Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Spurs, or Not

Kayne wrote to ask about wearing and using spurs and those people who are vocal against spurs: " I occasionally ride with a woman, as part of a larger group, who is very much anti-spur. I get tired of hearing it but I don't have a prepared counter argument that I can articulate well enough. She say's that no one can achieve the highest levels of horsemanship riding with spurs, and if you knew how much the horse hated spurs you would never ride with them. I just think it how the individual uses the spurs that if the difference. I am interested in hearing your opinion. Thanks."

I think you are right on the mark Kayne saying it's how the individual uses the tool, in this case the spur.  If I'm riding in a Hackamore, I am occasionally asked if I am against bits. I always reply "No, I'm not at all against bits, just how some people use them."  Same with spurs.  Really, the same with any tool.

Horses are very sensitive to touch that's why to see them swish flies with their tails, so it stands to reason that they will very much feel a sharp object being stuck into their sides, but that's not how you use spurs.  But even though horses are very sensitive to touch, many horses will need more than just a touch with your leg or heel.  So, I think that if you are good with spurs you can be lighter and more subtle with your leg cues, as a spur allows you to just touch a horse's barrel to get a response as opposed to banging on a  horse with your legs and heels.  We've all seen that type of rider.  And that type would be picking themselves up off the ground if they banged on a horse while wearing spurs.

In the photos below, I'm use a short shanked spur with a rounded 10 point rowel.  Short shanked because the heels on my short legs are not too far off the horse's barrel.  People with longer legs, hanging further away from the horse's barrel, may need a longer shanked spur in order to touch the horse's barrel.   

In the series of photos above, from Left - I have my leg "in neutral", just normal contact or otherwise hanging straight down.  In the Middle photo I am starting to apply contact with the inside of my lower leg, heel and then spur - just rolling the spur into the horse's barrel if he did not move off of my leg.  This should be a subtle movement.  In the picture at Right, the horse's has given to that pressure moving his hind end away. You can tell by the different light in the photo and the horse's front left leg stepping forward. 

I can't really tell you want to say to the lady who is anti-spur. She probably doesn't like guns either because of the way some people use them.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Question on Hoof Rot

Justin wrote to ask about rot in his horse's hooves. "Hi. What is the best thing to do (about) the rotten smell coming out of my horse's hoofs? Not all of them smell bad, all the time but I'm thinking I need to do something."

Hey Justin, the smell is from a condition called Thrush, or it could be a pre-Thrush condition - meaning if left untreated it could turn into thrush. Thrush is caused by an anaerobic organism, meaning an organism that thrives without air. Air is the enemy of thrush, and sometimes cleaning out the rot to expose to the air will get rid of it for a time.

If left un-checked, Thrush can eat away the surface of the hoof - the part you see when you clean the feet as well as the softer frog - the spongy V shaped portion of the hoof. Hooves degraded from Thrush can actually lame up a horse, but I haven't seen this except for only the most egregious of neglect cases.

In the photo of the hoof at left you can see the white powdery material in the V crevice of the frog and the sole.  The black substance is thrush developing and it will be stinky.  Not as bad as my boot socks, but not smelling good in any case.  Pick the debris and manure out with a hoof pick and as you are scrapping much of the rot should come out too.

The biggest environmental factor for horses getting thrush is manure in the stalls. Removing manure, raking the stall and cleaning the feet can keep your horse(s) relatively Thrush free. Horses will generally clean their own hooves to some degree as they move around and their hooves hit the ground, expand and contract, and the process of their feet hitting the ground can often dislodge manure and it will drop away. If moving on hard or rocky ground, that ground can also chip away at material left in the hoof. However, the manure and wet soil can get lodges in the crevice of the frog and sole and then requires someone to pull it away using a hoof pick.

Good, routine farrier care is important for sound feet including any considering any comments and recommendations from your shoer/trimmer about Thrush in their hooves. Did you farrier say something to you about cleaning the feet more often? 

When you get that nasty Thrush smell and see evidence of black, decaying sole or frog, there are several things you can do to treat the hoof after cleaning it. There are commercial products to treat Thrush like Kopertox, Thrush Buster, No Thrush and many others. You can also use common household bleach or iodine. I use Kopertox for the most part. I don't use it that much, and when I do really only one application is necessary.

Kopertox's active ingredient is a diluted form of Copper Naphthenate, and as other commercial Thrush treatments, Kopertox tends to dry out the hoof. I try not to use Kopertox at least a week before my shoer comes so the feet aren't as hard as Superman's kneecap and therefore hard to trim with a hoof knife.  I live in the desert where you would think the feet wouldn't get Thrush because of the dryness, but we have our rainy seasons and it doesn't take long for wet soil and the Thrush organism present in the soil to make it's arrival on the hoof and particularly in the clefs of the frog. Checking your horse's feet once a day isn't too often. 

Friday, October 16, 2015

Groundwork - These Basics Are Under Rated

I'm seeing many people riding horses that are not broke to lead effectively. I see riders competing on, or just pleasure riding on horses that are distracted, can't stand still, or are pushy when in hand. Some are doing pretty well in competition on these horses, but in the more severe cases these horses are barely manageable on the ground and when in the saddle the rider is just a passenger averting bad things because the horse may be marginally directional and stopping only because the horse gets tired on someone pulling on his mouth. Some of these horses are older, have grown dead mouthed and usually have seen many different owners, while others are young horses that just have some holes in their education. For sure, some of these handlers are riding horses that I wouldn't ride,....until I got those problems pretty much fixed.

Saying your horse just has a lot energy or saying that he's a natural leader isn't the reason he is taking control. And just because a horse is the lead horse in your herd doesn’t mean he is a brave horse. Horses usually take control because they are fearful. And in a leadership vacuum, the horse will look out for himself, basically assuming that leadership position. You just can't let him be the leader in the two animal herd consisting of him and you.

I learned the lesson, over and over, that just because a horse is rideable doesn't mean he has ground manners. The funny thing is that I am likely not finished re-learning that lesson. One solution is to start new horses over, from the beginning, rather than try to fix holes in their behavior as they crop up and become a problem.

I had a client bring me a horse the other day and as I walked up to the horse and rider, who was in the saddle, I noticed the horse was distracted. The rider was using a snaffle bit and was in contact with the horse, who feet wouldn't stop moving. The horse then pushed through the bit and tried to walk over the top of me. I said to the rider "I was about to ask you what your issues are with him, but he just told me. Can you dismount and lead him in hand to the round pen?"

That horse didn't lead much better. Walking past or into the handler; not stopping when the handler stopped; and when the handler got the horse stopped moving forward, the horse's feet wouldn't stop moving sideways nor would his head. These are what the FBI calls a clue - an indicator that the horse doesn't have ground manners, nor broke to lead.

Some clinicians will say that if a horse is truly broke to lead, you can lead or send him anywhere,....through a gate, down into a hole, or into a trailer. And that horse won't have his head on a swivel nor trying to eat off the ground all the time. Nor will a horse who is really broke to lead be pulling the lead rope through the handler's hands. You can have a safe horse and not be perfect on the ground, but I certainly want a horse to lead correctly and give to pressure of the lead line.

Leading correctly means not running over the handler or even getting into his space; not be distracted but focused on the handler for the most part. The horse should be able to stand still on a loose lead when asked. When leading in hand the horse should maintain his position where the handler wants him, usually just off the right shoulder a couple feet to the side and to the rear, and maintain the handler's pace when being led in hand's, whether that pace is at a crawl, or a fast walk, or even a jog. I'd want any horse that I was fixing to ride to be sound in these things. If they aren't then trouble is just ahead.

When the horse is distracted, like in the picture at left, he should be directed back to the handler. I don't make a federal case out of it, but if a horse is looking somewhere else instead of on me, I'll bump his head back to where he has two eyes on the me.

  Usually after the third or fourth time that you have to correct a horse's lack of attention, the horse will figure this out and as you go to bump his head over, as soon as the weight on the lead line is different, he'll correct himself - then you know you are making progress.

Again, I don’t make federal cases of him getting distracted momentarily, but you just can't allow him to tune you out to check something out whenever he wants to.

When the horse is stopped the handler should be able to move about without the horse leaving until there is a signal on the lead line. He should simply stand still on a loose lead and not move until you direct him using that lead. If he tries to walk up on you, you get his attention then back him off and make an offer to him to stand still again. This is something you likely have to do over and over, but the horse will get it.  The picture, above left, shows a horse standing quiet on a loose lead.  As I change the weight and therefore pressure on the lead, above right, the horse begins to follow that lead moving towards me. 

When you lead he needs to stay in position, some people like that position right at their right elbow, some like it a step or two back, regardless of where you want your horse positioned when you lead him, when you stop, the horse needs to stop and stand still until directed someplace else. If your paces changes, his needs to change as well. As you are walking him out, if he start to move ahead of you, a bump on the lead line downward or to the read should be a signal to him to mind his pace and position.  The picture above left shows the horse leading correctly on a loose lead.  The picture above right shows my hand moving back on the lead to bump him back into position.    

You should be able to pickup the lead in the direction you want the horse to move and the horse should move off and move of quietly. Like if you open a gate and want the horse to move through it by himself , you should be able to pickup on the lead in that direction and he should walk off.   The picture above left shows he horse quietly moving around me a walk following the lead. If his head becomes oriented outside that arc, I will lightly bump his head back into position slightly tipped to the inside.  You should be able to pickup the lead and pull his head towards you to get him stopped and facing up.  This may require a pull (not a jerk) in the beginning, but as you horse gets softer to the feel of that lead, he'll get softer and more responsive to reacting to that pressure and facing up.  If the horse begins to walk towards you without you asking him to, I don't make a big deal out of it, I just correct him, give him chance to think about it, then ask him to approach me. 

Of course these are all very basic things, but I continue to get surprised at people are riding horses who aren't schooled in these basics.  Many of these people ride much better than I ever will, but I think fixing these holes in their horses will make a better horse and save the some problems down the road.    Safe Journey.  

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Craig Cameron at the 2015 Lincoln County Cowboy Symposium

If you haven't heard of Craig Cameron then you are likely living on an island in the Pacific Ocean, probably dodging head hunters. Craig Cameron, of course, is a Texas based clinician who travels tens of thousands of miles each year helping people with their horse, or rather, helping horses with their people through clinics - which he also hosts on his ranch in Central Texas. He has probably been the biggest influence on me and my journey developing my horsemanship.

Craig, sometimes called the "Cowboy Clinician" because of his rodeo and ranching roots, has a way of communicating to people where it is practical, helping people understand how horses react, think and learn all of which is necessary to help people communicate with their horses.

This year at the 2015 Lincoln County Cowboy Symposium, Craig and his son, Cole, brought in a 3 year old Red Roan and demonstrated putting a handle on a horse that was well along in his development. Talking and demonstrating how he works a young horse to give to pressure and being able to control the horse's back end, barrel and front end independently of each, Craig shows us what is possible with a young horse and more importantly putting a solid foundation on a horse in as low as stressful manner as possible. And I would say that most of the people watching Craig Cameron don't ride as well broke as horse as that 3 year old.

Craig likes to say that our most important job is to take the fear out of the horse. He goes on to say that he didn't always treat horses with respect, but I would say that he is more than making up for it now using his Cowboying background to connect to people teaching them that there is better way to work horses. The picture at left is Craig explaining how he approaches working with horses while his son puts the 3 year old Red Roan through his paces.

It's easy to see a horse giving to physical pressure like a bump on a lead rope or using the reins to tip the head in one direction or another, or, getting a horse to begin collection by dropping his nose and putting his forehead perpendicular to the ground. However, Craig also reminds us to consider the mental pressure that develops in horses and the body language and behavior that gives us an idea of how that is affecting the horse. The little Red Roan never had a troubled expression on his face the entire time.

If you get a chance, it would be worth your time and money to go see or ride with Craig Cameron, and you can also watch him on RFD-TV a couple of times a week. Safe Journey.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Cowboy Humor - My Wife is Missing

A husband went to the Sheriff’s department to report that his wife was missing.

Husband: My wife is missing. She went shopping yesterday and has not come home.

Sergeant: What is her height?

Husband: Gee, I’m not sure. A little over five-feet tall.

Sergeant: Weight?

Husband: Don’t know. Not slim, not really fat.

Sergeant: Color of eyes?

Husband: Never noticed.

Sergeant: Color of hair?

Husband: Changes a couple times a year. Maybe dark brown.

Sergeant: What was she wearing?

Husband: Could have been a skirt or shorts. I don’t remember exactly.

Sergeant: What kind of car did she go in?

Husband: She went in my truck.

Sergeant: What kind of truck was it?

Husband: Brand new Silver 2015 Ford F-350 Super Duty 4x4 King Ranch edition with 6.7 litre V-8 Turbo Diesel engine and automatic transmission. It goes into the shop next week for a Ranch Hand brush guard with 12,000 lb. electric Warn winch and a custom headache rack. It has Brown leather custom seats and after market floor mats with the logo "Don't Mess With Texas". In the cab I have a 21-channel CB radio, six cup holders, and four power outlets. In the glove compartment resides my collection of George Strait, Garth Brooks and Ian Tyson CDs. The truck has a Goose Neck hitch in the bed, and bumper pull trailering package. On all four corners there are BF Goodrich 285/75R16 Load Range E All Terrain tires. There's a small scratch on the passenger door where my wife was careless with her wedding ring. At this point the husband started choking up.

Sergeant: Don’t worry buddy. We’ll find your truck.