Monday, November 25, 2013

Horse Accepting of a Blanket

Dana wrote to ask a couple of questions of a horse in her care and blanketing. "Hello, I am taking care of my sister's 10 or 11 year old mare while she is recovering from back surgery. The nightly temperatures are dropping into the low 20's so I went to put a blanket on her horse but the horse won't have anything to do with the blanket. I'm sure she has had a blanket on before so I don't know what the problem is. Is it possible that she is trying to let me know she doesn't want or need her blanket on? Thanks, Dana"

I would ask your sister is the horse has worn a blanket before.  Doesn't make much difference now, but let's assume she has worn a blanket before then it would stand to reason it's your approach with the blanket. Walking straight towards her carrying or half dragging a blanket with the usual fabric noise may just be too much for her to stand still for right now, especially if she is unused to you. Maybe you can ensure your approach is less threatening ,...try approaching her indirectly and don't stare her down.

If the horse is showing anxiety or avoidance behavior when exposed to the blanket, maybe you can fold the blanket up into a small package and get her used to accepting that close to her, let her smell it, then slowly rub her with it on the neck then her barrel. Retreat, pause then try again and as she accepts that, unfold the blanket and make it just a little bigger.  Progress from there.

I think it's important to give her a little break in between increasing the size of the blanket as this is her it helps the horse think as opposed to reacting from instinct.   If you advance slow and only ask her as much as she can accept then soon you'll be ready to put the blanket on her. If the blanket has a buckle up chest piece then you may do well to unhook it so the blanket can be placed over her like a saddle blanket rather than slipping it over her head.

If you make a big production out of taking the blanket off then that could can undo some of the good.  You may have to unbuckle the chest strap the first few times before you take it off her.   If you pull the blanket off over her head then I'd try to bunch the blanket up on her neck to make it easy to pull off smoothly and quickly.   

As far as your sister's mare telling you she doesn't want or need the blanket,.... well, I don't know about that. A horse doesn't necessarily want or need a saddle and a rider as well, but they get to accepting that as long as we're fair about it. And as far as whether a horse needs a blanket or not,....ask 10 horse people and you'll get 11 opinions on blanketing horses.

My wife has a QH mare who seems to ask for her blanket. When my wife goes to grab the blanket off the stall door, the horse will walk towards her and drop her head. Asking for her blanket or just readily accepting what she knows is expected of her,....who knows for sure.

Here in West Texas we recently had a 20+degree change (drop) in nightly low temperatures and the weather front that brought those low temps also brought in some much higher humidity than normal and a pretty steady 20 mph wind brining in a wind chill factor, so I thought it prudent to put light weight blankets on my horses. 

My reasoning was during the big change to colder temps the horses would drink less water and have less blood to work the gut as they would need more blood for their extremities.   It wasn't just the cold low temps, it was the drastic change that I was mostly concerned about.

But like I said about there being many different opinions, I read this interesting article on thermoregulation in horses from Academia Liberti. While I believe both my intent and the intent from this article are to consider the horse and provide fair treatment, we obviously have different opinions.....and not just on blanketing.  Good luck to your sister, hope she recovers well and good luck to your blanketing efforts for her mare. If for nothing more, getting her to accept a blanket would be good for her.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Horse's Apology

I know that you have been a good owner. Kind and fair in my treatment. Giving me the time to accept what you ask of me. Providing me good hay and fresh water. Having my feet trimmed every 6 or 8 weeks. Floating my teeth every year. Putting a blanket on me when the weather is really cold. I appreciate the fly masks too.

But the reason I chewed off the valve stems on the trailer tires was that you kept me tied up for just too long to that trailer. Sorry about that.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Horses with Happy Feet - Won't Stand Still

I received two recent questions on horses that can't stand still. One on a horse who won't stand for saddling and another horse who won't stand still with a rider on his back.

Joyce wrote: "Thanks for your videos and site. I have not seen a video on youtube about my problem. I have a 12 yr old mare. She will NOT stand still for saddling no matter what. She moves back and forth, side to side etc. I put the saddle on and boom it is on the ground before I can get the saddle even slightly secured. I have tried her tied and untied. I have made her move and move some more and then try it again to no avail. To saddle now, I do while she is eating her grain which is really not fixing the problem. Thank you so much. I know she has an attitude but need some ideas about this. Joyce."

I am glad you recognize the saddling while feeding your horse to get her to stand still is only treating the symptoms. And while feed issues can contribute to a horse's behavior, meaning too much feed, particularly too much high energy feed can make a horse seem kind of hyper. But your mare's issue is most like a lack of respect. No offense but she may just be a spoiled horse. This is common and not her fault. She is going to do what she thinks she needs to do.

I think you have the right idea about making her move around and I suspect you then offer her a chance to stand - which is making the wrong thing work and the right thing a rest. And while this lesson is absorbed by many horses, some take longer to learn this.

I would consider doubling down on my ground work and concentrating on helping her find respect. If you watch most trainers working with a troubled horse or a horse with some problems, you would see that horse being basically started over.....being lunged in a round pen; getting that horse to move his feet; getting that horse to focus on the human; generally making the wrong thing a bunch of work or pressure and the right thing generating an immediate release. Letting that horse stand tied and learning some patience that standing still is a good thing will most likely help as well.

KK e-mailed a request to help sort out a horse that won't stand still. "My horse, a five year old gelding, just can't stand still. He doesn't jump around, just wants to continuously move his feet. It's embarrassing when I'm with friends on horses and I have to try and control him as opposed to engaging in conversation. Do you have any ideas on how to deal with this? Thanks."

Hey KK, a five year old is still a pretty young horse especially if he has only been ridden a couple dozen times a year or so. The easy advice is that a lot of wet saddle blankets will make him a more seasoned horse and stop or lessen the moving around which is most likely a little anxiety.

But what you may do is not to try and control his movement and get him to stand still but to use that energy and have him work. In other words if he wants to move then let him move but under your direction. Have him soften his head and back a step; have him move his back end over - have him move his front end over. Side pass him a step or two in each direction. This is all good for him.

I suspect that if you do this repetitively it will most likely be good for him but help him find the rest spot when standing still when asked. Safe Journey to both KK and Joyce.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Lady rides horse to DMV

This will put a smile on your face. I saw this article on the news and thought to share it. Apparently a young lady named Ashlee Owens living outside of Richmond, Virginia had some problems getting her drivers license re-newed and rather than drive to the DMV office on a suspended license, she opted to travel (in part) on horseback, accompanied by her Blue Heeler. What doesn't come across in the article or video is that Ashlee had to have a pretty good horse to ride into a urban area with all the activity that she couldn't control. Read the article and watch the short video below. Look for the sign she hung on her dog, as she tied her dog and Sassy her horse,to a fence that said, "I bite, she kicks".

A trip to the DMV is not exactly something drivers consider a fun day, but how about if you rode up to the office on a horse? That's what one woman in Richmond, Virginia, did as a form of protest. Ashlee Owens, 26, had her license suspended after the DMV apparently said she did not provide proof of insurance. The suspended license made it illegal for her to drive from her home in Amelia all the way to Richmond, so she had a friend drive her there with a horse trailer attached. She then rode her horse, Sassy, up to the DMV office. She had her dog, Tuff, in tow as well. Owens said she sent all the necessary paperwork through regular mail and email, but the DMV did not receive it. She explained her struggle to WWBT NBC 12: "I've been trying for the past three days to get through to the DMV. ... I don't feel like I should be in this predicament at all."

After waiting a few hours and having the nearly $700 fee waived, Owens rode away from the DMV with her head held high. She's now a licensed driver — and someone who clearly knows how to get her point across.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Body Position Riding Down Hill

Dan wrote to me and asked "What is the proper seat position when riding down a steep hill? I have read 'lean back', 'lean forward', etc. (I) want to make it easiest and most comfortable for my horse".

Thanks for writing Dan and you're good to be thinking about your horse. While I may not know about "proper" seat position, I'll give you my opinion and some photos, sorry I couldn't give you a bigger or steeper hill right away, but the principles are the same.  Those mountains in the background are 20 miles away. 

I have to have an idea that the hill is safe before starting down it. I've been down some pretty steep and rocky slopes with Cholla cactus everywhere, hoping we get through it unscathed and holding my breath each time my horse's feet started sliding or the ground was giving way.

Its good to get your horse used to stopping on the top of the slope and allowing him to drop his head so he can take a gander at the hill you're about to ask him to go down. See photo at left.  As far as going downhill straight away or going downhill in a zig zag pattern - it would depend upon the steepness, presence of a path (or not) and obstacles along the way.

Hills can scare some riders, and some will make the mistake to take up slack in the reins or pull on their horse. This can pull your horse's head up, get him out of position,....cause him to be bracy and not allow him to see the ground like he should - nothing good comes from this.

You and your horse will have more control coming downhill if the horse can break at the poll and collect, bringing his hind end more up and underneath himself. This is hard to do, but it starts with the horse being soft. As you start downhill the horse needs a fairly loose rein, but you need to be able to rate him so it doesn’t become a run downhill.

I use a lot of small hills like in the pictures to get my horses used to stopping at the stop and walking down. And sometimes at the bottom, if it isn't too steep, I'll ask him to take a couple steps backwards.

I would suggest that leaning forward is not good. Puts too much weight on your horse's front end and making it likely that you come over his head if he stumbles. My body position going downhill is to lean back keeping my body relative to the sky as I am when I am riding on flat level ground. You'll end up putting a little weight in the stirrups with your heels down. Some riders may straighten their legs and some like me will like just a little bend in their knees.

Most of my saddles have a pencil roll on the cantle, so there is nothing really to grab onto, although sometimes I'll use my free hand to brace against the saddle horn. But if you are riding a saddle with a Cheyenne roll, it will provide a ledge which you can grab with your free hand by reaching behnd yourself - try not to twist your torso much. This would also come in handy keeping you from being propelled forward if your horse stumbled or his front end buckled.

I guess I could have just said "Don't Lean Forward, instead Lean Back" but nobody ever accused me of using a six words when I can use a hundred.  I'll try and get up into the foothills in the next couple of weeks for better photos or a video, until then I hope this helps Dan. Safe Journey.