Wednesday, December 27, 2017

More Questions on Trailer Loading

Everett wrote to clarify some things on trailer loading. "I have several questions on trailer loading if you have the time to answer me. I own and have watched several videos on trailer loading and generally have no problems with my two horses, but encounter some problems when helping friends of mine with their horses getting in the trailer. Videos are great and have been my primary outside learning experience but you can't ask questions! (1) I've seen different trainers work their horses in different patterns before trying to load them such as circles or just going back and forth. Is any pattern okay or are their advantages and disadvantages with each? And if you are lunging a horse around a trailer then try to load her and she stops at the trailer and refuses to load, isn't she being rewarded with a rest anyway? (2) One problem I almost ways have with other's horses is a when you are asking the horse to get in the trailer she will move around the side of the trailer sort of hiding so how do you keep them straight? (3) Have you encounter a horse who won't step into the trailer because the trailer is too high? Will a ramp work better? Any answers you can give would be appreciated. Thank you for your site and videos as well. Respectfully, Everett".

Good questions Everett. The pattern that you lunge a horse in prior to asking him to attempt to load is really not important. What is are the reason for doing so and how you go about doing it. See diagrams before on two common patterns - although some people will lunge their horses in ovals on all sides of the trailer or lunge them from one side to the other - whatever you are comfortable with. I look at it these ways:

Although it often said or thought that the reason for working your horse outside the trailer prior to loading is to get him seeking that rest in the trailer. While this is pretty much true, I believe the primary reason for working the horse outside the trailer is to direct his feet therefore establishing leadership with him and getting him focused on listening to you, so when you ask him to enter the trailer it is an extension on what you just had been doing. Moving around the outside of trailer is useful on getting him sacked out on any anxiety with the trailer he may have. See figures 1 and 2 below - they are common patterns I do when working a horse into wanting to load.

I understand your point about working a horse then letting it rest at the trailer refusing to load. While it may be a physical rest for the horse (for a moment), as you are asking it to load it becomes mental pressure as the horse realizes you are asking it to do something it is wary of doing. Besides, you are not going to stay at this point for a long time. A few moments without an effort to load before you are back to working it. As long as the horse makes an effort, I'll stay at this point in the process.

As far as the trailer being too high for the horse to step into,....I think can't and won't are too different things, with can't stepping that high being a rare thing. The height of the trailer can add anxiety to the horse and the horse may leap into the trailer. This is why we don't stand in front of the horse leading them into the trailer. This can also cause additional problems if the floor is too slippery or not stable. I once refused to work a client's horse on trailer loading into his trailer because the floor would have likely cracked and it was looking possible for a horse to get his hoof through that floor. Can you imagine the damage if that happened on a moving trailer? All possible for want of a few dollars worth of 2x6 planks.

Anyway, before I forget, even if you have a trailer you can walk into leading your horse, it is a good idea in my book to also be able to send your horse into the trailer while you stay outside. On sending, sometimes the horse will turn around because it's hard to stop him from turning around while you are on the outside, so it's good to be able to back him out after sending him in. All good experience for the horse - makes him safer and more handier.

I don't have a trailer with a ramp nor have used a ramp much. I don't prefer them as you kind of need level ground behind the trailer for loading and un-loading. If you fashion a ramp for a ramp less trailer because you think your horse needs it to load, just make sure it is stable - won't move and will take the weight. A horse around 1,200 pounds becomes much more than that when stepping hard onto the ramp. I would think the 'sponginess' of some ramps may increase a horse's fear of loading.

I think your last question is what to do if your horse steps to the side of the trailer avoiding loading. If you are in the trailer (but off to the side) it's hard to keep a horse straight for loading that doesn't want to stay straight. I would likely go back to working the horse in circles or half circles, then going back to asking to load. Or you can use a lunge whip or just a stick to tap the horse on the outside of his barrel or butt to get him to move over and become straight again. Sometimes, I'll step out of the trailer and back the horse with energy, then walk back around to the trailer and ask him to load again. See figure 3 at left.

Some other important things are going to be:

When you lead a horse to a trailer to load, expect him to load just fine, otherwise he may sense your hesitancy and not load;

Remember that you can't pull a horse into the trailer - you can put a little pressure or hold on the lead rope momentarily so he understand you want him to come forward, but he needs to load on a loose lead - Good Lord this is likely the most common mistake - continue pulling on the horse trying to get him to load;

If he load's then back him out before he backs out under his own decision - then build on the amount of time he can stand in the trailer. It's okay to turn around if you can do it safely in the beginning but eventually he needs to be able to back out. I like to back a horse out under a loose lead when I'm inside the trailer and use the verbal cue "step" to help him identify the edge.      

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Arena Patterns: Ground Poles and Box

This is another easy pattern or obstacle for your arena, consisting of ground poles and a box, that everyone can use and use in multiple ways so you and your horse and can get a lot out it. While it can just be used as ground poles to go over and over with your horse to help him learn to pick his feet up, and to help you with the timing of the feet, it can also be used for turns, backing, side passing and tight turn arounds with forward momentum, which judging from the Arena Obstacle Challenges I run each year, seem to be a problem area for many horses and riders.

I had a client in my arena riding a horse who was half draft horse - pretty tall maybe 17 hands, but short backed actually. The pair had a problem with turning tight circles. We weren't going to get everything solved that day, but after working on lateral and vertical flexion, and controlling the head/neck, front end, barrel and back end - which I advocated doing everytime that horse was pulled to ride, we moved onto the drills you see in the diagrams below. As I demonstrated the many various things you can do with ground poles, the client said words to the effect that she "would have never thought about doing anything but riding over the ground poles like cavalettis, like in Figure 1 below.

Figure 1. Riding over the ground poles really helps the horse pick his feet up. The change of interval from the first five poles to the last ground pole on the far side of the circle adds a challenge in concentration. I think this exercise also puts a reason into asking the horse to get soft, drop his nose vertical, as it helps him see the ground poles.  You can also change up the interval from pole to pole.

Figure 2. This is pretty much the same exercise as Figure 1 but adds a small circle under forward momentum in the box. I have my box with 6 foot long sides, but if you have a really large horse you can extend the box somewhat. I do that for big horses competing in Arena Obstacle Challenges. The idea is to do this circle smoothly without it looking like a narrow turn on the hocks, then a step forward, then another narrow turn on the hocks. It helps if the horse is soft and can follow his nose keeping the bend without fading out - which requires forward momentum. The follow on to the circle in the box is to do the circle using only a neck rein and once you can do that, do it using only leg cues and pressure.
Figure 3. This exercise is riding between the ground poles, doing a turn around after you get through the poles in order to get lined up and go through the next set.  The basic idea is to do a 180 degree turn with forward momentum.  You can turn on the front end or on the hocks which will likely require re-lining up a bit to proceed forward through the next ground poles.  After four trips between the ground poles, you enter the box and execute a 360 degree turn with forward momentum.
Figure 4. This is pretty challenging - riding forward between two poles, side passing to get lined up for the next set, then backing up. Repeating this until you can side pass over then step into the box for a tight circle.
While you could ride over this pattern and these obstacles for a while before ever doing the same thing, if you change up the way you enter the poles, or doing it in reverse, I would consider sticking to a particular pattern until you horse gets comfortable with it and improves quite a bit before you change it up.  You can also side pass over the poles - in fact, another way I use ground poles is to trot over them and stop my horse so he has his front feet on one side of a ground pole and the rear feet on the other side of the pole, then side pass him one direction or the other.    

You are only limited by your imagination and what's safe for you and your horse to perform.  One more variation is that once inside the box, position up and do turns on the hocks or on the front end rather than doing a circle.           

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Christmas Ideas for Horse People

There are my ideas for some good Christmas gifts for horse people.  Aside of not having a pair of Carlos Macias (Buckaroo Gear) Armitas, everything else I have and put to good use. 

Air Compressor for Truck and Trailer Tires. ARB 4x4 Accessories offers several different on-board (mounted to a vehicle) and portable air compressor kits. These are not your cheap K-Mart type units that don't have the guts to inflate larger tires such as load range E tires or even the tires commonly found on most horse trailers. I don't remember how many times I have people pulling trailers with under inflated tires or tires that were damaged, dry rotted or about to blow out.

I have a portable unit since I use three different trucks to pull four different trailers - I can store the ARB portable High Performance 12 volt air compressor in any truck I am using that day. If you think the same then you have two basic options considering what you are willing to spend - the ARB Twin High Performance 12 volt portable air compressor (MSRP $875.00) r the smaller ARB Portable High Performance 12 volt air compressor (MSRP $352.00).

ARB also makes a tire repair kit. This is not your cheap truck stop kit, but a well made kit and includes pencil type tire gauge with dual pressure range and dual chuck, insertion and reamer tools, needle nose pliers, lubricant, additional valve accessories and 30 self vulcanizing repair cords for complete air sealing. MSRP at $42.00

Buy Knowledge Not Gear. That's what John Lyon's told me earlier this year. I cannot more highly recommend a subscription to Eclectic Horseman magazine and their DVD series The Horseman's Gazette. The eclectic Horseman magazine, which is published six times a year, presents information from well-known clinicians and trainers including Buck Brannaman, Martin Black, Joe Wolter, Wendy Murdoch, Bryan Neubert, Paul Dietz, Deb Bennett, Jim and Donnette Hicks, Mindy Bower, Scott Grosskopf and a host of lesser-known clinicians, trainers and cowboys who get up and work with horses and students every day.

You can watch short previews from the Horseman's Gazette DVD series at this link.

But if you need Gear, then here are a few of my favorites makers and providers:

Martin Black. Martin is a highly regarded clinician but also offers quality gear including Rawhide and Kangaroo Hackamores. He offers DVD's ranging from ranch roping to starting colts. He also offers the famous Ed Connell horsemanship texts - "Hackamore Reinsman", "Reinsman of the West" and "Vaquero Style Horsemanship", as well as many others. I have a 1/2 inch Kangaroo Hackamore, which is very soft. All his hackamores come with leather hangers and you will not find any higher quality gear.

Buckaroo Gear. Formerly known as Lost Buckaroo, Carlos Macias is well known for his custom chinks and armitas. He makes chaps and other leather gear as well. It's his armitas you hear being referred to when Trinity Seely sings her song "Low Maintenance". For everything from bosals, to saddles, ropes, bits and spurs to many other items, go to Carlos website - Buckaroo Gear.

Craig Cameron. A famous clinician and founder of the Extreme Cowboy Association (EXCA), Craig offers a great selection of gear. Some of my favorite items are his hobbles. Offering soft cotton training hobbles, sideline hobbles, to adjustable and no buckle leather hobbles you will be able to find the hobble(s) you need. Craig's No-Buckle hobble is a constant companion on my saddle.

Consider Your Horse. Right now as I write this it's snowing just west of El Paso, Texas. Temperatures in the mid 30's and forecasted to be in the low 20's. Time to put blankets on the horses and they need to be water resistant. We're pretty happy with the Weatherbeeta line of blankets. Weatherbeeta has a page on their website that helps you select blankets if your horse is a,....Blanket Wrecker, Blanket Houdini or is just plain blanket friendly. I've got some of each actually. Weatherbeeta offers all sorts of turnout blankets and cooling sheets, but I have several of the medium and heavy weight blankets made from 1200D ripstop nylon with 220grams of insulation and 1680D Ballistic Nylon with 360 grams of insulation respectively, with MSRP's of $114.99 to $349.99 - although I've never had to pay that much even buying retail. Those two blankets covers my horses' needs in West Texas.

Don't Ride Naked. That means wearing suitable clothing. Some of what I wear is from Schaefer Ranchwear and since it's cold weather time, I'm normally wearing a wool vest over a shirt and under a coat. The 805 Cattle Baron vest at an MSRP $130.00 is something that will last you a long time and provide some comfort when riding on those cold days. I like the vest not only because of it's thick wool (24 oz. Legacy Melton Wool) but it has actual pockets - four outside and two inside.

Schaefer's RangeWax version of outer wear is also premium items. The Schaefer 230 RangeWax Drifter Coat at an MSRP $240.00 is a great coat to break the wind and keep you dry. The Schaefer RangeWax is a non-sticky version of the old Australian waxed outback clothing. The RangeWax Drifter coat has a heavy duty front zipper, two 2 way pockets, and two slant pockets, and snap out side vents for riding. My only complaint about this coat is the velcro cuffs rather than brass snaps, but I can live with that.


Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Thanksgiving Message

Through the daily pace of our hectic lives it is easy to lose perspective on our blessings. A water line breaks requiring immediate repair; working a horse in the arena being cut short even before you get started because a neighbor has a sick horse he wants you to look at; your wife calls from town with a dead battery in her truck;....I could give many examples. But it's important to stop for a minute or two and actually reflect on our blessings. I have many, much more than I deserve, even though I'm found of half jokingly saying "I'm thankful that nobody has killed me yet."

I'm grateful for being born an American. When I was an Army Range Rider, I would go to Middle and High Schools for career day. Why I kept getting invitations to do so is beyond me as I'm sure my job didn't appeal to most people,...maybe it was my horse who always generated interest. Anyway, I would tell those kid's, particularly the high school kids, to be grateful that they too were born or residing in the United States. My travel all over the Middle East and Africa taught me that there is no other country with as many opportunities as the U.S. I also told those kid's not to squander those opportunities....honor your blessings by maximizing those gifts.

I'm thankful for that morning cup of coffee in a quiet house. I'm grateful for every morning that I find the horses hungry, curious and looking for me. I'm thankful that every day my dogs act like they haven't seen me in months and run up to me hoping to get petted. While I am still sad I lost my first wife 19 years ago, I am grateful each and everyday that she left me with a daughter who has become a beautiful, talented and healthy adult. I am thankful for having a second chance with a new wife who is amazingly resilient at besting cancer despite all the poking, prodding, surgeries and radiation.

And even though it may pale in comparison to the family blessings, I am grateful for being physical able (maybe not so mentally able) to continue a journey in developing my horsemanship as best as I can. I am conflicted living in a complicated age with technology seemingly changing every day, but without some of the modern communications tools, many of us would miss out on hearing or seeing what the best horseman have to say or do. So I'm grateful for all those top hands who willingly share their hard earned knowledge. That knowledge was hard to come by a short 30 years ago.

So I guess my message is for people to think about letting themselves be thankful for their blessings, large and small. Let yourself be amazed at all the little miracles we experience each day. I'm thankful that I still find great joy in a horse making the smallest improvement. And like a friend of mine said to me years ago, "be thankful that the horse doesn't hold a grudge!"

Happy Thanksgiving and a hope for continued blessings.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Riding is Riding: Observations from a Dressage Clinic

I was asked by a local Dressage Organization to film riders working with a Freestyle Consultant in developing individual dressage routines to music. I thought it would interesting so I said I'd do it, setting up early on a Sunday morning at one end of the Dressage Court - by the way, don't call it an arena - and started filming riders as the consultant matched up dressage maneuvers with the music. Right off the bat it was pretty neat as I had a lady rider coming towards me at a long trot to the music of Cherokee Nation by Paul Revere and the Raiders. This lady rider actually does this routine wearing a Indian feather bonnet and buckskins. 

Even though the riders, both english and western dressage, rode in contact with their horses - meaning the reins were taunt as opposed to riding on a loose rein as many of us try to achieve - the horses I saw were all in a vertical head position, broke at the poll and nose perpendicular to the ground and the riding I saw exhibited was pretty precise. The riders all demonstrated that they had achieved a good level of communication between themselves and their horses as they went through their leg yields or forward momentum with lateral movement (what I know as two tracking), counter cantering which is riding a circle at a lope on the wrong lead (yes, on purpose), doing turns on the front end and then on hocks, simple and flying lead changes, and showing straightness in riding diagonally from one end of the court to the other. All what anybody would recognize as excellent riding. 

So at some level, riding is riding, be it English/Western dressage or trail riding, or even working cows in a sorting pen. Many of us trying to develop communication with our horses where we can move the front end over independently of the back end and vice versa, or getting a lateral side pass (again, two tracking) and are all doing pretty much the same things with our horses.

In the annual Arena Obstacles Challenges I put on, I always have tasks that require much of the same. Many rider and horses who compete in equitation type events do well when asked to demonstrate a 360 degree on the hocks but maybe not so well when asked to retrieve a slicker off a fence and put it on. The reverse is true for the trail riders having not so much difficulty in riding their horses through a rope curtain but are challenged when asking to two track a short distance.

I think what hampers some of us is that we practice what we can do okay on horseback, but neglect the things we don't do well because we have difficulty in making progress on those things and it's natural to avoid frustration or the ever present reminder that we just ain't having success. But it's important to keep at it as it makes us and our horse's more handier.

I was reading in Eclectic Horseman magazine that a some readers stopped their subscriptions as they don't find value in some of the articles that are outside what they perceive as their riding discipline. Actually, it's pretty challenging to try and understand some of the concepts of dressage and other theories. And while I'm not about to wear a set of tight pants, I enjoy not only those written articles on dressage, technical riding and even bio-mechanics, but also the videos of Jim Hicks, Wendy Murdoch and others in the Eclectic Horseman's Horseman's Gazette DVD quarterly series.

Rider's tend to be cliquish,...ropers only roping, barrel racers only running barrels, dressage riders only in the lettered court, and if we stay that way we're risking missing out if we don't explore other riding concepts and lessons. The lady, Martha Diaz, on the buckskin in the photo at left is a well respected dressage trainer and competitor. I've contracted her before to come in and watch me ride to correct what I can't see. Not only worth it, but kinds of frees up your mind to understand that if you are open to it, you can learn from other disciplines, after all riding is pretty much riding.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Horses with Trailer Confinement Issues

Several people in the last couple of months have sent e-mails with the same basic issue that they are having a hard time resolving - horses who are okay at trailer loading but are anxious when the trailer is stopped. Some just move around and others kick and paw, and when unloading - some try to leave the trailer in a fast manner.  The common question is "should I leave my horse in the trailer until they calm down?"  

Different trailers and different circumstances, such as trailering with or without other horses, are going to affect some horses. A small, two horse straight load trailer may be too confining for horses used to a open stock trailer. Slant loads with the panels may seem too confining to some horses, especially larger horses - you may know horses like this.  If you have the chance to load your horse in different trailers, by all means do so. Doesn't mean you'll resolve problems down the road, just gives you a better chance at it.

Some horses are fine by themselves, or loading with other horses, and others get anxious when in a trailer next to others. The good news is I think you can minimize all these issues by loading and unloading, and/or trailering to some place over and over. I had a three year old Paint horse who took some time getting him to load. I hung a hay net up so he could pick at it once he loaded.  Once I had him loaded, I had him back out. Then I loaded him and kept him in the trailer for increasing amounts of time and we're talking about starting at around 10 seconds once his feet stopped moving.  When he was good with that, standing still for a few minutes, I loaded him and drove a few minutes in a wide circle, stopped, unloaded, mounted and rode for a couple minutes, then dismounted and loaded the horse and did it all over again for almost two hours. After that his first trailer ride was over an hour and I never had another problem with him - but all horses are going to be different. What is the same with all horses is that repetitions loading and unloading are good for all horses.

On a horse who loads good but is anxious about just being in the trailer, increasing the amount of time staying the trailer is also good for him. The first few times you may not get him relaxed, but my rule of thumb is to wait until there is some sign of relaxing, even momentary, and capitalize on that moment - timing is important. If you can safely be in the trailer with the horse and he is comfortable with your presence then sometimes that helps. I did this to my horses, talking to them softly, asking the horse to drop his head, rubbing on him, asking for one step backwards then one step forwards, but these were horses experienced in other trailers.

While you may enter a trailer with the horse, leading him or sending him in order to close a slant load or tie his lead up, please don't loiter in the trailer unless you can do so safely and have a reason to do so. A buddy of mine was loading a fairly bomb proof horse and lost half his finger then tying the horse's lead and the horse spooked and back off quickly, tightening the rope on his finger - and you can imagine the rest.

Another thing common to all horses is that if the horse really isn't broke to lead and can't back off a lead rope then he ain't going to do well backing out of a trailer. Some people I highly respect allow a horse to turn around in the trailer (if it can) and go out head first the first few times. I've done that before and I'm good with that, but eventually he needs to back out, calmly, and the sooner the better.

The trailer - staying quiet in the trailer - has to be a good place for the horse. He has to see and feel it as a place to rest. It's the same process we use when we get a horse to load, making the area outside the trailer work and at/in the trailer a rest spot - or a release from pressure. Many people, and I do this as well, will lunge the horse in a circle where the edge of the circle is close to the trailer, then stop him here and ask him to load. It's kinda like standing tied. Tired horses will stand tied better than fresh ones.

As far as leaving a horse in a trailer until they calm down - I would think they ain't likely to calm down over time if they are too amped up to begin with. That mental pressure is more likely to increase until maybe the horse hurts himself. Remember the horse has a soft spot just forward of his poll and some horse's have hit the trailer roof hard enough to kill or badly injured themselves. They make little padded hats for horses to protect themselves from hitting their head. I have never used one instead relying on having the horse totally comfortable with loading, staying in the trailer, and backing out. This just takes time, that's all.

Make sure your trailer is safe as well.  I was asked to help a gent get his horse loaded.  I told him I would teach him how to do it and showed up only to discover his trailer floor unsafe.  If  person can see that the trailer floor is unsafe, then the horse is certainly going to feel it and this will erode his confidence and will result in him having "trailering" problems when it really is "owner and  maintenance" problems.     

A final note:  If you drive with quick accelerations, fast lane changes and/or hard braking on stops then you are likely to undue much of the trailer work you put in on your horse.  I heard a long time ago that a horse is only has good as his last trailer ride. 

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Don't get your horse snake bit

I have always thought that since a horse tolerates us being on his back, it's only fair that we are responsible for keeping that horse out of trouble. If your horse gets kicked by another horse, it's usually your fault for getting too close. If you can't see where you are riding and end up with the horse's front legs in a bog - then it ain't his fault now is it? The same with walking on top of a rattlesnake in most cases, and certainly in case where you are riding on a trail.

This time of year as the weather gets cooler, rattlesnakes are more active in the day time than they are in the heat of the summer. In a couple months they will be denned up, so they are hunting more often to sustain themselves when they brumate (sort of like hibernation). Always the exception though. As a Range Rider I've had been called in cold winter months to remove rattlesnakes posting a threat to work crews, but it was likely the construction drove them from their dens - in a less than happy state of mind after being disturbed from their brumation I reckon.

And also this time of year, the baby rattlesnakes, aren't much bigger than when they were when born alive, are a particular hazard as they are born with a full venom sack and can't control the amount of venom they put into a target thereby releasing a full load, and they don't have a rattle, just a button so they can't deliver a warning. In fact, my wife and I were riding out to meet some people on the Butterfield Trailhead and talking about rattlesnakes as our horse shoer was struck in the ankle last week, fortunately he had hiking boots ankle high and his bunched up wranglers provided a barrier that the rattler's fangs did not get through. Anyway, I told her that it is common for someone to be bit without the snake first giving that tell tale and hair raising rattling warning. I said many times I've walked or rode through the desert only to have the first 2 or 3 people go right past a rattlesnake and nobody knew any better until the snake rattled at the 4th person.

My wife knows that they don't always rattle as she has almost walked on top of a rattlesnakes in the past couple of years. I've also watched several people do the same. Not going to happen to me, or so I thought. With several riders ahead of me on a fairly wide trail about 2 horse's wide, I was talking to someone else about the fires that have devastated the West and how the smoke from Montana fires are blowing into Northern Colorado, when my wife calls out "Snake,'re on top of him!" I goosed my horse into an immediate lope departure for a few strides then turned to look back. Sure enough, a Prairie Rattler was slithering away then coiling to face us. My wife thought my horse's immediate jump into a lope indicated he was bitten, but thankfully not so. And doubly thankful so as our lope departure was not particular well executed.

My wife later said that it looked like my horse's back foot either stepped on or just over the snake and flip him over as we moved forward. Again, thankfully not bit. So I checked the other riders position, gave them a warning and shot the snake with a .45 Long Colt Snakeshot round. Killing rattlesnakes puts me at odds with my wife when it is off our property or they are not an immediate danger to someone. It gives me no pleasure to kill anything, but many riders use these trails and bring their dogs with them, so I did what I did.

Venomous snake bites can kill a horse depending upon the type of snake, amount of venom injected, and health of the horse, but will certainly cause pain, likely swelling and will require immediate Veterinarian treatment which may include cleaning and caring or the wound, pain meds, a tetanus booster, anti biotics and even anti-venom. Horse's are often bit on the nose as they try to investigate the small creature in front of them. As horse's breathe through their nose, the usual swelling from a bite on the nose can occlude their airway so it is vitally important that the airway is maintained. If you get and your Vet get your horse through a snake bite, you will likely face complications down the road which you'll have to treat symptomatically. Hope you don't experience that. Hope I don't either so I be doubly careful from now on, hope you are too.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Results of the 2018 Red Bird Ranch-Functional Horsemanship Arena Obstacle Challenge

We concluded our 3rd Annual Red Bird Ranch- Functional Horsemanship Arena Obstacle Challenge this last weekend, seeing 28 entries and around 40 spectators to watch riders and horse compete in five divisions.

Competitors in the Stockhorse Division were required to demonstrate trotting in circles and straight lines, also doubling against the fence like boxing a cow; putting on a slicker; opening and closing a gate; roping a static calf dummy; dragging a short log;  backing your horse from the ground like you would when you reposition a heel loop on a calf, then asking your horse to back to put tautness back in to the rope.

The Open, Intermediate and Novice divisions had to negotiate various obstacles or complete maneuvers on horseback, at different levels of competency, including weaving through narrow upright poles; riding through pool noodles; weaving around ground cones; two track one direction then the other; opening and closing a gate; demonstrating gait transitions then a halt; backing straight or in a L shaped fashion; turning on the fore end and also demonstrating a turn on the haunches; circling in a small box; and the straight or L shaped side pass.

The 1st through third place Division winners were:

Stockhorse Division: 1 - Trudy Kremer; 2 - Luanne Santiago; 3- Lewis Martin
Open Division: 1 - Robin Lackey; 2 - Luanne Santiago; 3 - Gena Blankenship
Intermediate Division: 1 - Sharon Smith; 2 - Marianne Bailey; 3 - Jessica Bailey
Novice Division: 1 - Luanne Santiago; 2 - Mark Schleicher; 3 - Vicki Hall
Youth Division: 1 - Jenna Mendez; 2 - Caitlyn Hinkle; 3 - Teagan Arthur

A tradition we have is to present forged hoof picks made by Diamond Bar V Horsehoeing out of Silver City, New Mexico to competitors who stood out in the judges minds, not necessarily for how well they rode or what place they attained, but it could have been for a positive attitude, controlling a spooking horse or maybe just demonstrating good horsemanship when a horse refused an obstacle. The Judges Picks were: Gena Blankenship, Jessica Dixon and Teagan Arthur.

For this year's Arena Obstacle Challenge we invited artists to display their work including painting of horses and landscapes, iron art and other craft type work. Artists displaying work included: Pat McDermott, Susan Guile, Jane Vance, Greg Brown and Charlie Walker.

We also invited vendors in to display their products for sale and these included: Claudia Lukason of The Edge Canine & Equine Solutions representing Midcontinent Livestock Supplements - Clarify and Mineral Plus lick tubs; Sylvia from Tierra Mia Organics, maker of Goat Milk soaps and lotions; and, Charlie Walker of Walker Ironworks and Arts.

Every competitor from 1st through 8th place received a trip to the prize table, thanks to our great supporters, most garnering merchandise equal to or greater than their entry fees. A portion of the entry fees went to a local horse rescue as usual - Perfect Harmony Horse Rescue and Sanctuary, who also provided several competitors. A list of our biggest sponsors and supporters included: Tractor Supply Company - Hwy 20, El Paso; Cashel Company; Hoof Wraps; Webb Feed -Socorro Texas; Eclectic Horseman Magazine (who publishes the best horse magazine available); Diamond Bar V Horseshoeing - Silver City, New Mexico;

And lastly we had a raffle of donated items wit hall the proceeds going to the above named horse rescue.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Giving a Horse a Job

It's often been said that a horse needs a job. In fact, he wants a job and the best job for a horse is working cattle. After a couple years of not being available to day work on neighboring cattle ranches, I was fortunate enough to spend the weekend working for a friend of mine gathering a four section pasture.

 Leaving at 5am for a 50 minute drive on the highway to get to the ranch road and another 50 minutes of rough dirt road, put Junior at me at the South end of the pasture. The Sun was just beginning to crest above the hills to the East with very little clouds in the sky, and the forecast from the normally lying weatherman promised a hot, sunny day which I looked forward to and the prospect of working a bunch of cows outside of my normal routine of arena sorting. As singer/songwriter Dave Stamey would say "my heart rang like a bell" as we got horseback. Heading into the pasture my partner Truitt said "you gotta watch out here,...there are more rattlesnakes in this pasture than any other." Thirty feet later we encountered our first rattlesnake of the day, but I didn't see another one until towards the end of the day where I had to kill one at a gate.

The late Spring and Summer rains in West Texas, more than double (close to triple) our seasonal average made riding up the numerous draws in the pasture difficult as the vegetation was at times higher than my horse's head. Junior and I often got caught up in Buffalo Gourd vines hidden in the grass and weeds. After it was all said and done, I was glad to have put boots on Junior's front legs and I pulled tons of cactus spines out of these protective boots that would have been in his legs.

We were working for the owner who gave us a rough count of 136 head to account for, and no matter what the number was, every draw and back hill had to be checked. The plan was to push the mothers, weanlings, calves and bulls (if they were so inclined to participate) to pens at the North end of the pasture where we would seperate the bulls and weanlings for another pasture, and, brand, ear tag, vaccinate and castrate the calves.

Radios were pretty invaluable as Truitt rode up on the ridges and was able to glass for cows that I couldn't see from the ground and direct me to where they were. Driving the cattle to the center of the pasture and moving them North allowed us to pick up groups that were spread out, including the Bulls who most of them wouldn't go on my accord, but in the end decided to follow the momma's and calves along. At one point I was having a conversation with a recalitrant bull who was not wanting to move when a Mule Deer Buck stood up in the brush about 20 yards from me and bounded off, kinda breaking the spell.

It was alot of work for two Cowboys to keep the herd together and moving, rarely did we have a squirter, but we were successful in getting those turned around. I'm thankful that Truitt believed in low stress stockmanship. We both have worked with those who don't, so while I did alot of trotting back and forth at drag keeping the herd together, I never broke into a lope,....neither one of us did.

Some of the calves never seen a human before. One little red calf in particular seemed really curious about Junior and I, neglecting her momma to stay close to the drag end where she could watch me. When we had a lull to give the newborns a rest, I would ride up real slow to the little red calf, stopping when I saw her ready to break, then I would stop and look at her for a bit, then I would back up. After 10-15 seconds of thinking about it she would begin to approach us. This is what Curt Pate calls drawing them to you. I'd walk off slowly and that red calf would follow. 

After five and a half hours of gathering and moving we had them at the pens at the North end of the pasture. We separated the bulls, all eight of them, ran them through the chutes to pour de-wormer on them, then loaded and trailered them to different pastures. Getting a head count of the remaining cows gave us 152 mommas and weanlings, and 38 unbranded calves.

The next day we separated the weanlings, then separated the calves. We moved the calves into a trap so we could get them into a squeeze chute table where they could be branded, ear tag, vaccinate, and castrated if they were a bull calf. My wife Susan and Truitt's wife Lauri worked the table efficiently and all the calves were finished by lunchtime. At the end of the day, the calves were put back onto their mommas and released in back into the pasture but not before the weanlings broke the pen latch and got mixed back up with the mommas. That turned out pretty well actually as we had to re-sort the weanlings from the mommas,..more work for our horses.

The opportunity to work my horse Junior a couple long days on cattle helped put all the things we work on in perspective....immediate transitions from a halt to a fast trot to step in back of a momma to get her following calf stopped,....stepping over on the front end and slowly working two weanlings and a calf until there was a space where we could step in and separate the calf to another pen,......walking real slow through the herd to check ear tags,......drawing a calf, that was face first in the corner, to us so we could get it turned in the right direction,....and just keeping Junior focused and positioned during the lulls in action where all worth a weekend totaling seven hours of long trailer rides over rough roads and all the things I had to push to the back burner of life in order to get out there.  Even tying the horses for a couple hours as we branded calves was good for them. And the calves as from the calf table they were turned out into a pen were the horses were tied which is going to make those calve easier to handle as weanlings.  Giving a horse a job,... I was glad to have it.   

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Western Wildfires

With the nation's focus on Hurricane Harvey's historical destruction and flooding in East Texas and parts of Louisiana, and the impending category 5 Hurricane Irma ready to hit Florida - all of Florida, there has been scant coverage of the wildfires in the West. No place has been hit as hard as Montana, although Idaho, Northern Nevada, Oregon, Washington and California have suffered huge outbreaks of wildfires.

The largest fire this season in Montana was the Lodgepole Complex Fire with over 270,00 acres in central/eastern Montana burned. Thankfully this fire is out, however many others are not. Currently there are approximately 167,513 acres on fire with 105 days longer for western wildfire season. Over 1 million acres have been burned so far. This information is from late afternoon Monday 4 September 2017. And this week's weather forecast calls for minimal to moderate winds with temperature's rising and low humidity plus a low chance of rain through the week does not provide much hope to reduce the's going to get worse.

Glacier Park is on fire - the historic Sperry Chalet, built in 1914, has burned to the ground. On Monday the Rice Ridge Fire grew on the south, east, and north sides adding another 6,701 acres, and has now burned 108,126 acres. It merged at Otis Creek with another fire to the north, the 10,424-acre Reef Fire. Combined, these fires have blackened 118,550 acres, well beyond the 100,000 threshold of becoming a “megafire” and as of yesterday is showing no signs of slowing down.

Some of the larger Montana Fires, there are currently 26 and mostly started from lightning strikes are:

Alice Creek Fire. 16 miles northeast of Lincoln, MT. 21,393-Acres and 0% contained.
Caribou Fire. 18 miles NW of Eureka, MT. 15,142 acres have burned.
East Fork Fire. Burning south of Harve, MT. 21,518 acres have burned and the fire is 85% contained.
Liberty Fire. Burning 17 Miles SE of Arlee Montana in the South Fork Primitive Area. 21,388 acres have burned and the fire is 17% contained.
Lolo Peak Fire. 10 miles SW of Lolo, MT. 45,012 acres have burned and the fire is 31% contained.
Meyers Fire. 25 miles SW of Philipsburg, MT. 53,737 acres have burned and the fire is 5% contained.
Park Creek Fire. Burning 2 miles N. of Lincoln, MT.14,985 acres have burned and it is 56% contained.
Rice Ridge Fire. Burning north and east of Seeley Lake, MT. 108,126 acres have burned and the fire is 2% contained.
Sapphire Complex Fire. 25 miles east of Missoula, south of I-90 in the Rock Creek drainage. 41,904 acres have burned and it's 53% contained.
Sartin Draw Fire. Burning 20 miles NE of Ashland. 99,735 acres have burned and the fire is 85% contained.
Sprague Fire. 9 miles NE of West Glacier, MT. 13,343 acres have burned and it's 35% contained.

Idaho is suffering from wildfires as well with the largest being the Highline Fire 23 miles east, northeast of Warren, Idaho with 67,942-acres burned and 0% contained, and the Payette Wilderness Fires burning 65,611-acres. There are 16 other wildfires burning, five of those well over 10,000 acres each.

Washington has 11 wildfires on-going. The Diamond Creek Fire around Winthrop, WA, is the largest with 95,000-acres and 65% containment.

Some of the ways you can help are:

Garfield County Go Fund me site. Northern Ag Net list of supporting efforts.

Monetary Donations:

Checks can be made to Garfield County Fire Foundation c/o Garfield County Bank PO Box 6, Jordan, MT 59337 (406-557-2201) or send to Circle c/o Redwater Valley Bank, PO Box 60, Circle, MT 59215 (406-485-4782). NOTE: Applications for Short term and long term funds can be made to Garfield County Fire Foundation and will be distributed by their board. Call the Garfield County Bank for more info.

Stockman Bank is also accepting donations to the Garfield County Fire Foundation at ALL of their branches and is generously providing a match of up to $10,000 for all monies collected through their branches.

Cash donations for fencing, hay and grazing are accepted by Petroleum County Stockgrowers Relief Fund PO BOX 147 Winnett, MT 59087

Y Cross Feeds in Jordan is collecting donations.This money can be used by producers affected by the fire for anything they need: fencing supplies, feed, vaccine, etc. Any unused portions remaining by September 1, 2018 will be donated to the Garfield Volunteer Fire Department. Call Larry at (406) 977-6228 for further details.

With a little computer research you can find other ways to help those in different states. Please help if you can.

Friday, August 25, 2017

How Do I get My Horse Thinking More

Louisa wrote to ask: " I really like the concept of reaching a horse emotionally as opposed to changing the way they instinctively act. I watch Clinton Anderson talking about the two sides of a horse's brain, but sometimes he moves too fast for me to understand when demonstrating what he is doing to get the horse's thinking side of his brain engaged. Do you have some exercises or drills where I can help my horses with this?"

You were likely watching Clinton Anderson working a horse from the ground, perhaps with a flag and once the horse showed signs of acceptance such as licking and chewing and preparing to stop or actually stop moving his feet, you would hear something to the effect that "now he is thinking". The television programs are restricted for time, so sometimes I reckon you have to put two and two together to gather an understanding on what the clinician is doing. But one way I would sum up getting your horse to think rather than react is to challenge the horse with as little pressure as you need to get the reaction you are looking for, and when the horse  accepts that pressure, quit the pressure.  In the beginning release the pressure upon the horse beginning to try to go what you are asking, then build on that by asking for more.    
The example I always use first to explain this is standing to the side of a horse's head and placing one hand on his nose and the other hand on his poll (behind his ears). Applying as little pressure as possible push his nose down and in slightly, and push his poll down - I always use a voice command of 'head down' as well - but the first time you do this the horse will likely not drop his head. If he drops his head ever so little and slowly, then I would release the pressure, wait a few seconds then do it again. Within a very short time period you will see rapid understanding where you get him to drop his head as he begins to feel the pressure of your hand on his nose and poll. This has to be a product of the horse thinking and realizing that dropping his head to gain a release of the pressure no matter how benign. And in this case you can call this type of pressure - physical or direct pressure if it helps your understanding of it.

Another example may be going to feed a horse. Many people will move to feed a horse not noticing that the horse is crowding, or pinning his ears, or poking his nose out trying to get to the feed.....some may notice and think it's funny. If you drop the feed and walk away, the horse likely thinks he is bullying you away from the feed. Instead, if he crowds you, or pins his ears and pokes his nose out at you when you are approaching the feed bin to drop his hay, stop and wait on him to change..... it will come.
It will take awhile and you may have to back him up if he crowds you, but eventually this non-direct or mental pressure will have him seeking the release, which for me is for him to take a step or two backwards. He will likely start to move forward again as you begin to move to drop the feed, so stop again and repeat. I had one horse who when crowding me so I took a step backwards. There was a stall gate between us which helped.  He learned in about 15 minutes that every time he approached me, I stepped back with the feed. If I would have given up and just threw his feed, he would have learned that he can bully people for his feed. I kept at it and he eventually would approach then stop on his own and back a few steps. This is as good as it got with his horse.  However, I much prefer to stand my ground and have the horse back away.
It's fascinating looking at a horse's face when they are searching for the answer. They'll usually look left and right, then back at you, and when they do for the signal in his eyes, the blink, and the ear set when he tries backing away as the solution. Heck, I may be imagining it....I just don't know. But I do know that if you give him the time to search for the right answer the horse will usually do so and that, again, has got to be helping the horse develop thinking.

Yet another example would be when you are in the saddle and you ask your horse for lateral flexion. When we normally do this we try to give the horse a release the exact moment he gives or gets soft meaning there is slack in the rein. Try this a few times, then ask for lateral flexion again but hold. The horse will try to pull away, but continue holding. Eventually seeking another solution he'll disengage his hind end - be ready for that and as soon as he changes his weight and begins to step over, give him the release.

When I work with a horse to get him to side over to me when I am on a platform such as a fence, so I can mount, this becomes another exercise in setting it up for the horse to think. I'll sit on the top rail and most horses will face you up. I'll bump his lead in a rhythmic motion until he moves his feet and when he moves his feet....just takes a step to one side or the other....I'll release and give him 10 seconds or so to think on it. Then I'll begin again. Eventually he'll side up to you where you can mount. And when I say eventually, this whole process usually takes just a few minutes, but don't rush him, give him the time he needs to think on it. Don't worry about him moving to the wrong side.  If he naturally sides up to you on the opposite side you want to mount, this is a great opportunity to get him thinking again by bumping until he takes a step in the direction you need him too.

As far as having a list of exercises, I don't have a list, it's really as simple as just giving the horse time to search for what you are asking him to do. I think we can agree that we would like the horse to stand until we asked him to move. If I dismount and walk out in front of the horse a few steps, I need him to stand. I start this with ground training. I lead a horse on the ground, halt, keep slack in the lead line and walk forward a few feet. If the horse steps forward without me asking, I use pressure on the lead to back him up, then step forward again. I may have to repeat this several times to get to the point where I am out in front of him with him standing. I'll then lightly take up the slack in the lead and he'll feel the change of pressure on that lead. It may come to a pretty taunt lead line before he steps forward and gains a release. I usually use a verbal command such as a whistle to come to me. Sometimes,.....wait, who am I kidding,...most of the time the horse will get distracted looking left or right. If so, I just bump the lead to get his head back facing me.
That's pretty much it, but everything you ask the horse to do, if you give him the time, he'll begin to think.  That's my belief and I'm sticking to it! 

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Curt Pate Stockmanship Clinic

Curt Pate Stockmanship Clinic
The El Paso, Texas- Las Cruces New Mexico region was fortunate enough to have a Curt Pate Horsemanship for Stockmanship clinic hosted by Marcy Ward of nearby New Mexico State University on 2 August 2017. Curt has been doing stocksmanship clinics for more than a decade teaching emphasizing stockmanship practices and methods that benefit the cattle and in turn benefits the rancher or feed lot owner. He also starts colts and brought along his Hawaiian tree saddle that he picked up in Hawaii starting colts years ago. That Curt in the picture at right wearing that Greely Hat he's pretty happy with. 

From 8 to noon eight of us rode with Curt concentrating on hooking our reins to our horse's feet and paying particular attention to where our and our horses' balance was going through forward movement with emphasis on straightness, backing, and turns on the hind end and fore end. One thing Curt did that was new to me was sitting with quiet horses and using our seat and body position to subtly shift the horse's weight from his front feet to his back and to the front again.

Halfway through we brought some of NMSU's cows into the muddy arena (this is the rainy season down here) and worked on holding them a rodear, and adjusting that rodear using subtly pressure by gradually closing on the group, as well as facing up with the cows and backing away to get the cattle hooked on to our horse.

Rodear is a Spanish term meaning to surround.  It is used to hold cows in a group when fences are not present or used to keep cows separated from others.

Curt had each rider ride a circle around the rodear to experiment with just how much distance was enough to get the cows' attention and how much was enough to push them back or turn away. It was interesting to see the cow's curiosity with a couple of the younger horses who had never worked cattle before.

We also split the group up into two groups of four riders each with four cows, and each group managed their half herd and moved them from one spot to another in the arena holding them at Curt's direction.

Photo at left is Curt discussing the little roan mare of Dr. Ward's he was riding.  I have no pictures on horseback as Curt keep us pretty busy and I had no time to shag my camera. 

I have read about Curt Pate for over a decade now. He is the author if the Western Horseman book "Ranch Horsemanship".  It certainly was to our benefit to ride with him and listen to what he had to say. To read some of what Curt Pate has to say about horsemanship, stockmanship and good stewardship of the land and cattle, visit this site - Curt Pate Stockmanship. The latest, posted on 3 August, talks about stewardship of the land we are entrusted with. You can also see Curt's schedule for upcoming events for the Beef Quality Assurance program.

Monday, July 31, 2017

On a New Horse - Correct all Bad Habits at Once?

Kelsey wrote to say that she was just given a new horse, a 15 year old QH gelding who was used for team roping the past 8 years as her friend bought a new horse. She asked ".....Sam is a great horse, but he has only been in arenas and used for team roping for the past 8 years and he has several bad habits. Would you suggest correcting all bad habits at once or try to, or to address them one at a time?"

Kelsey did not elaborate on your horse's bad habits, but that's okay, even if she sent a list my answer would likely be the same. Come to think on it, it would be nice for our horses to give us a list of our bad habits now wouldn't it? But your question is a really good one as many horses change hands several times through their lifetime and are a compendium of all the handler/rider's traits, good and bad, that they have learned. I know you are thinking that if I am always correcting my horse then what can I expect out of him if I am always nagging him to change? Will I take away his confidence and make him a hesitant horse? If you were to prioritize the necessary corrections then the most dangerous habits would be the first to fix, but I'm of the mind that you can correct all bad habits as they present themselves. Not every bad habit is going to be a federal offense nor does your correction is going to cause him anxiety. You are just asking him to do something different. You should simply be asking him to change and you'll likely be doing it several times over many days to get that set in his mind.

An example would be leading. If he is crowding you when you lead him, then you use as little pressure as required increasing to as much as necessary to get him to maintain adequate spacing - walking to your rear and offset some - whatever you are comfortable with. While my horses normally lead up just fine, occasionally one of more of my horses will crowd me, I'll just simply apply a little drag or reward pressure on his lead rope to remind him of where I need him to be. They will respond in kind, almost like they are thinking "Oh yeah, I forgot for a moment." If a horse continued to creep up on me when leading, I would continue to correct him in the same manner. If he didn't respond I'd stop and back him with enough energy so that I was directing his feet backwards - so it was my idea for him to go backwards - then I would lead off again.

I have pulled a border's horse to lead him to turn out and taken 15 minutes to get there because of correcting little things, but not correcting them with a mad on. For instance, if I halter a horse and lead him out of his pen and he runs out, I'll bend him and send him back into the pen and ask him to try again to exit the pen at a walk. If he crowds me when leading, we'll correct that. If he spooks at something like a new feed bucket or coat on the rail, we'll spend some time getting him sacked out on that. Eventually we'll get to the turnout gate and I'll wait until he stands quiet and drops his head when I ask to get the halter off. If I didn't do all this calmly and in a matter of fact manner then I can see how the horse may get troubled. So I'd say much of your question can be answered by saying you can correct all you want, when you want, just go about it in a manner that's going to cause the least trouble with your horse.

Now let's take backing as an example. We all want a horse that backs soft, head down and vertical, feet moving on cue and backing in a straight line if that's what we are asking. But if your horse doesn't back well, then my priorities would be first getting his feet to move, making sure he gets a release with each step, then getting him soft in the face as we back, and thirdly backing in a straight line. This is the sequence I try for when I teach a horse to back. Once he can back in that manner well, but at some point gets sloppy at backing, I have no issue with correcting everything at once. And as sure as the world is round, my wife sure has no problems in trying to correct my bad habits all at once either, but sometimes she goes about it with a mad on.

Hope this helps, Kelsey. Good luck and Safe Journey.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

The National Day of the Cowboy - 22 July 2017

Today is the National Day of the Cowboy, a day observed annually on the fourth Saturday in July. According to the National Day of the Cowboy Organization, this day “…is a day set aside to celebrate the contributions of the Cowboy and Cowgirl to America’s culture and heritage.” The NDOC continuously pursues national recognition of National Day of the Cowboy. Currently, 11 states recognize this day. The first celebration was in 2005.

Communities, large and small, have events highlighting Cowboys and the western lifestyle. Perhaps on the larger events is the American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA) international headquarters and the American Quarter Horse Hall of Fame & Museum hosted event in Amarillo, Texas. AQHA is partnering ith American Horse Council and the initiative called the 100 day Horse Challenge which the intent is to increase awareness of the benefits of horse activities across the United States by aiming to engage at least 100,000 new people with an introductory horse experience.

There is nothing in American history that can compete with a image of an American Cowboy as an example of the courageous, never quit American spirit. Although the example of the Cowboy working from before dawn to sunset, and doing without comforts others take for granted most of his life, is the image in the mind's eye of the Cowboy code, it doesn't take drawing a cowboy's wages to live those ideals. Anybody can - and the country would be better off for it.  The book COWBOY ETHICS: What Wall Street Can Learn from the Code of the West, which outlines 10 principles of Cowboy ethics:

1) Live each day with courage.
2) Take pride in your work.
3) Always finish what you
4) Do what has to be done.
5) Be tough, but fair.
6) When you make a promise, keep it.
7) Ride for the brand.
8) Talk less and say more.
9) Remember that some things aren't for sale.
10) Know where to draw the line.
Maybe the only thing I would add would be to take care of your horses and your family before you do for yourself.

Former President Bush and it right when he said: “We celebrate the Cowboy as a symbol of the grand history of the American West. The Cowboy’s love of the land and love of the country are examples for all Americans.”