Friday, January 23, 2015

Open Horses

It wasn't until I entered the world of reined cowhorses that I heard the term "open horse." The term was closely followed by "non-pro horse."

It seemed there were two kinds of cowhorse. Those suitable for open riders, the people that competed at a professional level, and those meant for the non-pros, or the people who didn't ride for a living.

It took me years to understand what the difference between an open caliber horse and a non-pro horse really was.

An open horse can reach the absolute upper levels of competition and win. Their agility, instinct and drive are so incredibly high they can hold their own against all others. They are lightening quick and hard to ride, potentially impossible to stick if the horsemanship doesn't match. Open horses are ridden by open riders, trainers who do nothing else but ride.

A non-pro horse can compete in a non-pro world and succeed, without pile-driving their rider, our clients and income, into the dirt.

At least that was how I understood it then. It's all true mind you, but there is much, much more.

When I bought Madonna, there was a lot riding on my purchase. I had sold Sonita in order to get my next project. She had brought me enough money to buy something current, something bred right, something that would advance my career.

There was more. I had strapped on my big girl chaps, and sold the horse I had poured sweat and thought and blood and guts into, to further my career. I had never sold one of my personal horses before. I needed my next horse to somehow stuff my intestines back into the huge hole selling Sonita had left. I needed an open horse.

I showed K some photos of a Reminic bred gelding. He was sharp, bright bay, came from a breeder we knew and respected and even as a long yearling, had that edgy look I had learned to appreciate in the show pen.

"That could be a nice horse," K agreed, "I'm not sure it's the direction you want to go."

"Where do I want to go?"

"I'd like to see you on something softer, a horse that's biddable, that you'll have success on right away. A Chic O Lena would be a good choice. They're easy to ride and can still take you where you want to go."

I knew he had a Chic O Lena bred filly, but it was too easy a jump to make. I tried to get to the root of where he was going. K spoke in so many layers, it always paid to think things through before answering him. "You don't think I can handle a Reminic?"

"You can handle a Reminic. I just think it's time you showed something that showcases your talent as a trainer instead of your ability to survive."

I ended up buying the Chic O Lena and will be eternally grateful for the push. Madonna is everything he promised and more, but in the back of my insecure mind, I decided I wasn't worthy of the elusive open horse. I was being delegated to a life of riding non-pro horses and hoping to squeak into the money with the real trainers.

I have run into the same scenario in the dog world. I've been reading some training blogs and breed blogs, one of which is dedicated to Malinois and Dutch Shepherds.

These dogs are edgy, athletic, lightening quick and protective. They are bred for a job and God help the world around them if they don't have one.

They are, as far as I can tell, "open dogs."

Reading some of the posts and the following comments made me uneasy. There was a tone to them that was very familiar. I've been retired from the horse biz long enough to have forgotten that tone. I sorted it out though.

For many, there is a mystic quality to horse training. The idea that there is something magical about someone who can get horses to not only be model citizens, but spin, float, jump, slide, or move in amazing rhythms.

For some, it creates a feeling that trainers are better than them, an elevated human with a deep understanding of animals.

As trainers, we often nurture that feeling, after all, it makes us feel good, secures our income and helps justify the endless, grueling, mind numbing hours that go into becoming mystical.

I'm going to be honest here. It's a bunch of bullshit.

Becoming a horse trainer takes full time dedication to horses. Becoming a good trainer involves actually riding them, and it takes working and riding hundreds of horses. It needs to be an obsession about what makes them tick, so strong that the long hours, low pay and high injury rate mean nothing.  You might need to be crazy to be a trainer, but there is no magic.

There is the ever elusive feel, an ability to absorb and adjust to the animal--it's an asset believe me. It's still not magic. If I was into cars, feel would make me a good mechanic. Without feel, both mechanical and training ability  are still in reach, it just involves more sweat equity.

I am picking up the same vibe on the dog sites.

Here are a couple of quotes:

"Well said and in short most people lack the intelligence to train and give the Malinois what it needs to be mentally healthy and physically fulfilled."

"...our permissive, anything goes society has filtered down to our pets. no rules, no limits - that is the American way. our dogs, our children our society suffers for it."

 I don't know about you guys, but I read this and all I absorb is, if I can't handle a Malinois, then I'm stupid and my children are spoiled brats. 

Which leads me straight to, don't tell me I shouldn't own a Malinois, I'm going to adopt that 18- month-old male I saw on CL yesterday. That'll show 'em.

The real truth is, if you are interested in a breed of dog like this, then they need the same obsessive dedication it takes to become a pro in the horse world.

Trust me, there are stupid dog trainers with crappy kids, who can still turn out a high quality police dog. 

We crave to be as savvy as a trainer of national IPO champions or as wise as a dressage master. Of course we do, because we're convinced they have magical abilities we never will. 

It's easier to envy special powers than it is to dig in and do the work. 

It's easier to let ourselves feel superior to others than to reveal we're schlubs just like the next guy. 

The disservice comes to the animals.

Instead of Malinois being desirable military and police dogs, to be admired for the work they do, they are becoming yet another breed to elevate our place in society. If I can control this animal, than I control my environment. I am smarter, faster, stronger and better looking than all of you Lab owners.

The ruination of the breed soon follows.

It happens with horses. Horses are started by people with a video and good intentions. Young show prospects are bought by wealthy first-year riders, because of how they look under the trainer. They're trained, right?

If we could disconnect the status somehow, things would go better for our animals.

I finally understand what an open horse is. It is a horse with the ability to win big in the show pen. It can be mean, crazy, bad-legged, or colic every Thurs. like clockwork, none of these things matter. All that matters is it can win.

A good non-pro horse is kind, well balanced, mannerly and forgiving. A good one can still compete and win an open class. A good non-pro horse is priceless.

Most people work at something other than reining or fly ball for a living. Good thing, because us trainers need your dollah dollah bills. 

If we could somehow quit inferring that people with less knowledge than us were inferior, then maybe we would quit thinking the way to equality (superiority) is through the breed or the ride.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Decoding Brockle - Trying to Understand How DNA works

This is all Brockle's fault. He has been a confusing puzzle of a dog since the day we met. I have owned several dogs in my life. Our relationship was uncomplicated and easy. Then I met my boy. He is complicated in ways that freak me out a little. He piqued my interest. 

My confused thoughts are written in blue and corrections from brilliant readers will be added in green.

His quirkiness, sense of humor and fierce loyalty caught the eye of others. The guesses at what was in him were wild and varied. It got me studying dogs in a way I'd never considered. 

I started by looking at dog DNA. Yuck. 

This is the kind of stuff I am really bad at. I try to process the information and end up going blind and thinking about horses. My difficulty understanding this kind of thing is the reason I was considered stupid, lazy or both, in school. Since those days of pure hell, I've discovered I can learn if I'm interested enough, and can break things down far enough.

I'm really hoping that those of you who get this more than I do will help me clear up the foggy parts.
Here goes: 

Most of the DNA in a cell is stored in the nucleus, but there is a little tiny bit found in the mitochondria, the mitochondial DNA (MtDNA). Researchers studying dog DNA use mtDNA, to compile complete genomes (a dog's complete set of DNA).

The reason researchers studied mtDNA is because they reproduce asexually, independent of the rest of the cell. Regular DNA comes from both parents and mtDNA comes only from the mother.I had a killer Eureka! moment when I realized even these teeny bits of DNA don't need no man to take care of business.

Sexual reproduction creates rapid genetic change in each generation, since the genes from both parents are mixed. On the flip side, mtDNA can change only by mutation, which happens at around one or two percent every 100,000 years.

That means that mtDNA can be used kind of like an evolutionary clock, or maybe calendar is a better description, and show when and where dogs developed throughout history. 

Wolves and coyotes differ by about six percent in their mtDNA, and, according to fossil evidence, separated from a common ancestor about a million years ago. 

Wolves and dogs differ by about one percent; using the wolf-coyote time scale, this suggests that they parted company about 135,000 years ago.

Recent studies show two groups originally split from the wolf, rather than the single event of domestication originally thought. Domestication began in two separate and distinct populations in East Asia. One group developed from the first domestication and the second group came from specific breeding.(Does "specific breeding" mean humans started screwing around with breeding dogs from the get go, or are we talking about limited gene pools?)

There is a competing study that argues that the domestication of dogs happened between 18,000 and 32,100 years Europe. It is thought European hunter gatherers had dogs long before humans developed agriculture. I say, whatever, I've got my story and I'm sticking to it.

These two groups interbred and backcrossed (breeding with parents and siblings) Backcrossing is one factor in creating breeds (I think-- this is one of my foggy places), because the common origin makes dogs with similar structures.

Then, the two groups became four. Researchers established four matriarchal lines according to mtDNA differences. The largest line includes the genes of most known breeds. The other three formed later and encompass more specific and unique breeds. 

mtDNA stops being useful at this point. It can only show mutations prior to the creation of the modern breeds.

Aaaand it got more complex.

In order to determine the lineage of actual breeds, science switched to loci research, which is based on the location of genes on chromosomes. 

Loci research detects genetic changes that might have occurred because of genetic drift. From what I understand, genetic drift is the random movement of a gene from one chromosome to another. This genetic bar hopping can cause huge changes in dogs in a very short period of time.

Genetic drifts happen in very small populations and after severe reductions in populations. If there are only five or six dog breeding, then the barhopping commences. The same thing happens if say, all the long eared dogs die off and again when a new population of dogs forms from a small group.

Whisper_the_Wind wrote: 
"Genetic drift is when population gets isolated and either 'concentrates' an allele, or 'eliminates' the allele from the population, not so much the gene moving from chromosome to another (happens much more often in plants). With humans selecting for traits ever since dogs started looking to us (I wonder who was really domesticated), the genetics of dogs may never really get clarified." 
 So..dump my WONDEFUL bar hopping visual and go to a frat house with a drunken hazing party in the basement...or said party is busted and all involved members are thrown out of the fraternity.

It gets even more complicated, but I'll be honest, allele frequency made my head hurt, and I decided I had got the drift, (snort) and could move on.

The differences between these bar hopping genes let researchers distinguish different breeds. Then, they found dog breeds can be clustered by ancestry.

So far, these clusters have been broken down into three groups. All breeds of Asian origin, mastiff type dogs, working type dogs and hunting dogs. 

This is where it gets crazy. At least to me. The scientists built themselves this cool map.

You can find it here:

K=2 (yellow) represent the cluster of Asian dogs
K=3 (green and red) represent the cluster of hunting and herding dogs
K=4(blue) are the cluster of mastiffs.

You can see how they overlap.
I also wonder if the biggest group, the hunting dogs are the breeds contained in the largest mtDNA line. 

According to those crazy loci German Shepherds are actually Mastiffs. The two genetically closest breeds to said GSD are the Newfoundland and the Boston Terrier. Border Collies are hunting dogs and Borzoi are herding dogs.

When I think about it, there is a crazy kind of sense to this. We're talking about Nature. When those European hunter gathers decided to keep herds it was their wooly rhino killing Border Collies they turned to for help hanging on to them. We were the ones reshaping the genetic dynasty  of our dogs. It's what we do best.

While I was choking on all of this info I noticed there is an awful lot of theory being used as fact. The words maybe, thought and might showed up a bunch during my research.

It got me thinking about criticism of the Dog DNA tests. I often read, "I have a little white fluffy dog and his test came back saying he was part Keeshond. Seeing how genetically close some of these breeds are, in spite of the visual differences is giving me something to think about.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

What I Look for In a Horse

I won't take as long with the Tally stories, I'm finally in a mood to finish up, but I had a good question posed by a regular reader so I wandered off the trail a bit.

I was asked what I look for when I'm buying a horse.

My breed of choice is a Quarter Horse. My chosen discipline is Reined Cow Horse.

I definitely have a type of horse I'm drawn to. It's part instinct, part training. I've noticed my attraction crosses breed lines, but the type runs true. I would be happy to ride any of these horses.

Madonna - Quarter Horse

Kiger Mustang

Cow Horse bred Quarter Horse


This isn't a list of my favorite breeds, it's a showcase of what I like to see. If any one of these horses were unloaded and handed over to me to ride my inner child would be doing cartwheels.

I used to look at the horse first, then pick apart the conformation, then look at the papers. 

"Ooooh, pretty.
"Where's my 4H book?
"Does he have papers?" 

Then, I got a little older. It went like this:

"Ooooh pretty.
"How's he bred?
"Where's my 4H book?"

Then, as a pro, it became this:
"How's he bred?
"Ooooh pretty.
"Where's my 4H book?"

Except, once I was a pro, I was too cool to admit I still used my tattered 4H book from 1972 to check conformation.

The order is situation dependent. 

If I'm looking for a show horse, I'll start looking at prospects papers first. I am more interested in the mare than the stud, although both are important. The foal will be raised by the mare and will inherit her habits and temperament, both good and bad. If I have a choice, I like to know the mare. Genetically, I'm going to get the mix I'm going to get, so I want earnings on both sides. The price I'm willing to pay goes hand-in-hand with what the past generations have done in the discipline I compete in. 

A halter champion won't help me if I want a cutting horse. It gets even more complicated. A reining bred horse is bred to wait for guidance from the rider. A cutting bred horse is an independent cuss and thinks for himself, and a reined cowhorse  has a little of both. Each type is bred to perform it's job, and although the physical differences may be slight, they are there and they're important.

Once I have a list of prospects in mind, I get to go look and turn loose my, "Ooooh, pretty." 

I guess I should be jumping to conformation, but I decided a long time ago that horses cost too much to not have what I want. I want pretty. My idea of pretty, not yours, not my boss', not my mom's. 

What do I think is pretty?

When I was in college, a friend told me, "For somebody who doesn't like Arabs you sure own the most Arab-y Quarter Horse I've ever seen."

WAIT!!! Before anybody gets their feelings hurt, I like Arabs just fine. I was a snotty 19-year-old giving grief to her Arab riding roommate. 

I like small, pretty heads with little ears, big eyes, small muzzles and big flaring nostrils. I like my horses to travel with a higher head set than your average quarter horse and a nice arch, not just for looks, but the feel between the reins.

I like a solid, strong coupled horse with a smooth top line-no weird dips or bumps from poll to tail. I like a well-muscled horse and a round croup, but not to the extreme.

I like long, nicely sloped shoulders, hindquarters to match, and a low set tail.

Visually, I'm drawn to long legged horses. As far as conformation goes, I look for clean, straight legs, solid bone, decent sized feet, and pasterns that aren't too long or super-short. I want the cannon bones to be short. When a horse moves I look for a deep stride underneath from the hind.

Long shoulders with a nice angle give me a horse with a nice reach, and big butts power the motor. If 
 the shoulders are too upright (short) I'm going to get a rough ride, a short stride, clipped from the deep reaching hind and too much heel.

I like a clean throatlatch and a fairly high tie-in on the neck. The longer and better angled the shoulder, the better the neck will be. A pretty, functional neck is twice as long on it's top line as the bottom. The mustang up above has a pretty crappy neck, but there's enough to work with.

I want some withers and well-sprung ribs.

I'm really picky when it comes to the loin and the coupling of my horses. I want solid muscle and a smooth transition to the croup. The loin and coupling are what transfers the motion of the hindquarters through the back and forward to the forehand. Think about that for a minute.

I like a long hip and a long, well developed semitendinous muscle. 

Weak legs make for a weak horse. Anything the 4H book tells me is bad concerning legs, I believe.

All of this is negotiable, to a point. Madonna is slightly over the knee, Odin is a little long...
they both get the job done.

I like my horses, oh, I don't know, kind of punky. Madonna is the easiest horse I've ever had the pleasure to ride, but she's notorious for running barn help out of her pen. See? Punky.

It's not that I have a desire to tame the wild mustang or conquer their spirit...I just like some 'tude. It keeps things interesting. There's a spark in the eye I like to see, a little, "Oh yeah, Says who?"

My horses are well behaved on the ground. They would never drag, crowd, stomp or kick. But they like to mess around. We play, what else can I say? I don't know how to explain it, other than I'm interested in what they have to say, so I look for a horse with an opinion.

So there it is. 

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Tally Goes To Amarillo

You might have to read back and review a bit, I did.

There was a nice little AQHA show every February in Amarillo. It was early in the year, big enough to pick up some points, but small and cheap enough to do some training. The stalls were dry and roomy, the arena pretty nice, the dirt was real nice and the cattle were big, yearling Brahma crosses.

It was a nice kick-off show.

I was bringing Sonita a couple of youth riders and Tally. Her owner, Tim, and I had an iron clad agreement. We'd see where her head was at, show in the reining, and then, only if I decided it was safe.

 The life long city boy and horse addict was going to Texas with a bunch of cowboys. He bought himself a new hat and a pair of chaps and was just about beside himself. We would head for Amarillo early in the morning and get there in time to get some riding in. I would show/school her in the morning and he would ride later in the day.

I felt myself relax as we traveled the back two-lane roads of Colorado. I loved being on  the road. I had my horses, my dogs, my kid, my friends and the shiny promise of what just might happen. Even Amarillo in February couldn't shake my mood.  

It was cold and windy with just a dusting of snow. It swirled across the road and disappeared in the long grass along the road. The ranches were quiet, the stock stood with their butts against the wind and heads low. We could go for miles without seeing another vehicle. I popped Emmylou in my CD player and cranked it up high enough to hear over the grumbling diesel.

The best part was, I had Tim in my truck  and the dogs and Kathy had the girls with her. We talked show strategy, swapped stories about being kids and sipped coffee out of our thermos. Kathy got to listen to the girls whine about how cold it was going to be at the show. It was awesome.

"I am getting really nervous," Tim said.

"Listen," I told him,"we aren't out to win, just to get her in and out of the arena, remember?"

"I know, I know, it's just so exciting!"

"Well let's not hope for too much excitement."

Tally had loaded just fine, kind of bug-eyed and boogery, but well behaved. She rode along easy enough and even seemed to quiet Sonita. I absolutely had no clue what to expect. I was in too good a mood to worry about it, there was plenty of time to ride before our first class.

We pulled into the showgrounds and settled the horses into their stalls. Tally snorted at the corners, pawed her shavings, took a long drink and completely ignored the crashing sound of Sonita kicking the crap out of her stall. By the time we unloaded all the horses and threw hay, the bright bay mare had her head hanging over the door and was checking out the barn. She settled right into her feed. By the time I had dug around and found Sonita's yellow buckets, poured enough Mountain Dew into the water to coax her into drinking, strapped on her kick chains and retied the haybag she had ripped off the wall, Tally was dozing.

I was starting to feel a little hopeful.

After dinner we went back to ride. The arena was lit but not heated and the temperature was hovering around 30 degrees. It cut out the wind though and it was nice to ride after a long day in the truck.

Sonita was high and snorty, no surprizes there, the girls rode around all giggly and excited, and Tim stood at the rail holding Tally's reins. I traded him and took Tally out to the middle of the arena. She was looking around, flashing a little bit of white around her eyes, but let me on without a fuss. We rode off and she felt just fine.

The Big K leaned on the rail and watched Tally lope her circles. I came around the end of the arena and ran a few stops. She was distracted enough to not try very hard, but she laid down a couple of three foot elevens, so I was happy.

I dismounted and waved Tim over.

"I think she's fine," I said.

"She looks incredible," he answered.

He was so wound up his hands were shaking. I started to say something, but decided to let it be. They would be okay or not. Harping at him about nerves wasn't going to help.

He rode off at a walk, stretching out first one arm, then the other, rolling his shoulders and neck, and taking himself through the stretches we did at home.

K handed me a Corona Light. "Did you tell him to do that?" he asked.

"No, and I'm proud of him for thinking of it," I said.

He didn't comment, just took a swallow of his beer and watched. He was looking a little too amused, K always thought my exercises and drills were kind of goofy. I decided to let that be too, he had brought me a beer.

"You showing her first?"


He nodded and headed out to check his horses. The only sign I had that he might be worried was he hadn't asked about Sonita, my students or my three-year-old. His mind was on Tally. For that matter, I guess mine was too. Tim manned up and started loping circles,Tally flowed like a Nebraska creek in the spring and his smile grew with every stride.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Guess What I Got?

I got a pretty cool Christmas present.

My husband gave me the Wisdom Panel 20 Dog Breed Identification DNA Test Kit.

I guess he's tired of listening to my eternal speculation of what the heck my dog might be.

                                               There has been lots of helpful input.

Ideas I might never come up with on my own.

                                                 Of course I have my own theories.

I'd love some input from you guys, but I'm aware you may not think this as much fun as I do. So I'll sweeten the pot. I just ordered my panel. It will take a few weeks to get it, do the test, send it back etc.
 I'm going to share some of my research with you, because trying to understand my dog has led me down some fascinating paths about genetics, nature vs. nurture etc. So sporadically over the next month or so, I'll bring up some of this stuff. I'm hoping it will lead to some good discussion that relates to both canines and equines.

Once you think you have an idea of what Brockle might be, send it in through the comments. We'll have a Brockle Decoded pool. The one who comes closest will win this:

This is a print from a fantasy series I drew in the late 70's...stop laughing, we all draw at least one unicorn, right? Anyway, signed and numbered, ya da da da.

I'm planning on waiting to guess until we go through our discussions on ear shape, color, instincts etc. Then I'll leave my answer with the kidlet and we'll see how close I can come too.

OK? Ready, set, GO!