Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Anniversary of Lt Col Custer's Last Stand

The Battle of the Little Bighorn, usually referred to as Custer's Last Stand, occured 137 years ago today on June 25th 1876. This battle has been made famous through many books, a few movies, and still retains many myths.  Hands down, the best book on the subject is the recent work by Nathaniel Philbrick called "The Last Stand: Custer, Sitting Bull and the Battle of the Little Bighorn".

The U.S. Army in the midst of the Plains Indians Wars sent several columns of Cavalry and Infantry to fix and destroy the Indians. Custer, for reasons probably pertaining to his vanity or ego about sharing what he thought would be glory and probably some disrespect for the Indians ability to fight a fixed battle, located a large Indian encampment on the Little Bighorn River the morning of June 25th 1876 and despite warnings from his Crow Indian Scouts concerning how large and therefore how many warriors he faced, Custer decided not to wait on the other columns, but to attack, fearing the element of surprise had been or would be lost.

The village the Crow Scouts spotted consisted of Lakota (Sioux), Northern Cheyenne and Arapaho warriors, women and children led by Crazy Horse, Chief Gall and Sitting Bull. Custer divided the 7th Cavalry, which consisted of 12 Companies into three forces: Three companies (Co A, Co G and Co M) under Major Marcus Reno; three comapnies (Co D, Co H and Co K) under Captain Frederick Benteen; and kept five companies under his own command (Co's C, E, F, I and L). The 12th Company, Co B, was commanded by Captain Thomas McDougall to guard the pack train and supplies.

Custer sent Major Reno to attack the Indian camp from the East and draw their attention while Custer rode around North of the camp to attack the camp from the rear (the West end of the camp) and prevent the Indians from escaping.

The Indians had no intent on escaping, even if they did, the warriors would have fought until the women and children were able to withdrawal. Major Reno was unsuccessful in pentrating the camp and was driven back sustaining heavy casualties. Lt Col Custer was discovered trying to circle the camp and was engaged on the move until heavy Indian forces pinned the largest portion of his command on a hill known as Last Stand Hill.

It was here that the majority of Custer's force, approximatley 210 men, were killed. Total casualties for the 7th Cavalry were 268 killed and 55 wounded out of a total force of 700 men. ...a stunning loss for the Army and a great victory for the Lakota, Northern Cheyenne, and Arapaho. A big loss for the Custer family as not only did they lose George Custer, but Custer's brother, brother in law and nephew were also killed.

Of course, the story of the Battle of the Little Bighorn would not be complete without the story Commanche, the mount of Captain Miles Keough who died with Custer. Commanche a veteran Cavalry horse was wounded several times by bullets and was found one or two days after the battle, badly wounded, but nursed back to health by surviving members of the 7th Cavalry. He has often been referred to as the only survivor of Custer's Last Stand, which wasn't true as there were other horses found alive. Commanche was described as a 15 hand Bay gelding, who like beer by the way, and was retired after overcoming his wounds, only to be used for cermonial purposes. Commanche died 15 years later and remains today perserved in a environmentally controlled glass case at the University of Kansas.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

You and Your Horse Shoer

I received an e-mail from kcadle about horseshoers. "Sir, I have an issue with my horse shoer. I am using a different horseshoer than the woman who place I keep my horse at. My shoer wants me to be on a six or seven week schedule which I don't necessarily agree with. My other problem with him is that sometimes he gets mad and whacks my horse. The woman who owns the barn tells me that I should get a new shoer. This is my first horse so I haven't much experience with horseshoers. Can you help point me in the right direction? Thanks. kc"

Howdy kc, I'll try to give you some things to consider and my opinions on a horse owner to horse shoer relationship. First of all this is a two way relationship. Yes the horseshoer works for you so you can fire him/her if you need to, but on the other hand the horseshoer may ask you to find yourself a different shoer if he/she feels you are asking him to do things he can't do or doesn't think should be done as that horse's feet and as it relates to his soundness and performance. The way that horse is trimmed or shod is a reflection of the shoer's competency.

Keeping your horse on a schedule is pretty vital to your horse being as sound as possible. My shoer comes in every six weeks during the warmer months and every eight weeks during the coldest months, as hooves will grow slower during cold weather. I have known horse owners who think they can skip a session and pick back the next scheduled session. This is a lose lose situation for the shoer as that horse is now walking around on feet that are getting too long, or flaring too much and that shoer risks someone seeing that horse and asking "Hey, that horse's feet don't look so good. Who is your shoer?" Do you think the owner is going to admit being negligent and leting his horse go 12 to 16 weeks without attention?

So the best deal for the horse is regulary scheduled trimming or shoeing. I would beware of the horseshoer who does not want to keep to a regular schedule, be it 6, 7 or 8 weeks.

As far as the shoer "whacking" your horse,....I think it is legitimate for a horseshoer to be up underneath that horse with a foot up and get a little upset when that horse truly tries to pull that foot away. I use my voice when a horse tries to take back a foot when I am cleaning, but have occasionally used my open hand slap that horse's butt to get his attention when he is impatient. Not much of an alternative since you shouldn't let the horse have his foot back as it teaches him and that he can take it back when he wants. Anyway, getting their attention should not be done out of anger.  Timing on correcting the horse is so important.  If that horse succeeds in pulling his foot then there is nothing to correct now except picking the foot back up and not letting him pull it away when he wants. 

Nobody should stand for anyone mistreating a horse.  One my Border Patrol friends fired their horseshoer, and rightly so, when he tried to hit a horse with a rasp.  This same shoer was fired by another friend of mine when he actually hit a horse with his rasp leaving a cut.  And I have fired a equine dentist when he tried kicking my horse in the belly for moving around too much - the dentist didn't give the horse enough sedative so the horse took exception to him being in his mouth with a file.    

But the horse trying to pull his foot back is not the horse's problem - it's the owner who should have made that horse safe and compliant for trimming and shoeing. Probably the biggest complaints from horseshoers, other than not getting paid on time, is that some owners think the shoeing they are paying for also includes training that horse.  So if you think about it, why should a shoer get paid the same for a solid horse that stands still, as he does for a horse that tries to pull his feet away, can't stand still and make it rough on the shoer?

Other common complaints from horseshoers are horses who continually move around, swishing their tails and hitting the shoer, and owners who make excuses for their horse's behavior. 

I think that in the best case you have a shoer who is patient with you and your horse; explains what he doing and why; sets a schedule with you, shows up when he is supposed to, and his work results in a sound horse. If you pick up and clean your horse's feet daily or almost daily, not letting him pull that foot away from you, you'll soon get your horse good about standing for shoers and that will result in an appreciative horse shoer,.....and a horseshoer who won't get into a position where he thinks he needs to whack the horse.

You  start by picking your horse's foot up and when he relaxes it, you set it down.  Even if this is just for a couple seconds.  Then build on that.  Pretty soon you'll have a horse that picks his feet up to give to you when you ask and stand quiet while his foot is being cleaned, trimmed or shod.

One other thing - many people are prone to dropping their horse's foot when they are done with it.  I like to give him a little warning by moving the foot towards the ground before I let go, or otherwise place his foot on the ground.  I think that if you just drop his foot when he is relaxed, the horse will soon learn to keep tension on his foot and misjudge when you are releasing it.  Dropping it when you are on a concrete shoeing stand can also chip up the hoof,...plus it's just kinda not fair to the horse. 

Good luck and safe journey.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Handgun for an Old Cowboy

I recently received this question from Walt about a suitable handgun for snakes and for personal defense:     "I am 63 years old and live by myself about 9 miles outside of town with my two horses. I keep my horses both in a corral next to the house and sometimes turn them out into a three acre fenced pasture. I saw a rattlesnake there two weeks ago. I ride three or four times a week up into the small mountain range north of my house. Saw another rattlesnake on the trail there. Lately I have had several vehicles come up my drive, two in the day time and one at night then turn around and leave. There have been some breakin's at some of the neighboring homes. The only gun I own is an inherited .32-20 Winchester rifle.  I don't even have a scabbard for it and probably wouldn't carry it most of the time.   I'd like to get a handgun both for two legged and no legged critters. Do you think it is reasonable to get a revolver in .32-20 or should I be looking to a different caliber? I don't want a automatic. Adios, Walt. "

Hey Walt, yes there are .32-20 caliber handguns. Smith and Weson as well as Colt manufactured single and double action revolvers in .32-20, also called .32 WCF. Smith and Wesson manufactured the Hand Ejector model double action revolver, while Colt made single actions on the 1873 pattern, as well as double action revolvers call the Police Positive. See picture above, from upper left going clockwise: Colt Single Action; Smith and Wesson Hand Ejector Model; Colt Police Positive; and another sample of the Colt Police Positive.

None of these are currently being manufactured but many are available at gun brokers on the internet. Some of these guns are going for $550 and upwards. A couple of these sites are:



If you are looking for a handgun to serve both as personal protection and for snakes, perhaps shooting snakeshot cartridges, and for personal defense then the double action revolver may be better suited for you. With the double action revolver, one pull of the trigger cocks then releases the hammer to fire a shot. The Double action revolver can be fired one handed which is handy when horseback so you can handle the reins with the other hand. The single action revolver has to be cocked manually for each shot, taking more time and pulling the gun off target in order to cock it unless you are well skilled with it or are shooting it with both hands and using the off hand, called the weak hand, to cock the hammer. Given the cost of .32-20 ammunition, I don't believe a person would be liable to shoot hundreds if not thousands of rounds in order to be decently proficient with it.

You could always go with a revolver in another caliber. Consider .38 special a marginal cartridge and a minimum caliber. With a .357 magnum revolver you could also shoot .38 Special through it giving you a better chance to find ammunition for it. Note: You can't shoot .357 Magnum in a .38 Special revolver. CCI makes shot shell (snake shot) cartridges for .38 Special.  I like a revolver in .45 Long Colt and double action revolvers in this caliber are hard to find, so I have single action revolvers (Ruger Vaqueros) chambered for .45 LC.  It gives me the capability to shoot regular cartridges, softer Cowboy loads, snake shot or blanks to train my horses to gun fire.  So you may also consider this caliber as well.  

By the way, you can visit Classic Old West Styles, among others to find a good scabbard for your Winchester rifle.

Hope this helps Walt, have a safe journey.  Oh, sorry about the title calling you an OLD Cowboy.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Another Anxious, Buddy Sour Horse

A anonymous reader left a new comment and question on a previous post - 'Anxious, Buddy Sour Horse': "I'm aware of all the exercises that can be used to cure a buddy sour horse. However, my 7 yr old gelding has gotten progressively worse and literally throws a fit. He will spin and jump with no warning when his current buddy is too far and has dumped me. Yesterday, he started running backward, got off balance and landed on his side with me still in saddle. Does anyone think he can be cured?"

I wouldn't give up on this horse yet. A 7 year old horse is still pretty young. In his point of view, he is not wrong trying to stay with the herd. The solution is to replace that safeness of the herd with safeness in being with you. I guess you would call it trust. He has to come to the understanding that being with you is as safe or safer as being with the herd, so you have to be his leader. I don't think that's something you achieve easy, nor once you do acheive a measure it, does it stays forever without being constantly re-inforced.

On some horses you may be able to achieve this with much less work than others but it's likely that riding or working once a week is going to get there, unless you willing to take years. It's also as likely that the buddy sour horse has some other issues like not respecting your space, maybe pushy to get at feed, not being able to stand still whether tied, or in hand at the end of a lead rope. Probably doesn't lead well,.....and maybe when in an arena the horse is anticipating at the gate - to name a few. So I think solving or correcting the horse in these other problems, always giving him a fair deal out of it, will help establish your leadership and building that trust.  I can't help but thinking that ground training is one of the most neglected aspects of horse training.  I would not take a horse out on the trail that does what you describe without a lot more ground work. 

So a badly buddy sour horse, I would think that taking him out on the trail with other horses and correcting his buddy sourness may not be starting from the beginning, and can even make it worse. Consider that you are riding with a group and your horse is more concenrned with staying with his buddies rather than listening to your cues. So you fall back aways as you double him, or trot circles then you trot your horse to catch up to the group, the horse is probably pushing against the bit, not rating well and ends up justifing his anxiety being away from the herd since he is working when away form the herd and trotting back to the herd is re-inforcing the need to hurry up and catch for safety.

Maybe part of the solution is working him on correcting the bad habits, in a round pen or an arena, getting him to move his feet when asked, getting him to stand still when asked. When around other horses close to the barn or in an arena I would try working him in close proximity to the herd and giving him a rest at the farthest point from the herd. This is similar to correcting the horse that anticipates at the gate. We've all seen or ridden a horse that wants to slow down, or in worse cases, drifts over to the gate. What do we do? We begin by being ready to keep him from breaking down (slowing his gait) at the gate, making that end of the arena work for him and giving him a rest at the far end of the arena away from the gate. But I think the key is riding this buddy sour horse quite a bit - like the old saying goes "wet saddle blankets make a broke horse".

Sunday, June 2, 2013

SaddleSkin Saddle Pad

Most of us have some predisposition to one type of saddle pad or another. Mine has always been to use felt, wool or fleece (sheepskin) pads. I never like the neoprene type pads as I thought they were a lot less comfortable to the horse. I have used the Impact Gel type pads which have close gel type impact reduction pads placed in strategic locations within the felt pad to add in the dispersion of the impact that the horse feels through his back with heavy loads and/or long rides.
In the Spring of 2012 I was exposed to a company that made a liner type pad designed to be worn between a law enforcement officer's body armor and the shirt. This material was designed to reduce the blunt force trauma caused by a bullet hitting but not penetrating the vest. The additional benefit was the surface cooling effect on the body. This product was called the CORTAC Trauma Attenuation and Cooling vest or panel.

The company started design on a saddle pad to take this technology and apply the trauma attenuation and cooling aspect to a horse's back. Even though I was pretty committed to felt or fleece pads, I thought a saddle pad of this type would be attractive to numerous riding groups such as rodeo speed events and endurance riders, and committed to ride and help with development and testing.

Throughout the late Summer and early fall, I rode a prototype on long desert rides, working in the arena and even sorting cows. While I had reservations on this pad because of the non-natural material, it's thickness (or actually lack of thickness), it never galled or sored my horses. I did not have a thermal measurement device so I could not measure the surface cooling effects on a horse's back, but from previous experience with the body armor version I knew that this worked pretty darn good.  The picture at top is the protoype Saddle pad which I used with a thin wool blanket.

I also figured out that the lack of pad thickness compared to many of today's pads actually gave a little more closer contact to the horse.  An additional benefit was this pad diminished the saddle's tendancy to slide as the horse got heated up.  Some rider's may not like the fact that you have to use an air hand pump to fill this pad.  But it just takes a minute or so and I have gone over a week of riding without having to put more air in.

The company finished testing and evaluation of the prototype, and has now produced a final version for the market and SaddleSkin was born.  SaddleSkinTM advertises that it delivers a custom-fit saddle experience and your horse will stay comfortably dry and cool under saddle with Advanced Impact ResistanceTM (AIR) Technology with the moisturewicking science of EverDry™. SaddleSkin’s design facilitates convective air flow between horse and saddle while its nanocrystal surface structure keeps your horse comfortably dry.

Most of us recognize that a poor fitting saddle can't be made to fit using pads and that there can be a general tendancy for riders to over pad.  When a saddle is over padded, it can make the saddle easier to slip and can place the rider out of balance.  It's hard to over pad using the SaddleSkin because of it's lack of thickness.  I know is my horses backs' are much less sweaty when I use my SaddleSkin pad.  Currently I alternate use of an Impact Gel pad and the Saddleskin pad.

SaddleSkin also states that "Outside air naturally flows between horse and saddle allowing body heat to escape as it is no longer trapped between horse and saddle. The metabolic heat generated by the horses is conducted into the inflated air chambers where it then naturally vents from underneath the saddle. The Nanocrystal Surface has super-hydrophilic properties preventing sweat from soaking the coat and the moisture barrier prevents sweat absorption into the saddle."

Visit the SaddleSkin website to see thermographic images demonstrating the SaddleSkin's ability to make an 8 to 15 degree cooler difference for the horse's back.