Thursday, September 27, 2012

More Training for the Trail Horse

I was recently asked to bring a horse to a park to support a Law Enforcement Agency picnic. Many of the agents and mission support personnel had young children so they thought horse back rides and the inevitable picture taking would be a good draw for the picnic.

I easily said yes as this would give me a good chance to sack one of my horses out on all sorts of fearful things.

So on a Sunday late morning I arrived with Junior and rode him around the park seeing all sorts of things new to him: a rappelling tower with a group of people climbing and rappelling; baby strollers; volleyball courts with flapping boundary tape; picnic tables and canopies; a jumping balloon shaped like a castle complete with some screaming curtain climbers jumping around like wild banshees,..and all was good until we encountered a large bag sticking out from a pile of saw dust that had yet to be spread.

That flapping bag was the only thing that bothered my horse but it only took a minute or two to get him to drop his head onto it and when it was all said and over with I had him backing into it with the bag getting wrapped around a leg and he was okay with it.

Then it was time to let the kids pet, rub on and sit in the saddle on Junior for short ground led rides. With their parents there to confirm it was their child and to give permission, I ended up putting about 50 kids on Junior back for short rides and pictures taking.

In between groups of kids petting on Junior and wanting to ride him, Junior grazed on the park grass which he has only seen a half dozen times in the last 5 or 6 years. At the end of day I think I had just a little bit better of a horse, and a bunch of happy kids and their parents had pictures to prove it.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Accepting and Learning v Desensitization

Haironhide, now that's a great on-line name.  I once knew a pair of chaps named that.  Anyway Haironhide wrote and said that his horse doesn't seem to be getting better at accepting obstacles such as trash bags flapping around inside of trash cans or a tire laying on the ground. Haironhide also commented that he had been reading that too much desensitization can be bad for a horse.

I think it is theoretically possible to desensitize a horse too much, but I can't say I've ever seen it,....even something close to it.  While I know of some top hand horse trainers who have said they don't like the term "desensitizing", I think Haironhide hit on a better understanding of what we are trying to do with our horses when he mentioned the word "acceptance".

When you horse get's accepting of something when he previously was showing anxiety or reluctance, then that horse is learning to think rather than just react. I wrote back to Haironhide and said when faced with a scary object and a scary person his back jabbing him in the side with spurs, if a horse is forced to approach or go to or by that scary object, it does not mean he is accepting it.

For all we know that horse may think the rider is pushing him past, then away from the object because it is a danger. But in any event it was not a positive learning experience for that horse. It was surviving as opposed to learning.  One of my many faults that I continue to try to correct is to not be in such a big hurry, and to use a pause to help the horse learn.  And what he is learning is that he can think a situation.  I think this is diferent than becoming desensitized to it.

In the picture above I took Junior up to a pen full of Alpacas who he had never seen up close before.  You can see by his head set and ears forward that he had some concern about these strange looking, long necked creatures.  I asked Junior to step forward and when he was real uncomfortable, I allowed him to stop.  When his body language showed me his concern for these Alpacas was reduced, I asked him forward again.  This only takes a few minutes, if it takes that long.  But if it took longer than that, it's still worth it,..... letting your horse learn that he can figure things out,...learning that he doesn't always have to spook or bolt first then think secondly.        

Thursday, September 13, 2012

More Cowboy Humor - Get Off the Carousel

My apologies if this offends anyone. We all probably know someone who comes to mind when you read the card below. Some of the toughest and best hands I know drink themselves into a shorter life which is unfortunate.   But, they know what they are doing and approach life with more humor than most.  I just hope most of you can get a chuckle at this.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Feeding Bran Mashes

Cindy M wrote to me and asked: "Hello! Just read the Bran Mash article and was wondering if you give this bran mash to them instead of a meal? in between meals? We are pretty new to the horse world, but already have way too much experience with colic. Wondering if this might help. Thanks for the info."

Hey Cindy, thanks for writing. Giving your horse a bran in a mash is not necessarily a colic treatment, such as when they are exhibiting colic symptoms.  But it may be one of the things you should consider overall for your horse's health, particularly digestive help, and as a preventative measure for colic particular if you keep you horse in a sandy area and your horse may consume sand when it is picking up hay off the ground,....hence the name sand colic.

I give a weekly bran mash as one of my preventative measures for sand colic and for general digestive health. I use a little bit of molasses and corn oil to help the taste and I sometimes include a couple scoops of Sand Clear. I feed it an addition to regular feedings, usually equal time between feedings.

One of the best sources for Horse Nutrition is the book, Equine Clinical Nutrition, by Lon D. Lewis, Williams & Wilkins, 1995. This books states "While some people feed wheat bran to help with digestive health and a colic preventative, Bran has no laxative effect nor soften stools (manure) in horses, and that there is no evidence either way that bran mash can help prevent colic." As much respect as I have for Lewis’ work, I will remain one of those people who think a weekly bran mash is a probably a good idea.

Some people say that using corn oil is counter productive when mixing it with bran or any Psyllium product. I don't see that, especially with the small amounts of corn oil I use. Other people won't use molasses as it may spike the horses blood sugar,..again, I use very small amounts.

Bran is actually the ground up outer layer of a kernel of grain. Most bran available at feed stores is wheat bran or rice bran. The different being that rice bran has a much higher fat content and can more easily go rancid. Bran is a low density feed at about half or less the weight compared to the same volume of grains such as oats or corn. So the same volume of bran compared to its grain counterpart provides only half the digestible energy.

If I'm working a horse pretty hard or have to use him two pretty long days in a row, I may feed him a bran mash each day for it's energy value. Again, with just a small amount of corn oil and molasses to make it a little more palatable to the horse.   

Given the same weight (not volume) Wheat Bran actually provides slightly more digestible energy than Alfalfa, Grass Hay or Beet Pulp, but is actually lower in percentage of crude fiber.  But Wheat Bran is not something you can use to replace Alfalfa and Grass Hay.

Another thing you may consider doing is tuning in SmartPak's Webinar's on Horse Health issues.  SmartPak is a equine supplement distributor, and more than a distributor, as they customize supplement packets based on owner and horse needs.    

This Thursday, September 13th, SmartPak is hosting two Colic Prevention Live Webinars, at noon to 1pm the other at 7 to 8 pm.   This is advertised as a free one hour live webinar on Colic Prevention including smart tips to reduce your horse’s risk presented by Dr. Lydia Gray, Medical Director and Jessica Normand, Senior Director - SmartSupplements™ at SmartPak.

I use a pelleted feed product called Patriot from ADM Alliance Nutrition.  What I like about ADM is their motto is "Forage First".  ADM proclaims horses are classified as non-ruminant herbivores, with digestive tracts designed to best utilize good-quality forages....and that research shows that feeding programs relying too heavily on cereal grains, with limited forage, often result in health and performance problems.

ADM has a very good website with horse nutritional information and information on their seminars. You may want to bookmark this site and refer to the very good ADM articles on Horse Health issues.

I hope this helps Cindy,...Safe Journey. 

Monday, September 3, 2012

Horses Healing Children

Still with a sad heart from losing my old friend Roy who often was the first horse many children were introduced to and who brought a great deal of joy to these children, I read an article on how horses were helping heal children who were victims of abuse. The fact that the outside horses are good for the insides of people are no surprise to us,....still good to read about horses healing humans.

The core of the article is below, with the original article here.

Strawberry is the horse that bonded with one victim and helped launch Marley's Mission. The novel approach taken at a place called Marley's Mission is a rare insight into how abuse victims begin to recover from the most horrible of suffering. Marley's Mission may turn out to save kids who might otherwise have nowhere to turn.

The story begins with tragedy. In July 2009, a 5-year-old girl was brutally attacked in her home by a complete stranger. The man had attended a family picnic, introducing himself as the friend of a family friend, and he entered the girl's room after she had gone to sleep. Then he savagely raped the little girl, leaving her with her severe injuries. Her parents, completely distraught, took their daughter, left their home and never came back. The rapist, named Felix Montoya, was eventually sent to prison. But the girl's fate was potentially much worse.

Her parents tried intensive therapy of all kinds – talk therapy, art therapy, everything. Nothing worked. Even the best psychologists have trouble getting children to describe their feelings, especially when those feelings are so unbearable. So the therapist of this little girl, a woman named Ann Cook, began to think of other ways to get her to share her feelings. The girl loved a guinea pig, named Marley. And that led to another idea that changed not only the girl's life, but the lives of more than 160 other victims.

Press coverage of the assault and conviction drew an outpouring of sympathy and money. The family moved into a new house and bought their daughter a present: a horse named Strawberry. And soon something changed in the girl. She spent hours around the horse, petting him, feeding him and just walking around with him. The horse became a companion. And then a minor miracle took place.

Slowly, the girl began to speak. She talked about what she thought was going on in the horse's mind. And in doing so, the girl began to share what was buried inside her heart.

That proved to be the seed of a cause, started by the girl's mother, April Loposky. She teamed up with Gene Talerico, the assistant district attorney who prosecuted Montoya, and Cook, the therapist, to start a horse farm dedicated to helping victims of child abuse.

"You get to have a conversation about the horse with the child," Talerico says. "Instead of talking in first person, now we're saying, well, the horse is behaving this way because of this. The [children] superimpose their struggles on the horse. The horse's struggle becomes their struggles."

One year to the day after the rape, Marley's Mission opened. "We wanted it to go from a day of hurt to a day of hope," Talerico says.

That is what's happened. Marley's Mission was named "Best New Charity" in 2011.

"The strength of survivors was crucial," says Talerico. "It allows people to be buoyed by the courage of others. There are more people inquiring as to what we do and how we do it. When this was on the forefront and people were saying, ‘No more, this is no longer a secret,' the ripple effect of that is incredible."

Marley's Mission now has six therapists, 10 horses and four equine specialists. It serves approximately 80 children, at no cost to their families. On a typical Saturday morning, there are up to a dozen kids at the farm. There is no riding for the children, who are ages 5 to 18. Instead, they walk with the horse and care for the animal while both the therapist and an ever-present equine expert look on.

For one boy we'll refer to as "Vale," Marley's Mission has been life-changing. He was abused between the ages of 6 and 8, and he faced all kinds of hurdles to recovery, including an eating disorder. But Vale says he felt comfortable almost right away with one of the horses, named Lacy, and as soon as he got into the car for the ride home after visiting Marley's Mission last year, he turned to his mom and said, "I'm hungry."

Marley's Mission has used horses to build a connection with child-abuse victims. "The connection I had with that one horse was really awesome," Vale says. "I felt like I really got to know her. I didn't feel like it was just an animal. They really have a sense of how they affect people. They understand how the people are feeling. Around children, they have to be safer about where they are stepping. They can't actually understand ‘I'm sad today,' but they can tell by the way you act."

Vale is now 15, and he says he's "a lot better." He returned to the farm this summer to help out. He says Marley's Mission has not only allowed him to be more comfortable with his own feelings, but also to better express himself to other people.

The hard work of therapy shouldn't be diminished here; survivors of these heinous crimes will work to overcome their pasts as long as they live. But for victims and families, the idea that there is something that can be done to make a child feel better is the most reassuring feeling imaginable. When asked if equine therapy really works, Talerico is almost gleeful. "I've spend two decades doing this stuff," he says. "The successes of this kind of therapy are remarkable."

Marley's Mission is moving to a newer, bigger farm. Plans are to open it on the fourth anniversary of that unspeakable 2009 crime. The new land will be closer to the center of the state, to help children from a wider span of Pennsylvania.

And most importantly, the little girl who was raped that night is still healing. Talerico remembers seeing her in the hospital after the attack, desperately wondering what could possibly be done for a child so young and so hurt. He remembers the look on her face, but also the design on her hospital gown. It had unicorns and horses. "I guess it was fate," he says.

Go to Marley's Mission and donate if you're of a mind to.