Wednesday, July 27, 2011

I Can Feel Every Pair of Hands

I sat on my little buckskin colt, Odin, early this morning. The sun had only been up for the last thirty minutes and the air was still sweet and cool.

Heavy gray cloud banks were already pushing over the mountains and the air was so humid I could taste it. Another rainy day was coming.

Satisfaction and a deep sense of joy made me sit quiet and soft on Odin's narrow little back. He stood relaxed and cheerful, chewing his bit in a contemplative way.

This morning I remembered why I love starting colts.

We had clicked.

After several frustrating rides he had just shown me he got it. He understood where I wanted his feet to go and he was putting them there. Not with the awkward stiffness I had wrestled with for over a week, but with a lovely flow and an easy response to my legs and hands.

He never pulled against my hands or stiffened his sides against me, he gave me every maneuver with a quiet confidence that thrilled me. The same shiver-down-my-spine thrill I have felt with every young horse I have ever started, on the day they stop working against me and start working for me.

Odin (formerly known as Leland) is the colt I began working with as an experiment that was a test of my own skill and the respect I have for the working of a horse's mind.

I have had complete control over how Odin has been handled since he was born. I was retiring as a professional trainer and had the luxury of time.

So I have trained him in a way I have long wanted to try.

The first thing I did was nothing. He stayed with his mother on pasture until he was eight months old. He lived in a herd with several babies his own age and ran and played and was disciplined by the mares around him.

I didn't halter break him or pet him. He learned about people by watching us care for the herd, seeing the mares nicker in greeting when we came out to feed. He watched his mother be haltered, saw her feet being trimmed, was there when I groomed her or doctored a cut.

If he came up to sniff me I would relax and let him taste the rough fabric of my Carhart or lick the salt off my arm, but I didn't try to pet him or catch him.

When it was time for his shots and worming we gathered him and the other foals into a pen and wrestled them down.

He learned I could catch him, hold him and let him go. He learned I was kind to his mother. He saw the respect I demanded from the other horses while I distributed feed.

When he was a yearling I brought him in with the other stud colts and kept them in a large pen. I had decided I would teach him each step only once. I would then progress to the next step and assume he understood the last lesson.

I began by moving him around the pen until he flicked an ear at me and then I quit.

The next day I moved him until he looked at me.

Then I worked him until he took a step towards me and so on.

He was halter broke in no time and seemed to understand that we were building something. then I turned him out again until he was three.

Fast forward until now.

He is well started under saddle, even though the last year has been very hit and miss with the time I could spend on him.

Odin could walk, trot, take his leads, stop and go left and right.

He was a little pluggy, a little sticky, but no more than any other youngster I have started. The amazing thing is, up until recently I never had to repeat anything.

He learned to tie, load, handle a trim, be saddled and ridden all by taking just one lesson for each step. I could leave him for two months, go catch him, saddle him, swing on and go for a ride without a flick of his ear.

I was working off the premise that a horse will remember a negative experience for the rest of his life. I saw no reason for a horse not to remember a step in training the same way.

I have recently entered the phase of having to build muscle memory. Repetition is the key to balance, reliability and instant response.

Still our progression was incredible, because Odin has become a thinking machine. He works hard to connect the previous ride to the next and in return I work hard to make each lesson be the next sensible progression.

The only drawback has been he has treated my riding him with kind of a bemused tolerance. He is a kindly little guy and saw no reason for argument but felt no need to give one ounce beyond my most basic request.

No one had ridden him except me and Kidlette. Since we are almost interchangeable as riders (except she is fast out pacing me) there was no reason not to let her crawl on when she felt like it.

When one of my favorite past students, a young woman who I trained from her first ride to her first World Show came to visit I let her ride him too.

When I became tied up in my own personal whirlwind I let the girls ride him without my being there.

"Guess what we did today Mom?" Kidlette asked me.

"What?" I answered.

"We took Odin on a trail ride. He was great, we let Beauhunk ride him."

"Say what?"

Beauhunk is the boyfriend of my old student. As far as I know he has absolutely no horse experience.

"Do you think that was a good idea?" I said.

" Everything went fine, Odin spooked once but it wasn't bad and Beauhunk didn't fall off."

I decided it was time to take back my colt.

When I went to get on I immediately felt a difference. Odin shifted towards me instead of away from me as I stood in the stirrup and walked off.

He had never moved out before I asked him to before.

When we went into the arena he was a mess. He stiffened his neck and stuck his head in the air at the simplest request. When I asked him to go left he would take his shoulder, flop his head and take off to the right. When I asked for a right turn he would sull up and stick in the ground.

When I asked him to lope he took off and ran to the arena fence, a bag of bone jarring, running through my hands, jello and rocks.

"Ahhhh shit."

We went to work. There was a lot of  head tossing, taking off, kicking at my heels and a big gaping mouth I had never seen before.

By the time we were done I was a sweaty, heaving, pissed off mess and so was Odin.

He had learned to evade, resist and refuse in a few short rides. I could tell he hadn't been abused or hurt, just ridden ineffectively. He was off kilter and rigid ad was acting like a spoiled teenager.

On the way home I was feeling just terrible. All those months of work down the tubes.

"Kidlette, no more greenies on my colt," I said over the phone."As a matter of fact, just you and me on him from here on out.'

"Uh oh, what happened?"

"I could feel every pair of hands that's been on his reins and it's like he's been taken over by aliens."

"OK, I'm sorry."

"Just because he's gentle doesn't mean he's broke."

"I know Mom, I wasn't thinking, I won't do it again."

"If you want to ride with your friends put them on your horse or Rosie."

"Mom, I get it."

"This is my colt."


It became obvious I wasn't using the say it once and assume it's understood approach with my daughter. I was going with the beat the road kill with a big stick approach.

So I dug in and went to getting my colt back.

We had quite the battle over the next week. He picked a different fight each day and we went at it until I got at least one good response. I was getting pretty down, he was turning out to be a willful little booger.

Then a funny thing happened.

My shoer, Ed, came out to trim feet.

Odin was a total butthead. He spooked when Ed used fly spray on him. He sucked back, knocked over his stand and jerked his feet out of his hand. His ears were back and he had a decidedly muley look to him.

He's never raised a fuss with Ed before.

When I rode him the next day he still had a sour, nasty look on his face, but he stood for his fly spray and behaved better in the arena. As soon as I got an ounce of try I quit for the day.

Yesterday was about the same, he had this pent up nasty look on his face and was slow and pokey. Again, when I got the least amount of try I quit.

Don't think I was all sweetness and patience, there was quite a bit of tussling, whacking and pulling, but it was pretty mild compared to some.

Then today he greeted me with a soft nicker.

When I was saddling Madonna he put his nose on my neck and whiffled my hair. I turned around and he very gently put his forehead on my chest.

And then, in the arena, we had our moment. He was sweet, responsive and better than ever before. It was like my hands were the only ones he had ever known and he was soft as a feather. He was better than he was before the incident with Beauhunk.

I think that moment, that click, is one of the finest feelings in the world. I have sworn Odin would be my last colt. But I found myself thinking, maybe I'll have time for just one more.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Mouthy Mondays

Micaylah is a busy college student and avid horseperson who took the time to share her story...thanks!Now hit the books young lady, it takes a good job to support a rampant horseaii addiction.


Dandy was a beautiful roan horse. I had seen him when he was just a few days old, and had watched him grow up. Now he was old enough to start working with. I was only 17, but had already started several horses and was overly confident in my ability. He was two years old. He taught me a lot. Turns out that pretty color on the outside rarely reflects their inside colors, and I’ll take those plain ol’ bay grade ranch horses that will work their heart out for you any day.

He had had very little handling since his owner, an elderly woman, had difficulty keeping up with a rambunctious colt. As a very young colt he learned to bite, and although he no longer did that, he was extremely head shy from the attempts to fix that problem. You lifted your hand and his head shot straight up in the air. He had been imprint trained, and therefore had absolutely no concept of personal space (he thought all the space was his).

We started with walks in hand. He knew the basics of pull=walk forward, but had had little exposure to anything else and everything in the world was so exciting that he would completely forget where I was and that he really did need to not run me over when he was staring excitedly at the neighbor’s horses for the first time. Those “walks” went a little like this: I walk forward, he trots forward, turns his head out and whinnies wildly or skitters to the side as he sees a rock move and tries to slam his shoulder into me. I elbow him back with all 110 lbs I have and yell at him, trying to make myself known. It didn’t work very well. But I think he caught on eventually; at least, he started paying more attention.

But we weren’t done yet. When he finally realized that I was not letting him walk into me, he would get very mad. If you think i’m making this up, you just wait - you will find a mad horse someday and will completely understand. He would pin his ears and try to bite me. Or swing around and kick me. He loved to kick. But more about that later. I would discipline for that and then the whole process would start all over again.

With time and continual exposure, walks outside his pen became less of an ordeal. He understood what I wanted and he acquiesced reluctantly and resentfully at times. It was time to introduce the saddle and bridle and lunging. It started out as well as it could (remember, ultra-confident teenager speaking here). But he still had that...something...that I had noticed when I first started working with him. He would get mad and he would just stop working for me. The first time I saddled and lunged him he didn’t want to canter. I finally got a few stiff, short and choppy strides of it before he dropped back into a trot, his ears slammed back on his head the entire time, angry wrinkles above his nostrils. Eventually as he was saddled and lunged more he worked out of it and cantered more willingly, but still not with that free flowing and comfortable canter that I was used to seeing in horses.

I’m rather dense at times, and this was one of those times. I still didn’t get it. He was good with the saddle and bridle (err, sidepull) and it was ready to hop on for the first ride.

He didn’t buck, I will give him that. He didn’t move either. He would swish his tail and pin his ears every time you cued with your legs. Eventually, he would break into a stiff walk, his neck tensed, his ears back and every ounce of his body saying that he did not like this. I could even get him to trot, but whatever he was like at the walk was much worse at the trot and forget about canter, he would just lock up and stop. By ride five, I was completely lost. Forget the teenager bravado, I was just confused. Kicking, smacking with the reins, nothing worked to get him to go forward. Even with someone in the middle of the round pen lunging him while I was just sitting there was getting the same tense and unhappy responses. He still wouldn’t canter. Halfway into ride five he totally locked up and reared. I got off. It wasn’t that I couldn’t handle rearing, it was that I didn’t know why he was doing it and I didn’t know how to fix it. I told his owner that I wanted to go back to working on the ground to see if I could find the hole in my training there.

So we went back to leading again. One day, we were going through a gate into his pasture and since there was nowhere for him to go, I threw the rope over his neck and expected him to continue walking in, after which I would close the gate on the other horses that were crowding in on me and come after him and take the rope and halter off. He walked through all right, but as his butt was going through, I brushed up against him as I closed the gate behind him. Wham. My whole body froze as my brain tried to understand that an extraordinary amount of force had just come into contact with my thigh. After the shock wore off, I was mad. Really mad. Sure, he had tried to kick me many times before but he had never actually gotten me. But I didn’t do anything to Dandy because he wouldn’t have understood. I simply walked up to him, took his halter off and told his owner that I would not touch that horse again and she needed to send him to an actual trainer, not just a teenager still figuring things out.

So off he went for two months. Reports that came back were not the best. He was bucking and refusing to canter. The trainer had to have a cowboy come out and work him through it. He was doing better. He was doing a lot better was wanting to work with the trainers now instead of fighting them. He came home. His owner is not the best rider, so she asked me to work with him and ride him until she sold him. I’m a sucker for trying to help horses, and I love getting inside their heads, so I answered yes, provided that he had actually changed.

When he came back, we set up a time and I came out there. I pulled him out with a stud chain because that was how he had been handled at the trainers. He jigged around me, earning my near constant reprimands. I tied him up (sans the stud chain) and he fidgeted constantly back and forth, back and forth. I grew some intelligence and carried a whip and stood a long ways off to move his hindquarters over. It was not a good beginning. I saddled him up and took him into the round pen and lunged him. It was better than it had been before, I will give him that. So I decided it was time to suck it up and actually get on him.

The butterflies in my stomach were flapping around furiously. Shut up, I told them. They didn’t, but I got on anyway. Cuing for a walk, he moved out quickly. Well, that’s a good sign - he must have learned something at the trainers. Pulling one rein, I asked him to walk in a tight circle. Instant resistance through his head and neck when turning sideways. As I was riding, his head was tucked down in a stiff arc making a false representation of collection. I asked for a trot. He hopped into it quickly, but I could hear and feel his tail wringing and the stiffness throughout his body revealed a palpable aura. My butterflies were still going. Halfway through his first circle of trot in the round pen, he began to slow down. I asked him to speed up with my legs. He pinned his ears and slowed down even more. Uh-oh. I thought. He stopped, I tried to pull his head around. He braced his neck and reared up twice, staggering dangerously backwards the second time. As his feet landed down on the sand that second time, I was able to pin his head to my knee and did a most spectacular emergency dismount, if I do say so myself. I told the owner that I really wasn’t going to work with him anymore (do you get the idea that I like to give horses second chances? Yes. Well. It shall probably kill me someday.)

Several months passed. He sat in a pasture by himself and lost all his muscle put on 100 lbs of fat. I felt really bad for him. I know, I’m stupid because I tried again. But I had some different ideas this time. I had had several months to mull this problem over, after all. We started walking in hand with a stud chain in one hand and a whip in the other. He still tried to run me over half the time but I stopped putting up with any crap. He would stay at or behind my shoulder. Period, end of sentence. I didn’t want to hurt him, but I would if he got any closer. Before I was never sure whether he was mad or scared. I decided that he was mad and he would just have to deal with it if he was scared. It began to work. He began to soften and least most of the time. He started running to the fence every time I came because he was in a pasture by himself and I took him out of that pasture and paid attention to him. I stopped carrying a whip because he started listening to my voice when I asked him to back off. Soon I didn’t need a stud chain either.

It was time to ride him again. I saddled him up and lunged him in the round pen. He was calm, head down, ears forward. I put one foot in the stirrup. Head went up, ears back, tail clamped. I stepped down. Head went down, ears relaxed. This continued, but I quit listening to my fear and got on anyway. He walked around the round pen once very stiffly, and I got off and called it a day.

I had an idea. The next day, I hopped on him, walked around the round pen once, then headed outside on the trail. The difference was immediate. His ears perked forward and he began looking around excitedly. We walked a little ways down the road and he was forward, even jigging sometimes, and happy. It was a breakthrough. I could finally ride him longer than five minutes so I could figure out his buttons and what made him tick. Turns out, he had learned some things at the trainers. He responded to leg pressure, and although he tried to buck when you pushed for a canter if you smacked him he would hop right into it. He’d been cowboyed all right, nothing else could give him such an appreciation for the end of the reins. His movement became less stiff and he learned to carry his head in a relaxed manner.

He still tried to rear, but I had his number now and I stopped being scared and kicked his butt if he tried it. It worked. I think it also helped that I instilled a very good disengage the hindquarters so that when things happened it was an automatic response.

I could now get him to move out consistently and in a fairly relaxed and forward manner on the trail. It was still very different in any arena. He hated it. His nasty attitude would come back immediately and he would try to buck, run sideways, or just stop moving. So I tricked him. We started just walking once around the arena before going out on the trail. Then it was twice. Then it was walking and trotting. Then it was all three gaits. Slowly but surely, all surliness began to disappear and I made sure we did lots of interesting things on our rides.

Soon it will be almost a year since that first breakthrough trail ride. Just last week a lady came out to look at him to possibly buy him. I went to get him in the pasture, and I tied the lead rope to both sides of his halter and hopped on bareback and walked calmly to the gate. We went to the round pen where I put him through his paces in both directions and all he wanted to do was please me with everything I said. When the lady who was interested in him got on, he got a little bit worried. He has, after all, been primarily handled by only two people in his entire life: me and the trainer. But instead of going back to his old habits, he still did his best to do what she asked him. His trot was faster than the jog he usually gave me, but it was a nervous trot not an angry and stilted one. He moved forward fluidly and quickly sped up into a canter when she accidentally squeezed too hard with his legs. He slowed down immediately when she asked. He kept looking to me where I was sitting on the fence watching as if he was asking for advice. I had become his comfort zone and he wanted to stop whenever he passed me, but went forward at her request. In the end, he did just like he was supposed to do. She wants to buy him, and it would be wonderful.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Paint them All Purple

I'm back finally. I kinda sorta have a plan. I am in the midst of creating a new life, like it or not, and at the core is I am now officially a freelance writer. Which means I am poor again. Sigh. Pity party at 6 pm.

I still carry two columns at the paper, but need to make up a bit of income elsewhere. So I am immediately going to devote some time to my little blog here and try to wring some money out of it...which means getting on facebook, picking up some more advertising, writing regularly, hopefully this will all be a good thing.

I have put the blog on Amazon’s Kindle. It seems a little weird to charge for something I write for free, BUT if you guys check it out and give me a review I’ll love you forever. You don’t have to buy it to review it. Thanks ahead of time.

Have any of you written for Squidoo? Is it worth it?

I would also like to get the "Mind Meld' blog up and running. Do you remember that one? Basically a training blog, but run by reader participation.

If we get a question about ground work we'll get input from all types of riders, from dressage to reined cow horse to whisperers. No harassment, just input, so the rider who is asking for information can pick what works. If a training suggestion is dangerous to horse or rider the flaming can begin, but only then. We can argue and fuss at each other but learning from everybody is the primary goal. Give me a few weeks and we'll get cranking on this one.

I've always loved the idea, but haven't had the time to get it going until now.
Back to the blog....

In the comments on some of my more recent posts I've been asked my thoughts about the "color breeds," and by the way my remarks about mustangs have been challenged I realize I need to clarify some of my opinions. To be completely honest, a lot of my comments came from gut reaction, so I've had to do some homework.

You guys are so great, you make me think, think, think.

All this thinking not only gave me a headache, but turned this into a two part column.

I was talking over a few of my theories with my boss, a paint and QH breeder, at work and she added some interesting insight about paints.
So I've got some new thoughts about some old opinions that have developed over my years with horses.

Color or breed? This question swirls around endlessly, for new horse owners especially, the misleading information can be so mixed up with the truth it is almost impossible to decide what is what.

I used to think it was easy to differentiate between horses being bred for color only and being called a breed and breeds which also have color.

Of course the issue keeps getting muddier and muddier, a veritable claybank you might say, the longer I study on this and the more I learn. Typical of every aspect of the horse world, there’s always room to feel like a gunzel.
So let’s start with color. All of it, chestnuts, grays, paints, apps, every variation of every black, white or red hair.

I think we can safely agree most QH are some version of red. You know, what some might consider the boring kind of red, chestnut, and sorrel....the kind of color nobody wants in the QH world, except maybe me.

If the boring red horse has a skunk tail, plenty of chrome and lots of white roaning on the flanks, suddenly the color is much more desirable, because then the horse could be showing off his Smart Chic Olena breeding. Or if that red horse is marked and colored like a Hereford steer, then Trashadeous bragging rights appear, even if the closest the owner has come to Be Aech Enterprise is driving a car from the #2 car rental agency in America.

The thing is the QH is not bred to be red. Bays, blacks, browns, grays, duns, palominos and now, paints, cremellos and all those other colors are welcome, if not sought after, within the breed. Red simply shows up a lot.

If a potential horse owner seeks a red QH with a big blaze and roaned flanks it’s because the buyer likes and wants the talent and ability of those Chic O Lenas and knows this is a color which often comes with the blood line. The owner wants other horse show folk to know what he bought.

Buckskin, dun and palomino have always been a popular color of QH. They were relatively rare colors until Hollywood Dunnit and Shining Spark exploded on the show circuit. Now there are so many variations of yellow out in the show pen it’s just about boring.

I’m OK with it though. Because if the pretty colored horses are winning in AQHA, NRCHA or NCHA events it’s because of their ability, not because of the amount of zebra stripes on their legs or frosting in their manes. The color is just a bonus.

From my experience if you’re going to ride a flashy colored horse in the pen you had better have a good performer. It’s the equivalent of riding with spotted “hair on” chaps or a sparkly shirt. You’re going to draw the judge’s eye.

If you are competing on a pretty colored horse in the NRCHA, NCHA, or AQHA and can’t get anything done, then be prepared for some derisively raised eyebrows and an awkward silence or two from your peers. They’ll suspect you either can’t ride the hot colored, well bred horse you’re riding or you just bought color, not talent.

QH breeders long spurned paint or app coloring. Too much white meant a poor quality horse; until Miss White Trash proved reverse color prejudice was as foolish as breeding for nothing but grullas.

I’ve heard an interesting story about long time Colorado horse breeder, Hank Wiescamp, who was long considered the undisputed king of the linebreeders.

According to the Wiescamp website, by “utilizing the AQHA stallion Skipper W as the cornerstone of his program, Wiescamp linebred a ‘family’ of Quarter Horses that were so easily distinguishable by coloring and type that they are more often described as ‘Wiescamp horses’ than as members of any single breed. Although most often associated with his legendary lines of Palominos and Quarter Horses, Wiescamp founded equally well-known families of Paint Horses and Appaloosas.”

The story, legend or rumor, whichever you prefer to call it, is that Weiscamp didn’t believe in limiting the salability of his horses by having them not meet breed standards. Skipper W threw a lot of color. He could be crossed with a variety of mares and often produce the color of the mare he was crossed with.

As with any color, it didn’t always show up when desired, and sometimes it appeared when it was the last thing needed. The tale I was told said there were three pastures for weanlings at the Wiescamp ranch, one for quarter Horses, one for Paints and one for Apps.

Since this Skipper W line was begun before DNA testing it wasn’t difficult for Wiescamp to dodge the color limitations by breeding for paints and apps too. When a cross with a paint turned out a solid colored foal it was weaned and turned out in the quarter horse pasture.

Crop out paint? No problem, turn the baby out into the paint pasture.

Because he would keep and breed back his best mares, eventually he could have solids, apps or paints show up in any of his crosses.

He simply matched papers to color and kept his colorful program going strong.

Is this story true? Hell, I don’t know. I love the concept though.

To Wiescamp, color meant nothing more than a pretty addition to a bloodline he believed in. He wasn’t about to lose out on a quality prospect because it had a white sock above the knee and a splash of white on its side.

He was breeding for performance and bloodline and kept up with the color people wanted. I think its how all breeding should be conducted.

I’m more than happy AQHA changed the color rules and now accept all colors of horses with the correct blood lines into the registry. Because I firmly believe color is just that, color. It doesn’t make or break a breed, which should be genetically developed to improve performance, not enhance a sparkly coat. A horse of any color should be able to prove it’s breeding through talent, not color.

So what happens when we breed specifically for color?

There is an ongoing research project going on in Russia with black/silver foxes. Originally the foxes were part of a fur farm. Foxes with large white markings were bred to each other to produce more interesting color patterns.

The changes in the foxes that came with breeding for color made the base for a study which continues today.
The foxes began wagging their tails and bonding with humans. They retained their puppy-like behavior even as they reached maturity. They became bigger boned, their hair grew longer and they definitely became spotted.
If you think about this from a wild fox’s perspective, these foxes not only insulted their culture by turning into Border Collies, they lost the ability to grow up. They had so much white on them they would be a danger to themselves and other foxes by losing their natural camouflage and glowing in the dark. Their great size would have them crashing through the brush and leaving big old monster tracks shoved deep in the mud.
So essentially, the foxes had become big, stupid, evolutionary disasters, by only breeding for color.

Another solid example is the white tiger. Obviously, a blue eyed white tiger is not going to last long in the jungle. There was a reason they were rarely found, because everybody, from hunters to prey, could spot them a mile away.

 Starving white tigers make an easy target for hunters on Safari. Even the worst shot could nail a glowing white tiger digging through the garbage. Once a couple of magicians in Las Vegas got ahold of them and began a breeding program there were white tigers all over the place.

Already genetically weak, illness from frail bones, cancer, blindness, mental instability and awful deformities began to appear, all from breeding for color.Check out this poor guy. He looks like a Puggle gone bad.

Wiescamp was breeding two types of horses besides his Quarter Horses, Paints and Appaloosas, which are known for their coat markings.

I think of paints as a color and apps as a breed. Appaloosas were originally carefully bred horses with good feet, sparse manes and tails and amazing endurance and athletic ability. The desired spotted coat showed up sometimes in the tough little war horse developed by the Nez Perce.

Meriwether Lewis wrote the following of the Nez Perce's horses, in his diary on Feb. 15, 1806, "Their horses appear to be of an excellent race; they are lofty, eligantly [sic] formed, active and durable…SOME of these horses are pided with large spots of white irregularly scattered and intermixed with black, brown, bey [sic] or some other dark color."

As Merriwether noted, the Nez Perce horse was bred for talent, the cool colors were just a bonus, not something that was bred for. I agree, I think of Apps as a definite breed.

Now we can get to Paints. The American Paint Horse Association was developed to find a registry for quarter horses rejected by AQHA for having too much color. Essentially I have always considered Paints a colored Quarter Horse. I had a friend who owned a grade paint mare back in the 1970’s. Her mare was accepted by the then fledgling APHA registry because she had stock horse attributes and the right color. This tells me the Paint has been bred for color, not performance, so is not a breed.

Research shows the Tobiano (white body with spots) is a "pattern", like a zebra or a giraffe, with the white most often crossing the spine. Overo (solid body with white spots) can be pictured as a solid colored horse with areas of color missing, and white most often does not cross the spine. This would make it seem the Tobiano could be a breed, while the Overo would be a color.

My boss told me she feels the Tobiano is closer to being a breed than the Overo.

“The Toby tends to be heavier boned, coarser headed and prone to staying sound,” she told me. “The Overo is more like your typical Quarter Horse. It seems to me the Toby is close to being an actual breed.”

A little research on the APHA website tells me the Tobiano is common in pony breeds, some draft breeds, and even occurs in some of the warmblood breeds. So I would think the color influence would simply be the result of adding horses of various breeds into the APHA which carry the Tobiano gene.

The Ovwero  coloring shows up in mainly Spanish bred horses. This gives some credence to her thoughts, except it is more about where the color appears than the color designating a breed in itself.
So why do so many breeds of horses limit their accepted colors to browns, blacks and reds? I have read lots of reasons; the most important for me would be what happened to those poor foxes. You can buy them as pets now for goodness sakes.

Grays are notorious for developing anal tumors, white markings can get sunburned, I’ve seen more than one Paint absolutely fried. Appies have vision problems and all of the brightly colored breeds stand out in a crowd. Not a good thing in the middle of the herd when the wolves are closing in.

Although the reason the zebra is striped is because when they run in a herd it’s almost impossible for a lion to distinguish one from the other. Maybe that’s why APHA pleasure classes are so dang slow. It helps the judge pick them out from all the other spots.

I’m sure there are some arguments coming about the genetic problems which come from line breeding, and there are some good ones, but that’s an argument for another day.

Here’s some of the horses I define by color or breed.

Appaloosa – Breed
Paint- Color
Palomino – Color
Gypsy Vanner-Breed
Norwegian Fjord-Breed
Suffolk Punch-Breed

It’s good to be back.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Fugly is Fuggin Leaving Us

I'm bummed. One of the squeakiest wheeled, most attention getting bloggers in the cyber horse world is leaving us.

Cathy Atkinson is moving on to other places and will no longer be taking us with her.

I have been following her adventures and escapades and listening to her point of view for about six months longer than the Mugwump Chronicles has been in existence.

Fugs is the reason I began to blog. I realized I had a voice, a need to express it and a desire to practice my writing. Blogging gave me all of that and I got the idea by reading Fugly Horse of the Day.

Her blog has been an incredible education for me. I have become aware of the dangers of random breeding programs, the plight of breeds bred by the hundreds or thousands to gain a few exceptional examples, the dangers of color breeding, the ignorance and outright stupidity of many in the horse world balanced by a few enlightened, educated and aware folks out to do the right thing.

I am kinder, louder, more opinionated and more aware of the danger we are in as horse owners than I ever would have been without Fugs.

I also have been able to openly disagree, mock, tease or argue with Cathy, on our blogs or privately, without recrimination or judgement on either side. Because of this we have been able to encourage and support each other. I appreciate this and will miss her open minded approach.

Yes, I said open minded. Cathy has accepted, absorbed and attacked my opinions as zealously as I have hers and I have consistently come from a trainers point of view, a person who bought and sold, trained and instructed in a complicated, mercenary portion of the horse world.

She has never made it personal. Yes Fugly gets pretty damn personal with some, but I have yet to see her go after anybody any higher on the evolutionary chain than an amoeba brained cretin.

I have read that she's crazy, well maybe, crazy like a fox.

I have read that she's mean and narrow minded. I have read a lot of things that would make me curl up in a ball if you threw those at me.

Cathy has laughed in her critics faces and kept on bringing up the subjects that she wants us to think about, even if it means jamming it down our throats.

Animal abuse, proper feeding practices, care of our elderly horses, responsible ownership, horsemanship, training a show horse with humane methods and winning anyway, and so on.

These seem like acts of kindness to me and I will always appreciate and thank her for making me think, making me argue, helping me stand up for what I believe in and finding the bare bones of the angriest rant.

She's pretty damn funny too.

Here's to you Fugs, some day we'll have that Margarita.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Month O' Mouthies

Sophiebelle sent us another great story-

After we bought our young gelding Zephyr, Mum and I needed a second horse. I found an ad for a go-anywhere do-anything Welsh mare, and one Saturday we got up before dawn to drive to the stud. I was in charge of the navigating. Big mistake. I got us incredibly lost. We ended up driving nearly an hour past our turn-off into this little hick town in the middle of a valley called Araluen. It was a strange place like a land lost in time, with heavily bearded locals and chickens on the roads. At the top of each hill I’d call for more directions, but at every turn we ended up pointing back to Araluen. We did make it to see the mare, a little cream puff of a thing called Whinney, a.k.a. the Princess Pony. I soon as I got on I knew this was the horse for us.

A vet check was arranged, she passed with flying colours. That night we got a call from Zephyr’s breeder. “I know you’ve just vet-checked a horse, but I’ve just been charged with a horse to sell and I think she’d be perfect for you. Her name is Araluen.”

We bought Whinney and took her home. Mum was convinced to travel to Victoria to meet Araluen – but mostly to visit Zephyr, she told herself. Araluen was fat and chestnut – Mum’s least favourite horse colour. She was part-Morgan but also part-Thoroughbred, a breed I admired but never wanted to own. She had been placed in a dubious environment for the past year (through no fault of her owner). Her feet were bad, she had been called dangerous, even Zephyr’s breeder – a horse guru – had difficulty catching her. But we were told she was a good jumper, and a good mare – and perfect for us.

Mum spent 4 days in the paddock with Zephyr and Araluen, studiously ignoring the mare and telling herself that we did not need another horse. She had a short ride on her but that was it. The breeder eventually chucked Araluen on the float herself and took her into town for x-rays.

Curiously, Mum had no problems catching Araluen, who would come right up to her in the paddock.

On her last day Mum was saying goodbye to Zephyr when Araluen came up to her and laid her head on her chest. Mum felt like she were saying ‘Take me home’.

Victoria was flooding when Mum drove back South. She was pulled over after driving through a particularly dangerous stretch of water when the vet called with the results of the x-rays: all clear. Mum says she will never forgot that moment – was it when she first realised that she was in love?

Araluen travelled up to Sydney with Zephyr. When she came off the float she looked just like her photos – big and chestnut. Our trimmer, who’d bought them up, praised both horses’ good natures.

The first time we rode the mares out, Lou and I were swerving all other the place. “Stop riding over people’s flower beds!” Mum berated me. And yes, I broke the cardinal rule – “It’s not me, it’s the horse!”

But this horse had no steering. And no brakes. And didn’t understand my leg aids. “She’s going to need to be completely re-trained,” was my opinion. Then she started getting worse. There was always a warning, 20 mins into every ride – a head shake, a mini rear, a spook. Then jumps, and bunny hops, and driving into the ground, speeding up, running through the shoulder. “What have we done?” I thought quietly to myself during one ride. I was despairing a little.

After one particularly nasty incident I got off trembling. Araluen was not sore, her teeth had been checked, her tack fitted and I wasn’t asking the world of her. She was just incredibly resistant and felt ready to take off. I rang Zephyr’s breeder for advice.

“She’s used to bossing around foals and kids, not being bossed around herself. If she wants to go, take advantage of it, canter her in circles, make her work.”

I did this religiously, not exactly scared, but not happily either. I knew I wasn’t going to come off, her movement glued you to the saddle, but she was so hard that it was like riding a plank of wood. She was tense all through her body.

Yet, perversely, Araluen enjoyed being ridden. Mum rode her bareback at a walk while I worked with the Princess Pony and they were a picture of contentment together. Lou loved getting out and about, she was happiest riding the neighbourhood with the Princess Pony at her side.

One fateful day Mum bought Lou down to the ridding paddock whilst all the other agitstees were riding. I was on Whinney and Lou had only ever been ridden with her before. I was concentrating on what I was doing and Lou was always perfectly behaved with Mum, so I made a stupid, stupid decision and left them to their own devices. Mum says that she felt Lou trip, all I know is that the mares were separated by all the other horses and Lou began to buck, and didn’t stop until Mum came off.

We didn’t ride her again until we got the saddles checked. They fitted fine, a few minor adjustments and they were as perfect as they could be. Lou and I started making small progress on our rides, very small. Her ground manners were improving and after a lot of work she was not so difficult to catch. We took Lou out to riding club one day to see how she would go just tied to the float with some hay. Anxious about separation from her paddock mates at best, she swung around and pawed and called out for Whinney constantly. I was embarrassed because of her. After riding in my group session I saddled Lou and took her away to ride. She did everything I asked her but she was miserable.

In the beginning of April I was cantering Lou happily around the dam when she suddenly dropped her head. “Oh shit” I said to myself out loud when I realised there was no longer a horse between me and the ground. Thankfully I hit the ground rolling and nothing was hurt. I jumped back on and spent 15 minutes trotting circles, curves, serpentines – not letting her go straight for more than a few strides so that she was forced to bring her weight back onto her hindquarters, stop leaning on my hands and listen to my aids. Her forehand became lighter and her rhythm more relaxed. I asked for a canter and lo and behold – the best canter we had ever had. Soft, light, uphill. I slowed her down after only a few strides and ended the lesson there, and gave her a hug, and told her that she was a good girl.

I didn’t want to put it into words but I had a feeling this was a breakthrough – I went home grinning from ear to ear. A few older, more experienced horse people warned me to be very cautious when I told them, saying that fifteen minutes was not enough and that she was being rewarded for getting me off. But fifteen minutes of that is hard work for an unfit horse and I knew that Lou responded better to positive than to negative reinforcement – I was only doing what Tom Roberts expounded after all.

Lou got 3 days off. I wanted her to mull it over.

The next ride – perfect. From the beginning she was light and responsive, sensitive to my seat aids, relaxed and obliging. Mum watched and afterwards said that the only things I said was a constant “good girl, good girl”. Apparently I had a particularly goofy grin on too.

Lou chucked me off two months ago. Every ride we have gets better and better. We took her back to riding club and she was considerably better behaved without the Princess Pony. I tacked up again after lunch again and found a basic dressage lesson with only one other person in it. “I don’t know how she’s going to cope around all these other horses,” I said to the instructor, “if we’re too annoying, send us out.” “You’re not very ambitious,” was all she said, and got us working on our laterals, which Lou was now very good at. She was calm throughout the whole lesson, and – dare I say it – even enjoyed herself.

Last weekend some friends organised a trail ride through the local State Forest – a common routine. I had been dying to take Lou to the forest but Mum was working and there was no-one to help me float her. I had also never taken her out on her own before, but her separation anxiety had completely disappeared at home. It would take us at least an hour to ride to the park, let alone through it and home again, and I didn’t know if she was up to it. I decided to just give it a go up the road, she had to be taken out alone someday. We would go for as far as I felt comfortable with and turn home before she got nappy.

We set out at a smart walk. She called out a few times and swung her head around as she peered in paddocks and around sheds. A couple of times we stopped as she stared into the distance, until someone would appear out of a stand of trees and, satisfied, she would walk on again. There were a million cyclists ridding in a charity event, trucks, horrible dogs, property sale signs, a herd of alpacas, neighbourhood stallions parading along their fence lines and heaps of other horses who galloped up to check us out. Nothing worried her. I let her set her pace and could half-halt her with a softening of my seat. We made it to the park after trotting the last stretch on a loose rein and slotted in with half a dozen strange horses. Once we got into the bush she found her second wind and soon the others were finding it hard to keep up with her powerful, swinging walk. Lou was fine at the front of the ride, at the back, in the middle. She didn’t so much as flatten an ear at the other horses. She raced up Galop Hill with the group. She stood tied to a tree while we got our lunch at the pub and grazed quietly while we ate. She loaded into an un-known float with another horse when we were offered a lift home, and accepted being washed before she was put back in her paddock to rejoin her mates.

It has been five months since Zephyr and Araluen arrived in Sydney. When Mum and I let the horses back into their paddock the other night, Zephyr and Whinney wandered off to graze. Araluen stayed by us and lowered her head. We stroked her all over and praised her as night fell.

Araluen was never a problem horse. She was not dangerous. She did not need re-training. She was unhappy.

Araluen is still chestnut, and still half-thoroughbred. But she is happy now. And she is the perfect horse for us.

Sunday, July 3, 2011


When BN horse trainers find a second career as physical therapists (human that is).

Thanks Hick Chic!

Friday, July 1, 2011

Month O' Mouthies

This one is fun. First horse memories are the best and you all know how much I love floaty trots... 

Remembering Rose

The excitement in the old truck was nearly palpable. After nearly 15 years of waiting, I was headed to the upper corner of the state to check out what might become my very first horse. All my father had told me was that he was a 4 year old Appaloosa gelding and from that little bit of information my imagination took off. I pictured myself galloping through green fields aboard a wildly spotted leopard, or leaping fences on a bright, glossy horse emblazoned with a big blanketed rump!

We pulled into the old farmer's drive and his son directed us towards the barn. The yard was littered with old farm machinery and rusting car bodies that were rapidly being swallowed by weeds. Numerous dogs ran rampant around the property, barking and fighting amongst themselves. I tried to keep my feelings to myself...not everyone was well off and times were rather hard.

"He's back in here." the son said, leading us into a tiny, ramshackle barn. Crowded in with my family (there were 5 of us in total, even my brother had come along to see what all the excitement was about) I couldn't get a good look at him, just barely catching a flash of chocolate colored hide. "We put him in with the filly since we're a little short on room." he explained. He slid open the stall door and grabbed the colt's halter. Like a flash the little red filly rocketed out of the stall and tore off across the property. "Oh don't worry about her." he said. "She's always doing that."

I turned back to the colt and felt all my dreams shrivel and disappear. Gone was the thought of riding a flashy, wildly spotted horse through fields or over fences. What stood before me, tossing his head and jerking on the lead, was a hideous parody of Appaloosa...big, heavy coarse head with a mottled roman nose, small piggy eyes buried in pink speckled flesh, sparse mane and even more sparse tail, seeming to hold a whopping 4 hairs. And to top it all off...two tiny nickle-sized spots marked his haunches, that was all. Determined to make the best of the situation, I reached out to scratch him on the cheek. He yanked his head up and away from me, tightening his lips in what seemed like disgust.

"Oh don't worry about that," the boy drawled, "he's like that with everyone at first. He'll warm up to you in no time." He led the colt outside and tied him up. The wan winter sunlight did nothing to improve his looks. Suddenly there was a pattering of hooves and the little filly came careening around the front of the house. She was a bright cherry red bay with a ridiculously long winter coat that was fluffed out in the cold. It caught the light and she seemed to be surrounded by a bright red glow. She suddenly realized we were there and she skidded to a stop, snorting in surprise. Once she was sure she had our attention however, she pirouetted like a dancer and floated in a beautiful trot back out to the front yard, tail flagged like an Arabian. She paused and looked back at us over her shoulder, making sure we were still watching before she spun once again and pranced back towards us. Halfway there she spun yet again and floated off around the house. I stood mesmerized, caught up in the spell of the little red filly.

"That's just Rose," he informed us, "she's the last foal we had. A little on the small size." My entire family, even my very non-horsey brother, were mesmerized by this little horse! I heard the son clear his throat and we all rather guiltily turned back to the ugly gelding. My sister and I exchanged a look, neither one of us was very enthusiastic about the boring, bad tempered brown colt when the flashy little filly was dancing around the front of the property.

"Now he's still pretty green," the son said, "but he's got a good walk and trot going and he's a nice trail horse, even goes through water."

"That's nice." I heard my father reply. "How about that other one? The little red one?" Apparently even my father wasn't impressed with the colt!

"Oh she's too young for your girl. She's only about 2, this gelding is what you're looking for!" was his answer. It seemed as if he was pushing us to believe that this coarse little colt was just every girl's dream horse. He started to saddle up the gelding and I watched as the colt again wrinkled his nose and flung his head up, sidling away from the tack. At least he took the bit rather well...with a head toss of course.

At last the colt was saddled and the boy hopped up on him. He headed down the driveway at a plodding pace, the gelding's nose held up and sideways. My father glanced over at me and I did my best to appear excited since I had waited so very long for a horse of my own. Apparently he could tell how unenthusiastic I was since I saw his expression soften.

Little Rose decided to make an appearance at just that moment. She flitted around the ugly colt, weaved in and out around the unruly dogs and side passed through the rusted hunks of cars. She also kept at least one eye and an ear trained on us at all times. She tucked her nose to her chest, shook her head, bucked on the spot...anything to keep us looking at HER and not the colt! According to my father, from the look on my face the filly was already dancing her way into my heart.

The son had coaxed the gelding (with much kicking, clucking and slap with the ends of his reins) into a jarring trot and headed back towards us. The colt still had his head held to the stars and his nose cranked to the right, lips tightened and eyes glaring. The boy yanked him to a stop in front of us and hopped off.

"So...what do you think?" he asked, a big grin plastered on his face. "He's a little rough but with more training he'll even right out."

"Well," my father replied. He glanced my way, I suddenly realized that I could be saddled with this unruly colt if my father gave his ok. Unbidden tears came to my eyes and I turned away, staring at the lovely little filly still dancing around the front yard. "Well, we'll have to talk it over as a family." came my father's voice. "What can you tell me about that filly? Seems my daughter really likes the look of her."

My head spun back and huge grin split my face at his words. Suddenly I forgot about being cold, about the ugly colt and the ramshakle farm. The thought of owning Rose was a dream come true!

"Oh, she isn't for sale." came the reply.

My dreams crashed to the ground, smashed to bits by his words.

"Yeah my dad wants to keep her 'cause she's the last foal out of our good ol' mare that we just sold." he said. I stared at the ground, suddenly finding it hard to breathe. I willed the tears from my eyes and tried to swallow the lump that appeared in my throat. The boy looked at me and cleared his throat, uncomfortable in sudden silence. "but hey, I can ask him if he'd sell her. Sure you don't want to try out the colt though?" he asked

I never did step up on that colt. Rose was bought that very day, that old farmer said he had watched everything from his house and said he knew when a horse chooses it's rider and that Rose had made it pretty darn clear who she wanted to go with. It's so hard to believe that all this happened nearly 20 years ago. Everything about that day is emblazoned in my mind...the way the snow had melted away except for a few stubborn patches in the shadows, the way the wind whipped the horse's manes, the smell of the barn, the sun glistening off the old chrome bumpers of the cars, the staccatto rap of Rose's hooves on the gravel driveway. It is said that a journey of a thousand miles begins with just a single step....this journey started with a flying, floating trot.