Saturday, May 28, 2016

Happy Birthday U.S. Border Patrol

Happy 92nd Birthday to the United States Border Patrol. Founded on 28 May 1924 to patrol the border mostly on horseback to prevent illegal entries across the border.  Earlier on, there were  mounted inspectors as early as 1904 operating out of El Paso, Texas and actually had the primary duty of preventing illegal immigration by Chinese immigrants. While the first Border Patrol station was built in Detroit 1in 1924, a second Station in El Paso Texas built one month later is known as Station One.

Being the largest uniformed Federal Law Enforcement Agency in the U.S., Border Patrol agents exercise a wide range of missions across many environments including manning a few internal checkpoints on U.S. Interstate and Highways. Specialized Border Patrol units conduct arrest warrant service and manhunts like the missions hunting the escaped prisoners in New York; perform search and rescues; are often the first law enforcement officers in devastated areas such as in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina to provide law enforcement presence, search for missing and injured people and perform first responder and subsequent emergency medical treatment.

The Border Patrol, first under the Department of Labor then later under the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) and lastly, now under Department of Homeland Security, continues to patrol the U.S. border with Mexico and Canada as well as some coastlines and waterways.

While aerial patrols now fall under another agency, Border Patrol agents to this day patrol the border in trucks, ATV's and on horseback. In fact, there are several hundred horses in the U.S. Border Patrol performing daily duty protecting this country's borders from illegal entry not just from immigrants, but from narcotics smugglers and potential terrorists.

Since 1904, counting the original mounted inspectors, the Border Patrol has lost over 120 agents in the line of duty, more than any other federal law enforcement agency. The most publicized line of duty death was Agent Brian Terry killed December 2010 in Arizona by heavily armed bandits who were out ripping off dope loads being smuggled across the border. Some of the guns used by the bandits were traced to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) 'Fast and Furious" gun selling scheme.

It is not uncommon for narcotics smugglers to bring drugs across the border on pack horses, often traveling for a few days to get to a "load up" site to transfer the drugs, then turn the horses loose when they haven't been watered or fed for a couple days. At least the horses in the Border Patrol mounted unit, usually Mustangs, are very well cared for and have a legitimate job getting agents into remote areas, best patrolled on horseback, to detect and intercept illegal activities.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Becoming a Better Rider

April wrote to say "I am trying to become a better rider, realizing that riding only 2-3 times a week makes it difficult to be even marginally better. I really can't go to clinics as they are too far away and too difficult to do. There is a local dressage club, but that does not appeal to me. My question is what do you work on or what can you do by yourself to refine your riding skills? Thank you. "

I think you an get some improvement by limited riding - it's likely how you approach it. As far as clinics, they can be really useful but if they are not possible for you right now then there are many DVD's from tophands available and they can help. Having someone watch you or even video taping you for later review can help as well.

Dressage may not appeal to you, me either, but auditing a schooling session or, better yet, riding with some of those folks may help you become a better rider. The way I look at it, dressage riders have to know what they are doing to sit in those tiny saddles! Some dressage clubs also offer Western dressage. I don't know much about it though, so I might be negligent in saying it's just dressage in a western saddle,....likely it's a little more than that, I just don't know. If the competition aspect of dressage (or other events) bothers you, so could just approach that work from a training angle as opposed to just competing for ribbons or buckles. I know that competition sometimes brings out the worst in some people, but it can also serve to illuminate shortcomings and motivate others.

As far as becoming a better rider, I think I've always wanted to become a better horseman and never much thought about just the act of riding until a fairly short time ago. I remember about 12 years ago I was riding with some cowboys on a gather in a BLM managed grazing unit. One of the older cowboys said to me something to the effect that I have slow hands - meaning that I was not trying to man handle my horse through the reins. It was meant as a compliment and I took it that way. He also said something to the effect that he was happy to cowboy with me. I replied that I was just trying to become a better horseman. He thought I was trying to funny or something. I'm not saying that cowboys can't be horsemen or vice versa, just that my focus was getting better at communicating with horses and riding is just a part of that.

I always thought I had a pretty good seat and rode in a balanced manner. I've been on some broncs (by accident mostly) and have other horses bolt and take me for a ride. But now I realize that I could use some improvement when it comes to simply riding horses as it pertains my seat, posture and balance. On that thought I brought in a noted area dressage rider and teacher, Martha Diaz, to give a private clinic. We worked simply on circles and straight lines where I was critiqued that I had a tendency to ride with my back a little too rounded, needing to be straighter; that I was dipping my right shoulder when riding circles to my right; and when riding circles to the left I was not riding the outside of my horse and also letting his outside shoulder drift.

I was basically unaware of these faults but now am cognizant of looking to correct these faults when riding. Maybe an option for you April is to have one of the better dressage riders work with you one on one once a month or so. Another option would be to video tape yourself riding which may help you see things in a different way than from the saddle.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Politics,...Not Horse politics, just politics

I'm sure this will be my first and last article on politics but I thought it appropriate to say just a couple things about politics since this year is just plain crazy for politics at the national level. And at the local level where I live, I have become involved to support a friend of mine running for County Sheriff...his name is Tom Buchino.

Tom, like many of us, had very little desire to get involved in politics excepting to vote which is really just a basic obligation. Many current El Paso County Sheriffs office employees, county citizens and neighboring law enforcement officers had been asking, even pushing Buchino to run for the office for the past 18 months. Tom is a retired Green Beret Sergeant Major and like the culture he served in and the men he led, when asked "who will go?", Tom replied "send me" and stepped up to run a campaign, win the office and make the necessary changes to right a declining agency.

While I am not advocating sending money to politicians, I am advocating that everyone at some level needs to get involved to help determine who we elect to office. Write letters or e-mails to your elected officials about the issues that concern you and the solutions or platforms you would like to see them take. Get your family and friends involved as well. Talk about the issues and get to the polling stations and vote.

We had a little fun and shot the short video below to support the Tom Buchino for El Paso County Sheriff campaign. We did another one which I won't be posting as I am opinionating about some of the issues and this site is about horses. Well shoot, you talked me into it........What the hell is going on in this country? The absolute craziness of biological males using female restrooms with 7 year old girls in attendance? Does anyone really support that? What about the segment of the population who has chased God out of our school rooms and are now trying to run Him out of the country like a common horse thief. Please get involved and get in touch with your representatives at what ever level. After all, these politicians work for us.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Horses Too Young

I'm not a horse racing fan, nor a fan of any equine competition where young horses are stressed through training and performance before they ever mature. I understand that for many there is pressure on performing and earning checks to keep everything from food on the table to hay delivery coming through the gate so it's necessary getting horses performing as soon as possible, but I just think there needs to be some regulating of putting stress on young horses. 
Think about it.  Horses competing as three year olds may only have a true age just over 2 years as they may be coming 3 years in the competitive year. That means they have to have been started (in training) well before becoming a true two years of age.  So I was pleased to see a message posted from Cowboy Dressage World Switzerland that stated "Fantastic news for the welfare of horses coming out of Switzerland and Germany yet again! Their respective Quarter Horse associations have resolved to prohibit 3 year old horses from ridden competitions and futurities as of March 2016. Horses must be at least 4 years old before they are permitted to compete under saddle. The article states this is following a global trend and questions being raised about horse welfare. They also resolved that 4 year old and older horses can be ridden 2 handed in a snaffle or hackamore.  Well done Europe!! Come on rest of the world!"
I ran a large horse facility for six years or so and we would get calls from several racing stable owners at the local racing track offering free horses, mostly always Thoroughbreds.  Some of these horses weren't working out very well on the racing circuit and the owners just wanted to get these horses off their feed bill.   More often than not, these free horses were young and had some sort of injury.  I couldn't keep some of the novice horse owners from jumping at the chance of a free, well bred horse.  Often I would often go down to quarantine to check in a new horse only to find it lame.  Bowed tendons, damaged suspensary ligaments, non-specific problems in the stifle were common and would get worse once the anti-inflammatory and pain management drug protocols were no longer being given. Some of these horses had been pin fired as well.       

Often other problems wouldn't become apparent for years such a detioriating joints, bog spavin in the hocks, or just odd footfalls at certain gaits. 
The deal with starting horses in intense training while they are not physically (nor mentally) mature is that not only are injuries more common but physical stress and damage on developing bones and joints may create conditions that may not be apparent or become chronic until later years.    I really like the idea of starting horses at two or even three years of age.  Even though you may have been handling that colt since he was born, letting him learn pressure and release from a lead line, which is good for him, I mean starting in getting him broke to a saddle and getting a few short rides in the round pen.  Turning that colt back out and starting again the next year continuing his training and starting to put a handle on him.  Then at four maybe five he's being ridden a lot, and is what you call a using horse.
I am not going to change the industry, nor am I going to thin bad of all the trainers in those disciplines where horses are started, trained long and used hard while they are young.  I think just in a perfect world horses are allowed to mature before we ask too much of them. 


Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Wondering About Proper Head Set on a Horse

Jennie wrote to ask about fixing her horse's high head set: "Hi, I wonder if you have any experience or ideas for a horse who has a high head. It's like he is stretching out to see over the top of something, not really at the walk but at the trot. Other riders have given me various advice such as to use a tiedown or a head setting device that goes over their neck? My research has also made me consider a martingale. I have also seen competition where a horse is ridden and his head is down close to the ground. Is this called collection? What is the advantage of teaching a horse to ride like that? Any ideas or food for thought would be appreciated."

The competition you are likely talking about is reining and those horse's are being ridden with true collection - nose vertical to the ground, the poll is flexed, and the horse's back legs up underneath their body's, the stride is short and quick, rounding the horse's back. Basically this lightens up the front end where normally greater than 50% of the horse's weight is carried and transfers weight to the rear end in order to work on the back end which helps for better stops, transitions, lead changes and more.

Along with the reining you saw, you will also dressage horses ridden displaying vertical flexion. Sometimes you will see horses ridden with exaggerated flexion where their nose is very close to their chest. But just because a horse is flexing at the poll doesn't mean it is collected.  In the picture above left I am riding at a walk and am asking my horse to soften his face, flex at the poll.    

All this begins with the horse giving to pressure during ground training then progressing to vertical flexion in the saddle, then flexing at the poll during the walk from very short moments to longer times as he gets soft.  Then begin again at a trot and so forth.  You get collection when the horse's flexes at the poll and you drive the horse's back end up underneath him rounding the back.

For most people to enjoy their horses, pleasure and trail riding and even local competitions, it is likely not necessary to ride your horse with collection.  However, getting your horse to soften and giving to vertical flexion has got to make a better horse and partner.    

With your horse's high head set his back is hollowed out and the majority of his weight is on the front end. The center of his eyes are higher looking more further and forward.  He can still see the ground and obstacles to his front as he travels as horses have great peripheral vision, but not as good as if he had a more horizontal head set. 

In the photo at right, I am riding at a jog and my horse has a natural head set.  There is a reason it is called a natural head set - it is simply natural for the horse.  Watch a horse in a pen when something attracts his attention.  His head goes up to the necessary height where he can look out of the center of his eyes to determine the threat. 

So while you may likely need to work on getting your horse soft and giving in the face, working on vertical flexion, there is nothing wrong, and everything right about riding with a natural headset.  But I'll give you my opinion on the rest of your question, concerning tie downs and other devices.   
I'll assume you have eliminated your horse's teeth, the bit and how the bit is seated as a source for your horse's high head. But I am not a fan of, nor a user of tie downs or the head setter which is likely the "head setter device" that you were advised to try. A tie down is basically a type of cavason around the horse's nose and tied off to the breast collar, or through the breast collar ring to the cincha. The tie down limits how high the horse can raise his head. It is typically used in arena roping and thought to give the horse something to brace against upon the jerk of a steer on a rope. Virtually every team roper using one. I will defer to their experience as to the necessity of a tie down for roping.

The head setter is a combination nose band and rope over the poll which if the horse raises it's head or nose pressure is applied to the nose and/or poll. Some of the head setter devices are rope and some are even plastic coated cable. Effectiveness is dependent upon the horse bringing his head and/or nose back down to release or escape the pressure.  Mikmar makes a bit with a rope tied from one shank of the bit, up over the nose of the horse then connects to the other shank.  When the shank are activated, pulling on the reins, the rope over the nose tightens and the theory is that it provide a signal that is spread out fro the bit, to the curb and nose band tightening to the headstall applying poll pressure to the horse to drop his nose and lower his head to get relief.  I have no experience using Mikmar bits, but their are obviously some riders who believe in them.    

As far as Martingales, there are two basic types - a German Martingale and Running Martingale. I have never used a German martingale, but have used a running martingale which is a strap connected to the breast collar, or through the breast collar to the cincha, and has two legs, each with a ring for the respective rein to pass through then connect to the bit. See my diagram below and no wise cracks on my artistry please.  There is usually a rope or a loop that goes over the horse's head and sometimes a strap that connects to the gullet of the saddle prevents the neck rope from running up towards the ears.

The running martingale is adjusted so that it provides a fulcrum (through the rings) when the horse head is at a certain height encouraging the horse to drop his nose. I made a German Martingale for a client and was asked to do a couple extras, but then I changed my mind about offering them to people as I think there was potential for people to get into trouble using them as a short cut to getting their horse soft.
So what I might do with you horse who has a higher natural headset, is to work on getting your horse soft and giving in lowering his head.  Again, first on the ground, then in the saddle, then at a walk all before you ask for vertical flexion at the trot.  There may not be anything wrong with riding a hors with a natural headset, but getting your horse soft and giving can only help both of you. 
Now that I have used up my annual allocation of words, see if this helps you and let me know ho you and your hose are doing.  Safe Journey, Jennie.