Friday, December 30, 2016

What to do about a Jiggy Horse

Samantha wrote to ask what she can do about her jiggy horse, "Hi. I was hoping you could help me with my horse Ulysses who just cannot walk or trot at a slow pace. When I take him out on the trails he walks very fast and when I turn around and start to come home he continually breaks into a trot. Please don't tell me to trot circles because I have done that and he just gets all sweatty and never walks. He does this when I ride alone or with friends so he is not buddy sour. He makes riding such a chore and I know he is not having a pleasant experience either. " 

Hey Samantha.  This issue of a horse wanting to set his own gait and speed has been one of the tougher problems to address for me trying to help a few riders with that issue. One of the reasons it is tough to address is that the horse is anxious and feels the rider's anxiety or frustration combined with the rider who usually maintains contact with the bit, maintaining tight reins, with further aggravates the horse.  Another reason is the rider is just a passenger and has not established any leadership over that horse, which is likely the primary reason and what fuels the rider's anxiety and therefore the horse's. 

Many of my horse will want to increase his speed at any given gait on the way back home, but I've really only had one horse who, when he was young, would constantly break into a trot from a walk.  He was around 4 years old and I was still building a relationship with him. What I did on him was ride him alot, going out on a long straight dirt road 13 miles long. When first heading out when he would try to break into a trot, I would stop him, back him with some energy then offer to let him stand on a loose rein. At first, I only had him stand for a few seconds before I picked up on the reins and cued him to move out.  At first you may only ask him to stand for two seconds; then 3 seconds, etc.   The idea is that you are trying to set him up to succeed, so don't ask him for more than he can give. 

When I'm offering the horse the chance to stand after backing, all pressure was off. The reins are loose and my seat is neutral.  Your timing has got to be good. As soon as the horse stops when you ask him, he needs to get that release. Or maybe think of it as 'as soon as he is stopping - meaning you can feel his momentum and feet slow, the reins should go slack'.

When he decided to increase his gait into a trot, I would repeat the process. Basically, I would not let him pick his own speed or gait. The best horseman out there call this "making the wrong thing difficult and the right thing easy." After a few time at this, I would cue him into a trot and we would trot sometimes a couple miles or so until he decided he wanted to walk, and when he would break gait (transition down) on his own, I would cue him into the trot again for maybe 50 more yards then stop him and offer him a chance to stand on loose reins. I would give him some time at the halt - maybe even a minute. But again, not letting him set his own speed or gait.

Sometimes if he broke into a trot from the walk, I would trot him in circles off the road onto the soft shoulders with deeper sand - more of a chore for him picking his feet up, therefore more work for him. If he slowed during these circles I would cue him to maintain the trot, until I was ready to stop.  These are the circles you are preferring not to be told to do!  The difference maybe is that I just did not turn my horse into a circle. I rode him with some energy in a circle.  It was my idea.  Then when I asked him to stop, that was my idea.  Then the standing with a loose rein was a rest for him.    

It wasn't all riding either. Alot of ground work too, so he experienced many chances to understand and do what I was asking of him where he was rewarded with a release of physical and mental pressure,....... and alot of rubbing, too.  He was one of the taller horses I've owned, at 15.2 hands, and seemed to be all legs and maybe part of his habit of picking his gait and speed problem were associated with his young age and his half Tennessee Walker, half Quarter horse breeding, but the bigger end of things changing had to do with him accepting that I was the leader .

I was riding out a couple weeks ago with a lady whose horse also had this problem, like yours of walking fast then breaking into a trot whenever he felt like it. So I had her do like I described earlier. When he was walking, try to rate his speed not just using the reins but with your seat and rhythm.  Not using the reins by pulling on both of them as the horse will usually just get bracey and push through it, but changing the angle of the reins.

When this woman's horse he would break into a trot, I had her stop him, back him with some energy then offer to let him stand. At first, only letting him stand for a second before cueing him to move out at a walk. If he tried to move off before she gave him the cue, I had her stop his forward momentum and back him again, with energy, several steps then repeat the offer to stand. The problem she was having was that she tried to back him slowly where her horse would be inclined to stop on his own.

Another problem was that the rider would not give a timely nor complete release when she stopped her horse, and also allowing her horse walk off before she cued him. All of this was diminishing the control and leadership she needed to build with this horse. When a horse decides to pick his own speed or gait, you just can't think "That's okay, I wanted to trot anyway." - it has to be your idea and he needs to respond to your cues.

When you do ask him for a trot, I suggest you do make circles and serpentines, therefore having him respond to your control. It would be important that if he did try to break down, then to cue him back to where you want him, then make it your idea to slow or change gaits. When you do offer him a chance to stand, there has to be a complete release - put slack those reins, and make sure your timing for that release is particular.

Much like some horses that need to bolt once or twice to understand that they don't need to run away, some horses need a lot of work to appreciate a break through a slower gait, or stopping and standing.

When you get back to your home stables, don't always take him straight to unsaddling. This is going to be a release for him and therefore he will seek it and be jiggy on the trail...wanting to get home and get that release.   Instead do some work on him when you get back and do it with some energy. In fact, you can ride him out a short distance, and bring him back and if he is jiggy then do some work to get him to associate going back home isn't always associated with a release.  This is much like what you would do with a horse in the arena who was always wanting to move to the gate - make being close to the gate associated with a lot of work, and make away from the gate where you give him a break.

Trying what I am recommending is going to wear you out in the short term. You may not fix it totally, but you should be able to make it much more acceptable and certainly more acceptable than riding a horse that just picks his own speed and gait.  Because if he does so, he is being allowed to do so, and you are really not a rider anymore,..... you are just a passenger   Safe Journey.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Keeping Horses Healthy in the Winter

We're pretty lucky here in the Tularosa Basin as it is a rare winter, and really only short parts of it, that provides a challenge to managing our horses. Mostly it's keeping water lines from freezing and ensuring the horses have free access to fresh water, but that's not the only thing they need.

If you keep horses stabled in the winter and you are subject to bad weather, or just weather too cold for you to ride in, it is easy to over look the exercise needs of your horses. It isn't just about physical exercise, either,....horses that don't get ridden, turned out or even exercised on a line or a walker are more susceptible to mental issues. We all know that horses get fearful, and I think they get depressed as well and there's nothing like being confined for long periods of time to create that.

I see too many horses spending virtually their entire lives in small pens and that saddens me greatly. If you happen to be one of these owners, then please take a moment to look at your horse's life from their perspective.

Maybe being too cold to saddle up and ride out is a blessing as it can creates short blocks of time where we can pull a horse and do some ground work: Backing off a slight feel or vibration in the lead line; coming to you with a slight tension in the lead; getting your horse to side up over to you like you are on a platform and want to mount; sending your horse in a straight line; sending him into the trailer; doing half circles with forward momentum; turning a horse who is okay about having his feet handled into a horse that is very good about his feet; sacking him out on a flag, or a tarp or really anything that he may be fearful of; and the list of things you can do in short sessions just goes on.

If you do ride or exercise your horse then remember that he still needs an adequate period of cooling off before you give him access to feed and water.

I know some of you are looking at national weather reports and thinking that "Boy, those folks in the desert Southwest have it easy with relatively high temps" and you would be right, and we are grateful for not breaking ice everyday. This week's national weather map showing 15 degrees in Minnesota and 7 degrees in Southern Idaho making West Texas at 34 degrees this morning seem pretty tropical, but you add in a 20 mph wind and the wind chill factor makes it 24 degrees. Sometimes that wind just cuts through to the bone. So consequently a wind break for the horses, such as a three sided shelter, will help keep your horses warmer and more blood in their system going to the digestive tract rather than the legs and neck to warm them helps lessen the threat of colic.

I not big blanketing fan, but don't hesitate to using the appropriate blanket when the temps or weather conditions warrant this. I get sent a lot of questions asking for guidelines, but the horse's age and overall health have a lot to do with a decision to blanket, so that question is hard to answer. All I can say is that on my thin haired horses, I'll blanket when the temps are in the high 20's, sometimes the low 30's,  most of the time.

I have an enclosed 18' x 14' brood mare stall, which doubles for a hospital stall as well for any horse recovering from an injury or illness that necessitates that. I have to be careful to ensure the accumulated ammonia from horse urine and the dust isn't a health hazard. I have a wide vent all the way around the top of the brood mare stall to help with the ventilation and therefore the horse's respiratory health.

The winter months can actually increase feed requirements as your horse burns more calories to stay warm. We usually throw extra grass during the cold winter days to keep the horses gut moving and give them something to do to reduce boredom. So just a reminder to be conscious on your horse's body condition in case he starts dropping weight.

Most people reading this hopefully know better and this serves either as a reminder or to just take up space.  Besides already knowing something has never kept my wife from telling me again,.....and again. Hope everyone' post Christmas is peaceful and blessed. 

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Merry Christmas 2016

Merry Christmas to everyone from Functional Horsemanship and the Red Bird Ranch. Last weekend we did our annual Christmas Ride, with horse back riders, truck and hay trailer, tractor and wagon delivering Christmas cheer and candy bags to anyone we met along the route - then back to the property for Chili and Tamales around a fire pit.

There's a saying to the effect that bringing joy to others is good for the soul,...and if you can do it on horseback even better. We halted often to let parents get pictures of their children in the saddle and of course, with Santa Claus.
 The best thing is seeing the smiles from children and adults alike when they get up close and are able to rub on a horse. Again this year we had a little boy waiting on us who had such a hard time keeping his thick, heavy eye glasses on his nose...just waiting in the chilly afternoon for a chance to hug a horse.

I hope everyone has a peaceful Christmas and gets to spend it surrounded by family and friends,....and good horses. There are many Americans away from home serving this country who wished they could be home - please think of them, as we honor their sacrifices and celebrate Christmas as a joyful time, as we are the most blessed people on this earth, being given the gift of Christ. God Bless and Safe Journey.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Laying a Horse Down and other Gentling Methods

Martha wrote to ask about trying to get over the hump on a real anxious horse. "Dear Sir, I was in a clinic watching a trainer laying a horse down onto the ground on his side to get the horse to trust him. One of my friends said that you can do the same thing with draping a towel over the horse's head so it can't see and has to learn how to trust the person. I have a horse that is always being hyper and can't hardly stand still and was wondering if laying him down on the ground or doing the towel training with my friend's help would help. Sincerely, Marta."

I've laid a few horses down and am ashamed to say the first few times I did it, it didn't need to be done. In other words laying the horse down was for me and not for the horse. In fact, it is likely it did some good only once. One time it took me 20 minutes from start to getting him to lay down. This was about 10 years ago and once I got started and I couldn't just stop and allow that horse to understand his resistance was successful. I remember hoping nobody saw me. Not that I was embarrassed about taking so long, but just embarrassed because I realized I was doing this just for me - that the horse did not need this at this point, nor really ever would benefit from laying down.

So I have to say that laying a horse down is not something I would suggest unless I was there in person to see the horse and the issues with the horse and even then it would be a high probability that I would recommend against it.

As far as what you mentioned on 'towel training', I have used a shirt to do blindfold training so the horse would allow me to have control on the ground, leading him with a shirt wrapped over his head. I was doing this so I could do it again if I had to lead him through smoke or a fire, or to cover his head to protect him from hail during a storm.  It came in handy a few times, actually.

What I found out was that this helped the horse mentally quite a bit, making him more soft and accepting, so there is some merit or use to your described towel training, however my primary motive was to prepare him when I needed to cover his head.

You do have to have an element of trust with your horse when you can drape a cover, like a rain slicker in the photos, and lead him on the ground or ride him.

 His steps will be tentative as, of course, his sight is taken away, his sense of hearing is somewhat degraded and some horses will have to gentled in handling their head and particularly their ears before you can start....but all goods things for the horse. But I don't think it's going to replace laying a horse down, when that is necessary, because when laying down a horse his flight ability is taken away.

There are some other issues that can contribute to a horse appearing to be what you call hyper-active: Excessive feed and/or high sugar content in feeds; horses not being ridden much.  You have to teach him through pressure and release, what you expect of him. Sometimes I have started of with a horse that can stand quiet by working him with some energy (this is the pressure) then offering him a chance to stand quiet (this is the release).  Sometimes standing quiet will only last a short time, but if it is an improvement, then take it and build on it.

Now I want to be real clear on this next point as it is just my observation and I mean no offense to anyone................Most people I work with are ladies. The issue with ladies is that a much larger percentage of women have more empathy for their horses than men have for their horses. But women are more likely to let their horses get away with behavioral issues perhaps viewing their horses as equal partners, as opposed to being the leader of the team.  In some cases this contributes to the horse being non-respectful such as moving his feet anytime he wants to, or pushing into the handler's space, and pulling on the lead line or reins.
On the other hand some men just seem to have too much ego, some of the time, wrapped up into horses, taking non-compliance from the horse personally, and are more likely to see the horse as a replaceable tool.  I used to be that way, and frankly, like an alcoholic, am always cognizant that I likely have the personality where I can still regress to that.    

There is no doubt that some of the best horse people are women and I have no doubt there are thousands of women who are a better horsemen than I am or will be.  What I can't understand is that generally women have no problem telling men what to do - my wife sure doesn't.  So  an example is putting the toilet seat down - so  I know ladies have it in themselves to be the boss of a partnership.  It doesn't mean being unfair, just means being in charge.   

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

National Day of the Horse - 13 December 2016

National Day of the Horse, never knew this existed until I started getting e-mail feeds from tack shops and suppliers on deals commemorating today. A quick google search brought me to Dennis Reis' site, Reis Ranch, where an article said that Dennis and Deborah Reis were the sponsors and authors of the 2003 National Day of the Horse. On November 18, 2004 the U.S. Senate passed Senate Resolution 452, recognizing December 13th as the National Day of the Horse.

The National Day of the Horse encourages the people of the United States to be mindful of the contribution of horses to economy, history and character of the United States. You can go to this link, Reis Ranch National Day of the Horse post, and read the legislative sponsors and co-sponsors as well as those in business and media who supported this effort.

There is a Facebook page supposedly dedicated to the National Day of the Horse. I haven't looked at it, but here is the link - Facebook National Day of the Horse.

I am grateful on a daily basis for being able to own horses, if owning is the best term for it. I am aware that there must be some people who sometimes see horses as a burden. I hope I am never one of those people. As most of us spend too little time in the saddle, comparatively speaking, I'll have to remember the blessing of just sitting there on a rail fence and watching them eat or interact with each other, or smelling their breath after eating hay - both are remedies for most ills. And sometimes on a cold day, I'll just press my face into a horse's neck and enjoy the warmth of their soft hair.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

The Hammonds and the Heavy Hand of Federal Land Management

One of the biggest political issues in the Western United States is Federally owned and managed land as it pertains to use by the public for recreation and by ranchers who lease Federal lands, often adjacent to their own private property, in order to graze cattle and other livestock.

It give me no pleasure to write derogatory comments about the US Government or it's agents. I was once a soldier and later a Federal Conservation Law Enforcement Officer and worked with various Federal Law Enforcement agencies and State game law and land management agencies including the BLM, all of whom I got along with well and thought highly of. The BLM office I worked with always struck a balance between helping the ranchers who won grazing bids and performing effective management of the grazing units.

Most of us either have a passing knowledge of, or have seen news coverage on the Bundy standoff in Southern Nevada as well as the occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Central Oregon, where in January 2016 where armed men, one of them Ammon Bundy - son of Cliven Bundy the central figure in the Nevada BLM standoff, did what they did in order to get a platform for their views that the U.S. Forest Service (USFS), Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and other federal agencies are constitutionally required to turn over most of the federal public land they manage to the individual states. This group (referred to as militants in most news media) believed they could help their cause as well as protest the government's prosecution and sentencing of the Hammonds, two Central Oregon ranchers convicted of terrorism through federal land arson, even though the Hammonds publically stated that they did not want their help.

I am not writing about the Bundy's, the Nevada standoff nor the Malheur Refuge occupation. I am however writing about what I think is a much clearer cut version of injustice - and that is what happened to the Hammonds.

Dwight and Steven Hammond own the Hammond Ranch which is reported as 13,000 acres surrounding by State and Federal land, some of which the Hammonds leased for grazing rights. In 2001, the Hammonds conducted a controlled burn to mitigate an invasive plant species from taking over, and in 2016, set a back fire to protect their private property from a huge wildlands fire that was on federal property heading towards them. Both fires combined, burned less than 150 acres. While 150 acres may sound like alot, I assure you that while any fire is a concern due to it's potential to rapidly expand and threaten resources and life, 150 acres is a pretty small fire. I have been on crews of less than 6 men working much larger fires, so I know that smaller fires can be effectively and safely managed by two men. Men, I might add, who had an interest in seeing the land managed efficiently, and protected effectively, as their very livelihood rested on it.

Anyway, the Federal Government brought criminal and civil charges against the Hammonds, charging them under 18 USC § 844, the penalties section of 18 USC Chapter 40 - Importation, Manufacture, Distribution and Storage of Explosive Materials, or often called the "Anti-Terrorism Act" which was designed to prosecute terrorists targeting infrastructure.

18 USC § 844 (Penalties): Whoever maliciously damages or destroys, or attempts to damage or destroy, by means of fire or an explosive, any building, vehicle, or other personal or real property in whole or in part owned or possessed by, or leased to, the United States, or any department or agency thereof, or any institution or organization receiving Federal financial assistance, shall be imprisoned for not less than 5 years and not more than 20 years, fined under this title, or both.

In the criminal case against the Hammonds, the presiding Judge evidently understood what the intent of the law and penalties were for, and reduced the minimum sentence for Dwight and Steven Hammond to 90 days and 366 days, respectively.

The BLM and the Malheur Refuge Land Manager appealed the "short" sentences to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco,...sentences that really should have never occurred in the first place, which resulted in harsher sentences of five years for each and a large fine - in the area of several hundreds of thousands of dollars. Furthermore, the Hammonds had to agree to offer their ranch to the government first if they ended up selling out.

There are several things that will bring more perspective to what most people would already see has a transgression of justice:

~ The Hammond Ranch has been planned for acquisition by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, under their future planning processes, showing desire and intent to obtain the Hammond Ranch even though the Hammonds had no intent to sell. Look at the map and you can see why the Hammond's ranch is desirable by the Government;
~ That the BLM manager and the Malheur Wildlife Refuge Manager, both who represented their respective local organizations within the federal government, in appealing the Hammond's earlier shorter sentences in favor for longer sentences, are a couple, married or otherwise - this is what the FBI calls a "clue", and in this case a conflict of interest;
~ The Federal Government offered to drop the, basically trumped up charges, if the Hammonds would give the government their private land;
~ The Hammonds Grazing Permit is being challenged by the BLM and has not be released to the Hammonds;
~ The most conspiratorial views would think the government initiated a thinly veiled blackmail threat - threat of prosecution and imprisonment, or land sale. The Hammonds elected to bow up against the government, standing for their rights,......they paid a price.

I think that no matter what your views are on grazing or land conservation, or politically, whether you are a liberal or a conservative, I just think that most people would agree that the intent and sentences under the Anti-Terrorism Act were not meant to punish ranchers who were just, in the absence of proper government land management, ended up using common practices to decent land management and protection goals. I am asking all readers of this site to take a moment and send an e-mail to their House and Senate representatives asking to remedy this.

There is a bill introduced by Congressman Greg Walden (R-OR) on 14 July 2016, titled - H.R.5815 - Resource Management Practices Protection Act of 2016, that would prohibit what happened to the Hammonds from happening to other law abiding hard working ranchers, by barring prosecution under 18 USC § 844, in certain cases such as: the damage or destruction, or attempt to damage or destroy, by means of a fire that is set by a person to property owned by the person to prevent an imminent threat of damage to that property; or as part of any other generally accepted practice for managing vegetation on timber, grazing, or farm land; and it (the fire) does not pose a serious threat of injury to any individual or damage to any building, dwelling, or vehicle of the United States; and does not result in death or serious bodily injury to any individual.