Sunday, February 23, 2014

Equine Extravaganza Supports Perfect Harmony Horse Rescue and Therapeutic Horsemanship

Horse people from all over the country conduct local or regional type events each and every weekend simply for the love of horses. These event coordinators put in long hours, make phone call after phone call, coordinate set up and often do much of the labor themselves, mostly without any recognition at all.  Again they simply do it for the love of horses and these events benefit all through the education it provides.   

These events can be shows, competitions, clinics, trail rides or what I attended a couple weeks ago, which was the second annual Equine Extravaganza, hosted on 14 February by the Lower Valley Horsemen's Association (LVHA) of the greater El Paso, Texas area. This event was coordinated and ran by Vicki Maly of the LVHA featured a training demonstration, stallion showcase and bidding for breedings, a Therapeutic Horsemanship demonstration, an auction and raffle, and several vendors offering tack, related gear and western theme goods.  Event proceeds went to support a local horse rescue and Therapeutic Horsemanship organization.  

This year Vicki was able to bring in Rudy Lara of No Strings Attached Horsemanship of La Mesa, New Mexico to give a Cowboy Dressage demonstration.   That's Rudy in both pictures above, with his exceptionally trained Bay Horse.  While most of the people in the area probably have heard of Rudy, it would be an even bet to say that they came away with a higher regard for Rudy's horsemanship skills as he demonstrated tenants of Cowboy Dressage and talked to the crowd about understanding horses to enable a relationship that training can be built upon.  La Mesa, New Mexico is within the greater El Paso, Texas - Las Cruces, New Mexico area. Those people with training issues shouldn't hesitate in contacting Rudy Lara to help out.  You can visit Rudy's website here to get more information.  

Therapeutic Horsemanship of El Paso (THEP) demonstrated the how's and why of matching disabled people with horses to further rehabilitation or to just provide a quality of life to that person's that horses are uniquely suited to provide.  The THEP team in action in the picture at right. Their website is here.

The Stallion showcase featured three stud horses, including this Leopard Appaloosa in the picture above, whose owners auctioned off breedings which all went to support the THEP and Perfect Harmony Horse Rescue, a Chaparral, New Mexico based rescue organization, a 501(c)(3) non profit horse rescue and sanctuary, concentrating on older and/or disabled equine. 

And speaking of Therapeutic Horsemanship, the American Competitive Trail Horse Association (ACTHA) is hosting 1,000 competitive trail rides and arena obstacle competitions in March, to benefit the 850 Therapeutic Horsemanship centers in North America under the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International (PATH).  These rides are scheduled on March 15th and 16th all across the country and hope to raise $1 Million dollars for PATH.   If you are interested in supporting this in any way, so to the ACTHA site and find a ride near you and call the event coordinator.     

Monday, February 17, 2014

Arena Obstacles for Horses - The Basic Bridge

I have received quite a bit of mail in the last couple of months asking for some ideas for easy obstacles that can be used in a small arena for training or competition. I think this validates the popularity of arena obstacle competitions.

The American Competitive Trail Horse Association (ACTHA) recently developed a competitive event concept for arenas or small fields for rider's who do not have access to six miles of trail and six people who volunteer to be judges. ACTHA calls these ATHCA Arena Challenges (AOC's).

These arena obstacle challenges are really nothing new. Craig Cameron's Extreme Cowboy Association have been doing these for years, although I reckon many riders would find these events too challenging.

Whether or not you compete in or host a ACTHA challenge or Extreme Cowboy Association Race in an arena you can still set up obstacles for training,....or yourself and your horse, or for a group.  It'll help your horse learn to think and make a safer horse for the trail. 

Consider obstacles that have more than one use. Meaning an obstacle that you can negotiate in several different methods. My example for this article is the simple bridge.

The bridge in the video below is a simple re-inforced wooden pallet (wooden skid) using two additional pieces of 2 x 4 board to re-inforce the existing braces. Then a piece of plywood is cut to size and screwed down. At least 3/4 inch plywood is best to ensure a solid platform to bear the horse's weight. Wood putty can be applied over the screws to help keep them from backing out and catching on a horse's foot or shoe. It would be a good idea to inspect obstacles like this before use to make sure it's safe.

A double pallet (2 pallets high) could be constructed to make crossing it just a bit more difficult - it's going to be heavier and harder to move around, so consider this also. On some of my bridge obstacles, I have tied a rope to it so I can drag it around on horseback. It you attach a rope to your bridge, be sure not to include any loops that a horse can get his feet caught up in.

An even simplier bridge is just a plain piece of plywood. Have some caution, on whatever platform you use, that a horse's foot can't go through it. Worse case, a horse's foot goes through the wood and gets caught up in it.

So now you have a bridge for your horse to cross for one obstacle challenge. You could require the horse and rider to cross the bridge, turn around then cross again. You could stop your horse with all four feet on the platform. You could even have the rider count out loud to five to demonstrate the horse's willingness to stand still, on a loose rein, with all four feet on the bridge.

To could add a turn on the fore-end by having the horse put his front feet on the bridge then side pass a complete circle around the bridge. If a full circle is too much then maybe a quarter or half circle. For the turn on the fore end, ideally the horse's inside front foot, the foot opposite the direction the hind end is moving, stays in place (or relatively in place) as the pivot foot during the turn. In the video below, I'm taking a horse across the bridge, turn around then re-approach the bridge and ask my horse to put his front end on the bridge then side pass a circle keeping his feet in the bridge. Practically speaking, elevated turns on the ore end come in handy. There have been several times I've followed a slight trail on a steep slope only to have that trail peter out where I had to turn my horse upslope to turn around.

Lastly you could do the same with a turn on the hind end. Crossing the bride, the rider stops with the horse's back end on the platform then while keeping the back feet on the bridge, does a quarter, half or full circle turning on the hind end.....pretty much like the spin in a reining pattern.

I am going to do a couple more videos on simple arena challenges and try to have obstacles that are multiple use. For more information of arena obstacles and some videos on how they are judged, go to the ACTHA website.

Safe Journey.

Monday, February 3, 2014

ManTracking - Detecting Speed from Tracks

Rebel wrote me to ask "I found your website from the videos on You Tube. I am not into horses, but was looking for tracking information as I am helping to teach classes to Explorer and Boy Scouts. I also serve as a volunteer on a regional Search and Rescue (SAR) Team. Can you explain how to tell how fast the person who are tracking is going? Thanks, Rebel."

Aside from the obvious extended stride length, there are some pressure release clues. Any one of them could be helpful when the others are harder to discern.

Stride length. From a normal walk on level ground to a man running on level ground, stride length can double. From the picture below you can see the stride stick (aka tracking stick) and the tight fitting rubber grommets I use so I can slide them up and down to measure a stride, track width, off set, etc. of any track I'm on. The picture shows the increase in the stride length from a person walking, to walking fast to running. In this case the stride length from the previous toe to the subsequent heel, which is how I measure stride, is 17 inches for the walk, 24 inches for the fast walk and 31 inches for jog - for example. That will change depending upon the hardness of the ground, weight the person is carrying and the degree of slope. It can be also influenced by the physical condition of the person. Tired people will have a shorter stride and get a little careless on foot falls. Toe gouges and trips may be evident.

With the increased speed and force with a person's foot hitting the ground, the disturbance to the ground soil, vegetation and/or rocks can change significantly. The pressure release would be altered because of the change of pressure on the surface has changed.

The pressure release may be hard to discern on hard soil or ground that is covered by vegetation. Torn pieces of vegetation and bruising on stems, stalks and flowers can be discernible. While you may not be able to see tracks because of ground vegetation, you may be able to feel the pressure-release or gently separate the vegetation in order to get a visual idea on the track.

The picture below shows tracks in sand where it is easy to tell the difference in the pressure releases, changed by speed. The easiest pressure releases to read are toe dirt visible on the fast walk and the wave around the ball of the foot that is created by the foot pushing off. At the print at right, where the person is running you will see a more significant wave and less toe dirt as the person's foot are coming of the ground with the knee bent more, therefore reducing the amount of toe dirt thrown forward. This can change in deeper soil or be indiscernible on much harder ground.

A gouge is another pressure release that is enhanced from speed and sometimes weight being carried. On the above print at the right you will see a gouge created by the heel striking the ground more forcefully at a shallower angle. You will sometimes see a ledge opposite the gouge. This is usually evident on wet soil or soil that was wet when the track was laid then has dried. The ledge visible in the heel of the track at left is due to the foot making a more vertical strike on the ground.  

Hope this helps Rebel.  When you are trying to determine the speed of a track (the person you are tracking), you shouldn't make a determination based on stride along or any one aspect of the pressure release, unless that's all you have. You should pretty much take all the signs together to tell you what that person is doing.