Thursday, September 30, 2010

Tally/All Mine

So now I owned her.

I arranged to keep her in the little stall in the arena. After I spent my first morning with Tally blasting around me in the 1/2 acre broodmare pen I knew I wasn't going to get anywhere until she was contained.

We built a chute out of panels and ran her into the arena.

Tally trotted into the little holding pen on her own.
The tiny stall had been her prison for months, but it was as close to a safe place as she had.

The boss and I agreed on some basic rules.

Nobody except me was to walk into the stall.
No hand feeding.
No reaching through the bars.
I was going to be the only one in contact with her.

I promised the boss not to be stupid.
He made it clear I was pretty much a fool for taking her on.
Her success or failure was on my head.

I was firmly convinced I could turn her around if I handled her right.
I had complete faith in the ability of any horse to respond to the right treatment.

I had turned Sonita into a competitor hadn't I?

Loki, my 4-year-old "nothing bred" foundation filly was rising to national champion status carrying my daughter and was still in a snaffle bit.

I had ridden a series of problem horses and all but one had been a success. My only failure to date was because of loco weed.

Tally passed a vet exam with flying colors, even if we did have to run her into a squeeze chute to get it done.

So I kept building up the reasons I should be able to handle her and squashing down the doubts that kept crowding up.

She was just a horse.

I walked into the empty arena and double checked the gates.

Then I opened the gate to Tally's pen and walked away.

She ran to her corner and buried her nose. Her feet danced a nervous jig and her tail lay flat against her butt.

I walked around the arena and picked up manure, whistling and singing some Roy Orbison in my usual off-key way. I never looked at her.

I finally sat down and started doing my books. I kept up my awful singing, but I moved on to some Jethro Tull. Maybe some Songs From the Woods would make her feel better.

At long last I saw her glide past me. I kept my head down as she walked around the arena. Her blasting snorts told me her nerves were up.

I sat quietly for another good 15 minutes before I got up and headed to her pen.

Tally immediately bolted away from me.

I shut the gate and turned to look straight at her.

Tally whirled and sped around the arena.

I walked to the middle and watched her race around me.

She ran several laps and I simply let myself melt into the sight of her. In spite of the foamy neck and white eye she flowed smooth and quick like Beaver Creek after a summer rain.

She was my favorite color of bay, bright red with burnished black points. Her heavy mane rose and fell as she ran and I was hypnotized by her steady rhythms.

She slowed and I woke up enough to take a step to her shoulder. She bolted away from me and changed leads in a single fluid stride. If she wasn't good leaded when I finally rode her it was going to be all my fault.

We kept up our first attempt at communication. I kept my jumping mind as clear as I could and simply focused on a single bunched muscle in her hip.

When she would slow I would back up a single step. My movement would speed her back up. I would look at the point of her shoulder and take one step. The single motion launched her the other direction.

My afternoon lesson arrived. She perched on the fence and watched. I never said a word and Tally didn't flick an ear at her.

Finally my student left.

Tally's sides were heaving and foam dripped from her flanks nd chest. Her breath was beginning to roar.

She broke into her long strided floaty trot and I backed a step.

Tally stopped with her head flung high and stared at me. She blew like a trumpet.

I turned and left the arena. I came back with an armload of hay and opened the gate of her pen.
After I filled her feeder I left the gate open and went to help the boss feed. I found a check stuck to the fence. My student had paid me anyway. Good student.

"How's it going?" The boss asked. I thought I could hear a trace of anger in his voice, a double dog dare behind his question.

"I don't have a clue," I told him.

When I went back to the arena Tally was in her pen with her head buried in her hay. Her breathing had quieted and her sweat slick sides had dried to salty streaks.

She looked up when I latched her gate but didn't run to her corner. Her eyes were quiet.

It was a start.

Monday, September 27, 2010

I'm giving you an article from the paper today. It comes from a recently asked question from you guys, so it's only fair to share it here.

I'm working on our next story.....Mouthy Monday will appear later in the week...but I'm still here!

Sensitive Ears

By Janet Huntington

I was recently asked how I deal with a horse with sensitive ears.

I’m a little embarrassed to admit if my horses don’t want their ears touched, then I don’t touch them. Unless I have to, then we wrestle.

I don’t clip my horses ears so it hasn’t been much of an issue for me.

To be honest, I don’t think horses particularly like having their ears touched, although they can really get into having the base scratched. There is so little in their lives we let them control I figure they can keep their ears to themselves.

But I admit horses should tolerate having their ears handled. We need to halter and bridle them, some need to be clipped or trimmed and all of them need to let us doctor their ears if necessary.

In the past I had horses come in for training which refuse to let anything or anyone touch their ears.

“He must have been eared down,” is what I’m usually told.

This means grabbing the horse’s ear and pulling it towards the ground. Sometimes an added twist or even biting the ear is thrown in for extra oomph. This is extremely painful for the horse and from what I’ve seen not particularly successful.

It can also tear the cartilage in the horse’s ear and at the very least will make the horse violently opposed to having his ears handled.

The thing is most horse people know “earing down” is a pretty stupid way to try to handle a horse. Since the invention of the twitch and Ace there hasn’t been much need for this maneuver.

So most ear shy horses have not been abused this way. They are either in pain or have been in pain and being a horse, have decided to never have their ears handled again.

They can get ticks in their ear canal or fly bites from gnats and no see-ums. Aural plaques are scaly lesions that form on the inside of the pinna (outer part of the ear). They are caused by a virus and are typically asymptomatic, meaning that they really cause the horse no problems, so vets generally leave them alone. The virus is transferred by fly bites. Irritating, painful little fly bites.

All this action can make for a very touchy horse and is more likely the cause of ear sensitivity than a history of abuse.

Which is part of why I don’t clip ears, I want my horse to have the protection Nature, God or Evolution gave them.

I would never start working a horse with touchy ears until he had been cleared by the vet. I once had a young horse just about take off my kneecap when I reached up to bridle him. He struck like a snake when he felt my hand touch the back of his ear. Turned out he had an abscess in his ear It was a lesson which stayed with me.

I have two approaches to desensitizing a horse’s ears.

Most often I simply ignore the problem and bridle or halter him anyway. Which means I just dive in and do it.

This method takes a willingness and the ability to hang on no matter how far they drag you and still put the bit in their mouth.

I like to place the bit before I bring the bridle over their eyes. Then I put the bridle on the rest of the way.

I don’t use a one ear bridle on a touchy horse and I’ll take the browband off a browband bridle so there’s only the crown to worry about.

I have always been able to get my horses to accept their fate and the bridle this way, as long as I was tall enough to reach them and I could hang on.

Once I wrestle a horse into his head gear I tend to leave him alone. If he doesn’t want me to touch his ears, I don’t.

Eventually he realizes all I care about is getting his halter or bridle on and he knocks it off. Then I’ll add the browband and when he’s OK with that I’ll go to a one-ear.

But most people would rather train their horse to handle having their ears touched. They would also prefer not having a Saturday Night Smackdown in order to go for a ride.

So method number two comes into play.

First off, if the horse is truly manic about his ears I will use a rope halter to catch him and undo my bridle and buckle it over his head while I’m working on him.

I don’t want him to associate our ear discussions with bridling or being caught.
I start by scratching up his neck toward his ears until he gets nervous. Then I back off and rub where he wants to be rubbed.

Then I head back to where he gets nervous, but stay there scratching awhile. Then I back off.
I go back and forth until eventually I get to the ears.

This can take minutes, hours, days, weeks, whatever. It depends on the horse.

I try to stop each session before the horse is sick of me.

I try to start each session after I have worked with the horse on something else and he is calm, relaxed and a little tired.

Eventually I’ll be able to handle his ears.

This is where many people teach there horses to drop their head. I don’t, but there’s about a hundred kazillion videos on the subject so you should be able to figure it out.

Then I bring in my regular halter and bridle.

The key to desensitizing is always the same. Patience, patience, patience zzzzzzzzzzzz.

Good horse training is about as exciting as watching paint dry, but it’s always worth it.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Newspaper Article...

Here's this weeks news article. And yes, I was with the folks working cattle and I'm as guilty as the rest of them.

I also posted a photo of Stormy on the Cupcake post.

When Do We Step In?
By Janet Huntington

A young couple entered the arena. They were leading a pretty chestnut and white paint mare. She was bright-eyed and high headed, obviously a little nervous, but leading along with a good attitude.

The young man rode her first.

It became apparent within two strides the mare was packing an extremely green rider.
All the signs were there. He sat hunched forward in the saddle, trying to find stability by jamming his feet into the too short stirrups. His knees gripped the horse’s sides and his toes pointed straight to the ground.

The mare loped off at a good clip, wildly tossing her head as she tried to escape the pressure of a mechanical hackamore, adjusted so low on her nose it was cutting off her air.

As they careened across the arena they zipped past a group of competent, solid riders working cattle with their horses.

“Somebody’s going to get killed,” one rider muttered.

“Now, be nice, everybody’s got to learn in their own way,” another rider answered.

The mare grew more and more desperate as she was kicked in the sides and pulled on at the same time. When her rider lost his balance he would pull himself back up in the saddle by hauling on the reins of the suffocating hackamore.

Her head tossing was joined by a wild snapping of her tail, but she stayed patient as she suffered through the painful treatment by her owner.

None of the experienced group of riders said a thing. They simply kept working their cows and kept half an eye on the horse and her very green rider.

After careening around the arena for a few laps the young man stopped to visit the other riders.
He introduced himself and said, “I’m riding her down for my girlfriend, this horse is really hot.”
There were polite greetings from the other riders and then an uncomfortable silence.

Nobody said a word, even though the thought of the young man being the more experienced of the two was pretty terrifying.

This is a situation I’ve seen over and over in the horse world.

Even though nobody on the planet would dream of driving a car without instruction, for some reason everybody thinks they can ride a horse.

If an experienced driver saw someone driving a car who had obviously never had any training or driven the car before, he would do everything in his power to stop the driver, up to and including calling the police.

So why do we all seem to feel we can ride a horse through osmosis?

There seems to be a code of silence among horsemen when it comes to helping out a fellow rider and it is amplified by stubborn refusal from new riders to take offered advice.

If one of those horsemen had stepped up and said, “Let me show you something on your horse here,” and adjusted the hackamore so the poor mare could breathe the entire situation would have changed for the better.

The problem is we horse people hate to be told how to ride. We immediately feel the fool if someone more experienced points out some lug-head thing we’re doing.

If we are taking instruction we’ll sometimes listen to our instructor. But nobody else can say a thing. Even if we’re too green to know whether our instructor is any good.

This kind of attitude seems to be encouraged by riders with experience. We sit frozen, not saying a word, sometimes even in a dangerous situation, because we don’t want to embarrass anyone.

We expect green riders to learn from experience and let’s face it, if you have enough time and enough horses to burn through you will eventually get good enough to get your horse rode. Unless of course you get scared, injured or killed.

I can’t help but wonder how much safer the equestrian world would be if the experienced rider, trainer or veterinarian just spoke up. Of course this won’t work unless the rider we’re trying to help will listen and not become offended.

I also can’t help but wonder about how many horses are labeled “dangerous,” or “bad-minded,” simply because they have been driven to the point of insanity by inexperienced hands.

I think back to Mort, the horse of my childhood and I can’t remember if he was fat or thin. I remember his bony back getting rounder, but I couldn’t tell you if his weight was right or not. I didn’t know what a healthy weight on a horse looked like.

I also rode him with a hackamore that bloodied his chin and a tie-down which kept his head tossing to a minimum by pure force.

Lucky for both Mort and I we had the intervention and instruction we needed. First from Mark Reynor who helped me find my seat and taught me how to use my hands. Then Mike Craig, a young Black Forest trainer who taught me the Monte Foreman training system, where I was able to throw away my tie-down and learn to ride with my seat and legs and properly use a bit. I joined the Kit Carson Riding Club and learned to show in an environment of support. The club was also filled with adult riders who would jump in and help a willing but ignorant teenager.

My horse and I survived our first few years together and I’ll always be grateful to the people who helped me along the way. I am very aware it could have ended differently for both Mort and me.

Since there are no legal requirements for buying a horse I think we have to take a chance and help a new rider when we get the chance.

The couple with the brightly colored paint were on the right track. Their horse was well fed and had good feet. She was wearing a properly fitted saddle. She seemed to be fairly patient and willing to try and so did the young couple.

A tactful intervention could have helped everybody caught up in the small drama.

So what’s the solution?

A good start would be to suck it up and offer a little help when we see it’s needed. Of course it also means accepting said advice with a smile and a thank-you.

Could a free class for beginning horse owners be offered by the highly respected local riding club?

How about a list of things to know before you buy a horse and how to find the information and instruction you need?

This list could be sent to feed stores and tack shops and be not only a help to new horse owners but free advertisement for area veterinarians, trainers and shoers.

I feel strongly enough about this to want to pursue the thought.

It might even get me to show up to a FRRC meeting or two.

I’m inviting anybody who reads my column, from the old time rider to the brand new horse owner to send me your thoughts and questions on this subject. What help do you need? What questions need to be asked? How can assistance be offered without offending? How can my column be of help?

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Cupcake Gets Some Learnin'

Look what I found! This is Stormy....and also why I think there's something to be said for Foundation Breeding.

Cupcake had begun to put on weight. He tolerated my touch enough to pull the last of the patchy dry hair. A shiny red coat began to appear.

I used my fingers to untangle his mane and tail. Little by little I pulled out the burrs and loosened the Rastafarian coils. He learned to tolerate mane and tail conditioner and to appreciate fly spray.

His cotton top forelock hung over his eyes and half way down his delicate Arab face.

I spent at least 30 minutes a day grooming him with only my hand.

He had become friendly and eager for my touch. He accepted a saddle with little fuss. The long time he had spent in isolation had made him yearn for contact, so his progress became quick.

Unless he was around other horses. He became incensed when he came anywhere near them. He would squeal and strike unless I was near to keep him in hand.

My usual method of simply tying him to the tie rail with my regular line up wasn’t working. He would bloody himself trying to climb over the rail. His pinned ears and violent screams infuriated the studs and terrified my other horses.

He was going to hurt himself trying to get at them.

“I swear he’s a Jack Russell terrier,” I told the boss, “and he thinks the whole world is a rat.”

“I’ve seen horses which have never been socialized before, but not like this,” the boss said.

“He needs the shit kicked out of him and some manners knocked into him,” I answered.

I had once taught a three-year-old stud his manners by leaving him overnight in an indoor arena with a group of old pregnant broodmares.

There is nothing crankier than a pregnant broodmare dealing with an ill-mannered colt.

But this colt was the rankest thing I had ever come across. I wasn’t sure what to do.

“You can turn him out with Stormy if you want,” the boss said.

“Really,” I was surprised, “you’d do that?”

“He couldn’t hurt him and Stormy won’t do anything to him,” she responded.

Stormy was a beast of a Foundation Quarter Horse. 15hh and 1200 pounds of old fashioned bulldog style muscle, the venerable grandfather of the bosses breeding program was a sweet tempered, easy to handle guy. He was also built like a rhino.

“ I guess it could work if we turn them out in the arena. It’s neutral ground and will give each of them room to get away from each other,” I said.

The idea made me nervous, but again, I knew Cupcake’s time was running out.

“Lets give it a shot, I guess we can break them up if things get nasty.”

So the boss went and gathered up Stormy and I went to get Cupcake.

We turned Stormy out first and gave him a chance to roll and snort around before we turned out the wild child.

Stormy was pretty to watch, his massive muscles rippled under his glossy chocolate coat and his large expressive eyes snapped and crackled with fun. He had a beautiful head, heavy jowled, a small muzzle and little fox ears. He also came with the tiny useless feet of the 1970’s Quarter Horse, which is why he had been pretty much retired from the breeding game for several years.
He still drew in the occasional client looking for color, Stormy sired grullo, dun and buckskin babies at about 90% and so his popularity wasn’t entirely diminished.

After the old stud had settled I brought Cupcake out and slipped off his halter.

I scooted under the fence and the boss and I leaned on the rails to watch the show. I took off my spurs and hung them on the gate. If I had to get in there I didn’t want to trip and be tangled in a heap under their hooves.

The dogs sat at the rail panting heavily. Their ears were pricked and they quivered with anticipation. This looked like it was going to be good.

Stormy and the colt immediately high stepped to each other, with their heads flung in the air and tails flagged.

They squealed, Cupcake struck out a forefoot and Stormy…turned and ran.

“Well this is working out great,” I said.

Hmmm,” the boss answered.

For half an hour the little colt herded Stormy around, it looked like a horse fly chasing an old mama cow.

Stormy zigged and zagged, mostly at a trot, but once in a while loping along, while Cupcake buzzed from one side to the other, nipping his flanks and trying to mount him when he slowed.

We let them go, in an odd way they seemed to be having fun, Stormy’s eye was calm and serene and I could see Cupcakes already inflated ego growing by the minute.

“At least he’s getting a workout,” I noted.

Stormy was barely breaking a sweat, but the red colt was getting foamy. His crazy charges were slowing and he was mostly just trailing along.

Stormy suddenly hit the brakes, spun around and squared off.

Cupcake almost whacked into his butt when he stopped and then they were nose to nose.

Cupcake squealed and struck again, this time Stormy sidestepped left, dove into the colt, grabbed him by the crest of his neck and threw him a good five feet.

Cupcake landed flat on his side in a heap like Bambi on ice.

Stormy stood looking at him, ears pricked and his eyes bright.

Cupcake pulled himself up. The sandy arena dirt covered his sweat soaked side. He blinked rapidly trying to get the mud out of his eyes. Cupcake looked completely confused.

Stormy dove in, ears pinned and bared his yellow, grooved teeth. He grabbed the colt by the throat and shook him hard before he tossed him again.

This time Cupcake hit the iron rail and slid, stunned, to the ground.

I slid into the arena and headed toward Stormy, swinging my rope and yelling.

“Hey, hey, hey!” I shouted.

Stormy snorted and shook his head at me before he started to back away. He feinted around me and went to close in on the dazed colt. The dogs came in nipping and barking and helped drive him across the arena.

I stood between the horses and called off the dogs.

Stormy snorted at me a few times and I kept swinging my halter.

“Hey now, hey now, easy, you big jackass,” I crooned.

Cupcake staggered to his feet and peeked around me at Stormy. The huge stud relaxed and looked out over the rails.

The little red colt was scraped raw in a few places, but for the most part he was OK.

I went to crawl through the fence again and Cupcake shadowed me. If he could have squeezed through the rails with me he certainly would have.

Stormy walked towards Cupcake and he flew away from him in earnest.

“Stormy won’t run him for long,” the boss commented, “he’s too fat and the sand’s too deep.”

She was right. Stormy approached the foam flecked red colt a few more times. Once he was satisfied he would run like hell every time he headed towards him he ignored him.

The boss and I relaxed. The dogs threw themselves down in the sand and dozed. The tension leaked out of the air. By the time we started putting horse up that night Cupcake was following Stormy around like a lost weanling. He worked his mouth and tailed the massive stud everywhere he went.

When I caught him up and led him to his stall he walked past the other horses without a sound.