Wednesday, June 29, 2011

My rant for the day...

On Dumping Old Horses

My horse Hope and I have been through a lot. She has been an incredible teacher, challenger, encourager, comforter, listener, and friend. I knew, when I rescued her as a long yearling, that we would have a challenge to keep her sound and comfortable as the neglect she suffered at a young age had left her deformed and crippled. I bought Hope as a partner and an adventure, knowing she had limitations but was not sure how extensive they would be.
At three years old, I got the OK to lightly start her. My vet warned me to go easy and told me he would be surprised if she wasn't crippled by five, but as long as she was comfortable I could ride her. I have done my due diligence to keep that promise through chiropractic, acupuncture, Adequan, massage, supportive shoeing, experts, nutritional support, and supplements. I have kept a close eye on her through the years, and she served me well.
Hope is the horse you can trust to carry you through any obstacle. She will give you hell when you can handle it, or comfort you when you need a shoulder to cry on. I have been so blown away by her intuitiveness as a teacher to adjust herself and safely and cautiously carry a disabled child for therapy, or put an overconfident rider in their place.
This year she turned 10, and she began to stumble. She does not appear lame to one who doesn't know her, she just misplaces a hoof every once in a while. But she has changed. I see it in her eyes, in her posture, in her cautious step. I knew it was coming. She may be sound for another ten years as a trail horse, but not a lesson horse.
As a lesson horse she is invaluable, and replacing her will be impossible. But she has given five good years of work and earned her retirement.

Way too often I see these ads giving away old horses. The kids outgrew it, the horse can't physically do x y or z anymore, they’re moving and don’t want to have to move the horse too, they don’t have time for it any more, etc. I have been anticipating and planning for Hope's retirement since I bought her. I understood the gravity of the commitment I was making even as a 13-year-old. What I don't understand is how old horses who spent their life in service end up in the slaughter pen.
Valentine was a 30+ year-old grey arabian gelding, skinny, covered in melanomas, and left to a violent horrible undignified end - in other words, sent to auction.
He was a gentle soul, who undoubtedly gave his life in service to a human. Even in his condition, he was ridden through the auction, which boasted of his training and willingness. At 30+ he was sound and willing to carry you, even through his own pain and weakness. Somone loved this horse; presumably, more then one person took care of him over his 30+ years. But when his teeth began to rot and he needed care to keep him healthy, he began to starve. With infected teeth that had not seen care in years, he wasted away. Even with food in front of him, he could not chew or swallow. When he was finally reduced to skin and bones, he was sent to the auction to meet his end, alone.
After carrying someone through life, being a willing partner through thick and thin, he was left abandoned in a dirty, crowded concrete lot, far away from any familiar comforts. We rescued Valentine with the hope of offering him a comfortable retirement, but the neglect he had suffered for years was irreversible and the vet made the decision that it would not be worth putting him through all the procedures it would take to get him close to comfortable. He also had extensive tumors which would interfere with his bladder control, leaving him with burns from urine, and which eventually ruptured.
After great consideration, we made the choice to humanely euthanize him so he did not need to suffer any more.

None of my horses will ever get to that point. But what retirement do I have to offer a horse like Hope? Could I continue to use her until she is broken down like Valentine, and then give her away on Craig’s List? Not a chance. It is my obligation to her to ensure her a comfortable retirement, and not allow her to live in pain. So while her pain is manageable she will be retired, and when the day comes that I can no longer offer her relief, I will set her free.
If you have a senior horse, or even a teenage horse near the end of his prime, how could you send him away just because he is no longer useful to you? We are responsible for the horses we own, even horses that only touch our lives for a short time. When you buy an old horse, you are committing to see them through. There is no “easy way out” of horse ownership. Your horse deserves a comfortable retirement, and if that is not possible, a humane and graceful end. That is the kindest gift you can give your faithful partner. It isn't easy, but it is right.
So your children outgrew your pony? You are an adult who knowingly took on the pony, hopefully understanding that your children, like all children, would grow. If your pony is young, then find him a happy home, and prepare their new owners for the senior years - sell him on a contract so you can fulfil your obligation if they ever had to get rid of him. But don’t you dare dump that horse at the auction, or for free on Craig’s List. If you have an older horse you cannot offer a retirement to, or afford to keep, you need to humanely euthanize them. It is your responsibility.
If you have an older horse but just don't have the facility to retire them, send them to a retirement facility. Yes, it’s going to cost you a few hundred bucks a month. But it is your responsibility - no two ways about it. If you are thinking of buying a horse, please take into account the rest of that horse’s life. Don’t just think about the useful years, but plan for the years where you get to give back to that horse.

Hope will be spending the rest of her life with me in retirement; she will still receive the highest standard of care I can give her, she will never go without, and she will live a comfortable life. I hope I have the opportunity to spoil her another ten or fifteen years. I owe her that, and she more than earned it.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Horses of 2009

Click the photo of Angel below to see a short video of some of the horses we saved in 2009.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Zip, 2yo APHA gelding

"Zip" came to me from my in- laws. When I met Zip, he was a 2 year old gelding that had not been handled since his castration, running with a herd on 40 acres. 'K', my sister in- law, helped me round up all of the horses and sort them out, until all we had left was Zip in her 50' round pen. He was curious but cautious, with absolutely stunning color and conformation, and that cow- horse boldness and athleticism. We played in the round pen for about twenty minutes before his eye softened, and finally, he let me pet him.

That first touch is so incredible, every muscle trembles, every instinct in their body screams 'RUN!', but he chose to stay.

Pretty soon I was able to rub him down with the halter, and my hand, and he was following me around the round pen. Most horses, when you halter them for the first time, have to go through the same pattern of discovery. Zip just went, "Oh, you got me. OK, yes m'am".

Next I taught him to give to pressure, left, right, back, down, and then forward, and before I knew it he was leading pretty well, learning to lunge and finally to tie. Because leading outside of the round pen is a LOT trickier, and I'd rather like to keep the skin on my hands and all my joints properly secured, I started by teaching him to pony.

I usually prefer to take my time with a horse, and really get them comfortable and conditioned before attempting anything like leading for the first time, or trailer loading for that matter. But when you don't have that kind of time, well, you cowboy up

He pulled back once or twice before getting with the program, but my mare, like any good cow- horse, just dragged him along. Once he was leading well off of Hope, I tied him up and let him have a break. I was pretty happy when he then let me walk up to him and halter him in the herd after only 20 minutes of negotiation without fleeing. I was further impressed when he followed me out of the pasture he was born in, past every imaginable monster a horse could encounter, and into a two horse trailer. Without any major drama, trailer loading took about an hour, which is incredibly good for a horse who JUST learned to lead, and has never SEEN a trailer in his life. Here, Zip, do you trust me? Climb into this tin can!

I love this horse

Getting Zip here was the easy part of course. Once here, we had bigger challenges. His feet had never been done, he had not been wormed, and he had huge nutritional deficiencies. Selenium is big, as I learned with Jasmine (his sister), but he was also deficient in protein, copper, calcium, etc. etc.

Okay, I can fix that, but his feet would take time. He liked to grow a lot of heel, and wear his toe down, so his coronet band was pointing down, and he was at a pretty steep angle. I had my farrier out within days to get started, and of course, Zip was perfect for her. We started a schedule to get him trimmed every four weeks, until we could bring the angle down. If Zip was another year older, we would not have been able to correct his feet, and he would have probably been crippled

I continued to teach Zip his basic manners, and he continued to amaze me with his kind heart, eager and willing personality, and awesome work ethic. We covered all the basics, from catching and leading, to clipping and bathing, he learned to cross-tie, tie, lunge, wear a surcingle, and most importantly let me cuddle and kiss his little baby nose. Oh what a sweet face he has, from his big soulful eyes, to his soft dainty little nose, and striking markings to boot. His conformation promises for a big bodied, correct, working horse type build, at least 15.3hh.

I won't start a two year old, so Zip will have the year to grow and continue to learn, stay posted on his progress! He is available for adoption, with a discount on training offered to his adopters

*UPDATE: Zip is growing fast, maybe too fast. Dr's orders say to back off on feed until he slows down a little bit. She is worried about OCD, he had some fluid in one stifle, but we are hoping it was just a hematoma because he is 100% sound. We will keep you updated, if the swelling does not go down within a few days, we will be taking x-rays.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

The Parelli magic...

People assume that I am a Parelli trainer, because I call myself a "natural horsemanship'' trainer. I feel like the term "natural horsemanship" leaves a bad taste in people's mouths because of Parelli. I have a lot of issues with the Parelli program, but I am not here to bash his name.

You have to commend Parelli for inspiring people to get off the couch - step away from the DVD - and actually work with their horses. But the Parelli stick is not magic. The only 'magic' Parelli has is marketing genius.

Now I think that the Parelli program has some great things going for it;

  • Marketing genius: Parelli's second wife is a marketing GURU and they used that expertise to market his program in the right price bracket to the right people.

  • Because the program breaks down basic skills into step-by-step "levels" it allows the owner to be hands on, creating interaction and developing a greater bond.

  • It is set up to make the consumer dependant on the product.

I think the program is good in that it has inspired thousands of horse owners to get off the couch and interact with their horses. It creates a market for the non-riders, playing the 'seven games'. And it popularized teaching methods that use less force.

Enter human error: methods don't teach, teachers teach. To be an effective teacher for your horse you have to know how to analyze behavior, when and how to apply method, you have to have good timing, handling skills, and knowledge. Most horse owners simply do not have the experience to apply these methods correctly or effectively. Especially when the methods are NOT scientific and require feel.

One of the major issues comes from teaching method without the theory to back it up. The 'how' without the 'why'. The problem is that you should to be actively training not only for a physical response but an emotional one. Anybody can chase a horse in a circle, but when you do it without understanding what you are looking for other than physically, you end up with a disconnected horse three steps ahead of you, this can be sometimes very dangerous. I have seen WAY too many "level three Parelli" horses who charge, kick, are pushy, rude, and generally disrespectful. Why does this happen? It happens when you only care about getting a physical response, and when you ignore the body language, and the emotional, and mental aspect of that action. For example: If you reward a horse for moving in a circle, even though they were moving into your space, "flipping you the bird", and dropping a hip/shoulder into you (that is a threat), you reward them for taking leadership. Now that your horse has established his leadership, why should he be respectful of you? YOU need to get out of HIS way! HE is the leader. So we see the classic Parelli result, a couch trainer who has romanticized the entire natural horsemanship idea, and the poor horse who is losing his marbles. NO, a DVD, a rope halter, and an orange stick do NOT make you a qualified trainer.

The good news? The magic is not in your Parelli kit, it's in YOU. You can become an effective handler, rider, and essentially trainer, for your horse. But this is achieved through experience, understanding method AND theory, timing, and consistency. You NEED a qualified trainer to be there with you every step of the way so you can ask questions, gain experience safely, develop feel and timing, and become a knowledgeable horse owner. I cannot over emphasise how important it is to TAKE LESSONS. Trust me, your horse will thank you.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Great training vid...

This video is from Robert Carlson who competed in the 2008 Extreme Mustang Makeover challenge

I found the video on his blog, and it was soo funny I had to share.

Here Robert is de-sensitising 'Artista' to sudden movements etc. And they sped the video up just for fun :)

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Chip 4yo POA Gelding

One of our many success stories!

Chip is a Pony Of America (POA) gelding, standing at a whopping 12.2 hands. He was surrendered in June 2008 with his pasture-mate Dude. Chip came in with a BCS of 2, Dude with a BCS of a 1.5. I would consider them both emaciated. First of all, how do you starve a POA? In my experience they are a very hardy breed, and very easy keepers. His background was a little sketchy, he was surrendered by a woman who claims to have rescued them from a 'crack house' type of situation. She then quickly realized she could not care for them due to lack of resources and facility--a small dirt hotwired paddock in a group of trees was all she had, much to small for three horses. When she tried to reach out to various rescues she was turned away due to lack of space. SAFE collected donations and had Dr. Hannah examine the horses, and a kind hearted person donated a few bales of hay. Eventually the horses were forwarded to me, and having learned to ride on a cute little POA, I decided Chip may be a good prospect for my lesson program.

My first impression of Chip was that he had been handled well in the past. He was easy to catch and load, and didn't bat an eyelash at our first clipper session. He was pretty good with his feet, and he tied and cross tied. Where did this cute little pony fall through the cracks? I started the re-feeding process and he stayed in quarantine for the first few weeks. When I would turn him out in the arena, he would roll and leave a coating of hair and an impression of his skeleton in the dirt. This was both heartbreaking and adorable as he would get up and throw out one good buck--which was about all the energy he had.

It took about three good grooming sessions to get Chip's hair under control. And I began to start the conditioning process to get him ready to start under saddle. After two months of work and a decent foundation, I decided to turn him out to pasture and let him grow up a little. Two months of lush hilly pasture and I had a very handsome almost chunky little pony ready to focus on his education. I put a total of thirty days under saddle on him, and he even got ridden by a few qualified students.

Chip was featured on the Fugly blog just before Christmas which is where his forever home first saw him. I delivered Chip and DID he win the horsey lottery! He is now very healthy and happy and living the life of luxury. I get frequent updates and am told he is doing fantastic!

Monday, February 2, 2009

Set your horse up to win

Why can't our horses win? You cannot force a horse to have a work ethic, anymore than you can force me to give up my Jimmy Choo's.

Imagine if, at your job, your boss never let you 'win'--never cut you slack, never rewarded you for good performance, was always critical and demanding, and spent the bulk of their time pointing out the negatives. Just let that sink in for a moment. You would hate your job, resent your boss, and probably become depressed and act out.

Just as a healthy and productive work environment is bred through positivity and rewarded successes, a healthy and pliable horse is won through positive and fair interaction. Instead of constantly correcting any and all bad behavior, focus on the positive.In other words, set your horse up to 'Win'. That should be your objective. You build a work ethic through success, not domination. A good horse responds to you out of trust and respect--because it wants to, not because it is forced to; because it is a partnership, not a dictatorship. It shouldn't be a struggle for power, it should be a collaboration.

Think of those phrases that were drilled into our heads as students - "you can't let your horse WIN!". Unfortunately, this sets up a false expectation that a horse and rider's relationship is always about a struggle for power, or that your horse would only respect your authority through dominance. This has lead to confusion about being a good leader and partner to your horse. Believing that you dominate through force in order to succeed, the notion is perpetuated that 'beating' your horse into submission is necessary.

This is not the case -- good leadership is about respect. Gaining your horse's obedience through 'dominance' and gaining your horse's obedience through respect are two completely different things. The difference? Fear versus choice. A horse ruled by 'dominance'1 responds out of fear. They may work hard because they fear you, but they're not doing it willingly, and they'll only work as hard as they have to to avoid punishment. This does not necessarily mean they are learning, or learning the right things. Furthermore, this sets your horse up for consistent failure. To understand why this is the case, we need to understand how a horse thinks and responds to positive and negative influences.

Horses are prey animals, and we are predators. We are wired differently so we think and respond differently. A horse is not struggling for dominance, but for survival--that is your horses primary objective: To survive. They need fair, consistent leadership in order to trust you. For a horse, trusting you means they have to willingly hand you their life and choose to work for you. When you handle a horse unfairly or are aggressive for what may seem to them as no reason, they quickly lose all respect and become defensive, concluding that you cannot be trusted and are dangerous; therefore, they should flee and/or protect themselves in order to survive. The last thing going through their head during a fight is "I should hand my life over to this person and 'submit' to them". Only when your horse trusts you will he choose to stay and cooperate in order to learn. If you set your horse up to 'win', it encourages them to choose it and earns trust.

The other difference in the two methods of relating to horses is connection. While you can possibly obtain the behavior you want through fear, you lose connection. If your horse is unable to flee physically- it will certainly flee mentally, resulting in a disconnected response. If your horse does not choose to stay, he will choose to go physically- or mentally. In contrast, respect is something you earn, and you earn respect through trust. You gain your horse's trust by respecting your horse, and by being a fair and consistent leader. Thus, your horse is able to stay connected both physically and mentally because they trust you, and their behavior is of their own choice. It's a 'win-win' situation!

On the flip side, your horse will not respect you if you allow him to just 'walk all over you'. I'm not advocating that you just baby or 'love' your horse through every behavior. The key is fair and consistent discipline, balanced with positive reinforcement. You are your horse's partner, not their drill sergeant. Therefore it is important to choose your battles, as well as putting the bulk of your energy into positive reinforcement, by focusing on what you want out of your horse. If you pick a behavior to work through be prepared to stay consistent with that decision, and keep in mind that you don't need to go overboard to make your point - use as little pressure as possible, but as much as necessary. It is better to make a point and be done with it than it is to nag. Of course, the amount of pressure will depend on the situation. If my horse steps into my space I am not going to 'kill' him, I am going to immediately ask him to take that step back. If my horse bites me I am going to 'kill' him - or make him think I am considering it. Remember that golden three second rule--make your point and that's it--you are not allowed to cause any harm to the horse.

I want my horse to come to class and be ready to focus, and willing to learn. When I pick up that lead rope or rein, I want my horse soft, supple, and relaxed in my hand. I want my horse to be asking me, "what can I do?". I will only achieve this when my horse chooses to submit to me out of respect for my leadership, not because I have bullied him, dominated him, or beat him into submission. I will achieve this through focusing positively on what I want out of my horse, in fairness and consistency. So I encourage you--to get the most out of your horsemanship experience and the most out of your horse, only put energy into what you want. Set your horse up to succeed and you both win.

1. Dominate is used here in the context of brute force and intimidation. Dominance is not achieved correctly through this kind of 'domination'.