Thursday, April 28, 2016

Requiem for a Cowboy - RIP Roy Dean Wood

Received a call early Monday morning from a Texas Ranger friend of mine. Knew it couldn't be good news that early, and it wasn't. A friend of mine, Roy 'Dean' Wood of Chaparral, New Mexico just passed away. Dean was a Vietnam Veteran, itinerant Cowboy and I came to know him when we worked together as Army Range Riders, in which he always said it was the best paying Cowboy job he ever had.

Dean, the son of one of the last of the Army Remount soldiers, was an icon in the Tularosa Basin. Everyone knew Dean and if they didn't they would just describe him as that lean old Cowboy with the brown gus hat and big mustache who could charm a rattlesnake into a milk jug. As he used to always tell the ladies as he took off his hat to shake their hand...."the second time I see you, I'll need a hug." I wish I would have paid more attention to his stories but I do remember when he told me its best to have a tall boot when gelding cats. Apparently he had some experience as a boy shoving cats head first into one of his Pa's boots in order to geld those tomcats.

I worked several thousand plus acre fires in BLM grazing units with Dean despite him having bronchitis and being close to 70 years old then, there was no quit in him at all. Some people worried about his health as he was "damn close to 70" as he put it, and suggested that he cut back on red meat. Dean would point to his mouth and say "Chicken will never pass these lips." And according to Dean, mashed potatoes were a vegetable.

I'll never forget standing around a fire pit during a post wedding party with Dean, a local Texas Ranger Sergeant and another gent and having Dean pull out and start passing around a bottle of Wild Turkey 101. Then seemingly out of nowhere Dean's wife appears like a Choctaw ghost coming through the smoke of the fire, grabbing Dean's ear (she had practice as she was a school teacher) and yanking Dean back to the truck for a short ride home - although I'll just bet Dean didn't think it was such a short trip.

Dean being the elder Range Rider gave us all a scare a time or two, usually when he was riding the fenceline in the Sacramento mountains looking for lost cattle or to cut sign of poachers and didn't make it back until late because he had two flats on his truck or trailer and was out of radio range.

Another time, on a cold moonless December night I received a call from dispatch that a cattle hauler over turned on the highway and they needed Range Riders to gather over 70 head that were loose and becoming a traffic hazard. I called Dean and we decided to meet North of the accident site in the direction the cattle were heading and we would unload our horses and push the cows to a break in the fence and have a local rancher meet us with some portable panels. We got to the accident site, drove north and found the leading edge of the herd, then turned our trucks around to use our headlights to light up the cows as we unloaded our horses, when a little sports car came speeding down the highway and T boned Dean's rig as he was turning. Dean was shook up by the impact into his truck, luckily the bed of the truck, and his first words were to ask about his horse which was fine. The sports car driver wasn't okay - we got him an air Medevac to Las Cruces. Dean was back to work the next day or two, albeit with bruises up and down his arms and madder than a wet hornet because of the damage to his Super Duty.

One of my fondest memories of Dean was when at the end of a shift I would get a radio call: "Range Rider 74, Tio Jaime (nickname for a local Rancher and close friend of Dean's) would like you to stop at the 54 Ranch to have a taste with us." Thankfully this was only a few times a year because it always resulted in the next day being hard to get through. My saving grace was the ranch was adjacent to open desert where I could drive straight home and only be a hazard to coyotes and jackrabbits.

I wish I would have made a better effort to get out to see Dean one last time before he crossed over. He sure as hell would have gave me something to think about.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Stretching Horses

Molly wrote to ask if I stretch my horses out and what, if any, supplements I can recommend to her for joints and muscele health. "Hi, I looked all over on your site to see if you have any articles or videos on stretching horses or if you believe that does any good. Also, on a middle aged horse around 15 years old, what , if any, joint supplements or muscle supplements would you recommend?" Thank you for any consideration in answering this. Molly."

Yes, I do stretch my horses out, not all the time, but more often than not. From the ground I'll lunge a horse around at a slow jog to warm him up alittle and get the blood flowing to his extremities as I think stretching cold muscles increases the chance of an injury (muscle strain or tear) especially on older horses. Pretty much just like us humans. I think that if you have a horse chiropractor in your area, he/she may be able to give you some good stretches and other ideas on stretching horses. So I guess you can tell I also support equine chiropractic care in some cases and only if you get a good chiropractor.

Stretching the horse's legs out, when he is saddled, can help get the cinch sorted out and maybe more comfortable for the horse, as well as just continue the process of getting the horse gentled on having his legs handled which is good for your horseshoer and particular good if you ever get your horse tangled up in wire and you have to cut his legs out and move a leg or foot out of the way. If you stretch out the horse when he is saddled, go back and check the cinch.

On the ground, I'll bend the fore leg back and pull slightly up on the leg and hold for 10-15 seconds. This is much the same thing a Vet will do to check for leg injuries, stretching in the same manner then having you trot your horse of to see if there is any lameness that would be associated with a chronic leg condition. I know people also stretch their horses in this manner, and some also include a small shoulder rotating into it. I don't do that.

I'll also stretch the front foot out until the horse's leg is straight - like in the picture. I don't jerk on it, I just apply a little steady pressure until the horse fully gives me that extension. Many times after you extend that leg fully, the horse will pull down on his leg stretching it himself. Again, I'll hold for 10-15 seconds or so. When doing these stretches, I don't give the horse back his foot/leg until he relaxes, otherwise you are teaching him that he can pull his foot away he wants to. Your shoer will be grateful if your horse is well mannered and doesn't pull his feet away when handling them.

As I go from one side of my horse to the other I'll sometimes lift his tail straight up and not release it until he is soft about it. From the beginning you might hold the tail up for one second then release and build on that until he is comfortable with you holding the tail up for as long as you have a mind to.  This is a routine handling thing as well tail brushing is so when I go about stretching the tail it is usually no big deal for the horse.
When I stretch the tail I'll grip the tail just above where the tail bone ends and pull straight back, not sharply, again just a steady pull. I'll hold for about 5 seconds, release, then do it again for maybe 10 to 15 seconds and lean back to put just a little more of my bodyweight into the stretch.  Don't do this on a horse that is not soft about having his tail handled, until he is. But all this tail handling will pay off making your horse softer about his tail and safe for you taking his temperature with a rectal thermometer or if and when you get a rope underneath their tail - this is called rimfired, where the horse will clamp down his tail tighter than a Sister of Mercy in a Nevada cathouse.

For the back legs, I'll lift up a leg (see above picture at left) just like when your shoer puts the leg on a stand and hold for 10-15 seconds, then unflex the leg and pull it out directly behind the horse to full extension (see picture at right). Again, I'm not jerking just putting steady pressure until the horse softens and relaxes.  

Once in the saddle, I will do what might be described as 'pre-ride checks'. This is when I'll ask my horse for lateral and vertical flexion to get him prepared to listen for my signals before we ever start moving. I don't do this all the time like I really should, just more often than not.

As far as supplements go, I don't use muscle building supplements.  I gave used red cell before on really underweight rescue horses, but do not routinely use it. 
I do have one horse on joint supplements. Glucosamine, Chondroitin and Hyaluronic Acid (HA) are the big three ingredients found in most joint supplements. Sometimes you'll see Yucca extract or MSM added for their pain relieving and anti-inflammatory properties. I think Glucosamine is the most important of the joint supplements. Talking over the years with human and horse nutrition researchers, many believe that Glucosamine likely works, but there is no empirical evidence that Chondroitin or HA works. That matches my experience on using human joint supplements. Many believe that Vitamin C is also as good ingredient in joint supplements to help the soft connective tissues to the joints. But whatever you use be sure of the quality, based on the raw ingredients, manufacturing process and subsequent certifications as these are probably key to the effectiveness of any supplement.   Hope this helps Molly.   

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Rattlesnake Season - Horses Beware

April is here and so is full blown Rattlesnake season. Although I have encountered as many as four rattlesnakes in the month of December, the spring is well rattlesnakes will exit their dens and remain above ground until the fall in most climates. I have yet to see one this year, but I'm sure I will soon.
Coming out of hibernation and hungry, rattlesnakes will be pretty active. Pretty easy to see and avoid in the desert, it becomes harder when the growth of grass and weeds start providing ground cover especially after a sporadic rain. But the last few times I have ridden with other people and have encountered rattlesnakes, they were in plain sight and almost walked on top of.
Movement is more easily detected, so objects not moving are often undetected. Your sub-conscious gets used to see mostly vertical lines and shapes from vegetation growing out of the ground, so often a horizontal shape of the snake draws our attention.

The good news is that rattlesnake bits are rarely fatal, however their venom, which differs from species of rattlesnake, has some nasty side effects. Oddly enough, I met a Vet last year who told me he had two cases of fatal snake bites to horses in a week or two span. Older horses or horses with immune system compromises would likely be at higher risk.

Horses are usually bitten on the legs, nose or head area. The nose is obvious as horse's are curious animals and this presents big danger as nasal passages can become swollen and closed off. I carry some sections of surgical tubing coated on the outside with vaseline or bag balm then vacuum packed in a small package with a food saver, just in case.

Rattlesnakes have different levels of hemo or neuro toxins which have different effects on the horse. Neurotoxins being more of a threat, given a large dose of venom, as it threatens the nervous and respiratory systems. I have some of my friends tell me that horses of theirs have been bitten in the legs by Western Diamondback Rattlesnakes, who carry a larger percentage of hemotoxins (affecting the capillary system and therefore the muscles), and the resultant toxins and swelling has greatly reduced blood supply carrying nutrients to the hooves and resulting in a horse foundering (laminitis).

There is a equine rattlesnake vaccine called Crotalus Atrox Toxoid that was primarily developed for protection against the Western Diamondback Rattlesnake bite. It is thought to also provide some protection against other specific closely associated with the Western Diamondback and may also provide a little protection against the Rattlesnake species with mainly neurotoxin venom such as the Mojave Green. As safe as the vaccine studies make it out to be, I choose not to immunize my horses to rattlesnakes only because I'm a little leery of the side effects to the vaccine, again even though they are reported to be limited. Plus it can be expensive.

But if your horse is bitten you need to get him to a Vet just as soon as you can. In most cases, I would get off him and walk to a point where someone can meet you with a trailer for transport to the nearest equine Vet.  Being able to identify the species of rattlesnake would be help, but not to the point where you waste a bunch of time trying to catch and kill the snake and place yourself in danger of being bite.   Depending on the timeline and with the Vet's concurrence, I may give my horses a Banamine injection. After bite care will likely include keeping the bite site clean, hydrotherapy to reduce swelling and giving your horse anti-biotics.

Just be careful when you are riding. Don't count on getting a warning, Rattlesnakes will not always rattle to warn off people or animals, in fact in my experience, more often than not you will not hear the rattlesnake rattle. Many times when riding in a file, it won't be the first but will be the second or third horse and rider who hear the snake rattle. Rattlesnakes will not always coil before striking either.

Baby rattlesnakes are even a bigger hazard than full grown mature rattlesnakes. The babies are born live in a thin egg like membrane material which they break right after birth. They are born with a full load of venom and have not learned to control the amount they inject into a bite meaning they will often give a full load of venom unlike a mature rattlesnake which often induced "dry" bites.

Hope it never happens to you, but just in case, have a plan on what you are going to do if one of your horses, or even you, get bite when on the trail. Always having a cell phone on you is a good idea so you can call for trailer support and call your Vet.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Arena Obstacles: Ground Poles

It's hard to compete in any obstacle related event where you don't have the requirement of trotting or even loping over ground poles. Some of the ground pole obstacles will have specified distances between poles, sometimes basing the distance between poles to the required gait they have to be negotiated at. And sometimes you may see ground poles arranged like the spoke of a wheel, much narrower space closer to the center of the wheel and also elevated to add to the degree of difficulty.

A year or so ago, I was demonstrating riding an obstacle course that had three ground poles laid out before you had to cross over a wooden pallet bridge. The horse I was on riding did just fine, not nicking any poles and crossing the bridge in stride. The riders asked me to explain how I got my horse to do so well. My reply was "well you'll have to ask my horse. All I did was give him his head, direct him forward on a loose rein and he did the rest." I got the impression they thought I was giving a flippant answer, but really all I did was just get out of his way, thinking that he would likely not want to step on this poles.

A few days ago at a horse show this topic came up again when I was asked by someone how to get their horse trotting over ground poles without clipping them with their feet. The person explained that no matter how many times they tried to go over ground poles her horse would clip the poles with his feet. She also asked what was the exact distance apart they should be putting these ground poles. What I told her was as far as distance apart, pole to pole, she should look at the rule books for the type of competition she was doing - sort of like rehearsing that obstacle. Otherwise I'd vary the distance as it's likely to improve the horse's thinking and timing.   I asked them how much she practice traversing ground poles and she replied once or twice a week she would take her horse over the ground poles a few times, but her horse would clip so many of them she would stop not wanting to sore up her horse's feet.

I asked her if she was using 4 inch oilfield pipe for ground poles. She said they were PVC pipe, so I replied I wouldn't worry so much about your horse hitting the PVC ground poles, it's really only annoying the horse and that annoyance will work in your favor if you ask your horse to go over the ground poles more than a few times he'll get tired of hitting his hooves and have more attention  picking up his feet and maintaining suspension over the pole. 

She asked me what signals I'm doing with the reins and my legs to get the horse to pickup his feet. I told her that while I'm diligently working on connecting the reins to a horse's feet, I'm just not good enough to do to influence a horse when crossing ground poles. I just give the horse it's head via a loose rein, and use my legs and seat to keep his momentum up to maintain the gait across the poles.

Ground poles are something you'll likely have to do more than once a week to get good at, and just a few attempts at crossing these poles probably ain't enough either. I know ground poles are boring but they don't have to be. In the diagram below, I've attempted to depict crossing a set of ground poles, then adding a turn on the forehand or turn on the hocks to get set up for a repeat run over the poles.

You could also double your horse to bring him back over the poles. I'll just bet that after six or eight passes over the poles, the amount of times a horse clips the poles will decrease. I also like to mix up the tempo as well. After each pass over the poles and turn around, whether it's a turn on the forehand or hocks or whatever, sometimes I'll stop for 30 seconds or so before I ask the horse to go, and sometimes we'll move right out after the turn around.

Just remember that crossing ground poles is much harder for the horse when the rider is in contact with the horse's mouth as the horse needs to see what he needs to be stepping over. Riding over the poles on a loose rein, allowing the horse from freedom with his head or having a horse that will soften at the poll when asked is not only an asset, usually just plain necessary to negotiating the poles. Your seat and balance can affect the horse's timing as well. Bouncing around the seat, or being pulled forward if you are riding in contact as the horse drops his head to see the poles is not giving the horse the best chance either.

One pole obstacle that I have been doing lately adds small turns at the trot, stop, side pass one pole in one direction and another pole in another direction.  It's kind of hard to pass up a chance to work on lateral movement. 

So when training or if running an arena obstacles challenge consider adding tasks to that obstacles whether they are just ground poles or not.  If you have an arena or field with an obstacle course you have probably figured out that it gets boring to both you and the horse to do the same obstacles, the same way all the time. Plus nobody wants to spend a lot of time setting up obstacles, so it becomes necessary to getting the most value out of each obstacle. Figure out different ways to negotiate the same obstacle, keeping your horse and you mentally fresh as well as challenging your leadership and the horse's abilities.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Horse Owners as First Line in Equine Health Care

Bill and Melissa wrote in asking about "Thanks for putting together your site. Although my husband and I have owned horses before, now that we are retired we have our horses on our own small acreage property. When we boarded horses there was always some experienced people around to help with any sick horses and Veterinarian care was always available. We both want to be able to provide immediate medical care for our horses as time seems to be a big factor with horses especially when they colic. What do you think we should be able to do and what medications would you recommend we keep available? Our nearest Vet's office is about 45 miles away and we want to be as prepared as we can be. Thanks you for any consideration in replying. Melissa and Bill. "

Great question Melissa and Bill. I would first suggest talking to your Vet about your question. I'm sure your Vet will not look at it like you are taking business away from him. I will never hesitate to call my Vet if I think I need her, however I am the one responsible for my horse's health and condition and I am prepared to treat and report as best I can before I call the Vet, and before she arrives. Texting your Vet is also good. It seems to be less threatening than a phone call as far as committing a Vet to a farm call at nights and on weekends. And it does seem like most horse emergencies are on Friday, Saturday or Sunday nights now don't they?

I think the place to start is mitigating risks to your horses. Some of those risks and other things you may want to consider could be:

~ Horse getting hurt. Some horses shouldn't be penned or turn out with each other. You'll likely know if this is the case. Not putting your horses in situations where they will get hurt. Hard tying a horse that pulls back before you can get him better at not pulling back, and cross tying a horse before the horse is sound at it are common things I see or hear about going wrong.

~ Removing any potential danger to the horses. I am amazed as some of the ramshackle places people keep horses,...rebar sticking out, sharp splintered wood fencing, barbed wire, turning horses out with halters on, and many other dangers which can be eliminated by the owner. I know many people keep their horses in pastures with barbed wire fencing - I'm jut not a fan of using in for horse pens.

~Preventative health care is paramount. Keeping horse vaccinations up-to-date; routine dental care - likely once a year; routine worming - check with your Vet for what he/she recommends for your area. Inspect and clean your horse's feet regularly. Good, periodic (meaning on a schedule) hoof care from a good farrier is invaluable.

~ Provide quality feed and free choice clean water. Not only is quality forage important, how you feed it is important. When I ran a large stables many problems were from owners feeding large amounts of hay once a day. I feed both alfalfa and grass hay, so my horses were good as separating the hay and throwing the grass out on the ground to eat later, so until I started feeding my horses in deep feed bins which reduced the need for periodic doses of sand clear as a preventative for sand colic.

~ I also give some of my horses a weekly does of probiotics. Not all my horses, but the ones I think routine probiotics can help.

~ Learn how to read a horse's symptoms and vital signs. Gut sounds, heart rate, respirations. Have your horses okay with getting their temperature checked and having a good digital thermometer on a string is handy. Know how to check for dehydration - skin and gum capillary reflex test.

~ Know the signs of distress such as colic where a horse may be lethargic, not eating, standing spread or stretched out, ears back, biting at their sides, and trying to roll or throw themselves down. Be able to conduct a physical exam to determine inflammation and het such as a horse who is beginning to founder.

~ Be able to keep a timeline on horses in distress and report symptoms and behavior to your Vet over the phone or through text messaging.

~ As far as medications go, I keep a bottle of Banamine (FluMeglumine) muscle relaxer on hand for colic cases where an injection is indicated and I explain the timeline and symptoms over the phone to my Vet and get concurrence that an injection would be appropriate. I keep 12, 20 and 25 mg syringes and 18, 20, 21 gauge 1.5" needles on hand as well. A bottle of alcohol to wash down injection sites works for me better than alcohol swabs.

~ I keep a bottle of a product called Equi-Sure on hand which is a all natural solution, given orally, to reduced pre-colic or colic type symptoms.

~ A first class emergency medical bag handy is a good idea. Having Vet Wrap, bandages, and Nitroflurozone ointment, hydrogen peroxide and antiseptic cleaner is a good start. I also have some bandages that are gauze coated with a Blood Clotting agent - but you have to know when and how to use it. I ride in areas with cactus and mesquite. Sometimes a Leatherman tool comes in handy removing cactus or mesquite spines. By the way, I also keep some tampons handy as bandages as they soak up blood pretty well and fit into the occasional slicing type wound on a horse.

I would recommend the book "How to Be Your Own Veterinarian (sometimes)" - A Do-It-Yourself Guide for the Horseman, by Ruth B. James, DVM. My wife's 25 year old copy is dog earred and almost wore out as much as we have used it over the years. The book is available on Amazon.

Hope this helps. Safe Journey to the both of you and your horses.