Wednesday, December 31, 2014

What are You doing with Your Horse?

Not too long ago, I wrote about Cross Training for horses and how some are taking advantage of the different opportunities to make their horse better. Not necessarily better in a competitive event way, but in the making of an all around horse.

I received a few comments from people who said their horses did better in the arena when they took them on trail rides.

Using competitive events to make a better horse usually requires the rider to push away thoughts of scoring, but also thoughts of what other people think of you and your horse. After all, it's about your horse. And like the saying go's - "there's always tomorrow".

During Arena or Trail Obstacle Challenges, where the horse and rider approach and move through obstacles usually within a time constraint, some rider's will try and push their reluctant horse across a bridge or through a curtain only to meet resistance from the horse. He just isn't ready. To try and push him through the obstacles usually builds anxiety within the horse, justify his initial apprehension, and decreases the chances of him completing that obstacle in the time allowed. And if your horse totally refuses to complete an obstacle and the rider moves on to the next, the horse has just learned he can refuse an obstacle and out wait you. I think the rider's who are thinking long term, will wait on their horse to approach the obstacle in a willing manner.  In the video below, I intended on letting my horse set the approach to the yellow slicker.  I took a slow jog towards to the slicker, letting my horse look at it and drop his nose on, and as he showed no big issue with it, I asked him forward so I could position up to retrieve the slicker. 

More than one rider tried to urge their horse towards the slicker before that horse was ready to accept getting closer and in each case it didn't work out well as the horse was on his own schedule.  The difference between approaching the obstacle when the horse is ready and trying to push him to the obstacle because of a judges clock, is often only a few seconds.     

When a rider pushes aside the time constraint, and doesn't worry any judging or scoring, time can be taken to use that obstacle to make a better horse. I've seen rider's run out of time then ask the judge if they can continue, and I have seen rider's work on the obstacle after the competition is over. In both instances, thinking of their horse.

The same goes for Ranch Sorting. It has become became pretty popular. While it's a timed event, you can approach your runs as slow as you like, providing your partner thinks the same, and focus on letting your horse get comfortable with what you asking him to do, and build on that. If someone brings a new horse, unexposed to cows, we'll let that horse and rider follow a seasoned horse and move among the cattle getting that horse used to not only the cows but a crowded environment.

Sometimes you'll see an otherwise considerate rider caught up with the competitive aspect, trying to sort as many cows as they can in 90 seconds, regardless on how his horse feels about it. Jerking and pulling on the horse's mouth until the horse is forced to move his feet to keep his balance, or if the horse raises his head and starts backing to get away from the pain of the bit, which slows his forward movement, the rider applying spurs in less than a judicious manner to move the horse forward - in both these cases the horse is getting second billing and the event becomes detrimental to advancing the horse creating some things that have to be undone, which is sometimes harder than teaching something new.

The video below is a Ranch Sorting run by two friends of mine. Aside from just looking like fun, these two work quickly when they need to and take their time when that's necessary. While their horses are old hands at this, this is an example of riding without creating anxiety in your horse and making his worse.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Merry Christmas 2014 - Christmas Caroling on Horseback

This was our third year doing a Horseback Christmas Caroling ride with a truck and trailer for dismounted singers. Stopping to sing, well what passes for singing, and passing out candy to kids is really a good way to get children up close to the horses.

To see a kid's eyes light up when you ask him if he or she wants to sit a horse and get their picture taken is reward enough for the morning's logistical effort to decorate the trailer, prepare candy bags and have the horse's suffer the indignity of wearing bells and elf hats.

One of our stops this year included a little 7 or 8 year old boy with eyeglasses so thick and heavy they were falling off his nose. To see that kid's joy at sitting a horse for the first time in his life made the whole day. He was one of maybe 20 some odd kids that sat my horse for the obligatory picture taken by their parent.

This is something other horseback groups can do. Maybe it can be worked into a event to deliver presents to economically disadvantaged families. Maybe a food drive as well. Imagine a pack train in a urban barrio or poor rural area with Santa's helpers, the riders, pulling presents out of a pannier.  We'll be thinking about that for next year.

Afterwards, we always have chow and sit around a fire. This year, Frito pie (Chili on top of fritos, onions, cheese and lettuce), brats, potato and macaroni salad and lots of desserts made a great ending to the day eating and chatting with our neighbors.

But doing something for others shouldn't begin and end at Christmas time. As Americans we enjoy freedoms and a quality of life greater than any other citizen of any other country. Whether it's from a religious or intellectual perspective, it pretty much seems to me that each of us has an obligation to do what we can to help those who are much less fortunate than us.

Doing community or charity work on horses is a great way to enjoy your horses. It can also be a good training event - something that can help your horse...... and I say this after getting my horse to approach a jumping balloon during this caroling ride.  There are also many deserving charities that would be happy to receive your support. Some of my favorites are the Childrens Hunger Fund, Task Force Dagger Foundation, Cal Farley's Boys and Girls Ranch, Saint Josephs Indian School and several Horse Rescues.

 If we all did a little bit, it would make a large difference. Merry Christmas and Safe Journey to all.

Monday, December 22, 2014

My Horse Anticipates My Commands

Carolyn wrote that when she rides her horse towards the arena fence her horse most often turns before she gives him a cue. "Hi. My horse is very well behaved but he has a tendency, when I am riding towards the fence of the arena, to turn before I ask him to turn. I don't know if it's fear of being ridden into the fence, or poor eyesight, or just a lack of trust in me. It's really aggravating and I'm at a loss to correct this. Any time tested tips you may have would be appreciated. Regards, Carolyn."

Hi Carolyn. The most likely reason your horse turns before you ask him to when heading towards the fence is that he is anticipating the turn. He probably also anticipates in other ways as well. Does he always anticipate a turn toward the gate or towards other horses? A common thing that horses do is to turn towards the gate, sometimes speeding up when heading to or facing the gate, or slowing up at the gate anticipating leaving the arena or signaling their desire to get back to their pen and their buddies. So often, horses seemingly anticipating a cue is herd bound or barn sour behavior.

When riding towards the arena fence, keep your horse between your legs and you may have to have a little more contact with his mouth (riding in a bit) or on his nose (riding with a bosal) to be able to correct him anticipating a turn. Stop your horse before he gets too close to the arena fence where he wants to anticipate a turn. Then I would mix up what you do next. You can back him, turn him away from the gate, ride a circle and approach the arena fence again.

You can stop him, do a roll back, and head towards the opposite arena fence and do the same thing. You may stop him back a ways then have him depart at the trot towards the arena fence again.

I particularly like heading towards the arena fence, stopping, backing then doing a roll back toward the next fence line. Each time you should turn away from the arena barn gate, if this seems to be an issue for your horse, and each time will be turning in a different direction.

Over a short amount of time, you should be able to get closer and closer to the arena fence before he wants to turn on his own. Each time you approach the fence stop him, back him, turn him opposite the gate, do a roll back or double him before he attempts to turn on his own.  Keep him busy doing different things.  

Try doing all these things width wise and length wise in your arena. Pay attention to your horse doing those herd bound, barn sour type behavior. If you keep your horse busy enough, and you are fair about it, a lot of this behavior can be reduced or eliminated. And one more thing you may do when you end your arena training sessions, if to stop furthest away from the gate and either dismount and lead him in hand out of the arena, or from the saddle walk slowly to the gate.

I'm not such a good hand correcting this but what I would do is similar to what you would do for the barn or buddy hour horse.  Don't give him the chance to anticipate - direct him into something else. 

For the barn/gate sour horse it makes sense to make it work for him to be near the gate and give him a rest when he is furthest away from the gate. This is what you hear referred to as "making the wrong thing work and the right thing a release or a rest". Trot him in a oval or a circle near the gate, stop and back, turn away from the gate and take you horse to the far end of the arena and give him a rest.

Hope this helps Carolyn. Safe Journey to you. 

Friday, December 12, 2014

Slaughter Ban - Saving America's Horses?

Nobody loves horses more than I do. Some certainly love them as much, but show it in a strange way by blocking horse slaughter in the U.S. which subjects unwanted horses to be taken to Mexico for slaughter.

The passing of the House Agriculture Appropriations bill, which will surely be approved by the Senate and signed by the President next week, includes verbiage eliminating the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) from conducting horse slaughter plant inspections in the U.S., at least through September 2015, will ensure that the route to Mexico stays as the only viable path for unwanted horses.

I have seen far too many over crowded trailers of horses heading to Mexico. The old, the sick, the unwanted and the young. In Mexico these horses are subjected to very a cruel death. Very cruel only if you consider being put through a squeeze chute and have some Mexican plant worker stab the horse in the neck by the withers until the horse is paralyzed or drops, then a hoisted by a chain around their rear legs to hang upside down, throat slashed and bled out.

I can't even begin to imagine the horses' screams. At least in the U.S. slaughter plants, tragic as it is, horses were put down in a humane manner.

It would be great if every horse in the U.S and the world could be born and be assured of living to a natural death, having enough feed and water in between, but that is hardly reasonable to hope for. I think if people in the U.S. really cared about horses, there would be a method to euthanize unwanted horses in a humane manner where the horse is treated with respect and dignity and is not being terrorized for hours and days before being put down.

Even though the European Union's (EU) decision to block horses slaughtered in Mexico from being exported into the EU, which goes into effect on January 15th, and the blocking of horse slaughter in the U.S., the slaughter of horses in Mexico will not stop as there is just too big of a world market for horse consumption.

I applaud and have monetarily supported horse rescues who give mistreated and unwanted horses a lifetime home. I know several of these rescues put their lives and entire income into providing care for these horses, many of which are not capable of being ridden. My wife and I have three horses, due to age and injuries, will not ever be ridden again but will die a natural death on our property no matter how long that takes. But to not have a humane means to dispose of horses and subject them to a terrible death in Mexico is unacceptable.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Carrying an M-4 Carbine on Horseback

Cheney wrote to ask about any ready made solutions for carrying military style rifles/ carbines while horseback. "Hey, I am a elk hunting guide in north Jackson and a combat medic in the Utah national guard I was wondering is there a effective way to carry a M4 (handy trail caliber and very light available in big bores such as .458 SOCOM and .50 Beowolf). I wonder as my job involves a lot of riding and walking over rough bear filled country if there is a way to do that or your thoughts on the matter. Thank you very much. Cheney."

I received this on Veteran's Day and sorry it is taking me awhile to respond to you, Cheney. A little know fact to most Americans is the extent of which our National Guard and Reserves served in Iraq and Afghanistan,...thank you for your service.

Some people reading this may be unfamiliar with the .458 SOCOM and .50 cal Beowolf, so to summarize, the .458 SOCOM - with a 300-grain round has a muzzle velocity of 1,900 ft/s and 2,405 ft lb energy which is similar to a .45-70 Government cartridge. The .50 Beowolf also has a 300 grain bullet at a muzzle velocity near 1,900 fps and a muzzle energy of 2,300 fpe, again similar to the .45-70 Government. Complete Upper Receivers are available to turn a common M-4 in .223/5.56 caliber into a big bore carbine.

While I would prefer a big bore rifle if I was routinely in Grizzly country, I don't think I'd carry a M-4 chambered for .458 SOCOM or .50 Beowolf. While, a standard M-4 firing the .223 Remington or 5.56mm NATO cartridge may be pretty underpowered to put down a Grizzly, you would have 20 or 30 rounds to do so. But you are the one that's going to be potentially facing a Griz, so good luck on whatever you decide.

If you want to carry an M-4 readily accessible on horseback, your options are a modified scabbard that considers the M-4 pistol grip and extended magazine.

 I think you can get 5 or 10 round M-4 magazines, but even a 20 round magazine would be easier to cary than the standard 30 round magazine. The M-4 just offers some unique scabbard challenges. You may be able to find someone to build you a custom scabbard, or you could use a short gun bag and rig that to you saddle like a scabbard - maybe something like the nylon scabbard in the picture above left.

Or you could carry the M-4 across your back. Carrying the M-4 across your back would be better than carrying across your chest as this would obviously be a pain in the butt guiding your horse, using a rope or leading a pack train. A 10 inch upper (shorter barrel) would work better than a standard 16 inch carbine and accuracy shouldn't be a problem with the shorter barrel if you are primarily using it as a defensive gun against Grizzlies - probably no long range shots.  Plus the across the back carry ensures that you have the gun with you when you dismount.

A body sling would have to be tight so the carbine wouldn't swing around or otherwise bang around when at the trot or lope. But still allow for you to swing the carbine into action. I would like to have a quick release in case you got hung up on anything. In the video, I am using a older modified Mamba sling from Spec Ops Brand Military and Tactical Gear. This sling has a length of bungee cord covered in tubular nylon which allows the carbine to be adjusted tight to your body still while allowing enough movement for the gun to mounting to your shoulder. It would be necessary to have a side mounted front sling attachment.

I rode for a while carrying an M-4 carbine in this configuration and it worked pretty good.  I had to cross one hardball road and I hope a didn't alarm the lady in  the truck that passed by!  There is a modern day precedence for carrying military weapons on horseback.  During the early days of the war in Afghanistan, Special Forces teams from the 5th Special Forces Group infiltrated and linked up with anti-Taliban groups, then rode those little Afghani horse's into combat as they pushed the Taliban out of Afghanistan.  The Horse Soldiers, by Doug Stanton is a good book about this.    

Spec Ops Brand offers a sling called the Patrol sling which would work. This is a two piece sling with the covered bungee. This sling has a quick release buckle in case you get hung up, and has a quick adjustment buckle so you can tighten and loosen the sling as needed. I think this is your best bet. You can get to Spec Ops Brand through this link.