Saturday, April 25, 2015

Don't Forget - Your Horse Needs Dental Care Too

Most horse owners, especially those using their horses in competitions, are usually pretty good about keeping their horses vaccinated. But after talking to several dozen rider over the past few months, across several different events, I've come to believe that many horse owners don't routinely get their horses teeth examined or floated. Usually I hear "My horses don't need it", or "I haven't seen any problems with their teeth."

Some of these problems they would expect to see wouldn't necessarily be traceable to a horse's teeth, like head tossing, avoidance of the bit, or getting bracey on the bit while riding. If your horse has these problems, especially if they are recently developed, you should consider a dental exam and floating to either fix the problem or rule out the teeth as a problem, as part of your solution finding.

Other problems that are obviously associated with teeth problems could be the horse dropping feed from his mouth, seeing undigested bits of feed in the manure, and, in the extreme, weight loss.

The horse's front teeth cut hay and the tongue pulls it back to the rear teeth (molars) where they grind the hay using a sideways motion. This is necessary to allow the feed to be ground down, swallowed and more easily digested. If a horse can't adequately grind up his feed, then the digestion process will be degraded and can even cause blockages or impaction colic.

During the sideways chewing and grinding of the feed, the back teeth usually become uneven, creating hooks and points on these teeth which not only will reduce optimum grinding of the feed for digestion, but these hooks and points can cut into the gum or tongue making pressure from a bit painful.    

The process of floating teeth involves sedating the horse. My Vet uses a mix of Xylazine and Butorphanol. The sedation lasts long enough to float the teeth and clean the sheath of the geldings, but the horses come out of the sedation pretty quick after that and while I can ride them, I usually give them the day off as they also get their spring vaccinations and sometimes their necks are alittle sore.

I asked my Vet if a decent enough exam can be done without sedation, she replied that "she cannot do a real good assessment of their teeth without sedation, and that likely 80% of the exams without sedation that show no major issues, will require floating once that horse is sedated." In other words, the best exam can't be done without sedation and while the horse is sedated you might go ahead and have his teeth floated.

While I have used non-Vets in the past who used the manual float method and did a good job, the modern method of floating uses a specialty power drill and a ceramic bit which is safer or less of an abrasive on teeth. That's the power drill, called "power floating", that you see my Vet, Amy Starr, DVM of Paws n' Hooves Mobile Veterinarian Services, in the picture at the top left.

Floating should result in, removing all the hooks and points and creating an even surface on the upper and bottom molars of the back teeth to grind feed against.  In the picture at right, you can see the hooks and the points on the molars.  This horse was floated about 13 months ago, so you can imagine how bad the teeth can get in a short amount of time.  He also had a few small cuts on the inside of his mouth where the sharp edges of his teeth cut him.

Floating is painless to the horse as the nerves for the tooth are well below the top surface of the teeth. There is a danger that heat built up of the file or ceramic bit on the tooth can damage the pulp of that tooth, but professional Vets or Equine Dentists trained in floating teeth would know this and eliminate that possibility.

Back to the people who think there horses don't need dental work,......... While the total cost of getting a horse's teeth floated (around $125) my seem like too much money, especially if you have several horses to do, wouldn't it seem like the costs of a Vet's farm call and colic treatment, which you would help prevent with floating, make it seem like a good investment? Not to mention eliminating performance or bit acceptance problems.

I think it's just something we owe the horse. I have had horses, and usually these will be older horses, who needed their teeth floated about every 8-9 months. But generally, I try to get my horses floated once a year, for me that's every April, so I can also get spring vaccinations and blood pulled for their annual Coggins tests.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Small Saddle Bag - Sanctuary Leather

Large conventional saddle bags are sometimes too big and bulky for recreational trail riders or endurance riders. And for some people, I imagine that routing the saddle strings through the saddle bags to hold it to the saddle in back of the cantle is time consuming.    I have also seen many show type saddles being used for trail events and competitions that do not have saddle string.  saddles.  But I have seen rider's with cell phone pouches on their saddles and also riders with a small horn bag for carrying a water bottle, human and horse snacks, and other incidentals.

Never a big fan of nylon tack, I asked a maker in San Antonio, Texas to build some small saddle pouches that I can use as gift's or awards in competitions I will run later in the year. Dennis Holloway, a disabled vet, owns and operates Sanctuary Leather making everything from handgun holsters, to knife sheaths, belts and a wide selection of small leather items.

I contacted Dennis and we went back and forth on some designs and led to a delivery of four mall  saddle pouches.  I asked him for saddle string slots at the top, so I can choose which one's to secure using saddle strings and which pouches to install a slotted concho and snap on the back to attach to either D rings for rigging or to the small D rings that sometimes are placed underneath the conchos.

The picture at top left is one of the small saddle/medicine pouches with a slotted concho and a saddle string holding a snap to attach it to a small D ring on the back of the saddle.    

If you are looking for a saddle pouch like this, or anything else, Dennis' turn-around time is pretty dog gone short and his prices are more than fair.

For the saddle pouches in the picture at rights, with your choice of a dark, medium or natural finish, Dennis charges around $45. He can also do carving and stamping as well.

 The saddle bags in the picture at right are 6 inches long, 5 inches wide and 2.5 inches deep.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Perceptions of the Hackamore

Over the past couple of months I have had several conversations centering around why I ride in a Hackamore and why don't I use a bit. Everything from people thinking I am against bits, to asking if my horse is broke to be ridden in a bit, to people saying your horse works pretty good for a Hackamore. So I wanted to take the opportunity to say a few things about Hackamores (and bits for that matter), but remembering that my opinion is just that - an opinion and likely not worth a great deal when compared to the opinions of thousands or tens of thousands of more accomplished horsemen.

And before I go much futher, when I say snaffle bit, I mean a true snaffle bit, not a broken bit with shanks. I am still suprised when people who appear to be experienced riders think they are riding in snaffle just because the mouthiece is broken. Anytime you add shanks, you add leverage. The bad thing of course, is that shanks make heavy hands worse.

I use leather slobber straps to attached my reins to the snaffle bit.  You can see in the photo at right how the weight of the leather slobber strap makes it hang downwards from the snaffle ring.  As I pick up on the rein there is a delay as I take the slack and the horse can feel this and prepare.  The weight of the leather slobber straps also allow the release to be felt sooner by the horse.    

When I say Hackamore, I'm talking about a bosal, attached to a headstall and a fiador. While tradionalists generally use a bosal attached to a hanger, without a fiador, I am more comfortable using a headstall and fiador. Even then, I have had a horse shuck off a hackamore when the fiador knot was tied way too loose.

I came to the opinion that when first working with a mature horse, it is usually best to start over. I don't have a set in concrete process where I start in a snaffle bit and go to a Hackamore, or vice versa. I use what I think the horse is going to accept better in the beginning, but I am more inclined to use the hackamore first as the signals are much alike the rope halter.  And with the rope halter you can get your horse used to being soft and giving to pressure so when you go to the hackamore things tend to go more smoothly. 

Starting over, for me anyway, lets me cover any gaps in the horse's understanding and keeps me from assuming that since the horse was broke to ride, he knows what he should know.

As far as whether it's more proper or advantageous to start a horse in a snaffle or a Hackamore, there is an good article, written by Tom Moates, in a recent edition of Eclectic Horseman magazine that provides insights from Buck Brannaman, Bryan Neubert and Martin Black on the question of starting colts with a snaffle bit versus a Hackamore, or vice versa. Anytime any of these top hands' say anything, its prudent to listen. And if you don't get the Eclectic Horseman magazine, I would recommend that you do.

Addressing if I'm against bits - no, I am not at all against bits,...maybe just how some people use them. I have a horse, Junior, that I ride in exclusively in a Hackamore. I used to ride him in a short shanked broken bit, but no more. Years ago I let someone else ride him in that bit and to make a long story short, we left our horses ground tied and a group of Mule deer spooked them. When we caught the horses about 20 minutes later, Junior's reins had came un- tied and he stepped on the reins pulling the bit and cutting his toungue. He is fine now but I have used a Hackamore on him ever since and always will.

I just don't have much to say to people who comment that they are surprised that a horse can work well, or as well, in a Hackamore as opposed to a bit. There are many things we (Junior and I) don't do very well at all, but I don't think a bit is going to change that.

Regarding graduating from a Hackamore to a bit. I'd like to have a horse that is comfortable, untroubled in both a Hackamore and a snaffle bit. I think it makes a better horse and you can change up what you ride in him from time to time to give him a break. While I have retained a couple shanked bits with broken mouth pieces, I don't have much use for anything but Hackamores and snaffles at this point.

While there are many exceptional horsemen who follow the Californio style of starting horses in snaffle, then to a Hackamore, then go to the two rein, and finally to a spade bit, I just never see myself getting to that to the level, and I'm okay with that.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Easter Trail Ride Event Idea

My wife thought that hunting Easter eggs on horseback would be great fun, so this past Easter weekend we tried it out. I rode out an hour and a half ahead of the group to hide Easter eggs around the obstacles we have on our extended trail course.  Picture at left is Junior and I heading out in the early morning with sacks full of eggs to hide.   

These weren't just regular Easter eggs with candy,....they were large plastic eggs containing stuff like rope halters, vet wrap, get down ropes, lead ropes, leather conditioner, boot socks, goats milk soap and even a stuffed animal (a horse, of course) in one of the eggs.....and there was also a smattering of candy in those eggs - wouldn't want anyone to feel cheated.

I hide one to three eggs around most of the obstacles, within a 75 yard radius.  The rules were after everyone had completed the obstacle, the group scattered to hunt for eggs. Once all the eggs around that obstacles were found, the group would move off down the trail to the next obstacle.

 Each rider could take home two eggs, so if a rider found a third egg, they had to give one of their eggs to someone who did not have more than one.   Nobody could open their eggs until we got back to the ranch for lunch. 

As it turned out everyone found two eggs and an eight year old girl on her very first trail ride found the big egg with the stuffed horse. The picture at right is Jenna, the 8 year old and her kinda nervous Mom.

Sure was a beautiful day to be horseback with friends on the day we celebrate the ever lasting life of Christ.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Chris Cox - Four Time Winner of Road to the Horse

The Road To The Horse competition, stood up in 2003 and hosted in Fort Worth, uses a two day format to pit well know clinicians competing against each other to see just how far they could take a un-broke horse in that short amount of time - Day One - starting them in a round pen and, Day Two - demonstrating their ability to ride in a arena obstacle course.

This year, the competitors were provided with two ranch raised geldings each, courtesy of the famed 6666 ranch. If you missed the event, or failed to see Day One on RFD-TV, you can still go to the RFD-TV On-line Channel and watch the videos which requires you to become a Road To The Horse member at a nominal annual charge. And you can watch Day Two this Wednesday, 8 April on RFD TV. Check your listing for the broadcast times but it'll show in the early evening.

Past Winner's are a partial who's who in the professional clinician world having Clinton Anderson, Craig Cameron, Stacy Westfall, Richard Winters, Guy McLean, Jim Anderson, and Trevor Carter. Chris Cox is the only four time winner, having won each time he has entered this competition.

Other well know clinicians who have competed have been Curt Pate, Martin Black, Mike Kevil, Tommy Garland, Ken McNabb, Van Hargis, Pat Parelli, John Lyons, Glenn Stewart and Jonathan Field.

In this year’s Road to the Horse, Chris Cox won the $100,000 prize and then showed his graciousness by giving $20,000 of his winnings each to the other two competitors, Jim Anderson and Trevor Carter.   Chris Cox is certainly one of America's most successful and highly sought clinicians,  He had more to lose than win by competing, but did so anyway.

I have read some commentary on-line that makes an argument that the Road To The Horse commercialization and competitive nature has no place in starting colts. And I would have to agree that the Legacy of Legends event where there is no competition, only demonstrations on colt starting, is something more suitable to my interests.

I would think like to think that the all three of the 2015 Road To The Horse competitors, and likely all of the competitors in the past, had to rationalize the artificial time constraints of a few hours time spread out over two days for getting a unhandled horse started and going well enough to compete an arena obstacles course.  After all, given the ability to control the environment, starting a colt and continuing that horse's training is going to take as long as it going to take. So say what you will about the Road To The Horse format. I like to look at the positives where more people were exposed to a better way of communicating with horses, and all of the competitors, even under the duress of those time constraints, demonstrated not only the highest levels of horsemanship but the patience necessary to put it into practice.