ….now is where a trainer watching you is really handy. Time to hit the clinics!

Monday, June 7, 2010

Hey guys,
I was looking through my Mouthy Monday submissions last night and found this one. Did I run it?
I don't think so.
Get ready to get out your hanky...


Pearl's story

We are now about mid-June, Pearl is about ready to foal, it's only a matter of time.

She has some milk in her udder, her hind end is relaxed and as smooshy as Jello.

I am getting excited, we have no idea of her breeding date or even why she was bred if they sent her to auction not even mid-term!

All we know is that the sire is a black Standardbred... pretty popular color if I may say! I never did find the stallion.

We did find the registration for both the rescues, Peg and Pearl. I was worried, I could barely sleep at night, what if the baby was still-born, what if one or both wouldn't make it!?

I loved Pearl and didn't want to lose her and I was totally ready to take on a foal, my first but not the first I had handled and trained.

We spent a month (as soon as we got her) feeding supplements to Pearl, giving her fresh cut alfalfa to increase her milk production, taking absolute care of her in hopes that the foal would make it, despite the complete lack of nutrition he had endured while Pearl was sent to auction for meat.

I knew the birth was nearing due to the signs but I had no idea if the foal would be premature or if she had kept it longer due to all of the stress (being thin, new farm, etc.) since we didn't have the breeding date.

The next morning, we woke early in hopes to go meet Pearl and the new foal, we had checked on Pearl during the night, but nothing.

Needless to say, I didn't sleep that night. We got to the barn all happy and smiling... to find Pearl... as big as ever! So we checked her and told her she had played a good trick on us!

I had to leave the farm because my parents own a cottage and people wanted to rent it for the summer, so we went and cleaned the whole thing, top to bottom.

We were nearing lunch time when my sister-in-law comes over. It's Pearl, she foaled at 11:20 am on June 20th 2009 and she was fine... Since my sister-in-law is a non-horsey person (I mean not AT ALL!).

I saved my questions for myself. I finished up and went over to the barn about an hour and a half after the foal was born, I couldn't get there fast enough!

When I first saw him, it broke my heart. He was a cute pure black little colt with no markings... the REAL black stallion. No doubt he was a pure Standardbred. He was thin and weak. When I rounded the corner of the barn to see him, he was lying there, exhausted, directly in the harsh sun.

Right there, he looked normal, a little thin, but I expected that. He was born inside and had managed to make it outside.

But the frogs of his hooves were unused, which led me to believe that he had not yet gotten up to nurse.

We poked him and encouraged him to stand, to no avail. That was a red flag. I then thought he wouldn't make it to nightfall.

His front and back legs were weak and swayed from side to side when he tried to get up... he just wasn't strong enough.

He had long legs and would be a tall guy. I wasn't going to let him die before my eyes. I went and got my boyfriend and we lifted him to his legs.

He was really unsteady and fell over many times, so we held him up to nurse.

At that point, mom wasn't having any of it and wouldn't let us near enough to have the foal nurse, even on a lead she wouldn't tolerate him nursing.

So I went and got a bottle, milked Pearl (she was fine with that!) and proceeded to feed the colt by bottle. I managed to get enough milk in his belly to keep him going for a little while. He could now stand for short periods of time. We were happy!

But that was short lived.. he would be so close to being able to nurse and mom would move away and he would just fall down again.

That night, I gave him a shot of vitamins... Broke my heart to have to give a shot to such a small little guy. I noticed a deformity in his back and back legs immediatly, but I thought that it would settle itself and that it was caused by him being so leggy in such a small space during his development and by being so weak on top of that!

Pearl is hardly 14.3 hh... clearly this guy is to be much taller than that. I still think it was caused by him being in too narrow of a place to develop normally.

We were getting up at night to make sure he nursed, until one day, he could nurse on his own! We were thrilled! He was now nursing, walking around and was able to get up and lay down on his own. It was time to turn him out! He could run, but those back legs always kept him dragging behind, at least he wasn't falling over!

On the night of June 28th, we had a rodeo in our small town, we were all attending. When we got home, it was about midnight and we decided to make our way to the barn to check on the colt.

We found him laying in the shelter, with mom, Peg and Dandy all watching over him. He was still weak and thin, but he seemed to be resting calmly.

So anyways, that night, he seemed fine, we didn't make him get up because he was sleeping when we found him there and felt a bit bad that we had disturbed him. So we went to bed and I remember clearly saying to my guy that I thought he would make it (after spending 8 days dangling!).

The next morning, my guy was up early and went out to check the horses. I remember it was a foggy morning.

He came back and told me that the little colt wasn't doing well and that he was dying. I couldn't believe it, jumped out of bed into clothes that I probably had worn before (I didn't really care!!!) and made my way to the field.

The horses were WAY at the other end (we have a 40 acre pasture) and when they spotted me, Dandy came running over, screaming and Pearl came half the way, quickly going back to the foal. I knew they were trying to tell me something was wrong. I slowly walked over...

My heart was in my throat, I couldn't see the foal, but could tell from Pearl where he was lying. I got close and spotted him... he was lying flat on his side, breathing hard and groaning. I talked to him calmly and petted him a bit. I lifted his head and he just couldn't hold it up.

I started worrying that he had broken his neck running and falling. But I palpated everything and it was all clear, all legs were ok... nothing apparent. We called a vet as soon as we found him, but our vet is a 2 hour drive away... and that is if he is not in another emergency situation.

He was finishing something up and coming right over... I had no hope. I called my mom crying, I was hysterical.

She made me feel a bit better. I returned to the field slowly and saw both Dandy and Pearl running over... Pearl came right to the gate, whinnied a deep bone chilling whinny, she had a look in her eyes saying "Help me! Follow me!", then she quickly turned back and ran to her colt.

Dandy walked the whole way with me and I had the most sour feeling, heart in my throat, tearing up and basically just going crazy.

I found the poor little colt lying there, still breathing hard but the breaths were far apart. I decided to stay with him.

I sat beside him, in the damp grass, petting him and comforting him. I told him it was ok to go (even if I didn't feel I was ready for him to), that I'd be ok and that I would look after his mom, that Pearl would have a forever home with us and that there was nothing to be worried about.

I told him that I loved him deeply and that I would never forget him, his little whinnies when he heard our voices and his sweet face. I was broken and tears were running down my cheeks. I soon noticed that he wasn't breathing anymore, his little mount had opened a bit, so I stuck my finger in... there was nothing, not a blink of an eye, nothing.

I was devastated. I gave him a last kiss and told him goodbye, but at that time I was truly crying and sobing. I remember telling him not to go yet, but it was too late.

I had to live with this, my first horse lost, one I had took very special care of and that I'd spent more than a few sleepless nights worrying over. He died at about 10:00 am on June 29th, 2009.

I took hold of my emotions and went to get my guy (he didn't want to see the foal die). We took the foal away, mom and Dandy (Dandy was the gardian (aunt) of the colt) screamed the most heart breaking whinny and ran to the gate trying to see where we were taking him.

The foal was burried and the vet hadn't even been near. I doubt he could've done anything at that point, so I called and cancelled.

Somehow, the horses knew exactly what had happened. They kept looking around for the little one and Pearl stayed away from us for a few days. We were heart broken for a week solid and we still can't mention the little guy without tearing up. I still have tears running down my cheeks as I write this. The colt is burried on our farm, not far from the pasture. The 9 days that he spent with us will be forever engraved in my heart.

I will never forget him, he was my very first foal (from one of my horses) and he had a forever home with us from the moment his mom got to our farm. We did the best that we could to help him.

He didn't seem to be suffering, he just seemed weak and the deformity only added to the problem. He took a piece of my heart with him when he passed. We miss him a lot. I hope he is running with the wind in the greener pastures.

Love you Little Guy (We had named him Black Jack)

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Hairy Legs

I haven't been able to visit with you guys and it will be awhile again. So I thought I'd share my article for the equine page at my paper....you can see some of the stuff I write.

I'll talk to you soon!

I Have a Hairy Horse

By Janet Huntington

If a woman grew her armpit hair long enough to blow in the breeze she would cause quite a stir when she threw her arms in the air to catch a Frisbee.

This is the thought which crossed my mind as I looked at the long hair on my mare’s fetlocks.

She’s not a draft horse, she’s my very pretty, but decidedly hairy, show horse.

My mare has a cottony mane with no bridle path to stop her thick wavy forelock from spreading willy-nilly all over the place.

Her tail is as thick and long as an ungroomed, unplucked tail can get.

The hair on her fetlocks curls to the ground in soft, silky coils.

She has a whiskery nose that tickles when she nuzzles my hand.

She is called Madonna and she is definitely well-named.
She has an extremely high opinion of herself, a rock-star attitude and is quite comfortable with her tousled, bad-girl image.

Her mussed style gradually evolved between the two of us. I have no interest in grooming my horse for show. Don’t get me wrong, I keep my horses clean and groomed, it’s just the show stuff that bores me.

Bridle paths, pulled manes, clipped ears and whiskers, fake tails, show sheen, it’s an awful bunch of work.

It’s a little bit too much like little girls playing hair salon. When I was a kid I left that stuff for the sissies. I would go play horses.

My mare is a well trained, well behaved horse. She has a few quirks though. She hates having her ears handled.

She has never been eared down, mistreated, beaten about the head or anything else that could give her an excuse for hating having her ears handled. It’s just how she is.

She also hates sweat trickling down her face, flanks, or inside her protective boots. She hates mud in the cutting pen.

Obviously I have had to make my horse get over herself. But I also believe in picking my battles.

Ear hair has to be there for a reason, doesn’t it? The hair inside the ear helps to prevent dirt and insects getting into the ear. In other words, it keeps the ear clean.

The hair also helps keep horses from losing their delicate ears to frostbite in the winter. If I clip my horse’s ears then I am now responsible for keeping the cold, the bugs and the dirt out of her ears. I also have to worry about dirt and hair falling in the ear canal and risk infection just from the act of clipping itself.

I participate in a sport where my horse turns a cow on the fence at up to 35 mph or so. The dirt flies, in her face, my face and the cows. I don’t want a big old dirt clod to go down her ear.

It would be hard to finish our run with my horse shaking her head so hard we were see-sawing all over the arena.

So I let her keep her ear hair.

Then we get to the muzzle. One of the first book series I read as a kid was the Misty of Chincoteague books. Marguerite Henry always described the “whiskery ponies.” Wesley Dennis showed every whisker and lash in his beautiful illustrations.

To my mind a horse should have whiskers.

A horse can see almost 360 degrees with her big beautiful eyes. She has only one blind spot. It is right between her eyes. She cannot see directly in front of her face. So her whiskers provide an essential service, feelers to help tell her what’s in front of her.

She got to keep the whiskers.

Horse feathers is not only fun to say, but it’s another area we’re supposed to keep clean and clipped.

A horse has hair on the back of the fetlocks for a reason. The hair acts as a funnel for water and helps keep the back of the hoof dry.

I’ve also noticed it’s a handy buffer against the ground when I slide stop.

If my horse accidently clips herself the hair might prevent a cut. I still consistently boot up my horse front and back to protect her, but I think it’s safer if she keeps her feathers.

When I was first learning to prepare my horses for the show pen I learned three different ways to grow the long, luxuriant tails so popular in the show pen.

The first was to braid the tail with rags and the keep it rolled into a sock.

The second was to take little sections of the tail, tie them in a little a square knot, and wrap the knot in vet wrap.

The third was to completely leave the tail alone (no brushing!) until a few days before show day.
I would finger or hoof pick the worst of the knots out, pull out any sticks and then load the tail with conditioner. I didn’t get conditioner on the tail bone, sometimes it will make the horse itchy.

Any kind of conditioner works, I’m a fan of Suave.

I’d leave the conditioner on overnight and then finger pick the Rastafarian coils and knots out again. Then I would wash the tail.

I would let it dry and then brush it out, top to bottom.

I tried all three methods. All of them worked. Guess which one I used? Yep, I just quit touching the tails until it was time to show. It was really easy. They looked great.

It was a natural progression to start ignoring manes too. I pull the tangles out with my fingers, but that’s it.

I realized I like the wild and wooly look, so I decided to leave it.

My horses haven’t argued. In my sport the judges sit in a chair on the side of the arena. They can’t see whether my horse is clipped or not. I like to think they wouldn’t care if they could.

To my mind, if they can tell my horse is hairy, I’m not hustling fast enough.