Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Horses Need Salt All Year Long

I was at several cow horse events recently at different large horse facilities and as I walked around I noticed none of the stalled horses had access to a simple plain white salt blocks. It's true these horses could be getting electrolytes or salt dressed in their grain or pelleted feed, but not likely. Maybe the owners or barn managers thought that since the hot weather is gone so is the need for salt.

The lack of Sodium, or what most of us just call salt, can result in poor performance in horse speed or athletic events; make it more likely that a horse's muscles will get sore and stiff - referred to as tying up; or even affect the horse not being able to sweat adequately which is part of their evaporative cooling system. A lack of salt in the horse's diet can aggravate dehydration as it could cause a horse not to drink an adequate amount of water,.....and drinking less water is a factor for colic.

As with about anything related with a horse's nutritional needs and feeding programs, a person can go crazy trying to balance nutrients, electrolytes and minerals. A friend of mine used to keep a large tray of loose salt for horses' free consumption believing that a salt block couldn't provide was the horse needed because it was too hard to lick. He had to keep that salt tray out of the weather, inside the covered portion of the horse's stall, and as I remember, it collected a lot of dirt and sand.  And I have tried adding powdered or granulated minerals to my horse's feed only to have them get adept at eating around it.     

My horses are on dry feed, as pasture is hard to find here in West Texas. I choose to feed both grass (coastal Bermuda) and alfalfa for several reasons: 1 - I don't believe my horses need that high of percentage of protein in their feed as alfalfa is around 18-20% protein (grass hay is usually around 10-12%; 2 - the grass hay is usually in longer stems which slows down the horse eating, and provides good roughage; and 3 - the grass and alfalfa mix maintains a good ratio of Calcium and Phosphorus in the diet.     

Horses also need other minerals and it's hard to get all the minerals in dry hay. A mineral block is often suggested as an alternative, when pasture can't be accessed, but I have yet to have or even seen a horse who will lick a mineral block.

There are solutions other than a standard mineral block - which you find in your local fed store's as a trace-Mineralized block. Redmond Equine offers a rock shaped salt block that is advertised as containing over 60 minerals. I have one of these in each of my horse's feeders. I hope that the horse's will lick on it from time to time or have the movement of the rock in the feeder wearing minerals off the rock as it gets moved around with the hay. I can't say that any of my horse's lick these rocks, but at least it gives me alittle peace of mind that's it there. You can always topdress your horse's grain or hay with Redmond Crushed Rock loose mineral salt supplement, but again I have not had much luck in getting horses to like loose minerals crushed or not.  

I also feed a pelleted feed, now feeding about 2 lbs of Standlee mixed Timothy Grass - Alfalfa pellets in the evening which really just provides an additional source of dry, compressed hay, but the Timothy hay is different than the Bermuda I feed in bulk. It also keeps my horses used to that pelleted feed in case I have to feed more of than because of a lack of availability of hay for trips into the mountains. Pelleted feed is also handy for using it to introduce supplements which I have one horse on a hoof and joint supplement.

My mainstay is that throughout the year I ensure each horse has a standard white salt block. I leave them out in the open exposed to the rain and dirt, so I have to routinely clean them which only takes a few minutes once a week or so, if that.

The bigger issue I have with salt blocks is the holders in which I place them. I have several types of holders, some without drain holes and others with drain holes underneath the salt block so that the block doesn't allow them to drain water.

And if they can't drain water then the accumulated sand and dirt builds up and makes it difficult to clean. I resolved that problem by drilling a bunch of holes in the bottom and sides of my salt block holders. See the picture below of the salt block holders I drilled more drainage holes in.

I think that if you are unsure what to do, consider at a minimum providing your horses with a white salt block as this is an easy and cheap solution to provide adequate sodium into their diet. Some horses, likely not the majority of them, will chew on the salt block out of boredom.  And while horses generally have a high tolerance to excessive salt, if you have a horse that appears to eating or biting of large chunks of the block then I would remove it until you can talk to your vet about it with an idea on how much the horse is digesting.  You may notice the horse drinking a lot of water and there may an excessive amount of urine in the horse's stall. This habit is generally because of the horse being bored.   

Saturday, November 19, 2016

How do I choose the right bit for my Horse?

Jessica wrote to say "I have a new horse and she is four years old. I have been riding her in a halter but I need to put a bit in her mouth. What should I be looking for when I try out different bits, so do you think there is a particular type of bit that I should be using on her? I want to start right and go slow so I don't have any problems down the road with her. Thanks, Jessica."

Generally horses are started, which means their training begun, with a snaffle bit. Training really begins much earlier upon the first time the horse is handled, and continues into ground work and all the things you do to prepare a horse to accept a saddle and rider. Since you can ride your mare in a halter then you are doing something right, and your plan to go slow and do it right is certainly the right approach - good for you.   

The snaffle bit is a non-leverage bit that it broken (or what you may think of as hinged) in the center of the mouthpiece. The snaffle bit works by providing a signal on the horse's tongue, bars of the mouth (space between front teeth and molars), and/or the corners of the mouth depending the mouthpiece of the bit, how it is seated or fitted to the horse, and of course how the rider handles the reins. Pressure applied by tension on one rein also has a pulling effect on the other side of the mouth through the snaffle bit.
While a rider can certainly begin a horse to neck rein on a snaffle bit, the snaffle bit is generally used through a direct rein. The picture above left is a typical snaffle bit.

The snaffle bit, not having a lot of leverage like a shanked bit, can be more forgiving to a horse's mouth on a horse, who for the first time, has to carry it and to the rider who may have quicker of harsher hands than is necessary.
Two things about the snaffle bit that riders sometimes do not understand are that the broken mouthpiece of snaffle bit can pinch the horse's tongue - even cutting it, and that the broken mouth piece can "tent" - making a peak and poke the roof of the horse's mouth causing a lot of pain.
 Sometimes a horse will accept or be more comfortable with a snaffle bit that is connected in the middle with a short piece which can be a roller or dog bone shaped, hence the name "dog bone snaffle".  See the picture above right. I like the copper roller for one of my mouthy horses - it also keeps his mouth moist.    

Snaffle bits, being non-leverage bits, do not provide much control on a run away horse or a horses in speed events like barrel racing.
Leverage bits have a shank that the reins connect to providing more leverage for the rider on the horse's mouth and also by activating or tightening the curb strap or chain under the horse's jaw.  Could have a nut cracker effect if the curb chain is too tight when the reins are loose and the rider pulls harshly.   
The picture above left is a broken bit with shanks, or you can think of it as a leverage bit with a snaffle mouth piece. In fact some people call this an Argentinian Snaffle.
Pretty much all the bits I have bridled up right now are snaffles and the lone leverage bit with the broken mouth piece.  I have several medium port solid bits but haven't used them recently. 
I guess what I am trying to write is that all bits can cause pain if used incorrectly.  I winch when I am at an event and I overhear someone saying "Did you see the way that horse stopped?  I've got to find out what type of bit he is using."  What I saw was the horse's head flying up trying to escape the pain of the bit pulled quickly and harshly in his mouth.
The idea is to use bits in such a manner as to signal the horse before that pain is applied. It's not the bit that creates the pain, it is the rider's hands. I hear too many comments from rider's that suggests a false understanding that when your horse is not performing right then you need a more severe bit. What is usually needed is a different approach. So I really can't suggest a bit for you and your horse other than a snaffle is a good place to start, but don't fall into the trap of continuously going to a different bit hoping to solve your training or performance problems.  I've been there and I would like to forget I was that guy.    
Another place to start would be if you buy a horse then find out what bit he has been used with and maybe start from there, but again, it's going to be the rider's application of the bit and the relationship he/she establishes with the horse that is going to make the difference.

I would highly suggest attending all the clinics you can, even just auditing the clinics. Horse's aren't born knowing how to understand what a human handler wants, nor are humans born capable of understanding and communicating with prey animals. So it is the human who must adjust and help the horse.  One of the coolest things is to see a horse try with the slightest pressure then see that horse demonstrate he accepts and understands what you are asking by giving more and doing it quicker.  I wish my wife would appreciate the subtlety of my efforts as I try to do with a horse.....week by week I am getting closer to getting honey-dos done.                     

Saturday, November 5, 2016

How Do Horses Think?

Melanie wrote an e-mail to ask "I love my two horses, both are distinctly different in their temperament, spookiness and just general behavior, just as my kids are vastly different too. I am also a elementary school teacher and it is fascinating to see the differences in how 6 and 7 year old children process information and make decisions. I know I am missing something by not understanding the mental processes of my horses. What do you make out of the left brain-right brain theory and how to approach certain horses in manner for them to learn? More importantly to me is how does the weekend rider use some of these esoteric concepts."

Hi Melanie, I don't have a good understanding of theory of what parts (left or right) of a horse's brain drive what emotion or action. Your question actually sparked an interest in looking further into this area that I first heard Pat Parelli describing years ago. Clinton Anderson also routinely discusses horses' right brain - left brain, how that impacts on how they learn, and how a handler approaches asking something of a horse but maybe not in as much detail as Parelli. My limited understanding is that horses will demonstrate characteristics or traits, that categorize them into a "left brain dominant or right brain dominant horse", including, but certainly not limited to traits like calmness or nervousness; more curious as opposed to reactive; and, dominating as opposed to being more submissive.

I'm all a better understanding of a horse, how and why the horse thinks, if it helps two way communications between horse and handler. I've just never had a formal checklist or a process for analyzing how horses think so I rely on what I know or think I know to be facts when dealing with horses......which for the record, is much tougher than figuring out women.

We know that some horses are just more reactive than others. We all accept that horses are naturally wary - that they are prey animals and come into the world ready to flee to avoid perceived dangers. I think that the environment and experiences that a horse accumulates has alot to do with just how reactive they are. Imagine the horse that has been ridden, since the first bit in his mouth, by a heavy handed rider. They learn to associate any pressure from the bit in the mouth with discomfort and pain and get bracey or throw their head in avoidance of what they are thinking comes a flinch response.

I believe that with patience and training we can influence a horse to think or reason something out before they physical react to that instinct to avoid perceived danger or even bolt and run. I try to give a horse a chance or time to think, to absorb a lesson. So on the concept of pressure and release, you can add the word pause, as opposed to pressure, release then rapidly applying pressure again, then release. I think that while you are giving the horse a release when he gives you the requested behavior or movement, the rapid, continued action of pressure and release with the time in-between to absorb that lesson can build mental pressure in the horse, confusing him and working against what you are trying to achieve.

As wary as horses naturally are, they are curious as well as we use that in many situations as well, again if you give them time. An example would be approaching an obstacle on horseback and your horse alerts, stops, tenses up, feels like he is close to turning and bolting, moving his head up and down, left and right and likely snorting too. We've all seen this too. Ten seconds seem like 5 minutes and if in some sort of obstacle competition too many riders will get impatient and try to push their horse forward before he accepts it is safe. Given adequate time to accept it on his own, and you are likely going to have to keep the horse from turning around or backing out, a horse will usually move forward and eventually drop his nose on the obstacle. Whether this takes 5 minutes or 10 minutes, the horse has just replaced his instinct with a deliberate thinking process. I think this is what we are trying to achieve and the heck if I know it comes from his left brain or right brain.

Handling different horses often reminds me of a leader I had in the service who admonished me to treat all my men the same. This is a concept I just could not adhere to. Everybody's different, like horses, so in my book as long as you treated each one fairly everything would turn out alright. So with horse's I think if you give them the time they need to develop that thinking response you'll be a lot more successful in getting them to accept and perform. Setting up situations where the thing you are asking for them is easy and avoiding what you are asking is difficult, but giving them the time to find that right answer. Giving a horse sufficient time is just not sticking with something until he gets it, it's making sure the timing of your release is particular for the horse to associate that release (or absence of pressure) to what he did to earn it that release.

I often see riders working on lateral flexion where the ask their horse for lateral flexion and when the horse gives it, they get a release but get immediate pressure for lateral flexion again. This is another example where if you gave the horse some time, often no more than 5 to 10 seconds before asking again, will be a much more understandable lesson for the horse.

Another example is when I throw feed for my horses. I won't drop the hay into their feeder until they step back and be respectful of my space. Occasionally one of my horses will stand too close waiting at me to drop the hay. I just wait and watch their expression. Then the understanding takes place, they'll back a few steps and stand while I drop the hay and give them a signal to approach. I don't know how to describe it, but it's rewarding to watch the change of expression as they figure out why I am waiting to throw feed and what they are supposed to do......"Oh yeah, I almost forgot,..I have to back up and wait".

Another example may be in the saddle and getting in contact with the bit or bosal asking them to soften and drop their head and nose. Initially the horse will likely start backing and if you maintain that same contact, they will soon stop because the pressure was not released. Sooner or later they will drop their head, maybe only a tiny bit, and as they do you release the contact with the bit or bosal. Your timing on the release has to be pretty exact so the horse relate getting soft with the release of that pressure. Some riders, I've seen them and likely you have too, will pick up the reins and get in contact with a horse asking him to get soft and break at the poll, but while in contact before the horse drops his head and nose, they will release the contact to get a better grip and in effect giving that horse a release for not doing anything. That has got to be confusing to a horse.

And yet another example is when I am helping a new rider or new horse in a sorting pen. Knowing that either the horse or the rider, or both, will be timid of a bunch of cows and that pushing a horse too fast will have negative consequences for the mental state of the horse and his confidence, I'll have the new rider/horse stay on my outside flank as I ride a slow circle around the cows a couple of times, then switch directions so the horse can see the cows out of both eyes. As the cows move away, the horse and rider gain confidence. For the life of me, I can't figure out if that would be their left or right brain working the problem out and I don't know if knowing that is really necessary for me to to do what I what to do with my horses.

Another thing I think I know is that when things aren't going well you can either go much slower, break what you want to do down into steps and begin there, or do something that your horse does well and stop on a positive note.

Thee is a project by highly respected clinician Martin Black and Dr. Stephen Peters, a neuropsychologist which resulted in a DVD titled "Exploring Evidence based Horsemanship", which is advertise to give the viewer the benefit of understanding equine brain function. I ordered the DVD after struggling with your left brain, right brain question. I hope to watch it soon and see wht I can learn from it.

Anyway Melanie, I did my best to answer your question. Maybe I just gave you more questions rather than answers, but that's not always a bad thing as I see it. Good luck and safe journey.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Choke in a Horse

The other night one of our horses, an 25 year old QH Gelding, developed choke. Choke in a horse is when something, usually pelleted feed, gets lodged in the horse's esophagus. The most likely cause is by and far dry, pelleted feed and this was the cause with our horse who was eating a small amount, maybe 1.5 lbs, of small pelleted feed. Dry pellets can expand so that's why most people who feed large amounts of pellets usually soak them for a bit before feeding. Horses who have dental problems or needing their teeth floated are at risk for choke as are horse's who eat their feed too fast. Horse's who did not completely chew their feed can swallow larger pieces of pellets and make it more likely that a pierce will get lodged in their esophagus.

While I have only seen maybe five horses with choke, all the symptoms were the same - the horses appear to be choking - imagine that. The horse will extended his neck and emit a deep cough or appear to be having a gagging reflex, usually followed by colored discharge from his nose and mouth. The horse can also sweat in the exertion of trying to get the offending piece dislodged from his esophagus. The horse can breathe but cannot swallow, but immediate Veterinarian care is needed.

Our Vet, Amy Starr DVM owner of Paws n Hooves Mobile Vet services, arrived, sedated the horse, then tubed the horse with a nasal gastric tube, going through the horse's nose then down into the stomach. The tube hit the blockade in the esophagus so we pumped several ounces of warm water into the tube trying to soften the offending pellet, then let drain, repeating this several times until the Vet was able to pushed the tube into the stomach and we could smell the recently eaten grass hay through the tube.

I could not get a good picture as I was the one pumping the warm water through the nasal tube so the picture at bottom right is just after out Vet pulled the tube and the horse was still sedated.

The need to get the Vet out right away is something you should not dilly about on, The horse can aspirate some of the saliva and bits of feed into their respiration tract and develop feed pneumonia and that is bad news.

Post tubing care was to not feed for at least 12 hours then feed wet hay only, no pellets, for a couple days giving the esophagus a chance to heal from any trauma to the esophagus caused by the tubing - which can occur no matter how careful it is done.  Best case is that the esophagus is mildy irriated and worst case is that you can tear the esophagus building scar tissue and making it further restrictive. And even though it was the first time that this horse choked and we have his teeth floated once every 12 months we stopped feeding him pellets.  Sometimes once a year is not often enough for some horses with floating.  After a couple times floating a horse's teeth, the Vet will have a good idea on what timeline will work for any particular horse.    

You can give the horse Banamine to help him relax or Bute to help with any pain issues. We gave our horse Banamine once that night and decided not to continue it in the morning when it wore off.

Again choke prevention includes feed pellets after soaking them first so they are easier to chew and break up, as well as expand with the liquid before the horse swallows them. Rather than feeding pellets in small bucket where the horse can get a mouthful at a time, spead out the pellets in a larger feeder, slowing his eating, and making it harder for the horse to choke on a mouthful of pellets.  And please don't waste time getting the Vet out if your horse develops choke. 

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Bad Habits?

I have had several readers either write comments on my You Tube videos or send me e-mails notifying me of my bad habits. While somewhere I appreciate that, I'm also actually surprised people take the time to address my peculiarities. I don't take offense to these comments, but for a sense of accuracy I'm taking the time to address these bad habits here.

Wearing Spurs. I don't always wear spurs and rarely on a horse I'm riding for the first time, like a young horse. But comments like "you'll never achieve the next level of horsemanship with spurs - get rid of them!" just don't consider the fact that it's not the tool, it's how the tool is used. If you don't know how to use spurs then by all means, don't wear them. Sometimes I even suggest that a particular rider ditch the spurs so they can have some more freedom trying to use their legs as aides without worrying about gouging their horse. Besides I don't know what the levels of horsemanship are,.....I'm just trying to get to be adequate.

Always Wearing Gloves. These comments have ranged from "Why do you always wear gloves" or telling me that "if I had any skills I would not be wearing gloves". Well, my lack of skills has nothing to do with wearing gloves - it may likely be associated with a general lack of intelligence, but my lack of skills certainly ain't because I'm not trying. I pretty much always wear thin pigskin gloves and I don't think I give up any feel by riding in them or working a horse from the ground. I ride, throw a loop (not well but I try), tie knots and practically have gloves on anytime I'm outside the house which is a consider time. Heck, I even tried to eat supper one night with my gloves on, but my wife pitched a fit so I took them off. In my near 60 years I have had many weeks and months of down time with a hand injuries such as rope burned palms, broken fingers, or, cut and badly chapped fingers. Wearing gloves greatly reduces this, in fact, I'd recommended it.

Holding a Lead Rope in a coil. While I never teach people to coil a lead rope when walking or working a horse from the ground, but I pretty much always do myself. Sure, carrying the lead rope in coils, especially small coils, can be dangerous if the horse bolts, and that's why I don't let youngers do it. I'm used to coiled ropes and it's easier for me to manage and feed the rope out of my hand when I am sending a horse or otherwise needing more slack in the rope.

And many ropers every day across America carry a coiled lariat rope when roping and have learned to be safe with it. Bottom line is that if you don't believe something is safe, then please don't do it.

Dismounting. When I dismount, say coming off the left side, my right leg swings over the cantle then plants on the ground then my left foot slides out of the stirrup. I do not lay across the saddle, with both feet out of the stirrups then slide down so that both feet hit the ground at the same time. People who write to tell me there is a better way to dismount,....well, I don't know, maybe if I was riding an 18 HH horse then I may dismount that way - both feet out of the stirrups and sliding down, but I kinda limit myself to horse's I can mount from the ground,....without a ladder. I was at odds with competitive organizations who penalized the way I dismounted with their rules that both feet have to hit the ground at the same time. It's likely more important to have control of the reins, slightly tipping your horse's head to the side of the dismount - to keep him from moving into you as you dismount. And it's likely as or more important to have a horse that stands still during and after the dismount. Some other things also come into consideration for dismounting safety, like how much foot you keep in the stirrup, what material the stirrup surface and the sole of the boot are. I always ride in leather covered stirrups and leather soled boots. This is more slippery than a rubber soled boot and easier to adjust foot position while riding, as well as easier to get your foot out of the stirrup. The weight of my foot in the stirrup pretty much keeps it in place and my riding heel keeps my boot from sliding forward through the stirrup.

While I have many more bad habits I think I'll stop here even those its against my wife's urging to come fully clean. But I told her that leaving the toilet seat up was not necessarily a bad habit nor had much to do with riding horses.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Breast Collar Fit Question

I received a YouTube Video Channel comment from 3d3nd3n1 regarding a video on Breast Collar fit saying, "Hi, great video. I just purchased a pulling collar but am not sure how to affix it to the swell of the saddle. Can you do another video and explain that? If it isn't too much of a bother."

I don't have a fixed, U shaped Pulling Breast Collar currently in my tack room. But the one you have is likely attached through the gullet and around the swell of the saddle with a strap that has a O or D ring at one end. You feed the strap through the gullet around the swell then back through the D or O ring, tighten it up then take the running end of that strap to the D ring or buckle attachment on the breast collar.  Similiar to the picture below. There may be different attaching point on your breast collar. Some of the attachment straps (the ones running through the gullet of the saddle) may have a snap hook to clip to the D ring on the Pulling Collar and a buckle for adjustments somewhere on the attachment straps, rather than a buckle on the breast collar like the one on the photo.  

You can see that the saddle above does not have breast collar attachment D rings. Many saddles have D rings that are positioned too low to keep the breast collar off the chest and positioned in the natural "V" between the horse's chest and the neck. If your saddle has Breast Collar attachment D rings that are high enough on the saddle, like on the Wade saddle in the photo below, you may be able to attach your Pulling Collar at these points if that still allows the breast collar to be high enough off the chest, but low enough not to choke the horse.

If you do have Breast Collar attaching D rings on your saddle that you want to use but the breast collar position is still too low, you can run a strap from the breast collar D rings over the horse's withers to bring the breast collar up and into the correct position which is more comfortable to the horse, doesn't affect his stride nor rub his chest, and isn't high enough to put pressure on his throat.

Some makers offer straps for just this purpose (breast collar over the withers) but you can certainly make an expedient strap. While I have seen riders use hay twine for this purpose, something flatter like a saddle string or a wider piece of leather would work better I would think.

Once you have your Pulling Breast Collar fit just right, check to see that there is some play in the breast collar at the point of the chest where the breast collar comes together. I like to have 2-3 fingers width play or looseness here. See photo below.  I reckon if you had really thick fingers, you may be able to use one finger. Don't laugh, I used to know a gent whose fingers were so thick we called him "sausage fingers".

I hope this helps you fit your Pulling Collar in the absence of a video. Safe Journey.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Cowboy Humor - Looking for your Wife

At a local rodeo the other night two Cowboys, one an older man around 60 years old and the other a younger man around 30 bumped into each other, almost knocking each other down, while walking through crowd and the pens, each looking for their misplaced wife.

"Excuse me young fella, I wasn't paying attention, sorry I almost knocked you over, but I lost my wife and I was looking for her."

The younger Cowboy replies, "Same here Sir, I wasn't looking where I was going either, and I am also looking for my wife."

The older Cowboy asks "Well, what does your wife look like?  I may have seen her."

'Well, my wife is in her late 20's, small waisted, long blonde hair, very pretty,.....oh, she has a really big,..err.,,chest."  say's the young Cowboy.  Then he asks the older Cowboy, "What does your wife look like?" 

The older Cowboy replies, "Never mind that, let's go look for your wife!"

Monday, September 26, 2016

2016 Functional Horsemanship - Red Bird Ranch Arena Obstacle Challenge Results

In between uncharacteristic days of windy and rainy September weather, we lucked out and had perfect weather for our second annual Arena Obstacle Challenge. Some competitors drove over 100 miles to compete and I hope they were challenged, and likely so, as new locations will often make the best horses a little hinky.

I tried to find a good mix of prop related obstacles and basic horsemanship maneuvers to give each rider and horse a challenge within their respective divisions.    

The competitors entered the arena and proceeded over ground poles then through a funnel with plastic arms. Next they were required to trot through traffic cones placed 10 feet apart, stopping past the last cone, Open Division riders had to back in a circle, Intermediate riders backed in a 180 degree arc and Novice riders back straight for 10 feet.   The full AOC arena diagram is below:

The Garoucha pole was next were Open Division retrieved the pole and jogged a complete circle around the pole while other Divisions were required to retreive the pole and ride their horse between the pole and the fence. This seemingly easy tasks proved to be much harder than you would imagine for several of the horses as they viewed the dark hard wood pole leaning up against the fence with suspicion.

Next, all rider were required to two track about 30 foot, traveling laterally about 15 feet. Two tracking is forward movement combined with lateral movement where the horse's outside front foot stepped over and forward of the inside front hoof while the horse has forward movement. Open Division did this at a trot, while the other Divisions could do it at a walk. This proved to be the singular most difficult task for most all of the competitors.

Obstacle 7 was gait transitions - Novice a walk to a trot transition; Intermediate - a working trot to a extended trot; and Open was required to do a canter departure.  Photo below left: Angela Beltran-Flores on Starbuck.

The next obstacle was a 32 inch wide, 8 foot long bridge which the majority of horses navigated okay.

And this led to side passing ground poles where Novice Division had to side pass a 6 foot ground pole; Intermediate was required to side pas a longer 8 foot ground pole; and Open had to side pass both ground poles.

Navigating vertical poles placed 4 1/2 feet part was next to challenge the rider. This required riders to be pretty careful as they moved through them not to knock over the poles with their stirrups or their horse back end.

The riders next had to dismount then send their horse though a couple barrels like they would if they were sending a horse into a trailer. The rider followed their horse through then re-mounted from either a mounting block or the fence. All rider's chose the mounting block - a couple competitors did this for the first time, trying to opposition their horse in order to step up and mount.

From here the rider's moved to a rope and while holding onto the rope they backed their horse's pulling a bag of cans up to the top of the arena bow gate. I thought this would be the most difficult obstacle for horses but the majority of competitors and their horses did just fine.  Photo below right is Lynn Gonzalez, riding Sonny, from High Rolls New Mexico pulling the bag of cans over the bow gate. 

The final task was to demonstrate control of the back end or fore end. Novice Division had to do a 180 degree turn on the front end; Intermediate - a full circle on the front end; and Open - a 360 degree turn on the haunches.  

2016 Functional Horsemanship - Red Bird Ranch AOC Winners:

Open - Luanne Santiago, riding Tippy, won Open for the second year in a row.
Intermediate - Luanne Santiago, riding Nutmeg who narrowly beat Marianne Bailey riding Apache.
Novice - Lisa Rains, riding a borrowed horse as her dressage trained draft horse was held out for a cautionary health issue.

Just a notable few of the other competitors were Gina Blankenship from Deming, NM riding Dee, a Buckskin mare who will appear tonight on Julie Goodnight's program; Jenna Mendez, a nine year old riding Harley a Palomino gelding, and Jenna was competing for the first time in an AOC format, nevertheless securing 4th place in Novice; and Angela Beltran-Flores, last year's Novice winner, riding a fearless old horse Paint horse called Starbuck.

All competitors made a trip to the prize table and a Perfect Harmony Horse Rescue was the receiptant of part of the entry fee proceeds as well as the money made from the raffle. After an enchilada lunch, some of the competitors took their horses back into the arena for further schooling on the obstacles.  We also hosted a couple ladies from the Netherlands who are visiting dressage riders and attended to watch their first AOC.   Next year's annual AOC will probably be held on the last Saturday in September as well.  And lastly a big thank you to Arden Evans who helped judge the event.       

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Blue Bonnet Equine Humane Society

People that rescue horses have both hearts of gold as well as the requisite armor plating over that heart that surely is needed to be routinely exposed to what cruel things that man is capable of doing to these animals without being emotionally scared. Seeing the dullness of malnourishment or physical abuse in a horse's eyes, especially seeing it many times over, is just hard to endure. SO blessed are the folks that devote time, energy, expense and emotional well being in caring for abused horses.

I like to believe that many rescue horses can figure out that they have been given a new lease on life - they just may be the bests horse in your string.    

There are many horses rescue's and likely no two are alike except their love for horses and the fact that they are under resourced. One of these horse rescues is Blue Bonnet Equine Humane Society, a 501(c)3 horse rescue and rehabilitation organization located in College Station, Texas. They host an annual Horse Expo and this year, on October 22nd, they will have their 10th annual event.

The 10th Annual Bluebonnet Horse Expo, hosted at the Travis County Expo Center, will feature riding, training, and horse care clinics, plenty of shopping, the Bluebonnet Art Show and Sale, the Bluebonnet Rescue Horse Training Challenge, a saddle auction, and horse adoptions. It is the biggest fundraiser, adoption event, and fundraiser of the year for the horses of Bluebonnet Equine Humane Society, all in a one day format.

The Rescue Horse training challenge is a unique idea where volunteer foster homes and professional trainers work with a Bluebonnet Equine Humane Society foster horse for four months (this year starting in June 2016) then compete to demonstrate the abilities of their horse in a freestyle and trail related classes. Sounds sort of like the Extreme Mustang Makeover Event, and does basically the same thing, however Bluebonnet's Expo showcases the resiliency of abused or neglected horses and what these horses are capable of given attention and a fair life. Click here for more information on the Blue Bonnet Horse Expo Challenge

Bluebonnet horses of the Challenge and others from Bluebonnet Equine Humane Society will be available for adoption at the Bluebonnet Horse Expo. Adopters can get pre-approved and receive a half price adoption fee. Pre-approved adopters will get half price adoption fees, but adoption applications are due by October 1 to get pre-approved. Pre-approved adopters will, in most cases, be able to test ride a horse. You can download an adoption application here.

Click here for photos and information on adoptable horses, including how the horse came to be at Bluebonnet. Within the next few weeks, Bluebonnet states they will be adding 20 more horses to the list.

Bluebonnet is still seeking support in the form of vendors, donations, and adopters. E-mail address for more information:

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Restarting a Horse from the Beginning

EJG wrote: "I'm real unsure about a new horse and just need some help getting started. He was once ridden on trails but has been turned out for a couple of years. Naturally I want to be safe and he acted like a wild crazy horse when I first brought him here so I haven't attempted riding yet. Doesn't act like he's ever been flexed so I'm just starting at the beginning and working him from the ground, and over some trail obstacles in hand. I'll start ground working with a saddle soon. It's letting us get to know each other. I'm no horse trainer so if you can think of something I'm missing please let me know. Not looking forward to that first ride right now."

Seems to me you have a horse who came to you from other owners likely with all that baggage, good or bad, knowingly or unknowingly that those previous owners heaped on him. I have learned that in most all cases any descriptions from previous owners on what the horse did, how he performed, and what he is capable of, pretty much don't matter. I start the horse all over, like he was a 3 year old. If it's my horse or a horse I'm expected to put some work on, that's what I would do - start him over.  The more he knows and better he responds the faster you can go, but skipping things never pays off - never has for me anyway.

Groundwork is key and sounds like you are doing it. If it was me, I wouldn't take him in hand through obstacles as I'd be setting him up to refuse forward movement and if I had trouble getting him out of that, it'll make everything else I'm suggesting you do more difficult.

First thing I do is free lunge the horse in a round pen, controlling his gate and changing it from slow to fast and back to slow with lots of changes of direction. At first, I don't really care if the turns his butt to me as I just want forward movement out of him, but very soon I'll start requiring him to turn into me when he changes direction. When I back off and get him to stop, if he doesn't square up and give me both eyes, I'll drive him again. This is all key for establishing leadership - you moving his feet by driving him at will.

Soon, as you stop the pressure and back off he will give you both eyes. Stand sideways to him and he will likely approach you. Give him time to do so. I'm sure you have heard that a horse learns upon the release, so when you stop driving him, and back off and he gives you both eyes, make sure you give him some time to learn that upon the release of pressure he gets relief.  

Then I go to a halter and lead rope, usually a 14 foot lead and sometimes longer. Then I drive him around using pressure of the lead to get him to yield his hind end and face up with me. When he is showing signs of accepting, such as licking, chewing, eyes and ears on me, dropping his head, and generally body posture, I may pickup the slack in the lead rope and draw him to me. If he comes, I'll give him a break and pet on him. 

When he is good at this, I'll get him more used to giving to the pressure on the lead laterally by standing just outside his front feet, one hand on the withers and the other making the lead rope taunt until he give laterally, as soon as he tries to give, I'll release the tension, give him a few seconds to understand (this pause is necessary for them to learn) then ask again. Do it on both sides.  I'll ask him to give laterally and dis-engage his hind end as well, by bending his head again and using the stirrup to put alittle pressure on his barrel.  Again, just as soon as he makes an effort, release that pressure and begin anew. 

I'll pickup the lead to his front and ask him to move forward past me, then disengage his hind end and ask him to lead back past me in the opposite direction.  Some people will take a step towards his hind end to get him to disengage.  I don't generally do this unless the horse needs it in the beginning.  I prefer to use the lead rope to tip his head towards me when he goes past then use the lead rope to direct him in the opposite direction.  

When he is good at this, I'll do this again having him go between me and the fence. Then I can sit on the fence (like in the picture at right) and do the same drill. This has the added benefit of getting the horse used to seeing you above him. 

The commonality in everything that I am doing is that I am moving his feet and he gets a release when he does the right thing.

Back on the ground I'll sack the horse out by flipping the end of the lead rope over his back, around his legs, around his butt and his hocks. I'll flip the lead over his back and catch it under his barrel and put some pressure on him like where a cinch would go. I'll tighten it up and release, then tighten it up again for just a bit longer than release.

I usually loop the rope around a front foot and lead him forward by putting pressure (making the lead taunt) until he picks up his foot and I guide it forward releasing all pressure when the foot begins to move forward suspended in the air.

The common mistake people make is that when he doing something like flicking a rope over his back or around his hocks, if the horses has problems with it, like moving off or siding away from the handler, the mistake is that the handler will stop doing it, in effect teaching the horse that he can move to avoid the stimulus.  I suggest keeping at it until the horse shows signs of acceptance and stops moving his feet.   

Once I get a saddle on him, I'll do everything again. Sometimes on a young horse he needs a little time to get used to the saddle, but soon you are doing all the ground work with him wearing the saddle.
If I think he needs it, I'll ground drive him with the saddle on. Ground driving is excellent to reinforce giving to pressure with forward movement.  I use 23 foot yacht braid driving lines with bolt snaps. (I make my own driving/lunge lines, but many makers offer 25 foot lengths).   I'll run each line through the stirrups and attach it to the side of the halter.  When ground driving you can turn him into the fence in the beginning and don't be concerned about un-training him to face up when he disengages his back end, then you can also turn him away from the fence, stop him and start teaching him to back under the ground driving lines as well.  The video below is one I posted a while back on ground driving.  You have to be careful to stay back a safe distance, hence the 23 foot driving lines, and only use one line at a time when the horse is moving forward, otherwise you can make a young horse bracey.


Depending on the horse, all of the above may only take a couple hours, then you can mount. If necessary I mount laying across the saddle and rubbing his off side with the off side stirrup. When he is okay with all that and does not try to move off when I am mounting, I'll mount and sit, maybe only for a second or two then dismount, rub on the horse and do it again for a few second longer. After a couple of mounts, I'll mount and ask the horse for lateral flexion on both side. Then I ask for lateral flexion while disengaging his hind end.

If all goes well, and it usually does, then I can ask him for forward movement. If he is sticky, sometimes I'll have someone on the ground flag him to give him forward momentum. Occasionally I use the flag myself while in the saddle, but I'd avoid it on a young horse and it's safer to use someone on the ground.

If you are mounting and the horse is trying to move off, either forwards or away from you, don't continue mounting. Instead, get both feet back on the ground and quickly, with energy move his back end around a couple times, then give him a chance to stand quiet (this is his relief) before trying to mount again. You have to be able to laterally flex him and disengage his back end before you ride him, otherwise getting a bolting horse to stop is going to be more difficult.

If you are fearful, not just cautious, but actually fearful of getting on him, then don't until you aren't afraid anymore, otherwise you are setting yourself and him up for failure. He'll pickup on your fear, and when a horse gets frightened they usually run away.

I think if you are particular about what you are doing, and let how the horse is responding guide you, then you'll be just fine.

There are some good colt starting DVD videos out there. I would recommend picking one up. The top hands, in my opinion, are Buck Brannaman, Bryan Neubert, Martin Black and Craig Cameron.  Studying these and see how these guys go about working a horse, slow and deliberate, should make things clear to you.  Good luck to you and safe journey.  

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Zoonosis - Disease Threats from Horses to Humans

The other day I noticed one of my horses with a snotty eye - you know, the thick white mucus type discharge.  He hadn't been around strange horses for the past two weeks, so I got to thinking maybe I passed something onto him that I got from another horse.  In any event, a couple of days of treating his eyes with Vetericyn Ophthalmic Gel and my horse's eye cleared right up. But the whole thing got me thinking about horse to human and human to horse transmitted diseases. 

Diseases passed from animals to humans are called Zoonosis. Zoonosis may be bacterial, viral, or parasitic (from parasites). There are more than three dozen we can catch directly through touch and more than four dozen that result from bites.

In a tragic event from earlier this year, an elderly woman in Seattle died from an infection that she appears to have contracted from a horse she rode, according to a new report. The 71-year-old woman had visited her daughter, who operates a horse boarding and riding center in King County, Washington, the report said. During the week of Feb. 21, 2016, one of the horses developed nasal and eye discharge, suggesting the animal had an infection. The daughter treated the horse with antibiotics, and the animal recovered.

But that same week, the daughter developed a mild sore throat and cough, and her mother also showed symptoms of an upper respiratory infection. Both the mother and daughter had been in close contact with the horse, with the mother petting and riding the horse on at least two days, Feb. 25 and 29.

A few weeks later, on March 2, the mother experienced vomiting and diarrhea, and was later found unconscious. She was taken to the hospital, but died on March 3, the report said.

Officials collected a nasal swab from the previously sick horse, along with a swab of the daughter's throat and samples of the mother's blood. All three samples tested positive for the same strain of bacteria, called Streptococcus equi subspecies zooepidemicus (or S. zooepidemicus for short.) This type of bacteria is known to infect animals, including horses, pigs and cats.

It's rare that people get sick from S. zooepidemicus, the report said. When infections in people do occur, they can cause a variety of symptoms, including chills, weakness, difficulty breathing, fever, kidney inflammation and arthritis.

People can become infected with S. zooepidemicus by consuming unpasteurized dairy products. But the daughter said that she and her mother hadn't consumed any unpasteurized dairy products, nor did they have contact with other animals, except one healthy cat. "The evidence from this investigation linked a fatal S. zooepidemicus infection to close contact with an ill horse," the report said.

The mother may have been at increased risk for infection because of her age. It also remains unclear if the woman's respiratory symptoms preceded or followed her infection with S. zooepidemicus. (It's possible that the respiratory symptoms were from a separate infection, which in turn could have made the woman more vulnerable to S. zooepidemicus, the report said.)

The researchers recommend that people thoroughly wash their hands after contact with horses or other animals. More research is needed to better understand factors that put people at risk for catching S. zooepidemicus from animals, as well as the different symptoms people who get infected can experience, the report said.

The original article was published by Live Science. Some common Zoonotic Diseases transmittable from Horses to Humans:

Rabies. Although the incidence of rabies in both horses (45 to 50 cases annually in the United States) and humans is low, it is highly fatal, and difficult to diagnose. Rabies is transmitted from horses to people via saliva, and any small cut or abrasion can serve as an entry point. Veterinarians often include at least an examination of the oral mucosa as part of a diagnostic work-up and can easily become infected. Unusual clinical signs, especially if associated with any degree of neurologic abnormality, should be a warning for potential rabies risk, and appropriate precautions should always be taken.

Brucellosis. Brucellosis, normally associated with Cattle, occasionally occurs in horses. The bacteria usually localizes in muscles, tendons and joints, though it is most commonly seen in cases of infected withers in horses. Drainage from areas infected are very infectious.

Anthrax and glanders. Anthrax can infect virtually all animal species and can cause local carbuncles and pustules in humans from direct lesion contact along with pneumonia from inhalation of the infectious agent. Higher incidences of anthrax occur in Arkansas, South Dakota, Louisiana, Missouri and California, and sudden equine death in these areas should especially place this disease high on the differential list.

Glanders. Occurs in horses, donkeys and mules, and it also has cutaneous and pulmonary forms that are usually fatal to both horses and humans. Use of a mask is commonly overlooked by practitioners examining horses presenting with a cough and an elevated temperature but could be the difference between making a diagnosis and needing one yourself.

Leptospirosis. Leptospirosis is considered to be the most widespread zoonosis in the world and is caused by highly invasive bacteria transmitted between species by infected body fluids (commonly urine) as well as contaminated water and soil, and it can enter the body through even minor skin lesions. The disease in humans can range from mild to severe and can result in death.

Lyme disease. Once thought to be exclusively caused by Borrelia burgdorferi, it is now postulated that other strains of bacteria as well as many species of ticks may harbor and transmit Lyme disease or other similar variations of this condition. Lyme disease in horses can manifest as a generalized body stiffness or soreness; reluctance to move, vague, transitory lameness; or transitory joint swelling. Infected horses have also exhibited nervous system disorders including blindness, head pressing, circling and seizures.
br> Ixodes species ticks carry these bacteria and are commonly found on deer but will also feed on other species such as dogs, humans and horses, which is where the zoonotic potential, as vectors, exists. Lyme disease symptoms in humans vary dramatically among patients, so it can be difficult to diagnose. A slowly expanding skin rash after a tick bite is the classic sign for Lyme disease and is seen in 60 to 80 percent of human cases, but many cases are more subtle and include abnormalities of the musculoskeletal, nervous and cardiovascular systems including arthritis-like symptoms, irregular heartbeat, and central nervous system or spinal cord issues. Lyme disease.
br> Lyme disease has not been considered especially relevant in the southern United States, but a recent variation of this condition, southern tick-associated rash illness (STARI), has been attracting attention. It is attributed to infection with an as-yet-uncultured spirochete tentatively referred to as Borrelia lonestari. The Lonestar tick has been implicated as the principal vector.
br> Diagnostic testing for Lyme disease, or any other new variants, is currently difficult because blood tests do not differentiate between exposure and infection. Substantial research is ongoing in this area, and newer, more helpful diagnostics for both horses and people should be forthcoming.
br> EGE and HGE. Two tick-associated diseases that mimic Lyme disease are equine granulocytic ehrlichiosis (EGE) and human granulocytic ehrlichiosis (HGE), both of which are caused by Ehrlichia equi. EGE causes elevated temperature, depression, jaundice, limb swelling, ataxia and blood abnormalities. HGE produces flu-like symptoms in people including fever, headache, chills and nausea. Both infections can, if not recognized and treated with antibiotics, become systemic and result in death. Blood tests can identify E. equi in white blood cells and should be used whenever clinical signs in horses and people, along with any type of tick bite or tick exposure history, make clinicians suspect these diseases.
br> Equine encephalomyelitis, Mosquito-borne diseases pose a zoonotic threat for veterinarians, though the horse, in these cases, acts as a reservoir or vector. Eastern, Western, St. Louis and some subtypes of Venezuelan equine encephalomyelitis can affect humans. Clinical signs in people vary from mild flu-like symptoms to severe central nervous system signs. Human deaths occur primarily in children and the elderly. Postmortem examination of infected horses puts veterinarians at risk of direct disease transmission through infected blood and cerebrospinal fluid, so always take appropriate protective measures.
br> Fecal-oral transmission. Diarrhea commonly occurs in horses, and many diseases in this category can be transmitted to humans via the fecal-oral route. Good hygiene control measures are crucial when veterinarians are working on cases involving diarrhea in horses. Also keep in mind that any human, or other horse, that is receiving antibiotics (especially orally) is at increased risk for developing an enteric infection from a horse with diarrhea.
br> Salmonellosis is a common form of enteric infection in both horses and humans. Stress-induced diarrhea (transport, training, competition, hospitalization) is common, and Salmonella species are often reported after fecal culture in these cases. Fecal-oral transmission is the prominent route of zoonotic spread.
br> Horses also shed Giardia species in their feces and, though it is unclear if Giardia intestinalis is a pathogenic organism in horses, it is parasitic in humans.
br> Crytoporidium parvum is another protozoal organism with the potential of horse-to-human spread. Research has shown higher levels of C. parvum in foals, so exercise caution when handling young horses with diarrhea — wear gloves, change clothes after handling affected individuals, wash hands and use foot baths when entering and leaving affected areas.
br> These hygiene principles also apply in cases of dermatologic diseases of zoonotic potential in horses. Ringworm can be easily transmitted to people through direct contact. Always keep in mind that many equine skin lesions may be potential sources of disease transfer.
br> Hendra virus. Hendra virus is a paramyxovirus first isolated in 1994 from an outbreak of respiratory and neurologic disease in horses and humans in Hendra, a suburb of Brisbane, Australia. This virus is thought to be carried by bats of the genus Pteropus. Horses become infected through contact with bats and their droppings or secretions.
br> Hendra virus infection in horses produces an initial respiratory infection and can progress to neurologic signs and total systemic failure. These clinical signs are mirrored in human Hendra infection. The three cases reported in humans to date include two veterinarians and a trainer, two of which died. Humans caring for infected horses are exposed to body fluids and excretions and can easily become infected. Severe flu-like symptoms quickly develop. The globalization of the equine market makes disease transmission across continents, including the Hendra virus, a more serious threat.
br> MRSA. Infection with methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) can be transmitted from horses to humans and vice versa. This bacterium can be found in skin wounds and various locations in the respiratory tract. Many studies indicate that MRSA is becoming increasingly prominent, especially in veterinarians, farm workers and others who have increased contact with animals.
br> In a study at the University of Utrecht in the Netherlands from 2006 to 2008, 43 percent of all horses that entered the hospital clinic, for whatever reason, cultured positive for MRSA at some point during their hospital stay. Over 9 percent of horses were carriers based on positive cultures done when they first arrived at the clinic, and 15 percent of hospital employees who handled equine patients were also identified as MRSA carriers, though less than 1 percent of the general population of the Netherlands is MRSA-positive. Clearly horses and those who work around them are at higher risk of cross-transmitting this potentially serious infection.
br> Disease list from DVM360 Magazine

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

2nd Annual Functional Horsemanship - Red Bird Ranch Arena Obstacle Challenge

The 2nd Annual Functional Horsemanship -Red Bird Ranch Arena Obstacle Challenge will be held on Saturday 24 September 2016. This event is not being conducted under any national organization but will be similiar to the Arena Obstacle Challenges (AOC) conducted under the American Competitive Trail Horse Association (ACTHA).

Although this will not be a timed event like the Extreme Cowboy Association (EXCA) events, the 13-14 obstacles riders will face are intended to be negotiated one right after the other as opposed to doing them as all separate obstacles.

A horse and rider will enter the arena and perform back to back tasks that are either demonstrating basic horsemanship skills or an ability to complete an obstacle.  Examples would be: open, go through and close a gate; retreive a slicker from the fence and put the slicker on; side pass over a pole; execute a 360 degree turn with forward movement while inside a 6' x 6' box; demonstrate a turn in the forehand or on the hocks; retrieve a rope and drag a bag of cans a short distance.    You can go to this link  to read about last year's AOC, see the results, and watch the demonstration video of last year's 1st AOC to get a better idea. 

We will have a great prize table this year as we did last year. There will be only one fee ($45) which covers entry and lunch for competitors. We will have three competition categories: Open, Intermediate and Novice. These would be basically compatible with the Open, Competitive and Scout division under ACTHA. There will be no loping/ cantoring requirements for the Novice and Intermediate Divisions. I am going to limit number of competitors to 20 due primarily to space and time considerations.

For information you can e-mail or call me at (915) 204-7995. Entry fees for the AOC are $45 payable by credit card over the phone, through e-mail, or by pay-pal.

Travis Gonzales from One Stop Horse Shop out of Las Cruces, New Mexico will be on hand to demonstrate and provide vertical vibration therapy (TheraPlate). He is also a certified equine massage therapist, certified equine dentist and does non-sedation teeth floating and trims/shoes as well. Travis' prices are approximately: TheraPlate session $45; trims $45; shoes (all the way around) $90; and, teeth floating $100.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Abused Horses Rehabilitated to help Veterans with PTSD

This article took my interest since it involved rescued horses being given a fair life and Veterans being helped. I have seen more than my share of abused or neglected horses and it breaks my heart and about makes my head explode as well.  This is something that worked out well for all concerned, especially the horses who deserved better and are dependent upon humans from making a fair life possible and to wounded and disabled Veterans who deserve much more than we can give them.  Pretty much can be summed up by that old saying, attributed to Winston Churchill, "There is something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man."        

Article from
After losing sight in his right eye from a 2013 rocket attack in Afghanistan, retired U.S. Army Maj. Dan Thomas recovered with help from an equine therapy program at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.

Hoping to help other veterans, he and his wife traveled from their home in Alabama to Connecticut last week to purchase two massive, jet black carriage horses, animals that were put up for auction by the state after they were seized from a breeder in February as part of an animal abuse investigation and rehabilitated through a state program involving female prison inmates who help with the care. Photo at right is Dan and Amy Thomas try to calm the two Friesian horses they were picking up at the Connecticut Department of Agriculture's large animal rehabilitation center at the York Correctional Center in Niantic, Conn. The horses were among others seized in February as part of an animal-cruelty probe, that were later auctioned off. Photo by Susan Haigh - Associated Press.

Thomas said the two Friesian mares, among 32 emaciated and depressed horses taken from the farm, are the perfect animals to help veterans dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder.

"They know what it's like to go through hell and come out the other side," said Thomas, who plans to create a program similar to the one he experienced at the couple's 160-acre ranch in Black, Alabama. The Friesians, 1,400-pound Francisca and 1,000-pound Rosalind, will join seven other horses the couple previously rescued.

Considered a "war horse" in the Middle Ages, Friesians are a highly sought-after breed, recognized for being gentle and intelligent. Thomas knows firsthand that such a demeanor in a horse can be a calming influence for returning combat veterans.

"I've been through lots and lots of things. After being blown up, it's quite a traumatic experience for you. The horses are what works for me. So I know it's out there and works for other people because I've seen it," Thomas said, explaining how there's peace in being around such a powerful creature that could hurt you but doesn't.

The 32 horses seized by Connecticut officials in February from the Fairy Tail Equine breeding center in East Hampton have attracted great attention from across the country because of the type of horses involved. The Department of Agriculture received inquiries from as far away as Alaska about the sealed, month long auction. Besides Friesians, Andalusian and Gypsy Vanner horses were also seized. Photo at left is a Friesian horse known as Francisca peeks her nose out of her stall at the Connecticut Department of Agriculture's large animal rehabilitation center at York Correctional Center in Niantic, Conn. She is one of the horses seized in February as part of an animal-cruelty investigation, later purchased by an Alabama couple that plans to use horses to help veterans with PTSD. Photo by Susan Haigh - Associated Press.

Adam and Tracy Erickson, owners of Skywalker Stables in Jamestown, New York, were visibly thrilled to take home Voruke, another Friesian. The couple has rescued horses from the slaughterhouse, buying the animals from meat buyers at the eleventh-hour. They rehabilitate the horses and find them good homes. Tracy Erickson said she's never come across a Friesian and plans to keep Voruke.

"It's just a wonderful, gentle breed of horse," she said. Money raised from the state's auction will help offset the cost of caring for the horses, which has exceeded $100,000, not including staff time. Raymond Connors, supervisor of the department's animal control division, said winning bidders were screened to make sure the animals will go to a suitable place.

As the buyers coaxed their new horses into trailers, Connors remarked how the animals look "1,000 percent better" than the day when they were seized. The owners of the breeding center were arrested on animal cruelty charges. Their case is still pending in court.

Dan Thomas saw photos of Francisca and Rosalind after they were seized. "I'm just really impressed with what the state of Connecticut has done here because these horses are beautiful now," he said. "It looks like the state of Connecticut has saved some lives."

Article from

Monday, August 1, 2016

Horse Anticipating turns

Courtney wrote to ask,.."What can I do about my horse who sometimes decides which direction to turn on his own. He is very well behaved, but sometimes he will preempt me by turning in a different direction than I am planning on."

Hi Courtney, there are a few things I would look at with your belief that your horse is anticipating you. First, I would make sure I'm riding the horse as opposed to just be a passenger. If the horse perceives a lack of leadership, he'll step up and take over, especially if you are always riding the same pattern and your horse kinda just goes into auto pilot. 

I would look at how you are riding and if your seat and your balance, or even an inadvertent cue may be sending him in the direction it looks like he is anticipating. Not being in rhythm, being off balance or leaning all could affect this.

I would go about making sure your horse isn't always turning towards the gate, as in being barn sour and wanting to go back to his feed bin and the safety of his stall and his buddies. Does he sometimes drift towards the gate? If this is what he is doing, maybe you can try making it work for him to be close to the gate, and give him a rest away from the gate, at the farthest point away from it.

Doubling him or riding circles close to the gate, backing him and such would be work. Giving him a rest, away from the gate, would be giving him a break. Sometimes if I think a horse is getting barn sour, I'll finish the arena work with a bunch of circles or doubling around the gate end of my arena, then ride him to the farthest part of the arena (away form the gate), give him a chance to stand and take a break, maybe even dismount and loosen his cinch, before I walk him out.  He learns to think the gate end is the working end and not necessary where he wants to be of his own volition. 

Make sure you are not inadvertently giving him the wrong cues, even something like looking towards something or looking in a direction can cue him. But if he is anticipating your turns, such as riding in several circles then you are planning on turning into a figure 8 but he is anticipating keeping the circle, then what I might try would be this exercise describe below and in the video.

I saw Craig Cameron demonstrate this exercise, and I believe he called it "North, South, East and West". Eight traffic cones or similar objects (I have seen some people use empty feed buckets) are placed in pairs, about 6 feet apart and in a cross pattern like in the diagram below.

I have this pattern of cones set up year using it for many different patterns, even just trotting and loping circles. The idea is to trot circles around all the cones then enter the circle through a pair of cones, exit through another set of cones then turn in one direction or another.

The idea is keep the trot through the turns, keep your horse between your legs, keep changing the direction of your turns in a random pattern (see the diagram below), but be clear in your cues. I'll lift the inside rein, the rein in the direction of the turn, and use my opposite leg to push the horse in that direction.

This placement of cones allows for many different patterns. Sometimes, I'll stop in the middle then back my horse out though the cones I enter through, then do a trot or lope departure in one direction or another.

Sometimes, I'll stop between the cones when exiting and maybe back the horse in a circle around one of the cones, or a figure 8 around both cones.

It will likely help if you look ahead at where you are going rather than looking at the horses head and ground immediately in front.

The video below is a pattern like I have described above.  If you ride as particularly as you can, ensuring your cues are clear, and keep mixing up the turns, L or R, or even a stop and back then double, this can make it necessary for him to listen closely to you.