Thursday, March 31, 2011

Communicating with Horses - Creating Energy

I received a reader question who evidently heard me on a video talk about “creating energy” and wanted a better explanation then what they saw on video.

It may be easier to explain, first of all, what “creating energy” is not. It is not jerking on the lead line or going ballistic when a horse fails to understand what you are asking. That phrase needs to be repeated.....”when the horse fails to understand what you are asking.” And this failure is almost always, if not always, the fault of the person and the responsibility of the person to correct. The horse isn’t born into this world understanding how to get along with mankind.

Horse’s read body language well,.....much better than we do and much better than most of us give the horse credit for. Watch how horses interact in the coral or pasture. You see a lead mare do nothing more than pin it’s ears and another horse will get the message and give it some room. If the offending horse doesn’t get it, the lead mare will move it’s head towards the offending horse and thus “creating some energy” to make the point.

Creating energy can come from voice commands, with a change to the inflections and loudness, but more often needs to be based on body language. That’s why sudden movements will often make a horse flinch. The best examples and maybe best uses for creating energy are when lunging a horse or backing horse. On the video below I am trying to demonstrate how an increase in body language,....a more deliberate and stronger movement,….can influence a horse when lunging him or backing him up, without causing anxiety by jerking on a lunge rope or lead line, or putting too much physical pressure on the horse.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Spring Time is Horse Vaccination Time

It’s that time of year, early spring where most Veterinarians’ would suggest giving spring vaccinations to your horses.

I usually have my Vet come in mid April to take an annual Coggins (EIA) test, and give vaccinations against Eastern, Western and Venezuelan Equine Encephalitis; West Nile Virus; Tetanus; Rhino and Influenza. The time frame allows for the horses to build up anti-bodies and be prepared for the usually wet and humid summer with can bring vector borne diseases.

I also take advantage of her visit to grab a couple tubes of Bute and a bottle of Banamine (Fluoxomine). I would be glad to go a whole year and not use any of these products, and am glad as well to have them on hand.

Some people also vaccinate against Rabies and Strangles. Strangles is a bacterial Strep like infection that caused enlarged lymph nodes that block the airway and could suffocate a horse – hence the name Strangles. Most often swollen lymph nodes on the jaw between the lower molars are present. Sometimes an infected tooth, usually on young horses, can cause a similar symptom and fool people. Strangles is very contagious and can affect many horses that are stabled or pastured together but most horses recover without complication.

Rabies vaccination, being bitten by a rapid carrier, can fool people as well. Early symptoms can look like colic or lameness or even just a plain low grade illness or depression. Horse will invariable die from rabies which is a neurological disorder which can also be mistaken for West Nile Virus. Rabies signs can appear within 4 to 5 days, or even longer in some cases, after being bitten. Horses without a current rabies vaccine will exhibit signs a bit earlier.

I have seen one horse with West Nile Virus. It was not vaccinated against the disease and it was pitiful to watch this horse try to walk and fall down when trying to turn around. We treated the symptoms and eventually the horse pulled through and became a roping horse for a couple of teenagers. But not all horses pull through or pull through without side effects or a re-occurring symptoms throughout their life cycle.

Beware of the stables or boarding facility that does not have a mandatory vaccinations program. This is indicative of a facility that is unsafe and will cut corners in other areas as well. Bottom line is that to give your horse a fair life, get them vaccinated on a recommended timeline. It will save you a lot of heartache and give you piece of mind.

Safe Journey,…for you and your horse.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Update on Abused Horse Keira/Jetta

Received this from Maureen and Susan on the rescued Horse, Kiera, that I posted about on January 9th. The Horse's original name was Jetta and it was changed to Keira to avoid exposing the horse and location to the previous owner who the horse was confiscated from due to neglect. They are based in North Carolina.

From Maureen: Here is a update on Jetta/Keira. First I want to thank everyone that has prayed, donated and sent goodies to Jetta.....THANK YOU.

Dr Woods come out on the 18th of March for the first surgery. Everything was going great until he felt and heard something hit the was a piece of wire, so we had to stop the surgery about 3/4 of the way into it and take a series of x-rays and OMG what did we find......WIRE but not just a little piece of wire one that was completely wrapped and tied in her leg. So we had to stop the surgery so the vet could go home and develop the x-rays and see what the best course of action would be to get the wire out.

Dr. Woods decided from the radiographs that making a small incision in the side and snipping the wire and pulling it out that way would be best and the minimal cutting on Jetta would be obviously would be for the best. Well after an hour of trying to get the wire out Dr. Woods had to close it up and bandage it again, the wire is STUCK.

He has had to contact and consult with NC state veterinary university to decide how to proceed with Jetta and getting the wire out. The surgeon at NC State told Dr. Woods that he just had a very similar case a few months back and that Dr Woods was going to have to get very aggressive and will require him to open a very large area of her leg to get to the wire, he will be here on the 24th of March to perform the third surgery. Because of all the unexpected complications with the debridement of Jetta`s leg unfortunately the cost has now gone up, I have to raise another $700.00 for her treatment.

If you can chip in, every little bit helps. Thank you. Then please go to:

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Reader Question on Feeding Alfalfa Pellets

I received this question via e-mail from Savony. ”Functional Horseman, I've watched your videos on feeding horses. Thanks you very much. (My question is) Sometimes I have a hard time buying hay. Sometimes the feed store is even out of the hay. One of my friends told me to feed alfalfa pellets and to replace the hay pound for pound with the alfalfa pellets. What do you think?”

Savony, this is a timely e-mail question. I recently responded to friends of mine who ran out of hay was feeding solely alfalfa pellets and their horse started exhibiting signs of colic or gut distress.  He was feeding his horse alfalfa pellets dry (without soaking them in water) and made his change overnight, without a gradual introduction to the change.     

You can certainly augment your horses daily feed with a ration of alfalfa pellets or cubes. I would do several things to reduce associated problems.

One – integrate the new feed gradual like. If you feed 20 lbs of hay one day, then on the next, you substitute the hay with 20 lbs of pellets you’ll probably have problems. I would start with one half pound per day and build up from here, however my bias is to not feed more than a few pounds, maybe 3 or 4 pounds maximum, of pelleted/cubed feed at any one time. Although, most of the pelleted feed manufacturers will have their  feeding directions on the bags and these will generally advise to feed 1.5 to 2 lbs of pellets or cubes per 100 lbs of body weight or 20 lbs a day divided up into 10 lb feedings, given twice a day. I would not do this. If I had to feed pelleted feed alone, then I would feed smaller amounts more often through the day.

Two – I would soak the alfalfa pellets in water prior to feeding. Put Alfalfa pellets in a bucket, pour water to cover, let stand a few minutes, drain excess water then feed. It’ll probably look like mush but this will help the horse chew it and reduce chances of choke where larger pellet pieces get stuck in the esophagus. If your horse gets choke, and you’ll know it, remove all feed, call your vet, keep the horse’s head down to drain mucous from the nose and if you see a lump in the esophagus when you may be able to massage it down the throat.

Three – feed a pelleted feed with a small percentage of protein. Alfalfa hay is around 18 – 22 % protein. Horses don’t need that much protein. That's why I feed both Alfalfa Hay and Grass Hay (10% protein).  I also feed a pelleted feed, with 12% protein, and only feed a small amount to supplement their hay. A horse really needs long stem hay for their fiber needs. Another problem with feeding pelleted feeds is that, if soaked and it should be soaked, the horse easily crushes the wet cubes and this may not satisfy the horses chewing needs. You may see more cribbing.

So in summary Savony, you sure could substitute the pelleted feed for hay, but do it gradually; be sure to soak it prior to feeding; give a smaller amounts more often; watch your horses for changes in their body condition and any sign of problems. You are not the only one having problem finding hay. A lot of people are either/or having a harder time getting hay or paying through the nose for it and have decided to reduce hay usage through the feeding of pelleted feeds. Safe Journey.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Sign Cutting and Tracking Horses

When I was a Range Rider, one of my duties was to respond to lost persons. During the initial investigation, I would determine the last known location and time of that person in order to develop a search area - based on normal and fast possible speeds of travel; develop search parameters and boundaries, and in particular, sign cut areas from which to jump forward, located sign and begin the track.

If we were using Trucks, the simple fact of the truck tires running over a dirt trail was often enough of a "drag" to make a second pass later and be more apt to determine if someone had crossed the trail or line of drift behind us.

Sign cut areas are areas that allow for easy travel and are more likely to capture sign of someone’s or some thing’s passing. Simply to you a higher likelihood to see disturbed ground. The best sign cut areas are road, trails, arroyos or other natural lines of drift and the person or animal you are tracking has to cross. Even hard top roads can be used, if you use the soft dirt shoulder. The softer the ground the harder it is to conceal to sterilize signs of passing if the person being tracked was attempting to do this. Again shoulders are normally the best areas to cut sign from someone or something crossing the road or trail.

The best position of the sign cut area or any tracks that you are on is for them to be between your position and Sun. You can see how the shadow cast by being out of position can hurt you locating or reading sign.

In the video I cut sign on a couple horses and show what to look for to determine direction of travel and if the horse was shod or not. From hoof prints you can normally tell direction of travel (from the pressure release and the toe dirt), if the horse was shod, speed or gait (walk, jog, lope or gallop from a combination of the prints, their location ot each other, amount of toe dirt, and stride length). All this may come in handy if your looking for a lost horse or rider.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Butterfield Overland Stage Route

The Butterfield Overland Mail Trail, also known as the Butterfield Overland Stage Route was a stagecoach route in the United States, operating from 1857 to 1861. It was a specific route built for transit of the United States mail from two eastern cities (Memphis, Tennessee and St. Louis, Missouri) moving through Fort Smith, Arkansas, and continuing through Indian Territory, New Mexico, and Arizona, ending in San Francisco, California...where in the present day people dress funny.

Prior to 1857, there was no organized, commercial system of transportation west of the Mississippi River .

The Butterfield route was an extra 600 miles longer than the central and northern routes running through Denver, Colorado and Salt Lake City, Utah, but was snow free and therefore a year round route. The name Butterfield comes from the gentleman who won the bid for the route for semi-weekly mail at $600,000 per year. At that time it was the largest land-mail contract ever awarded in the US.

Butterfield Overland Mail Route / Miles / Hours

San Francisco to Los Angeles 462 miles 80 hrs

Los Angeles to Fort Yuma 282 miles 72 hrs

Fort Yuma to Tucson 280 miles 71 hrs

Tucson to Franklin (El Paso, TX) 360 miles 82 hrs

Franklin (El Paso, TX) to Fort Chadbourne 458 miles 126 hrs

Fort Chadbourne to Colbert's Ferry 282 miles 65 hrs

Colbert's Ferry to Fort Smith 192 miles 38 hrs

Fort Smith to Tipton 318 miles 48 hrs

Tipton to St. Louis 160 miles 11 hrs

Totals of 2,795 miles which took approximatley 593 hours to travel.

On a time line, the operation (1857-1861) of the Butterfield Overland Mail was a very small time period in American history and in the history of transportation. However short lived, this operation captured and held the imagination of Americans because it stitched together the growing country from sea to sea.

Prior to 1857, there was no organized, commercial system of transportation west of the Mississippi River . Although many people had crossed the United States by land, the word “overland” had not come into the American vocabulary.

On the historical scale, the Butterfield Overland Mail was symbolic of the doctrine of Manifest Destiny, which held that it was the duty and right of the United States to expand across the continent. At the backing of the federal government, trails were laid out, stations were set up and manned (often 20 miles apart or where there was a water source), coaches and wagons were built and put into operation, and the many obstacles of travel across long stretches of pure wilderness were surmounted. Some of those obstacles were raids by Indians most notably the Apaches in West Texas through Central Arizona.

I often ride on a stretch of the old Butterfield trail.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Beginning Roping

I received an e-mail request from Joanne, who if I remember right was from southern Georgia, and wanted to learn how to rope. Joanne didn’t say if she was interested in arena roping/team roping or if she was just interested in learning how to use a lariat as I believe it is a good tool for most all riders to carry.

Lets start with the rope. I prefer a 5/16 inch diameter rope, true or scant, in nylon, with a metal honda, in a XXS lay. I prefer the NRS ranch rope, link below, but Craig Cameron also offers a good rope. The NRS rope comes in 60 foot lengths, which I cut and burn at 48 feet just for my preference. More rope than that, is just too much to manage in my off hand with the reins and all. Craig's ropes come in 50 foot lengths and I have two of them, which I just leave at 50 foot. You would not be disappointed with a rope from Craig Cameron.

Craig Cameron 50 foot Horse Handling Lariat Rope

phone: 800 274-0077

NRS Nylon Ranch Rope 60' Buckaroo Honda 5/16"!CALLA

phone: 800 467-6746

I must have about 6 or 8 Fastback or Cactus ropes, left over from when I was arena roping, but at around 31 feet they are too short for me as a working rope. The header ropes are going to be a softer lay than the healer ropes. The healer ropes are longer, generally 35 feet, but just too stiff of a lay for my tastes. I think the lay is more important than it being nylon or poly blend.

I think everyone, recreational rider or cowboy, needs to carry a rope and at least have a rudimentary idea on how to use it. I coached more than a few people on the basics of roping. And I'm just a mediocre roper. I really suggest partnering with a roper in your area. Face to face, in person learning is much better and practically any team roper will fall of his/her horse to help someone learn. If not then I suggest Buck Brannaman’s excellent book “Ranch Roping with Buck Brannaman”, available from

Roping videos are available through National Ropers Supply as well.

I have used my ropes for impromptu halters or ponying horses out of the desert. Once I used it to pull a partner of mine up a hill when he had to climb down an embankment to get his hat.

I like the metal hondas as they swivel and are much easier to get kinks out of so you can build a faster second loop when your first loop misses. Been there a million times. Plus I think the metal honda gives you a few feet more of reach - important when a cow is stuck in a mud hole and you want to rope her to get her out with your horse on dry or solid ground.

Hope the video can provide the basics for you to work on. Start real close to your target,…a traffic cone works well,…..when you spin your loop, try to keep it parallel to the ground, release and turn your hand over (palm down) and helps to point your index finger at your target. And keep your thumb up when you draw the slack out of the rope after your throw. This is a good habit to keep you from dallying around a saddle horn and pinning your thumb to it with the rope. People get their thumbs cut off that way.

hope this helps, safe journey.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Reader Question on Horse that Can't Back

I received an e-mail from Mary who has a horse who won't back up. It's problematic for her as her horse trailers well, just wants to turn around to exit the trailer. Mary didn't give me too much to go on, but there could be several reasons for this horse not backing.....

Backing is an unnatural gait for them, horses in the corral and you'll very seldom see them back more than a step before they turn;

Some people pull back on the halters and when the horse begins to move backward, they do not release the pressure. Without a release of the pressure, which is a reward for doing the right thing, the horse becomes confused and agitated.

Some people will pull down on the halter lead line and not give a clear
signal with rearward pressure on the lead line.

I haven't had a horse yet that naturally backed up well. They learn this through pressure and release. The better they back up, the better they do everything else, as well as backing being an essential ability to have on the trail and backing out of a trailer.

So Mary, I'll just bet that you are either pulling down on the halter lead or not releasing pressure when the horse begins to move backwards - both are confusing to the horse. If what you are asking is clear to your horse, you'll be backing fine in no time. In fact, I suggest each and every time you lead the horse you stop and back to reinforce this lesson....even years from now. You may be able to do this in your horse's pen or stall by putting your hand on the horse's nose and apply soft pressure and say "back" immediately removing pressure. Soon you'll be able just to command back and the horse will take a step or two backwards. Every time I feed my horses I make each one of them back a step after I throw feed in their buckets. Makes for well mannered horses.

Good luck and Safe Journey.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Reader Question on Feeding Grain

I received a question, from Angie, who asked “My horse is some what underweight so I have been feeding him grain and would like to know should I give him the grain all at once, and with or without his hay?”

Angie, you didn’t mention how old your horse is, if you routinely get his/her teeth floated, what type of grain you give him, and how much riding you do or how much work the horses does.

So I’ll give you some general beliefs of mine. First of all not all horses need grain. There is a propensity of owners to keep their horses too fat. But I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt when you say your horse is underweight. People sometimes feed way to much grain. A horse cannot digest more than 5 lbs of grain at any one time, and grain should not make up more than 50% of the horse’s diet,....and we’re talking as measured by weight. I believe that ratio of grain to ahy should be substantially smaller.

I have seen some horses lose weight and the owners typically want to give them more food, but the problem was in their teeth and being able to chew their food sufficiently. You can tell by the hooks and points on their teeth but it's kind of hard to look in their mouths with a flashlight, or, you can tell from them bolting food or dropping golf ball sized masses of partially chewed food.

I think horses do better if they are fed throughout the day, with each meal being the same. That is if you horse’s daily diet consisted of 20 lbs of hay and 2 lbs of grain, then if you fed twice a day that would be 10 lbs of hay and 1 lb of grain at each feeding. If you fed four times a day, that would be 5 lbs of hay and .5 lb of grain at each feeding.

I don’t feed natural grain. I feed a processed grain called Opti-12 from Hi-Pro. Purina Strategy is another excellent processed feed, but a little more expensive. I do not feed sweet feed nor corn. The glycemic index is high on both; the horses seldom need that type of energy and if they do then I add corn oil to the grain. Plus sweet feed is molasses based and therefore has a higher chance of molding.

I feed a relatively small amount of grain and do so for several reasons: provide my horses with a standardized feed through different cuts of hay; use the grain to introduce supplements such as sand clear, hoof supplements and joint supplements; and ensure they are used to the grain if I’m on the trail overnight and need to feed them more of the grain, in case the grass is sparse or their work load is increased significantly.

I feed four times a day: morning, mid day, evening at night. I feed the grain in the morning and evening. My young horses get about 1.25 lbs each feeding and my older roping horse gets 2.25 lbs each feeding.

I prepared a video to better explain weighing grain. Good luck and Safe Journey Angie.