Sunday, March 30, 2014

Camping with Horses

Wade wrote to ask "I'm interested in camping with horses and or mules. (and) Their care and feeding, grazing if available, and first aid for the animals. What should I be watchful for etc. Thank you."

Big question, Wade. Assuming you have suitable horses and/or mules for the area you are heading to, much will depend upon the area as far as available grazing and permits. By suitable stock I mean your horses or mules are healthy and conditioned enough for the area you are going and the distance you plan on riding.

Some areas require your horses to have been fed certified weed free hay - to protect against the proliferation of weeds or unwanted grass species. Some areas will require use permits.

I would be considerate of feed issues related to over night changes of feeds. For example from dry grass or alfalfa hay to a forest pasture. I would consider any pasture where I was going to be supplemental feed and plan to bring my own feed which for me is grass and alfalfa hay and a complete pelleted feed from ADM.

Planning on camping in the wilderness, just you, your horse and a bedroll is one thing, but wanting more comforts and certainly staying for an extended time will require a pack horse or pack mule. If you go out with minimal gear make sure you can build a rudimentary shelter and a fire - not only for warmth but as a signaling device if you get lost or hurt. Water would be a primary concern. You take take enough, so you need to go where there are sources, either man made or natural.

There may be some areas near you offer horse friendly campgrounds with pens for your horses, otherwise you'll be looking at high lining or hobbling them. Available water would be important too, as you could easily go through 40 gallons or more a day.  

If you are inexperienced at camping or back country trips on horse or mule back, then maybe you can find an outfitter and sign up for a trip on their animals as it would give you invaluable experience before you set out on your own.

Just so much depends on what you want to do and where you want to go. A great resource would be any state chapter of Back Country Horsemen of America. They would be able to direct you to horse friendly areas and give you an idea on what you would need as well as point to you getting permits if required.

As far as first aid for horses, I have a vet bag in my trailer and carry small items in my saddlebags:

Vet Bag: several rolls of Vet Wrap; 4x4 gauze; medical tape; Nitrofurazone; Anti-septic wound powder; Quik-Clot; tampons (for dressings); Hoof Soaker Boot and Epsom Salt (this is all inclusive list, but minimal essential items);

Saddle Bags: Vet Wrap with tampon stuffed inside the hollow part of the cardboard roll then put in a vacuum sealed bag; Hoof Wrap bandage in case I pull a shoe or have a hoof puncture;
During snake season, I'll carry two eight inch long surgical tubes (same type you use to tube horses), coated on the outside with Vaseline or Bag Balm and sealed in a vacuum packed bag - in case my horse gets bit on the nose, where a lot of snake bites occur, I have a chance of inserting them in nostril's to keep his airway open.

If you get all set up and head off for a horse back camping trip, I'd also suggest you let people know where you are going, what route you are taking and when you are planning on coming back. And a cell phone is always a good idea in case you or your horse get into trouble.

These also may be a couple of useful resources for you, Wade. Good luck and safe journey.

"Low Impact Horse Camping" - Video
"Mountain Manners" - Video
Idaho Back Country Horsemen
HC 66, Box 248
Kooskia, ID 83536

"Horse Camping" (1981)
by George Hatley - The Dial Press
1 Dag Hammerskjold Plaza
New York, NY 10017

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Why Use Tie Downs on Horses?

Ellison wrote to ask about Tie Downs. "Thanks for your information and videos. I remember some topic and often go back to look. I bought an older horse, 15 years old, who was used for team roping. The owner told me that I should use a tie down on him. He showed me how he connects this underneath the bit and head harness. I bought this horse because he seemed really gentle and calm for use as a pleasure horse and want to know if using this tie down is necessary for control?"

Basically the tie down is a nose band connected with a strap to the front D ring on the cinch - which the correct way to rig a tie down.  Although over the years I have seen people rig this differently, from the nose band, through the main  ring on a breast collar to the front D ring on the cinch, and actually a few times rigged straight from the nose band to the main ring on the breast collar.  Team ropers use it on their horses to give the horse something to push or brace against when turning or stopping under the jerk and load of a roped steer.

I have used a tie down before when I was team roping. I quit using it when I didn't think it was helping my horse and just felt it was wrong for me and my horse. Tie downs will work for the purpose of something for the horse to push against and be better balanced for the jerk of a load on the rope otherwise the very best team ropers who are also very good horsemen wouldn't be using them. But is important that the tie down is adjusted correctly which will allow your horse to push his nose out far enough in order to run in a balanced manner, and the nose band should be positioned above the soft cartilage of the nose to keep from doing any damage.

I think I would ride your new horse, maybe first in a controlled area like a round pen or arena, do some transitions, work up against the fence doubling him, and on backing him as to see what he is like without the tie down. Maybe the previous owner didn't know any other way but to use a tie down. If the horse is throwing his head it may not be because of a lack of a tie down, could be an ill fitted bit or a bit that causes pain. Or it could be a learned reaction to get away from rough or quick hands. If you watch a horse that is being ridden with rough hands, as soon as the rider starts to pickup on the reins that horse's head may go up trying to alleviate the pressure and pain that he is expecting to come next.

Good luck to you and I'd like to hear how you are doing with this horse if you ride him without a tie down.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Eclectic Horseman Magazine and Horseman's Gazette

If you don't know about Eclectic Horseman Magazine or their quarterly video series, The Horseman's Gazette, then maybe you ought to.

Although they got started in 2001, I didn't find out about them until around 2005, when I picked up one of their magazines from Kansas Saddlery.

Their bi-monthly magazine features articles from Buck Brannaman, Bryan Neubert, Martin Black, Joe Wolter, Scott Grosskopf, Wendy Murdoch, and many others bringing an eclectic approach to horse training and problem solving. Or what, Emily Kitching and Steve Bell - a husband and wife team and the owners of Eclectic Horseman Communications, call a cross-disciplined approach to horsemanship for students of all experience levels or Just what works.

The Horseman's Gazette is a quarterly video series on DVD which complements the magazine well. Each issue has over 60 minutes of instruction and opinion from well known and respected horsemen and women.

How to video articles and segments on people are something I've watch many times over the years. The latest issues, No. 17 Winter 2013 features videos on: Tying Up Your Mecate with Bryan Neubert; Four Methods of Moving the Hindquarters with Buck Brannaman; Getting Your Horse to Move Out with Paul Dietz; Warmup For the Branding with Scott Grosskopf; and, Leg Yield Part I - the Walk with Wendy Murdoch. Check out the Eclectic Horseman website or give them a call at 1-866-773-3537.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Opening, Moving Through and Closing Gates on Horseback

Cecila wrote to ask with help negotiating gates. “Hello, my name is Cecila. I wonder if you can help me determine what may be the problems when I am trying to go through a gate on my horse. I usually don’t have any problem going through the gate but lately after we go through my horse will swing or move away from the gate often making me lose my hand grip on the gate."

Hey Cecila, if you and your horse were okay at opening, moving through, then closely gates before and now your horse isn’t as good at it, it’s most likely an anticipation issue with your horse. Maybe your horse is alittle barn sour. You should be able to tell the next time you attempt to open and go through a gate. Does your horse start to move without a cue? Are his feet moving around anticipating the cue to go through? It's always a good idea to occasional open the gate and have the horse stand for awhile before you ask him forward - both on the ground and in the saddle. Sometimes it may be a good idea to open the gate, close it, go someplace then come back and repeat....this will teach the horse that even though you open the gate, you may no be going through it.

If your horse is anticipating the gate, then your horse is probably anticipating other things as well. When being led in hand, does your horse stop exactly when you stop? Does your horse begin to move off before any cues? When you mount, does the horse begin to walk forward without a cue? These are all common anticipation problems.

Here are some things I would do to prepare for and then be able to open, go through and close gates. It’ll also help your horse in many other aspects of riding.

I think that being able to move the horse’s front end and rear end independently of each other, do a side pass and back softly one foot at a time will not only help you position up for the gate and make adjustments when your horse gets out of position, but will be useful in so many other movements.

Many people will practice all different ways of going through a gate. This will help get your horse better all around and also keep from anticipating:

~ opening the gate towards you and your horse, then riding around the gate and pulling it shut. This is pretty difficult since our arms are fairly short and it's easy to pull the gate into the horse's leg. One of my property gates opens only one way (to the inside) so I have a three foot length of rope so I can open the gate while horseback, and close it when I rode through;

~ pushing the gate open and then walking through, then riding around the gate and pushing it shut with your horse making a side pass. Much easier and safer in my opinion, and you should be good at this way before you move on and attempt other methods;

~ pushing open the gate then backing through, then you'll have to move the horse's back end about 180 degrees to then side pass to close the gate.

I hope the video below is of some help to you with your horse negotiating gates.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Horse That Is Suddenly Spooky

Anonymous has left a new comment on your post "Horse Training – Spooky Horses on the Trail": "My horse has suddenly become afraid of leaving the turn out. She is really dangerous as she totally loses it and runs into you. What can I do. She is really spooky lately."

It would be good to know how and where you are keeping your horse; how much training she has had and how much are you are riding her. Horses are herd animals, relying on the group to be safe, and keeping them by themselves can contribute to spookiness. Sometimes a younger horse can get nervous and spooky, if she is the lowest horse on the totem pole in a herd that is kept together, if she is getting bullied by another horse(es). This can carry over into your interaction with her. Sometimes changes in how you keep her and her environment may help.  

What you can do, when you are with her, either on the ground or riding her, is to work towards her looking to you as the leader at all times. You have to get good at correcting all the behavior which empowers her to exhibit that behavior which can be dangerous to you.  The only reason she is doing that is that she thinks she needs to. 

The frequency in which you work with her also has much to do with her's and your progress. I think the majority of horse owners are 'once a week people' who may provide care for their horse seven days a week, but only work with the horse or ride once a week. I think it's hard to keep a well trained horse tuned up with a once a week schedule, let along trying to correct bad habits.  There is a lot of truth in the old saying that 'wet saddle blankets make good horses'. 

Ground work is often neglected or thought to be largely unnecessary once a horse is being ridden. I beg to differ. Ground work establishes and builds that relationship, needs to be done often, done well and is useful at any stage of the horse's training.

Ground work does not have to be only a formal event in the round pen. Everytime you interact with your horse, asking her to drop her head for the halter, leading her, asking her to move her front end or back end over, and even not to crowd you when you throw feed - are all things some people won't be careful at. So when the horse throws or shakes his head when putting the halter on, invades your space or doesn't lead up correctly,....or, when while leading you stop and your horse is still moving or paying attention to everything but you,....or, when she is feed aggressive or otherwise not respecting your space when you throw feed,.......are behaviors that degrade the leader position you should hold with her, and make it increasingly harder to correct in some cases.

I would work her, both on the ground and, when you feel safe, in the saddle. Start with things she can do well, When she does well, stop and give her a release before moving on, but be ready to re-direct her focus back to you if she becomes spooky or lost. This means moving her feet. Lunge her. Work on backing. Work on turns on the fore end and hind end. Sack her out with a flag. Introduce other obstacles to her such as tarps. Give her time to make it her idea to approach the new obstacle.  You want to be building in her a chance to think instead of just react.

Again, be ready when her focus on you is diverted. If I can see some anxiety building a horse, I'll re-direct that focus onto something I am asking, like lunging or riding in a circle. Work on collection. Practice leg yields.   Doubling on a fence line.  Things like that. I don't make it a federal case if they spook, I just re-direct and concentrate on something positive.

The last thing I'd like to give you to think about is to not be waiting on your horse to spook. Horses are pretty perceptive. I think they can pretty much sense our moods. If you are waiting on them to spook or run you over, they just may feed off of you and prove you right.