Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Tracking Questions from Readers

"When measuring stride length, do you go from the heel of one print to the heel or toe of the other print?"

I measure stride length from the toe of one print to the heel of the next. Using a stride stick, also called a tracking stick, I can mark the stride length I'm tracking and if I can't find the next sign easily, the arc that the stride stick makes from the toe of the previous track narrows down where to look for the next sign. My stride sticks are 1/2 inch oak dowels, 36 inches in length. You can make one in the field with any decently straight stick at least 18 inches in length.  You can mark measurements by making notches on the stick.

And what am I looking for? Any flattening, disturbance, regularity or color change.

Using a rubber band or a tight fitting rubber washer is a good way to mark the measurements on your stride stick.  With more rubber bands or washers, you can also measure and mark width in the ball of foot; heel width or length for broken heels or raised heels. Half inch rubber washers will last longer than rubber bands and are easier to move when changing measurements.

In the picture below it appears that I am measuring from heel to heel, but look for the black rubber washer on the stride stick. It is located at the top of the print in front of me (see arrow). The end of the stick now can create an arc so I know where the next stride should be.

It's six of one, half dozen of another if you measure heel to heel or toe to heel. I was taught, 30+ years ago, to measure from toe to heel so that's how I do it...........oh, and sorry for taking three paragraphs for a question that could have been answered in one sentence.

"Can you go into more detail about "Pressure releases" and why or how they are important to tracking?"

When an object such as a human foot or animal hoof hits the ground, it disturbs the ground. It may be so subtle as to be undetectable by the naked eye, but it can compress, or gouge, or leave a regularity such as pattern or a line not seen else where. Disturbed dirt and bruised vegetation can provide a color change to indicate passage.  This is the flattening, disturbance, color change or regularity I'm talking about.

As the foot or hoof pushes off to leave the ground, that release also impacts on the disturbance left behind,  much more so in softer ground than in rocky, hard ground. The weight, speed and angle of the foot or hoof leaving the ground also influences what that pressure release looks like, often providing a clue as to what the human or animal was doing.....increasing stride and therefore speed, jumping side ways, stopping abruptly, looking up, moving with a leg injury, and getting tired are some things you can often tell from reading a pressure release.

So to answer your question, reading pressure releases are not critical to being able to cut sign or track. It just gives you more insight to your target, it's condition and what it may be thinking or doing.  Just one of many factors to consider.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

What to Look for in a New Horse

Kirk wrote in and asked: "Can you provide some tips or detail what you look for when 'shopping' for a new horse? Once gender, size, breed is determined, what do you specifically look for? Reason for asking, my first horse purchase was less that great, which taught me some great lessons. The horse has an incredible mind, but has limitations on his front end -that's for another question on another day."

Great question Kirk,...I don't know if I can begin do justice in answering it. One of the best places to get a really good young horse is the numerous ranch horse sales. Ranches such as the 6666, Pitchfork, Haythorn, Wagon Wheel, WYO, and a host of others will sell off geldings that they have been using (and training) to the public. These ain't your local sales barn horses. However, making to one of these sales may not be possible for most people. There are many production horse farms that breed for performance events such as reining, cutting, etc. So barring the option of buying from a ranch horse sale or from a large breeding operation, that leaves buying from a private owner or a small horse operation.

First question I'd get an answer to is what do I want to do with a new horse. Am I looking for just a trail -pleasure horse? Maybe a stout, solid horse that can take me up into the mountains for hunting and maybe packing? Is this going to be an arena roping horse? What you want this horse to do should not only impact on the size and chacteristics of what you are looking for, this horse but it's breed as well. Color is way down the line, but it's nice to get a good looking horse.  So I think purpose comes before gender, size and color.  

A Vet check on a prospective purchase and having your farrier look at the horse's feet are good things to do if they are available and if you can pay for it.  AVet check can reveal things like subtle chronic lameness or previous injuries doing a flexion test on the horse's legs.  Maybe you have a knowledgeable friend you can take along to look at prospects - a second set of eyes can help you make a better decision.

I had a Vet Check done on a roping horse prospect years ago.  The vet told me the horse has a heart murmur and he recommended against purchase.  I was convinced that the horse's problems were associated with a lack of nutrition, so against the Vet's advice I bought him.  One of the few times I kept my own counsel and it paid off.  That horse was Roy who I unfortunantly lost to a broken leg not too long ago.  He's the horse in the foreground of the picture above.

The second question I'd ask is why that person is selling the horse. Listen closely to what they say and don't say when you ask this question, and, unfortunantly you will have to read between the lines and take the answers with a grain of salt in most cases.

Some times you can get a great horse that was originally purchased for children who no longer ride, or the owner got too old or has physical problems that don't permit riding anymore....or in today's market, the owner can't afford to keep a horse anymore.

Visually when I looking at a horse I start looking at the overall conformation. What the general body score is. The head being proportionate to the body; not too long or short of neck; the neck not tying in to the chest way too low or too high; what the withers look like - they could be practically non-existant or of medium height or even really high; the length and straightness of the back. Does the overall look of the horse, including his teeth, match which what I am being told the age of the horse is.  Is there any evidence of previous injuries. 

I look at the front and back ends to see if the horse is too narrow based and if the horse looks to be knock kneed or bow legged. What does his hip and overall muscularity look like.

What does his feet look like? Is there too sharp or too narrow of an angle from pastern down the front of the hoof. If so, is this because he was trimmed too long in the toe or did the leave too much heel.

Dished or concaved hooves may be a sign of previous founder and therefore some internal hoof issues that may make him unsound for what you want him for. Is the hoof flaring at the bars? Does the hoof and frog appear to be balanced? What do the hoof walls look like? Are they really thin or do they have a healthy thickness. Sometimes, if a horse is on non-consistent and/or low quality feed the hooves will grow down from the cornorary band with ridges. Speaking of feed, poorly fed horses can be a lot different once they get regular, quality feed.

If everything else is acceptable on the horse except maybe feet in poorly maintained condition, sometimes conistent and good quality feed, and good farrier care, can fix that within 9-12 months. All these considerations is why sometimes paying a farrier to check out a prospect horse can pay off. There are some foot problems that can be migitated with good farrier care and can make that horse functional for you, but there is only so much even the best farrier can do and they can't fix conformational defects.

The owner should allow you work work the horse on a lunge line or in a round pen, and ride the horse. It would be a good idea to find out what Veternarian and Farrier have seen this horse and ask them what they think of this horse.

I would ask to see Vet records on this horse. Owners who don't regular vaccinate or worm their horses maybe be giving you a horse that is going to cause you problems real soon.  Having said all of the above, I like a stout, shorter horse in the height range of 14.3 to 15.1 hand high with a short back, and I prefer geldings that are bays or sorrels. 
Good luck to you Kirk. I'll leave you this little of bit of truth in humor.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Train or Ride Your Horse?

Shari wrote to me and said that she was riding with a small group of friends and someone in the group mentioned that is not always wise to train your horse, that sometimes it is better for the horse just to have an easy ride. Shari asked me if this is something I subscribe to and if so, do I have a schedule or recommended ratio of time of training to just riding time.

I don't differentiate riding and training, least I don't think I do. I think that everytime we are with our horses it is some type of training, whether we are on the ground, leading them on a halter, or being on horseback. How can it not be?

Lets say you take your horse out for a short trail ride with no intent to do anything but just enjoy being horseback. Wouldn't you still correct your horse if need be? And if he doesn't need any correction, wouldn't you be reinforcing whatever he was doing right, be it stopping, or backing, or moving his hind or front end over, side passing, etc.

Maybe you don't have time to ride one day so you are just in your horse's pen asking him to move over while your pick manure,...asking him to back up as you throw feed, ....maybe you are askimg him to drop his head while you put on or remove a fly mask. This may all be things our horse does well but still has some element of training or reinforcing behavior.

I think that person you were riding with meant, more or less, that you have to be careful not to sour your horse, which I whole heartedly agree with.

Imagine a barrel racing horse that when out of his pen only does barrel patterns at full speed. Nobody could blame that horse for being a little sour and not be looking forward to coming out of the pen if all they did was run barrel patterns.

I knew a 20+ year old horse that was yanked out of his stall Friday and Saturdays nights to be trailed to local ropings where two young guys would get 8 or 10 runs each off the same horse. Then that horse would be trailer back to put in his stall for the next 5 days and the routine would start a over again. This was not a fair deal for this old horse. Pretty soon that horse associated getting in the trailer with the work that followed and became trailer resistant.

In fact, I would think that a change up of routine does a horse good. A trail ride for a hunter -jumper, team sorting for dressage horse, obstacle training for a roping horse, etc. Call it cross training, I think it all help those horses become better, safer horses.

Even when you do ride it doesn't mean that each and everytime you work that horse until he is all tired and sweated up. I think you can do good things for a horse's mind by stopping short as long as it's on a good note, even if it is a 10 minute ride, then put him up for the night. I think this gives that horse a release and keeps him fresh, both his body and mind. This can simply be pulling the horse from the stall and grooming him then putting him back.

There is nothing wrong with, and everything right with a easy trail ride, but it still offers many chances to re-inforce some aspect of training and behavior,....two tracking around obstacles, a turn on the forehand, walk to trot transitions, reacting to neck rein pressure......really about anything. You don't need to make it a big deal. I am not good enough to produce a finished horse in my lifetime, although I am sure as heck enjoying the journey (most of the time) as will continue to as long as I consider what's fair for my horses.

I hope this made some sense Shari. This was one of the harder things to articulate. I think you are thinking what's best for your horse so you'll do just fine. Safe journey to you.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

4 Men, 13 Horses and 3,000 Miles - The Unbranded Project

If you haven't been keeping up with this incredible journey you are missing something you may never see again until the Unbranded Documentary Movie is produced.

This is a story of four amazing young men, Jonny Fitzsimons, Ben Thamer, Thomas Glover and Ben Masters and 13 Mustangs traveling 3,000 miles from Arizona through Montana and planning to arrive at the Canadian border in September. This is through some of the roughest terrain you can find. Currently they have covered about 2,000 miles of the planned 3,000.

You can follow this adventure and see the lessons they learn on the Unbranded Blog hosted by Western Horseman. The pictures are awesome. There is also a very good article on these men and their project in the May issue of Western Horseman.

The video below is a teaser on the movie project, Unbranded The Film.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Senate-Passed Farm Bill Excludes Veterinary Amendment

by Dr Ashley Morgan, Assistant Director, Governmental Relations Division, American Veterinary Medical Foundation (AVMA)

In early June, U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kansas) and Angus King (I-Maine) introduced the Veterinary Medicine Mobility Act as Senate Amendment 1144 (SA 1144) to the Senate’s version of the Farm Bill. Though the amendment did not ultimately get included in the Senate’s final version of the Farm Bill , it did gain more attention among the senators, successfully garnering additional endorsements by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.). On June 17, Sens. Moran and King reintroduced the bill as S. 1171.

The Veterinary Medicine Mobility Act aims to amend the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) to allow veterinarians to carry some medications—used for pain management, anesthesia or euthanasia—beyond their registered places of business. The Drug Enforcement Administration, which enforces the CSA, has called for a statutory change to fix the law, but until then, the agency continues to inform veterinarians in several states that they are not permitted to carry their controlled substances beyond their registered locations and are in violation of the law, leaving veterinarians concerned.

Adding to the confusion, AVMA learned that DEA’s Congressional Affairs Office had actively informed Congressional offices on Capitol Hill in May that the amendment was unnecessary. DEA purported that they already allow veterinarians to transport and dispense controlled substances wherever they need to within states within which the veterinarians are licensed. This message is a contradiction to what the AVMA, state veterinary medical associations and many practitioners have been told by the DEA’s Office of Diversion Control and DEA field offices. And, as recently as early May, DEA field offices have continued to inform veterinarians that they need to register farms where they want to dispense and administer controlled substances.

In addition, DEA’s Congressional Affairs Office has not clearly articulated to veterinarians how they should handle registering their controlled substances in states where they are licensed to practice, but do not have a principal place of business, such as a veterinarian who lives on the border of a state and may, in fact, practice in two states. This is an issue that requires clarification and remains of utmost importance to the

In response to DEA’s recent communications, AVMA’s Governmental Relations Division requested a meeting with the DEA in early June to clarify its stance on the issue, but the meeting has been denied. Similarly, U.S. Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.) is joining with several other members of Congress in a request for information from the DEA on this issue.

Given the continued confusion as to how the CSA should be carried out, AVMA continues to support legislation that will remove all ambiguity and will provide better clarity to veterinarians who need to use controlled substances away from their principal places of business.

We ask that you remain engaged on this issue. Please contact your Representative and Senators in support of the Veterinary Medicine Mobility Act (H.R. 1528 / S. 1171) if you have not done so already, and urge your colleagues and clients to do the same.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Horse Slaughter Approved

Writing and posting articles like this wins me no friends.  From my ranching friends who think wild horses and burros need to be treated as varmints and destroyed, to other friends who think wild horses and unwanted domestic horses should be cared for until a natrual death, matter what the cost.  I think the solution is in the middle.  We need a way to humanely put horses down - that means kind and gentle to yet another group of my friends who don't read nor write very well.   I wish all horses could have a fair life and a natural death, but that is just too unrealistic.  Especially in a battle for dwindling resources - land and money.  

The Associated Press is reporting that Federal officials have cleared the way for horse slaughter plants to begin operations once more by granting a Roswell, New Mexico company's application to convert it's cattle processing facility into a horse processing plant. The next step is for the U.S. Department of Agriculture to send inspectors to the plant.

While the U.S.D.A. has granted this request and have requests from other proposed horse slaughter plants in Iowa and Missouri, the U.S.D.A. is moving forward with a a push for an outright ban on horse slaughter, and the Obama administration's budget proposal for the upcoming fiscal year eliminates funding for inspections of horse slaughterhouses, which would effectively reinstate a prohibition on the industry puting us right back where we started seven years ago when funding for inspectors was removed therefore shutting these plants down.

The slaughter of horses to produce meat for human consumption and dog foods is an emotional issue on both sides.

Supporters of horse slaughter stand by a Federal GAO report from 2011 that contend that horse abuse and abandonment since horse slaughter was banned have increased. Mainly from people who have a increasingly hard time with the financial burdens of horse care and management and simply have no recourse to euthanize their horses. Most people won't shoot their horses and the costs for a Veternarian call and euthanasis begin around $200.

I wrote about a big case of horse neglect here in the El Paso area some time ago. It was an atypical case where I believe a few grubby, unsrupulous people tried to turn a profit on shipping a large number of unwanted horse to Mexico for slaughter and once they ran afoul of government and animal health regulations and delays which cost them unanticipated fees for holding pens, they just turned these horses out to fend for themselves in desert areas without feed nor water. Without a horse salughter option in the U.S. we'll see more of these dirt bags in the future.

And while it would also be honest to say that people who can't afford to provide a fair life to a horse shouldn't own one, most of these horse owners don't set out mistreat horses they just get into a financial position where they can't afford to provide a fair life to a horse.

Opponents to horse slaughter point to the often inhumane treament for horse bound for domestic horse slaughter, from the sale barn, through transport to euthanizing these horses. Furthermore they point to drug laden and other wise tainted meat from these slaughtered horses. Among the opponents are the Humane Society of America, Front Range Equine Rescue and the America Wild Horse Preservation Campaign.

New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez, a self described horse lover, who I highly respect, said "creating a horse slaughter industry in New Mexico is wrong and I am strongly opposed." As much as I love horses there simply has to be a method to dispose of unwanted, unmarketable and older horses. This process has to have the priority of treating these horss fairly and humanely from sale to transport to slaughter. It is not feasible to provide natural end of life care to all these horses.

I am more so in the camp of New Mexico Land Commissioner Ray Powell, a veterinarian, who is calling on local, state and federal leaders to "work together to create solutions and provide sustainable funding to care for or humanely euthanize these unwanted horses. Continuing to ignore the plight of starving horses, creating a new horse slaughter plant, or exporting unwanted horses to Mexico won't solve this problem."

If you have seen the current situation like I have, horses jammed into stock trailers heading to Mexico for an inhumane death but not before they are starved and mal-treated, then you may start to think about horse slaughter being necessary, albeit in a humane process from start to finish.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

19 Hotshots Gave The Last Full Measure

On the 237th Birthday of this Nation it is fitting to remember the type of Americans who risked all to create an idea that a cause if worth dying for.  Our most recent losses of this type of spirit are the nd and those are In Memory of the 19 Lost Hotshots Most of the Nation has heard or read about the 19 Hotshots who perished fighting a wildfire near Yarnell, Arizona on Sunday 30 June 2013. This was the single greatest lost in wildlands firefighters in 80 years.

The 19 men were out building a fire break with hand tools on one flank of this lighting sparked fire when strong winds from a thunderstorm suddenly turned the flames back in their direction. They apparently were overtaken by flames in a matter of seconds before they had a chance to seek shelter. The wildfire killed 18 of 20 members of the Granite Mountain Hotshot Crew. The 19th dead firefighter was from another group.

The Hotshots are elite teams of firefighters who march into remote wildfires to battling raging wildfires that threatened people and property. These are volunteers who must pass a selection and recurring training courses not only to be accepted but to remain on the teams.  The Hotshots are simply some of the best this Country has to offer.

As a Army Range Rider I had to deal with wildfires in the BLM grazing units. The largest fire I
worked was about 6,000 acres destroying not only cactus, yucca but fences, waterlines and the grass
that ranchers counted on and threatened cattle as well.  I had another Army Range Rider and two
BLM Cowboys working to control this fire, as well as a two man Fire Brush Truck from the nearest
Fire Department laying down a wet line when we determined we would not be able to control the
spread of the fire.  I requested help on US Forest Service radio and requested a Hotshot Crew on
scene. A couple hours later, through the smoke from the fire I saw the line of yellow jacket wearing
Hotshots approaching our fire from the opposite end, and just like a choregraphed dance they split
into two units and went directly to containing the fire.  They had walked in the last several miles
and with nothing but what they carried, then they put this growing fire out and were ready to go to
the next one.   It was impressive to say the least.

The Yarnell fire in Arizona which cost these Hotshots their lives has burned through 8,400 acres and
none of it is contained as of Tuesday 2 July. There are 18 engines, eight support water tenders and a
total of 500 personnel on the scene. An estimated 200 homes and other structures burned in Yarnell.
A heavy toll of property and an unbearable toll of lives especially for the families who lost fathers,
husbands, brothers and sons. 

The fallen have been confirmed: Eric Marsh, Anthony Rose, Kevin Woyjeck, Chris MacKenzie, Scott
Norris, Clayton Whitted, Travis Turbyfill, Jesse Steed, Robert Caldwell, Dustin Deford, Sean
Misner, Scott Misner, Garret Zuppiger, Travis Carter, Wade Parker, Joe Thurston, John Percin,
William Warneke and Grant McKee.

Please keep their families in your prayers.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Mechanical Hackamores or More Control?

Kacie made a comment on a post concerning Bosals and Hackamores: "I have borrowed a mechanical hackamore to try on my Haflinger. I am riding her in a wonder bit now. She plow reins and you really have to keep some hard pressure on her mouth just to keep her along the side of the road. She also can be ridden around the yard and drive way in just a halter and lead. So I am hoping that with this mechanical hackamore that I can get more control with less pressure as I normally have such as bad neck and shoulder pain from the pressure applied in her mouth the with whole ride. "

Kacie, you should NOT be experiencing pain in your neck and shoulders from managing your reins. This is mostly likely from fighting with your horse to direct her head, or trying to control her hed tossing as she is demonstrating a high level of discomfort with the bit.  I don't need to tell you that this makes for a miserable ride for both you and your horse.

I am not a fan at all of gag bits which it what your wonder bit is, upon rein pressure the mouthpiece will slide up further into the horse's mouth. These wonder bits come with many different mount pieces from a broken bit, like a snaffle mouthpiece, to one piece twisted wire of loose chain mouthpieces.

Sometimes when a rider has an issue with control it is not necessarily a good idea to go to a harsher bit or a device like a mechanical hackamore which can cause the horse greater pain. Lack of control may be from the horse trying to avoid the pain. I wonder if your Halfinger mare is bracing for the envitably pull on the reins and pain in the mouth. There could be a number of problems with your mare, and to be frank none of them her fault. The bit could be seated too deep, giving her no release when the reins are slack; could be a bit that is too loose and banging around on her teeth or bars; it could be she is just green broke to a bit in her mouth.

I also wonder if you have any issues with her when you ride her with a halter and a lead line. If she is okay with this maybe you can try a side pull, which is a bitless bridle with a noseband, where the reins attach to the side. 
While most of the side pull bridles will have a rope noseband, stiffer than a rope halter and therefore a little more harsher which will to aid in the pressure the horse, there are side pull bridles available that incorporate a snaffle bit to help the horse get used to carrying a bit and receiving pressure from the bars, mouth and tounge.  This would allow you to give clearer signals when "plough reining" or direct reining and work to be more subtle or lighter in your rein cues.

The mechanical hackamore can be a very harsh piece of equipment as it has a nut cracker effect between the noseband and the curb chain under the jaw. I have seen nosebands of mechanical hackamores range from plastic tube covered chain or wire to stiff rawhide. Usually mechanical hackamores have a significant shank where the reins connect providing the rider with a great deal of leverage. This can be a disaster for a green broke horse and/or a rider with left than soft hands.

What I would do is basically start her over in a snaffle bit and work her in round pen or arena.  If you are soft with your hands and provide clear signals, she ought to learn quicky to carry this bit and understand your cues.