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.”

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Horses and the Heat: Too Hot to Ride?

Charlotte wrote to ask about how much heat can her horse handle being ridden in. " I've found a couple of your articles about horse dehydration and people getting heat stroke but my question is how hot can it be where I can still reasonably ride my horse. I know her health is important but she seems so sluggish in the really hot weather like high 90's and I don't want to hurt her but only my riding times are generally in the late afternoon when it is still very hot."

I think horses generally do much better than we do in the heat and much better than we give them credit for. However, I would never fault anyone for being too cautious considering their horse. I have cut short trail rides when someone thinks their horse is off - better to be safe than sorry. But again, horses do pretty well in the heat, given a horse in good health and condition, and acclimatized to that environment. Horses will lose fluids and electrolytes by sweating, same as humans do, but horses drawing fluids away from their guts is a bigger concern for them than the human. I know some people who clip their horses in the Spring when temps are in the 70-'s to 80's thinking a lighter coat of hair will minimize over heating. Heck, my horses generally don't start shedding their winter coats until temps are in the 90's and I ride them without worry, but they are acclimatized to this environment. The biggest problem I have is that hair shedding season coincides with the windy season here in West Texas, so much of the shedding hair is blown into my face and mustache.....pretty much like the universal rule that all spider webs are mustache high.

We generally find our limits, and therefore our horses limits, by experience. Years ago, I have taken horses, maybe as young as 5 years old and as old as 14, out in 100 heat and covered 15-20 miles over 6 or 8 hours without access to water and did not have issues - I wasn't doing this for pleasure, it was for work. These days I'd have to have a reason for pushing a horse that hard. Not having a drink all day, the horses were obviously all in some state of dehydration when we finished. I'd always pull the saddle and let the wind coming through the trailer on the ride home evaporate cool them somewhat. My practice is to cool them off then put them back into a pen where they would always roll first, then look in their feed bin second, before they would seek water. If a horse is not finished with their feed before I pull them for a ride, it's usually a good indicator that they haven't gotten a drink, so when I return from a ride I'll pull their feed so they can get a drink before resuming eating. Sometimes I'll wait for 20-30 minutes as well. I'll also use a wet brush, sponge or rag and wipe my horse's neck, chest and legs down which helps, or at least I think it does, with some evaporative cooling effect.

This time of year in the West Texas desert, it'll still be 100 degrees at 7 pm. I have no problem riding my horses for an hour or two then. If I was riding a few hours earlier in the same temperature range, I'd likely be a little more concerned as the Sun is closer to being directly overhead and the solar radiation is stronger, so you'll feel the effects quicker. Intensity or work and duration will be a key factor - the harder and longer a horse has to work, the hotter the horse will get, and therefore the sweating rate will go up to regulate body temperature. The horse's body will send more blood to the skin, depleting blood and water from the internal organs and gut. That's why excessively walking a colicing horse can have adverse effects. A horse with a over heating issue will have more rapid breathing and a higher heart rate, and likely an increase temperature. Just like a human, once a horse gets a heat injury, the easier or faster it will come next time.

If you have read other articles on riding in hot weather then you pretty much know how to check your horse for dehydration, with the skin pinch or capillary refill test, or can see when a horse is drawn up and tight. Plus the more you ride a particular horse the better you can tell when he is a little off. I would suggest checking all your horses at rest and after moderate exercise to get some baseline observations and numbers for each. You also don't want to take his temperature for the first time when he is heat stressed. Just know before hand what a normal horse looks like. Ask the same questions to your Vet the next time you have the Vet out, and maybe some other riders in your area.

Feed can have an impact on how hot a horse gets. I feed a mix of Bermuda grass, sometimes timothy grass, and alfalfa hay. My horses also have free access to plain white salt blocks, mineral rocks and fresh clean water. I used to give wheat bran mashes to help counter the ingestion of sand but since I obtained big box feeders my horses rarely pull or drop alfalfa onto the sandy ground. If a horse eats off the ground in sandy environments a lot of sand can be ingested. You may see watery piles as the body pulls water and blood to the gut to help push it out. When I get called to help someone and a colicing horse, because it's usually Friday night and Vet's are hard to find, it's almost a sure thing that their feeding program has some sort of negative's just hard to pinpoint it as there are many ways to prepare feeds and every horse is different. Running a public barn for years, I saw quite a bit of strange feeding habits and the resulting issue on a horse......feeding beet pulp and not soaking it sufficiently (I will not ever use beet pulp - nothing against those who do, I just don't have a need to feed it); a straight alfalfa diet; 17 quart buckets full of dry alfalfa cubes; dirty stock tanks that even a old catfish wouldn't swim in.

Again, I think you are doing the right thing on considering the well being of your horse, and you didn't say how old your horse is. Maybe riding her with an increase in intensity over time can set some boundaries for you and her. Are you feeding your horse just before you ride her? She may resent coming off her feed, or feel lethargic with a full belly.  If your horse is healthy and well broke, her sluggishness just may her trying to get away with doing as little as wife accuses me of that quite a bit.

Monday, July 3, 2017

2017 3rd Annual Red Bird Ranch - Functional Horsemanship Arena Obstacle Challenge

This years annual Arena Obstacle Challenge will be on Saturday 30 September 2017 at the same location - Red Bird Ranch, 13999 Fort Defiance, El Paso, Texas 79938.

The times have changed just a bit from the earlier versions of event flyers, as my phone calls and e-mails indicate a larger pool of rider necessitating a slightly earlier start.

Here's the final schedule:

08:00 am - Rider Check In – Will need to present current negative Coggins or Health Certificate
09:00 am - Rider's Briefing/Course Walk Through
09.20 am - First Rider competes in the Arena
12:45 pm - Lunch, Awards and Prizes
2:00 pm - Arena Open for Obstacle Schooling

Conduct of the Event: This AOC is not affiliated with ACTHA or ETS, however the conduct of the AOC, the obstacles and scoring will be similar to you if you have ever ridden in those associations.
We have four division of competition - Stockhorse, Open, Intermediate and Novice:

Stockhorse Division would require handling a lariat while horseback, throwing a loop and likely dragging a static object.

Open Division is for advanced riders who likely have won or placed high at ACTHA or ETS events.

Intermediate Division, similar to ACTHA Pleasure Division, is for experienced riders, maybe on greener horses, who have competed before at arena or trail challenges or even AQHA Trail Class events.

Novice Division, similar to ACTHA Scout Division, is for riders who can safely ride and attempt obstacles and likely do occasional trail rides on their horses.

While it would not be such a great advantage knowing the obstacles before hand, I will not publish the course until the rider's brief just before competition begins.  Many of us have experience our horses flawlessly crossing bridges and tarps, etc., only the have them balk at the same obstacle at a different location.

There are no time limits associated with an obstacle. We prefer that a horse and rider complete an obstacle even after many attempts as this is much better for the horse, as opposed to only one or two short failed attempts then being pushed to move on to the next obstacle, so the judges will be generous in this regard only asking the rider to give up and move on if in the judges opinion completion of that obstacle isn't going to happen. At the conclusion of the event, if anyone wants to re-enter the arena and work on any obstacles with their horse they are welcome to and I'll be there to offer help.  Not all of the obstacles will be physical obstacles - likely somewhat less than half will be tasks such as a lateral movement, or half turn on the fore end, or gait transitions. 

Entry fees are $45 per run. Each rider enters the arena, one at a time, and completes a series of obstacles – usually no more than 14 total. Two judges will score each obstacle for a combined score for placement within each Division. One rider can ride different horses in the same or different divisions. The same horse can be used by several people in the same or different divisions as well. One entry fee also include lunch - a pretty good lunch by the way.

Awards and Prizes:  Aside from the plaques for the Champions in each Division and ribbons for 1st through 6th Place in each division, we have special awards not limited to highest scoring horse and rider from a Rescue organization, highest placing youth under 16 years old, and longest haul to competition. The prize table is really decent by AOC standards. I don't think we have had a competitor, even with the lowest score, leaving without prizes and awards that were not more valuable than the entry fee. I am still receiving this year's contributions and donations from our industry supporters. A full list of supporters will be included in the competitors' entry bags as well as the final AOC results article, but in the past we have enjoyed support from many including: Smart Pak, Cashel, Hoof Wraps, Noble Outfitters, Manna Pro, Eclectic Horseman magazine, Camel Bak, Chaff Hay, Sanctuary Leather, Riders Tack and Feed, Diamond Bar V Horseshoeing, One Stop Horse Shop, and Starr Western Wear.

There will be a raffle with all proceeds going to a horse rescue. This year the designated rescue is: Perfect Harmony Animal Rescue and Sanctuary, a 501(c)(3) organization out of Chaparral, New Mexico. We already have several other vendors committed to attending and putting up product displays and sale items. And lastly a tack table will be available for people who want to sell or trade, new or used tack and related items.

How to Sign up:
~ By Phone: Call Brad at 915-204-7995. I will enroll you and your horse over the phone and take payment via a Credit Card.
~ Electronically: Send an e-mail to and provide Name, Address, Phone, E-mail, Horse Name and Competing Division and pay via PayPal to
Either way you will receive a confirmation on entry via e-mail and an event flyer with directions.

Questions: Call Brad at 915.204.7995 or e-mail questions to: