Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Guiding Starbuck

If you want to follow an interesting and educational story then tune in to a site called Guiding Starbuck.

This site documents the journey of a young lady in Spain, calling herself a novice, who decided to train her three year old green filly herself using natural horsemanship, classic European techniques and what she explains has “an ever-growing sense of wonder”.

It's a pleasure to see young people with a good head on their shoulders as well as it is to see good horsemanship in foreign places. In fact, I once thought about visiting Europe, but the problem is there are too many foreigners who don't speak American!

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Pausing to Learn

Aaron wrote,....you told me words to the effect to put time between each obstacle so the horse can calm down, can you say it again and why?

Aaron, I can't remember exactly what I said but I'm sure it was in the context of this: lets say you take a horse up to an obstacle, not letting him back up or away, but cue him forward and push him over an obstacle. You may not really be achieving much especially when you immediately take him away onto another obstacle that causes anxiety or frightens him. I think you run the risk of over stimulating the horse. He may just be learning that he was justified having that anxiety.

Instead try taking him up to an obstacle, don’t let him give to his anxiety but don't increase it either by pushing him closer until he is ready. When he is ready, he'll look ready,.....body will feel less tense, head will drop, eye's will blink, ears will go from straight forward to moving around. If you talk to him an ear will turn back to you and he’ll look away interested in other things,....you’ll see and feel it. Then you can move him forward and repeat,...pretty soon he’ll be touching the obstacles with his nose and relaxing. Now here’s an important part – give him time to absorb that lesson, the lesson on learning to think rather than just reacting. Give the horse a break and he will learn. This is pressure release just a different kind of it.

After all I think the idea is not to get him over or through the obstacle just for the sake of completing an obstacle, because if he does it scared he won’t be learning much from it, nor will he be better for it. In fact, he may be worse for it. Instead, I'd be looking to allow the horse to learn that he can think through a scary situation and not have to just relax.

To give you an example of what not to do, years ago I was riding a horse back from the round pen, just after the Sun went down. On the way back to the barn, I detoured to a large water puddle thinking I’d get my horse to walk through it. Well, he didn’t. I was in a hurry and I made several mistakes: 1 – trying to teach a horse anything without having the time to see it through, and 2 – trying to push him ahead through that water puddle before he was ready to move forward. That puddle could have looked like a hole to China to him for all I knew. I didn’t give him any chance to get used to the idea. All I did was increase his anxiety and prove to him he needed to be scared. I just pushed him forward until he jumped the puddle. Even though nobody was watching I embarrassed myself and more importantly took some of that trust away between me and him.

I should have not attempted to cross that large water puddle unless I hard to time to work on it. I should have made it his idea to move forward, to and through the puddle, and given him the time to do so. Lastly if I would have done that, I should have paused to let his mind slow down and absorb that obstacle, then do it a few more times to build his comfort level and make him a more confident, braver horse. Kinda of a long answer Aaron, but hope it works for you.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Meet the Burrowing Owl

I was riding one of my horses, Junior, when I heard this squeaking sound. I stopped and started looking around then spotted a Burrowing Owl sitting in a Mesquite Bush. Every time the Burrowing Owl would squeak he (or she) would rise up then sit back down. These owls are a small species often with a body length of only around ten inches but have long legs presumably to help protect them from larger birds of prey.

Burrowing owl nests are basically holes in the ground. Often they build their burrows next to construction sites or other populated areas. They hatch their young around early or middle spring. I have rode up on Burrowing Owl nests before to have an owl fly off from the ground and land in a bush twenty yards away or so to get my attention on them and not the nest they left.

These little guys are about the neatest things you can watch. Burrowing owls are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act in Canada, the United States, and Mexico.

As I turned toward this owl and carefully walked up to him, he hopped to the ground. There was dark, turned up ground near his feet which I suspected was the burrow. I did not get any closer as I didn’t want to spook him, but I was able to shoot this short video on me and Junior’s encounter with this Burrowing Owl. Sorry for the poor quality, but I couldn’t even see the dog gone camera screen due to the Sun.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Bolting Warmblood

Auri wrote: Hi, I have a 16.3 hand Dutch Warmblood gelding with a bad habit of taking off that he learned from his previous owner (I was not aware of the problem). I have tried every form of ground training and there is some improvement but he will still take off occasionally. He is dangerous and one time left me with a broken jaw. From that time he also tore a lesion in his deep flexor tendon and is currently healing. Is there anything else I can do to help him?”

Hi Auri. I like the way you are asking if there is anything you can do to help your horse. A bolting horse can be dangerous, especially one as big as your Warmblood. You don’t say how old your Warmblood is, nor how long you have had him, nor how your jaw was broken. I am assuming that he is doing this both while you are leading him on the ground as well as in the saddle. He needs to learn that he has to be respectful of your space. I like to use a good quality rope halter, such as from Double Diamond or Craig Cameron, with a tied on lead line. This allows a quick jerk on the lead line to be transmitted and felt by the horse on his nose and somewhat on his poll. Your timing has to be right on this. Using a 12 or 14 foot lead line allows you to bring the end of the lead line with the leather popper around your body with the off hand to remind your horse to respect your space if he is leading up too close.

You had the good idea is to re-start your horse. I think this is always a good idea for new horses. Relearning ground training, teaching the horse good ground manners,.....that you are the leader and he needs to respect you. You have done this and say he still has the bolting problem. I am assuming you are riding him in a bit. Have you ruled out any teeth problems like erupting wolf teeth? Are you using too harsh of a bit? Does it seem like he bolts after fighting you or bracing against the bit? I can't help but think of a dressage rider I knew who would ride their horse on the trail, in a benign bit like a O ring snaffle, but would always be in contact that horse's mouth, causing that horse alot of anxiety since he couldn't do anything to get away from the bit pressure but to try and run away.

A horse bolting is sometimes caused by a buildup of fear until the horse thinks he has to run away. Sometimes a horse just has to bolt and run just to figure out that he doesn’t have to. I think sometimes it does more good to let them bolt, and when they want to slowdown, make them continue to run if it’s safe to do so.

If the horse is spooking (from an object) rather than bolting from pent up fear rather than a particular object, I would take him back to the object that set him off. In both situations you have to go at his pace, if you make him approach a scary object faster than he is comfortable with, or if you get onto him or try and lock him down when he bolts, in his mind his fear is justified.

Sorry I couldn't be of much help. Good luck and Safe Journey.

Friday, February 10, 2012

The Cowboy and His Best Friends

I was sent this gem from four different people in the same week, so it must be good. You may have seen in across your e-mail net as well, but here it is again for all of you with gray in your hair or mustache and who still shed tears over the loss of a horse or dog. I'd like to think I'd act the same way as the Cowboy in this story..........

An old cowboy was riding his trusty horse followed by his faithful dog along an unfamiliar road.

The man was enjoying the new scenery, when he suddenly remembered dying, and realized that the dog beside him had been dead for years, as had his horse.  Confused, he wondered what was happening, and where the trail was leading them.

After a while, they came to a high, white stone wall that looked like fine marble. At the top of a long hill, it was broken by a tall arch topped by a golden letter "H" that glowed in the sunlight.

Standing before it, he saw a magnificent gate in the arch that looked like mother-of-pearl, and the street that led to the gate looked like gold.

He rode toward the gate, and as he got closer, he saw a man at a desk to one side. Parched and tired out by his journey, he called out, 'Excuse me, where are we?'

'This is Heaven, sir,' the man answered.

'Wow! Would you happen to have some water?' the man asked.

'Of course, sir. Come right in, and I'll have some ice water brought right up.'

As the gate began to open, the cowboy asked, 'Can I bring my partners, too?'

'I'm sorry, sir, but we don't accept pets.'

The cowboy thought for a moment, then turned back to the road and continued riding, his dog trotting by his side.

After another long ride, at the top of another hill, he came to a dirt road leading through a ranch gate that looked as if it had never been closed. As he approached the gate, he saw a man inside, leaning against a tree and reading a book.

'Excuse me,' he called to the man. 'Do you have any water?'

'Sure, there's a pump right over there. Help yourself.'

'How about my friends here?' the traveler gestured to the dog and his horse.

'Of course! They look thirsty, too,' said the man.

The trio went through the gate, and sure enough, there was an old-fashioned hand pump with buckets beside it. The traveler filled a cup and the buckets with wonderfully cool water and took a long drink, as did his horse and dog.

When they were full, he walked back to the man who was still standing by the tree. 'What do you call this place?' the traveler asked.

'This is Heaven,' he answered.

'That's confusing,' the traveler said. 'The man down the road said that was Heaven, too.'

'Oh, you mean the place with the glitzy, gold street and fake pearly gates? That's hell.'

'Doesn't it make you angry when they use your name like that?'

'Not at all. Actually, we're happy they screen out the folks who would leave their best friends behind.'

Monday, February 6, 2012

Hard to Turn Horse

Joan wrote me asking what could be the problem on her horse who doesn’t turn very well. She mentioned that she rides him in a snaffle bit with short ends which I took to mean a broken bit with shanks. A snaffle bit with shanks is not called a snaffle. It is a broken leverage bit. No matter, as it should not matter a great deal in what she is riding him in,....halter, snaffle, leverage bit or hackamore. I am assuming that Joan wants to just get the horse to turn in a smooth manner and is not trying a turn on the forehand or trying to get her horse to turn on his back end like a roll back.

If you are turning your horse from a stand still or while at the walk or jog and the horse exhibits a slowdown, or turns seemingly off balance or with short choppy steps, it is most likely that you are either 1 – trying to turn his head by pulling on a direct rein straight back, giving the horse a confusing signal – he doesn't know if you want him to slow, stop, back or a combination of that.....or 2 – the outside rein, or the rein opposite to the turn is taunt giving the same confusing signals. You could be doing both.

In the photo at left, I am trying to turn (pull) my horse's head around for a turn to the right. The position of his head, starting to break at the poll with his nose beginning to drop without turning his nose to the right is showing me that this signal is confusing to him (does that over weight idiot on my back want me to back or what?).

The photo to the right, while an exaggeration, where I hold the rein away from his neck and away from my body, is a better cue or signal to tip my horses head to the right to begin a turn to the right. While the rein may appear taunt, like I'm pulling his head over, I am not.  He is beginning to give to that pressure as the cue is understandable to him.  The opposite rein (meaning the left or outside rein) cannot be taunt or otherwise this is also confusing to him.

It is very common to maintain too much contact in the horse’s mouth or in other words,.....your reins are too tight. Even if your horse is not throwing his head up, a too tight of rein may be the cause for a horse slowing his momentum especially in a turn. No offense to dressage riders, but they ride always in contact with the horses mouth. This does not translate very well to riding him on the trail and turning, or going up/down hill especially. In fact, going up hill and pulling on his head could your horse to come over.

Joan, I’d like you to try this. Consider the reins not just connected to the horse’s mouth/head, but also to his feet. Using the reins, such as a direct rein, not also affects the head but also the feet and the weight transfer of the horse.  In the first part of the video below, you see me demonstrating a tight rein – notice how my horse’s weight transfer from the front feet (where most of the weight is carried) to the back end.

I also demonstrate trying to turn the horse on tight reins, then I demonstrate a turn using loose reins. When you are using a direct rein, try tipping his head in the direct of the turn by pulling the rein to the outside away from your body. In fact, before you try turning your horse into the opposite direction, try just to tip his head as lightly as you can by holding the direct rein out at a 45 degree angle. I think you'll see a difference. The idea in western riding is to ride with loose reins,......as little contact as you can get away with, or only as much contact as you need.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Starving Horses in El Paso Texas

I can take a lot of things, but one thing I can't take is people not providing a fair life to a horse. That, in my book, means adequate food, water, shelter and humane handling. I happen to live in El Paso County which has the reputation of being one of the least friendly counties in the United States for the fair treatment of animals. The latest event being more than 60 horses starving on a ranch east of El Paso.

EL PASO, Texas, 30 January 2012. KVIA News Article. More than 60 horses are in danger of starving at a ranch in the eastern part of El Paso County.  According to animal activists, the number is dwindling as they claim two more horses died in the past several days.

“They need to be removed immediately,” said Dr. Amy Starr who says she put a horse down on the ranch last week. “It’s not today, it’s not tomorrow, it’s yesterday.”

I happen to know Doc Starr. She is my vet and a family friend. You will find no better person or Vet.

Sources tell ABC-7 they used a personal aircraft to perform a flyover and saw two additional horse carcasses. A similar flyover was performed with a helicopter last week where video was obtained that video showed a carcass in the desert about five miles north of Cattleman’s Ranch in Fabens.

The ABC-7 I-team drove to the area where activists claimed the horses were dying. Walking up a dirt road horses could be seen along the road with ribs protruding from their bodies. Photographs were taken, and shown to Starr who hasn’t been on the ranch since the day she was called by law enforcement to the scene. She seemed shocked at the pictures she saw.

“If they continue on that way one by one they’re going to die,” said Starr.

Not a lot of information has been released from the investigation that was launched by the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office. Last week a news release stated that a veterinarian observed some of the horses and that they appeared to be in good condition, although they were skinny. That release came out a few days after Starr says she had to put down a horse on the same property.

According to the Sheriff’s Office news release, nearly 65 horses reside on the land. The horses were originally from Dona Ana County and were meant to be shipped to Mexico where they were to be slaughtered. Instead, the horses were in such bad condition they weren’t allowed in the country, and they were shipped to their current home in El Paso county where a hold order was placed on them. Activists claim they’re no better off, a thought Dr. Starr seems to agree with.

“Those conditions are not fit for cattle, much less a horse,” said Starr.

But a veterinarian with the Sheriff’s Office says the horses have water, salt blocks and molasses. Starr doesn’t deny that, but says it doesn’t make sense given the state of the horses that she has seen, or the pictures we obtained.

The Vet mentioned by the Sheriffs Office is Doc Weese of the U.S.D.A. I know him as well but cannot think that he has seen all or some of these horses, as he simply knows better. He has either seen the better conditioned horses of this herd or is getting his information second hand.

She (Doc Starr) also admits she has never been involved with a case where animals need to be removed from a property. Usually, she helps rehabilitate animals later on in the process, but after seeing what she has she says as a veterinarian she’s certain of one thing: that the remaining horses on the ranch need help, and quickly.

Watch the video with Diane of Rancho Allegre talk about this case.
Animal Advocates: Lack of seizure order keeping malnourished...

Latest news on these starving horses,....

EPSO closes animal abuse investigation, EL PASO CO., Texas — By Lauren Rozyla, KFOX News.

The El Paso County Sheriff's Office (EPSO) has closed an animal abuse investigation involving more than 65 allegedly starving horses on a Far East El Paso County property. However tonight, animal advocates and neighbors said they were shocked by the news.

"They have no food, no water," Vicky Placencia, who lives three miles down the road from the horses, told KFOX14.

Animal Advocates Diane Avery and Marilee Sage, who have followed this case closely, are calling this one of the worst cases of horse abuse they've seen locally.

The El Paso County Attorney's Office has confirmed they have found no criminal reason to continue prosecuting this case, according to Elhiu Dominguez, the office's spokesman. He issued this to KFOX14:

"The Sheriff's Office has told us the investigators did not find evidence warranting a seizure. Whether or not they'd call it a "closed case," that is a question for the Sheriff's [Office]. However we were told the investigation was concluded and that they will not further investigate this case unless they receive a new, credible complaint."

However, KFOX14 has obtained video showing carcasses littering the property, and horses in various stages of starving.

When KFOX14 arrived on the property on Thursday, about one week after the official launch of the investigation, we found horses wandering freely along the property, drifting into the road. In some cases, we could see ribs on some select horses.

KFOX14 tried to find the manager of this property for comment, but there was no apparent building, contact number or way of reaching anyone in any official capacity.

I have written before about the Horse Slaughter issue. I can sum up my feelings by saying you either give a horse a fair life or you end that life in a humane manner. But the people who starve and mistreat horses certainly have much less humanity than the misguided animal rights advocates who lobby for the non-slaughter of horses. There simply has to be a way, necessarily meaning a market, for unwanted horses to be humanely put down.

Some of these horses on this ranch in East El Paso County are obviously very sick and in really poor body condition,...several look to be in fair condition, for now, as well. However, as Diane Avery points out in the video interview, nothing can be done for the sicker and poorer horses until the El Paso County Sheriff issues a seizure order. As the second article states, the EPSO considers this investigation closed. I am asking readers to send an e-mail to the addresses listed below to ask El Paso County officials to immediately re-look the issue and take necessary steps including seizure of the at risk horses and possibly citing the owner in violation of Texas Penal Code Section 42.09 Cruelty to Live Stock Animal (a)(2), which is "intentionally or knowingly failing to provide reasonable and necessary food, water, or care for a livestock animal in the person's custody." Please be courteous in your e-mail as anger and insults won't push the County to re-look these horses.

El Paso County Sheriffs Office, Sheriff Wiles:

El Paso County Commissioners Court:

El Paso County Judge: