Sunday, May 24, 2015

Attributes of a Tracking Horse

David wrote to ask "What attributes would you choose in a horse that you are going to be tracking off of? If I get called out on a rescue, I know I maybe out over night, so hobble training is a no brainer. What else would you suggest I think about?"

Hey David, tracking or searching can be a slow and multi-day process. so I'd look for a horse with stamina that can be ridden all day for a couple days in a row. He would have to have sound feet and be a good trail horse. You don't want a anxious horse, a horse that is easily spooked.   Tracking exercises and search and rescue training and rehearsals would be a good place to train a horse like this.

If you are tracking or searching with a team on horseback you may need to ride away and follow a different track or jump ahead and look at a sign cut area so you don't need a buddy sour horse, who is always looking for the other horses and calling to them. But a good rule is the two person (or two horse) rule where no searchers go out by themselves is at all possible.  I was an Army Range Rider, where there was only six of us to cover 1.3 million acres, so sometimes on routine patrols, and in particular searches for missing or lost people, we often had to ride alone.  You may as well, so radios and cell phones, scheduled communications checks, as well as a search command center knowing your planned route or search area will be your lifeline.

You want your horse comfortable by himself just with you. A comfortable horse will often alert on things he can hear, smell or see where you may not. This is what the FBI calls a clue and can help draw something to your attention.

The picture at right shows the head set and ears forwarding facing when a horse alerts on something. A horse will do this quite often just checking things out.  Usually, if the alert posture just lasts a second or two, the horse was just assuring himself that there was no threat. If the horse sees or hears something then that alert posture will last longer.  When I was a Range Rider, my horse's ability to alert on moving objects came in handy when riding out to locate trespass cattle as well as people.  

You are right that having a horse that can be safely hobbled, for longer periods when you are out of the saddle or camping over night, is necessary. You may also need to dismount from time to time, to read sign or look at something more closely or carefully, where putting hobbles on and off are impractical, so your horse needs to ground tie or otherwise stay put with you on the ground moving around. 

I work with my horses to stand on a loose lead while I'm moving around on the ground and when the slack is taken out of the lead they move forward and lead up. This is also good for going through gates, especially wire gates. I saw a gent open a wire gate once and his horse moved forward before the gate was open enough and he stuck his foot over the bottom strand of barb wire on that gate. It startled the horse and luckily he did not panic so a bad wreck did not ensure,...but it could have.

Being able to direct your horse while on the ground and you are staying in place, such as backing him up or moving his front end over one way or the other, can be useful if his shadow crosses the sign you are looking at and you need to move him so you can see it better.

I hope this helps a little.  About anything you can do to expose your horse and get him comfortable to new situations and environments make your horse better for your search missions.  Good luck and thanks for serving in search and rescue.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Top 10 Nutritional Tips for Horses

I ran across this article from the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA). While I think it's a pretty good baseline article for the care and feeding of horses, I have added some comments underneath each topic in italics.

From the ASPCA:  Remember that old nursery rhyme that begins, “Hay is for horses…”? As it turns out, that’s sound advice for feeding companion equines—as are the following tips from our experts at the ASPCA Pet Nutrition and Science Advisory Service.

1. Base Your Horse’s Diet on Grass and Hay.

A horse’s digestive system is made to process large quantities of grass, which is high in fiber and water. The basic diet for most horses should consist of grass and good-quality hay that’s free of dust and mold. As a general rule, companion horses should be able to graze or eat hay whenever they want to.

Forage (grass and alfalfa) first. That's the motto of ADM feeds and something that guides my feeding program. It would be nice to have horses on pasture but there is very little of it in West Texas.

2. Feed Several Small Meals a Day.

Because horses’ stomachs were developed for grazing, horses function better with a feeding plan based on “little and often.” ASPCA experts recommend that horses should eat several small meals—at least two, preferably three or more—in the course of a day. When feeding hay, give half the hay allowance at night, when horses have more time to eat and digest.

I  feed three times a day.  Grass, alfalfa and Patriot (a processed feed from ADM) in them morning; grass and alfalfa in the early afternoon; and Grass, alfalfa and Patriot in the evening.   

3. No Grain, No Gain.

Most horses, even fairly active ones, don’t need the extra calories found in grains. Excess grains can lead to muscle, bone and joint problems in young and adult horses. Unless directed otherwise by your veterinarian or other equine professional, it’s best to feed low-energy diets high in grass and hay.

Good point that most horses don't need grain. I don't feed grain but I do feed a processed feed from ADM called Patriot. My horses do well on this. They get about 3.5 lbs of this divided up into two of their three feedings. I feed this primarily for two reasons: to provide for vitamins and minerals they don't get in their grass or alfalfa, and to get their systems used to this processed feed so I can feed more to make up forage shortages when away from my barn.

4. Be Aware of Individual Needs.

Feed according to the individuality of the horse, including condition and activity level. Some horses have difficulty keeping on weight, and need more feed per unit of body weight. However, most horses should eat between 2 percent to 4 percent of their body weight daily in pounds of hay or other feeds. Your veterinarian can help you decide how and what to feed your horse.

Two percent is a good baseline number. For the average 1,100 Quarterhorse this would be 22 lbs of hay a day. Four percent is really quite a bit of feed. If a horse worked all day long, he would require additional feed to replace calories burned, but again 4 percent of a horse's body weight is a lot.

5. Water Works.

Plenty of fresh, clean, unfrozen water should be available most times, even if the horse only drinks once or twice a day. Contrary to instinct, horses who are hot from strenuous exercise should not have free access to water. Rather, they should be allowed only a few sips every three to five minutes until they have adequately cooled down.

Ensuring that horses have fresh, clean water is often over looked. Many places I visit have really dirty stock tanks and this does not facilitate the horses wanting to drink. Automatic waters are great at keeping a supply of fresh water available. However, they still need to be checked every day for function. I have also seen issues with automatic waters if they are not maintained.   I use old fashioned stock tanks. They allow me to see how much water my horses are drinking. I have to dump them once or twice a week to scrub them and re-fill. The wet sand I create when I dump my stock tanks allows my horses' hooves to soak up some moisture.

6. Provide a Supplementary Salt Block.

Because most diets do not contain mineral levels high enough for optimal health and performance, horses should have free access to a trace mineral and salt block. This will provide your horse with adequate levels of salt to stabilize pH and electrolyte levels, as well as adequate levels of trace minerals. As long as plenty of fresh water is available, you needn’t be concerned about overconsumption of salt.

It's been my experience that while most horses will lick a salt block, many horses don't like the conventional mineral blocks. There are different mineral solutions from powdered minerals that can be top dressed on your horses grain or processed feed, to newer type mineral blocks such as the ADM GroStrong Mineral Quad Block. I provide a white salt block for my horses and I break up a GroStrong mineral block and keep a piece in each horse feeder. 

7. Take it Slow.

Any changes in the diet should be made gradually to avoid colic (abdominal pain usually associated with intestinal disease) and laminitis (painful inflammation in the hoof associated with separation of the hoof bone from the hoof wall), either of which can be catastrophic. Horses are physically unable to vomit or belch. Overfeeding and rapid rates of intake are potential problems. Consequently, a horse or pony who breaks into the grain bin, or is allowed to gorge on green pasture for the first time since autumn, can be headed for a health disaster.

I change out from one cut of alfalfa to the next through a seven day period. Some recommend a gradual change through a longer period. Either way, different feeds and different sources of the same feed should be introduced slowly. 

I would describe Colic and Laminitis a little differently, Colic is distress of the intestines which can be caused by several issues, one of the worst being a blockage (called an impaction) of the intestines, and colic symptoms are almost always a medical emergency for that horse. Founder (Laminitis) is actually the separation of the hoof bone (the coffin bone) from the laminae which can caused the coffin bone to rotate in the hoof capsule and in the worst case (usually requiring euthanasia) causes the coffin bone drop and even penetrate the bottom of the sole.

8. Dental Care & Your Horse’s Diet: Chew On This.

Horses need their teeth to grind grass and hay, so it is important to keep teeth in good condition. At the age of five years, horses should begin annual dental checkups by a veterinarian to see if their teeth need floating (filing). Tooth quality has to be considered when deciding whether or not to feed processed grains (grains that are no longer whole, such as cracked corn and rolled oats). Horses with poor dental soundness—a particular problem in older horses—tend to benefit more from processed feed than do younger horses, who have sounder mouths and teeth.

This is an over looked routine health care need or horses. Some advocate a dental checkup once a year. I average about every 16 months. A checkup usually results in some dental work as the Vet has to sedate the horses in order to do the checkup, so may as well get some work done even if it is just minimal. Some horses will require shorter intervals between floating. Having a competent Vet do your floating, keeping good records on how much sedation each horse needs, is a blessing and keeps your horses healthy.

9. Exercise Caution.

Stabled horses need exercise. Horses will eat better, digest food better and be less likely to colic if they get proper exercise. Horses should finish eating at least an hour before hard work. Do not feed grain to tired or hot horses until they are cooled and rested, preferably one or two hours after activity. You can feed them hay instead. To prevent hot horses from cooling down too quickly, keep them out of drafts or warm in blankets.

Horses do need exercise.  They need a large enough pen to move around in.  A smaller pen is adequate if the horses are taken out to turn out or exercised by a human through ground work and/or riding. People who keep their horses day in and day out in a ten foot square pen are just slowly killing their horses in my opinion.    

10. Don’t Leave Home Without It.

Because abrupt dietary change can have devastating results on a horse’s sensitive system, you should always bring your horse’s food with you when you travel. Additionally, some horses will refuse to drink unfamiliar water, so you may also want to bring along a supply of the water your horse regularly drinks.

Again changing feeds suddenly can cause big problems - see paragraph 7 above.  Also, I've experienced horses not drinking strange water so this is absolutely true about some horses not drinking unfamiliar water. 

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Cowboy Wisdom: Barbershop lesson

A old cowboy went into town once a month for groceries and a haircut. The Barbershop was his first stop. The old Cowboy took a seat and asked for a haircut and his mustache trimmed. As the barber began to work, they began to have a good conversation. They talked about so many things and various subjects. When they eventually touched on the subject of God, the barber said: "I don't believe that God exists."

"Why do you say that?" asked the cowboy.

"Well, you just have to go out in the street to realize that God doesn't exist. Tell me, if God exists, would there be so many sick people? Would there be abandoned children? If God existed, there would be neither suffering nor pain. I can't imagine a loving God who would allow all of these things."

The cowboy thought for a moment, but didn't respond because he didn't want to start an argument. The barber finished his job and the cowboy left the shop. Just after he left the barbershop, he saw a man in the street with long, stringy, dirty hair and an untrimmed beard. He looked dirty and unkempt.

The cowboy turned back and entered the barber shop again and he said to the barber: "You know what? Barbers do not exist."

"How can you say that?" asked the surprised barber. "I am here, and I am a barber. And I just worked on you!"

"No!" the cowboy exclaimed. "Barbers don't exist because if they did, there would be no people with dirty long hair and untrimmed beards, like that man outside."

"Ah, but barbers DO exist! What happens, is people do not come to me."

"Exactly!"- affirmed the cowboy. "That's the point! God, too, DOES exist! What happens, is, people don't go to Him and do not look for Him. That's why there's so much pain and suffering in the world."

This story was sent to me by my old Range Rider partner, Charlie, a good man walking the path of good, and who God tests on a daily basis. Safe Journey, Charlie.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Next Step with Green Broke Horse

Jordan wrote: "I have a four year old quarterhorse who I have trained myself. She is a pretty calm horse, has never tried to buck me off or kick me and turns pretty well even when I'm running her at the trot. She stops pretty good and I can back her up. I guess she doesn't give my farrier any trouble. While she has spooked at running dogs sometimes she is very safe. I'm kind of stuck on what else to teach my horse and I am looking for some ideas. This is my first horse and I'm self taught for the most part.  Can you tell me generally what things I should be teaching her now? BTW, I'm am not interested in roping or rodeo events."

Hey Jordan, it sounds like you are doing great. I'm hesitating to give you any advice as it may mess you up, but since you goes:

While people like you and me, anyway,....will never have the skills of a Buck Brannaman or a Craig Cameron, or a long list of other top clinicians, - meaning we will likely never have a truly finished horse. But that's good news as well, as we'll always have something to do and always have something to improve on with our horses. To me, the basics, or much what you and your horse have already accomplished are so important as it establishes a foundation for everything else.

So I reckon that if your horse is well behaved and you can walk, transition into a trot, then a canter - getting the lead you've asked for, without any disagreement or signs of anxiety from your horse, and you can stop, back, move the front end and rear end independently of each other and side pass as well, and your horse willingly giving when you asking her for lateral and vertical flexion, then you can use that foundation to do more advanced work.

I wouldn't forget the ground work, or continuing your ground work in things like leading and working off the lead line. Many horses that are being ridden daily by recreational riders aren't really completely broke to a lead rope. Your horse should lead up correctly following the feel of the lead rope, such as: following you off to the side and slightly behind you and keep the pace you establish even if you are walking slow, medium or fast; the horse should stop immediate when you do; you should be able to back your horse using the lead rope - I want the horse to back with me as well as back when I'm standing still when I signal the horse to back using the lead rope.

You should be able to send the horse, on the lead rope, ahead of yourself through gates, between you and obstacles (like a fence or rail), or around you like you are lunging him; You should be able to disengage his back end and have your horse give you his face (giving you both his eyes). I think that working on these things are important and these things can be largely worked on when you halter your horse to lead him to the tie rail, trailer, shoeing stand or another pen.

I would continue doing the basics and ensuring your horse is soft and accepting at everything you ask. I like several different exercises on horseback, that may be basics to some people, but are sometimes a challenge for me and my horses, among these exercises are:

Riding circles. Riding in large and small circles at the trot and canter, and intermittently asking the horse to get soft in the face, is very useful not only for your horse but for you as well. The objective is to ride in a perfect circle with your horse soft and giving - this is something I have problems getting done. Common problems I make are: my horse not getting soft or collecting when I ask for it; I'm posting on the wrong diagonal during the trot; I'll tend to look down at the ground just past the horse's head and my horse can feel that slight balance transfer and sometimes break from the canter to a trot. But all those things give me something to work on.

Neck reining. Even if you are riding in a snaffle bit or hackamore (bosal), designed to be ridden two handed, your horse should eventually be able to be ridden by neck reining. You may not always have both hands useable. What if you are holding a plate of nachos in one hand?

Negotiating serpentines such as a series of cones or buckets, usually about 8-12 feet apart, is an excellent obstacles and training tool for starting a horse at neck reining. You'll be able to gauge the progress of the horse as he/she gets smoother and more responsive to the neck rein when snaking around these cones. The serpentine course can be also be used for backing in series of arcs, side passing, then moving forward, then side passing the other direction through the cones as well. You can even used the cones to do leg yields, also called two tracking.   

Expose your horse to obstacles like a tarp or piece of plywood on the ground or practically anything he isn't use to seeing is also going to make him a better horse providing your never demand that she negotiate an obstacle but instead take the time to allow it to be her idea. Horses are naturally curious, so if we don't create anxiety for them, they will usually close with the obstacle or scary object.   Other obstacles you can try would be opening and closing gates, dragging a small log, or going over ground poles..       

Turning in a circle on the fore hand (front end). With your horse keeping his inside front foot on the ground move his back end in a circle around the front.

Turn on the back end (turn on the hocks). I struggle at turns on the back end. I think it is easier for the horse to learn a turn on the forehand as the majority of their weight is on the front end.

Work on backing in an arc or a circle. You will have achieved something when your horse can back smoothly, getting soft and in a collected and balanced manner. Backing in a circle to the left, then in a circle to the right, like a figure eight, is a good exercise and a task you'll sometimes see in arena obstacles challenges.

Trot small circles, then transition into a turn (continuing a circle) on the back end. Trot small circles then transition into a turn (continuing a circle) on front end.

Leg yields at the trot, what I've always called two tracking, is the horse moving forward and you ask for the horse to continue forward momentum while also moving obliquely to the left or the right. The front outside foot and the rear outside foot are going to alternate crossing over the inside foot. I find this very useful out in the desert riding where I'm trotting and there is an obstacles ahead of me and I can maintain the gait and move the horse around the obstacles.

Work on simple and flying lead changes. Being able to depart from a stand still into a canter, on the correct lead that you have asked, for is the basics you'll have to master before moving onto simple then flying lead changes. Simple lead changes are moving (at a canter) on one lead, say the right lead, then dropping to a trot and asking for the canter again on a different lead, in this case would be the left lead. Flying lead changes are cantering in a left lead for example, then asking the horse to switch to a right lead without breaking down into a trot.    From to never lack in finding something to get better on.

Jordan, you really asked a question that takes a book or two to answer. I would suggest that in everything you do, try to see how light you can ask for it.  I would also suggest getting some of the excellent training DVD's that are available. One that may give you the best bang for the buck could be the 7 Clinics with Buck Brannaman, available from Eclectic Horseman, who also produce a very good bi-monthly magazine, and worth a subscription.

I get it that you are to not interested in events like roping. There are many other diverse events that you can look at to see if it interests you. The great thing is that training for, and competing in these events almost always make your horse a better horse. Among these events are Western Dressage, American Competitive Trail Horse Association Trail and Arena Challenges, Extreme Cowboy Racing, Cowboy Mounted Shooting, Team Penning, and Ranch Sorting to name a few. Many of the skills that are needed for, and evaluated in these events are great ways to make your horse more supple, get a better handle and provide you with training ideas or expose things you have to work on.

One idea may be to get someone to video tape you to allow you to evaluating what you and your horse are doing. Video taping yourself is two edge sword. I occasional do videos and I recently reviewed one of these videos of me walking to my horse to mount, and I thought "Good Lord, I walk like a little broken old man, ha!" But all in all, video taping is good as it will allow you to see what you are doing from a different angle and it is worth the time and trouble to do.

So there you have it Jordan, a life time of things to do.   

I'd try not to get caught up in trying to perfect anything in a short amount of time. Be happy and accept the slightest improvement and build on that. Find a balance in training and just riding and enjoying your horse - my wife gives me this advice all the time, I'd be wish to take it.