Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The Best Horse, His Name was Roy

Around the winter of 2001, I first met Roy when I went to take a look at several other horses.  As I got out of my truck I noticed a Bay colored horse around 15 hh, at least a hundred pounds under fed, looking at me.  As I walked up to the pens with the owner, this horse who I came to call Roy softly nickered at me.  The owner pointed to the other horses and said "these are the horses I was telling you about." I replied "I ain't interested in them, I'm interested in this one" pointing to Roy. 
The owner said "I wasn't planning on selling him, but I'm willing to talk."  The owner was a horse trader who cut corners on his horse care and was on the verge of abusing his stock.  He was in a mood to get out of the horse business, so I ended up cuting a deal with him. As I was leaving I noticed a stack of moldy alfafa near the pens.  I pointed that out to him and said "I'm buying that horse so don't be feeding him that moldy hay, in fact don't feed that to any of your horses".
The next day I brought a Vet out to check him over.  The Vet told me that Roy had a bad left knee and a heart mumur.  The Vet actually said, "I wouldn't buy him."  But I decided to anyway.  Roy was an excellent looking horse conformationally wise, was the right size,...most importantly he has a kind eye.  I took the chance that his only problems were nutrition based and having the right owner. 
The day after that the Vet called me to tell me he responsded to a colic call on the horse I was going buy.  I immediately drove out to the barn and found out that Roy had been moved to another barn down the road.  I drove over to that barn and talked to the manager and told him that I would appreciate it he only fed grass hay to Roy until the next day when I could pick him up.   
A day later the owner sent his wife out to complete the transaction, money for horse, then I moved Roy into quaratine at the facility I managed.  Near as we could figure we was about 17 to 18 years old then. 
Good care, mostly from my wife, using good quality grass and afalfa hay, a small amount of calf manna and corn oil each day, and alittle Red Cell, plus a good shoer brought Roy into good condition within a couple months.   

He was a pleasure to ride, having a slow jog that you could fall asleep on.  I was pleased to find out that he was broke to a rope, so I used him for a couple seasons as a team roping horse.  He wasn't the biggest, nor fastest horse in any arena, but I have no doubt he had the biggest heart. 
My daughter also rode him in gymkhana's doing barrels, pole bending, flag racing and goat tying.  She also took him on trail rides and despite his age she and Roy kept up with the other horses in our game of brush popping.   That's my daughter on Roy from several years ago in the below photo.
Roy just did as you asked of him, and never had any quit at all.  In fact, a couple times I was caught on him in hail storms,....doesn't say much about my weather forecasting abilities, but the fact that he stayed calm with marble sized hail hitting him in the head say's alot about him.  One time I had to take my vest off and cover his face, leading him blind until the hail ceased. 
Also had him in a couple dust storms that came out of nowhere.  He just put his head down and continued on, taking me back to the barn.  Roy became the leader in my herd helping to raise a yearling paint gelding teaching him how to be a horse and teaching other horses their manners. 
My wife, before she was my wife, used Roy for several years teaching horsemanship to dozens of children and a couple of adults.  Roy would carry those children on his back like he was toting an expensive crystal vase. Those children, some of whom are now grown, continue to call my wife and ask about Roy.  I have long thought that my wife just might have married me to get partial ownership of Roy.   
On the 4th of July 2005 My wife called me when I was on duty to tell me Roy was three legged lame.  Subsequent X-rays showed that Roy broke a coffin bone wing in his back right hoof.  The Vet said as old as he was, it would not heal.  We tried anyway, and using one of the best shoers around with bar shoes, Roy became sound again.  
By this time, Roy was regulated to a lesson horse but was always at the gate of the corral asking to be ridden.  I have used him in several videos and was riding him more and more getting him ready for the fall and winter.

I would sometimes sit out by my geldings corral just to watch the horses interact,...thinking maybe if I pay attention I could learn something.  I would see Roy playing the biting game with another horse.  Once that other horse extended his head and neck and had most of his weight on his front end, Roy would quickly spin placing his butt to the other horse then back him into at speeds I could never get him to back when I was on his back.   He also developed a close friendship with my wife's big gelding, Charlie, and they would stand together swatting flies or scrubbing each others' withers. 
More often or not Roy would hear me coming for morning feeding and come running and bucking across the corral to make sure he was fed first.  
This past Sunday when riding back to the back gate on the property, I yelled Roy's name.  He responded with his bellowing call telling the other horses where he was at.  I told my wife that Roy's call was my favorite sound in the world and it would be a sad day when he was no longer around for me to hear.  Little did I know that day would be the very next day when I found Roy laying down in the corral, bleeding heavily with a compound fracture of his right front leg.  We had a Vet put him down shortly after that and I buried him that morning.
I wanted to write about him last night,......just couldn't do it. I lost more than the best horse yesterday, I lost my friend.          


Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Common Bad and Dangerous Habits on the Trail

I received an e-mail from a person, who name I will not use, asking for me to write a post about bad and dangerous habits on the trail. "Dear Functional Horsemanship, could you write an article about bad and dangerous things riders do when trail riding? I enjoy riding and several of us usually ride on weekends, however occasionally some of the riders, some of the original group and some of the new riders, make the ride less enjoyable because they are not so careful with their horses and are not considering others. Thanks, I'd like to print what you say and give it to them, but I know I won't. Please do not use my name too."

Considering the other riders and their horses is the key. I think that riders in a group should ride considering the comfort and skill level of the least experienced rider and the greenest horse. And on the other hand, green riders and/or green horses should choose their trail mates carefully and with knowledge that they may slow up or restrict the ride somewhat.

We all probably know people that we would rather not ride with, if not for their personality then for their trail manners. I used to work with an individual who was prone to letting the reins drap over his horse’s neck while he played with a cell phone, a radio or whatever and his horse would routinely bump into others. Over a period of just a couple years this individual was thrown or became unseated twice, breaking ribs the first time and a femur the second time. I am saying this not because of his bad horsemanship, but his general inattentiveness that posed safety risks to himself and others. So another bad trail habit is a rider that is a danger to him or herself, potentially leaving the group with a casualty to care.

And while I’m writing about this character,….one time I was trying to get down a steep embankment to stop and checkout a truck and cattle trailer who were not scheduled to be in a grazing unit. I told my partner let me choose a path, give me some room and follow me down. I chose a path that I thought he and his horse could handle. Well follow me down he did, ……..right on my horse's butt, but he couldn't rate his horse and ran into me almost causing a major wreck. So, the bad habit here is not controlling your horse, riding too close or up into another horse. Good way to get kicked,….by both the horse and the other rider!

It is no surprise that horses have a herd mentality and sometimes see increased separation as something to worry about. It is the responsibility of the rider behind not to run up into or crowd the horse in front. If the horse in front is prone to kicking then it should be wearing a red ribbon and that rider should mention this horse's kicking trait at the beginning of the ride to all.

Secondly, if you have buddy sour horse in your group be considerate of riding off and causing that horse anxiety and possibly increasing danger to the rider. Sure there needs to be a minimum level for a horse and rider for the trail, but often the trail is a good training ground for green horses and riders. If you accept that horse and rider with your group on the trail, then I would think it is implied that there is responsibility to all horses and riders as well.

If a green rider and horse has to stop for any reason, it be courteous for the others, or at least some of the others to stop and wait.  A green horse stopping by himself and seeing the herd leave may become anxious and hard to control for a green rider.  And if the inexperienced rider allows that anxious horse to catch up   at his own speed, regardless of the rider, than that horse is learning some bad habits, one of which is letting him buy into that anxiety that he is in danger and has to catch up.  If a green horse is like this then maybe the best thing to do is to not set him up for failure by leaving him behind.   It might be easier to teach that horse to think and be brave on easier to acheive things rather than to be seemed to be left behind on the trail.  It would also be the responsbility of the green rider to ask the others to wait.

Another common bad habit is for a rider in a group to suddenly lope off and possibly spooking other horses, or to run up on a group unexpectedly. It would be good manners to ask the group if they mind you loping off. One way would be for the group to stop and let the rider walk off a ways, then lope away. In fact we do this quite a bit and call it leap frogging. It’s good training for the horse who stays behind so when you ask him for a jog or a lope, it gives you a chance to rate him and get him used to those cues, as opposed to running full out to catch up.

One more hard to put up with habit is for a rider, whose horse cannot stand still, to be close to others when everyone is stopped, then his horse is constantly moving around pushing into other riders and their horses.  Have you ever seen one rider's horse standing right next to another horse, turning into the other horse and getting his head through the other horses reins?  
For more advanced riders riding in a less experienced group, you can still have an enjoyable ride by working on communication between you and your horse,…..work on lightening your cues,…..get in back of the group and work on two tracking,….jogging circles,…..walking collected,....or whatever.  The list of what you can do is basically endless.  This can turn a boring ride into a good training session. 

A lot of problems can be alleviated up front by the group agreeing on how they are going to ride. I guess that’s called communication, between humans and horses, and humans and humans.   Of course, there are also non-verbal communications, like those looks my wife gives me, which makes me want to be in Central America or some other place far away. Safe Trails. 

Friday, August 17, 2012

Cowboy Humor - Bottle Refunds

A Texan, a Californian, and a Nevadan were out riding their horses, when the Nevadan pulled out a bottle of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale took a long draw, then another, and then suddenly threw it into the air, pulled out his gun and shot the bottle in midair.

The Californian looked at the Nevadan and said, "What are you doing? That was a perfectly good bottle of beer!! The Nevadan replied, "We make that beer in Nevada,...there's plenty of it and bottles are cheap.

A while later, not wanted to be outdone, the Californian pulled out a bottle of champagne, took a few sips, threw the half full champagne bottle into the air, pulled out his gun, and shot it in midair.

The Nevadan couldn't believe this and said "What did you that for? That was an expensive bottle of champagne!! The Californian replied, "In California there is plenty of champagne and bottles are cheap."

A while later, the Texan pulled out a bottle of Wild Turkey 101 sipping whiskey.  He opened it, took a sip, took another sip, then chugged the rest. He then put the bottle back in his saddlebag, pulled out his gun, turned, and shot the Californian.

The shocked Nevadan said "Why in the world did you do that?" The Texan replied, "Well, in Texas we have plenty of Californians and bottles are worth a nickel."

Monday, August 13, 2012

Managing Mecate Reins

I received many e-mails about riding with Mecate's. I'm chalking that up to the new found popularity of trail riding and the American Competitive Trail Horse Association (ACTHA). There is no mystery to Mecate's, they are simply one piece or continuous reins which some know as roping reins, although they have a built in lead or get down rope.  It is more common now to see Mecate's made from rope, such as yacht braid, as opposed to the traditional horse hair.

When asked me how to hold the reins I am not trying to be a smart aleck when I reply "pretty much the same as you would any one piece reins." At this stage of my life I believe that making things simple is usually the best way to do most things. And if thats makes me a simpleton, then so be it.  In fact, I'm pretty sure my wife refers to me as "the simpleton" who resides in her house.

Anyway, I shot a couple of short videos to demonstrate how I hold and manage Mecate reins which I make out of 7/16ths inch or 1/2 inch dimater yacht braid or rapelling rope. I tend to use about a seven and one half foot long reins, counting the slobber straps.  I hold the reins together in one hand, with about a 14 to 18 inch loop of excess reins, and my hand generally down, knuckles up and palm pointing towards the horn of the saddle. This is what is comfortable and works for me.

I think a common mistake is to have the reins too long where your hand or hands have too much reins to manage and you could run out of room trying to make contact through the bit. In the video below, I'm riding Roy, my old team roping horse, who I like to talk about because he's such a good horse. Twenty eight years old now and having overcome a broken broken coffin bone on a back foot, he's pretty much been a children's and novice horse for the past 8 years. So now I ride him gently and ask little of him.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

General George Crook - Indian Warfighter

Born 1828 and died 1890, General George Crook was considered the Army's greatest Indian fighter. It is by no coincidence that he maximized use of Indian Scouts, particularly members of the particular Indian Nation he was fighting.

General Crook earned his reputation as a relentless enemy of the Indians however personally he had a healthy respect for Indian culture and was in turn respected by the Indians.

Crook graduated from West Point in 1852 and spent the next several years in California and Oregon fighting Indians. It was here he first not only developed his expertise in irregular warfare but learned how to integrate scouts and local volunteers into his military campaign plans.

In 1861 the outbreak of the Civil War brought Crook back to the east where he participated in battles, most notably the Second Battle of Bull Run and Chickamauga. After the war, Crook was assigned back to the West and against Indian tribes again,....this time fighting the Paiute. Because of his successes, Crook was assigned to pacify the Arizona Territory where beginning in 1871 he fought Apache attempts to stay off designated reservations.

It is here in the Apache campaign that Crook's reputation soared, being relentless and successfully integrating Apache and White Scouts (notably Al Seiber and Tom Horn) into his hunts for Apaches renegades.  Crook became to be known by the Apache as "Gray Wolf" and for his honest treatment of the Apache during capture and negotiations.  Honest meaning honest like a horse because you knew what to expect from Crook.

 In 1875 General Crook was transferred to the Northern Plains first to protect and remove Gold miners who illegally entered the Black Hills to prospect and subsequently incurred Indian attacks by the Lakota (Sioux).

In 1876, he led one of several columns against Sitting Bull's Lakota and Cheyenne bands, however be forced to retreat at the Battle of Rosebud while Custer's 7th Cavalry unit was essentially wiped out.

In 1882 Crook again returned to Arizona to go after Chiricahua Apaches who had fled the reservation. This band was led by Geronimo, who conducted a very serious guerilla campaign against the white settlers.

In 1886, General Crook was replaced by General Nelson Miles, a man with little respect for the Apache or Indians for that matter. General Miles finally captured Geronimo and exiled him to an internment camp in Florida.

The campaign against Geronimo and the Chiricahua was Crook's last military campaign. He ended his career being an advocate for the Indian Nations and lobbying for fair treatment for his former enemies until he died in 1890.


Friday, August 3, 2012

West Texas Dust Devils

And to think I used to chase Dust Devils on Horseback. I think I'll now stick to chasing the occasional coyote instead as a recent Dust Devil went through my property picking up a set of bleachers and throwing them into the round pen.

The bleachers are heavy enough to easily be a two man carry so I have some new found respect for the power of these mini-size tornados. The bleachers didn't quite make it over the panels so I was left with the job of straigthening the panels and connectors.

When it was all said and done, I had to remove one panel that was damaged too much. Anyway, don't ride into a Dust Devil. Maybe I'm the only person who didn't know that.