Saturday, February 27, 2010

Sunday stills: Fruit

This weeks challenge was Fruit

First listening to this song/video wile looking at these photo's is a complete must. Press play right now.

Horses are more likely to eat things (like medicine) if their palates have been expanded.
My old girls Naigens favorite treat was a Banana. She would happily close her eyes and smack the squishy fruit around with this complete content look. All was right in her world when she had a banana. She also thoroughly enjoyed banana horse likits.

Indigo funnily HATED bananas with a passion, until a day or two after Naigen passed away. Every time I offered to share my banana with her she would act like I was trying to poison her. I had a whole ton of Bananas left for Naigen. I brought one out to see who would eat it and Indigo hoovered it out of my hand. Now she can't get enough.

My friend Korinne happily obliged to feed Indigo a Banana for this weeks challenge but not before doing some silly stuff. She was the one by the way, that was the friend with me when we were throwing frozen bananas at the other friend in the bathtub. We get into way too much trouble when we are together.

Please do not feed horses the peel as it can cause tummy upset!

Ring ring ring ring ring ring ring, banana phone!

Ding dong ding dong ding dong ding, banana phoooonnnneee!

It grows in bunches, I've got my hunches.

It's the best, beats the rest.

Cellular, modular, interactive, odular

My cellular, bananular phoooonnneee

Friday, February 26, 2010

Science Vs tradition: Myths

"Myths? Like Pegasus?"

This weeks questions came from various people and some I just thought might interest you.

Heres a few, not in any particular order.

Myth: I will get a better saddle fit with a better saddle pad.

The truth here is if your saddle slips, is too narrow, too wide, pinching or pressure points you need a new saddle.

Ladies will know what I am talking about when I say a saddle is like a pair of shoes.
Imagine having a pair of high heel dress shoes. They were expensive, they look gorgeous but they are too narrow and friggn hurt your feet! You get sour about wearing them and want to toss them in the back of a closet.
How would you deal with this shoe pain? I can bet you wouldn't put on a pair of wool socks.
If you had a shoe that was too wide you can put on 10 pairs of socks but your foot is still going to slop around all over the place and cause blisters. The same should be for your saddle.
If it is too narrow don't put extra padding it's like that wool sock and the dress shoe. Even if you use less padding it is still going to restrict your horses movement with the tree being solid and narrow (think tight shoes and attempting to wiggle your toes)
If it is too wide don't use more padding. It's like the shoe thats too big. It is still going to be sloppy.
Of course if you have a saddle that truely fits the technology of good saddle pads can indeed aid a good fit.

Myth:My horse needs shoes to stay sound

Have you ever heard the saying treat the cause and not the symptoms? This is no different.
A lot of people shoe their horse because he seems lame or off. Shoes often cover up the real reason a horse is having issues wile barefoot.
Why do I use shoes? Because in the warmer seasons our horses wear off more hoof than they grow. We are on pavement, gravel and rough ground a lot more than your average horse doing many, many, many times the miles most horses do in a year under saddle or harness. We can't not shoe our horses. Hoof boots just don't work. They come off or offer too much grip on the pavement.

We always take off shoes when we are not on the roads (About December-ish to April-may-ish) We have never had a horse that has to be shod to stay sound.
I have discarded metal shoes in our horses regime. After a season of using easywalker plastic horse shoes I am hooked. Not only did they last longer than metal shoes on the road (we could actually re-set them once!), they gave us more grip for the carriage horses and flexed with the natural foot unlike metal shoes that are rigid and can slip on pavement without caulks or boron spots.

Sadly a lot of horse owners are looking for a cheap, quick fix. Going barefoot requires a farrier that is maintaining the hoof for the surfaces your horse will be riding on, not maintaining the hoof like he/she was going to shoe it. It may take some time to grow out a new hoof and uncover what is really making ol clip-clop iffy on those toes.

Myth: My horse has a "vice"

I need to get this one strait right here, right now. Vices are described as something that is inconvenient. The thing is that horses cribbing, weaving, pacing or pawing (etc etc) are inconvenient to us, not the horse. The horse finds it perfectly acceptable and convenient to express his lack of a natural behaviour in these sometimes destructive ways. These are known scientifically as a "stereotypy" because the horse is exhibiting stereotypical behaviors. They can basically be categorized as oral (cribbing, wood chewing) and locomotory (weaving, pacing, stall kicking, pawing)

Myth: A horse will eat dirt, feces, chew wood or other horses tails when he is lacking some mystery nutrient in his diet or be deficient in something.

I commented on a blog today about horses lacking minerals.
This one makes me want to bang my head on my desk since no one can seem to explain (even vets) what mystery X mineral the horse is missing. It's just some mineral.

First off, horses DO NOT have nutritional wisdom.
In fact I compared a horse to a young baby who we clearly know does not have some mystery mineral deficiency detector built in.
A baby will drink from a bottle when it is hungry. Once baby is done drinking and full he will suck his thumb or passifier. Does this mean the baby is still hungry?
Studies have shown that babies suck their thumb more often when fed further apart. It seems to release endorphins and lessen tension. Sucking on a bottle feeds an instinct for milk.

A horse will graze almost continuously if the forage is there. Sixteen or more hours a day a horse will chew, rip, nibble and in general eat forage. By putting him in a domesticated environment we often eliminate this by not having suitable land for grass or having the resources and money to feed free choice hay. What will a horse do? Eat wood, chew tails, ingest dirt and poop and god knows what else. Is he lacking some mineral? No hes doing what instinct tells him to do, graze! Even if that might mean grazing the wooden fencing.

Of course a lot of us that do have grass pastures irrigate them. This may mean there truely is not enough fiber content out there to meet the grazing needs.

Lisa from Laughing orcha ranch posted the wonderful thing she did with a hockey net to keep her horse grazing all day on the limited hay she feeds. It's a wonderful idea that brings a horse a little closer to what nature intended.

A horse knows no more about his body not having minerals than a baby does. What they both do know is instinct and that instinct is to suckle and graze.

If you are really concerned about your horse lacking mystery mineral X, get your hay tested!. Guessing what your horse might be lacking is a risky game. Your going to waste money on supplements and possibly cause problems long term for your horses health.

Of course horses in a paddock with grass always appreciate some dry matter to chew on. The best idea I seen was a very large old stump, roots and all. The horses scratched and chewed the stump to their hearts content. What a great idea.

Horses will also chew on things to explore, like a child will put things in his mouth. Some wood on barns may taste good. It may be habitual. Consider how your horse was weaned and raised. A lot of horses that were weaned suddenly from their mothers and put into stalls, introduced to concentrates early etc. are scientifically proven to have more incidence of developing a stereotypy.

They may be also doing it out of frustration. An ideal herd to a horse is many horses, not one other equid, not two and maybe not even five or more. Many so that every horse can interact and have a different place in the social vine. Again we cannot always provide that.

Myth: My horse gets the minerals he needs from his salt block.

Salt blocks. They are solid and come normally in blue, white and brownish red.
Salt blocks are durable. They keep a horse occupied, true.
Salt blocks are also what they are, solid blocks.
Have you ever noticed a horse will bite his salt block, or eat it in one sitting.
This is due to the fact that a horses salivary glands are activated by chewing, not licking. Having said this, a horse (and even cows and other livestock) simply cannot get the minerals they need simply by licking a salt block. They do not create the saliva necessary to consume what their body needs and their taste buds desire.

There is a very simple solution to this. Offer free choice, loose salt. It's cheaper to get a big bag (50 pounds is normally $20) and lasts longer. I still have a solid salt block in Indigo's shed. It hasn't been touched in months because they have been eating the loose salt which I have to replace every month or so. It's in a dish thats fastened to the wall of the shed next to the old salt block.
Indigo would constantly be scraping her teeth on the solid block. Now she hasn't touched it because she can lick up the loose salt to her hearts content.
Mr.Pony would eat a salt block in a day and it worried me he was going to make himself sick. He was bored, not lacking some mineral. Again I added loose salt and he takes a couple weeks to finish what I give him, not one sitting.

If you can't put loose salt out for your horses at all times you can add it to their feed once a day. Of course knowing what type of salt you need to give your horse depends on the hay's nutritional analysis.

Myth: My horse will not stop bitless.

I hear this one so often it's crazy and 99.9% of the people who say this haven't even given bitless a try. When they do try it they are often very surprised to find yes you can control a horse bitless and a lot of the time stop way better, quicker and with less resistance than in a bit.

In my opinion a horse should stop because you asked and he wants to.
Does your horse slow to a stop or even slam on the breaks for the rowdy western riders out there when you WOAH! at him?
Do you have to pull or haul back with force on the reins to get him to change gears?
Or can you do it at a suggestion in your fingers or even better, your seat.

I find if I have a horse that wants to take off or not slow down he has a big hole in his training.
A lot of the time riders cover this hole with a bit or even worse, a bigger bit. In the case of harsher methods a horse is responding to pain, not the willingness to fulfill your request.

To shut a horses motor down make him change directions. Disengage his hip. Pulling back on both reins when a horse wants to run is going to give him something to brace against. He is many times your weight, if he wants to brace against your hands you need to give him something he can't brace against. Use one rein at a time, get his feet moving in another direction. I find with a horse that doesn't stop and progressively gets worse to stop, collect, extend etc goes hand in hand with a rider that snatches up the reins the second a horse speeds up. If you read my last science vs tradition post on training aids. A horse should flex to the bridle in all directions when asked before ever asking him to do a transition at any speed.

Myth: If the bit length is right it is a good fit for my horse.

Most riders are like this and I can admit to it at one point I did it too. They start their horse in a snaffle just like every horse before them. It's the same bit. True a lot of people use the same bit but your not all riding the same horse.

Not many riders look into their horses mouthes when selecting bits. Even before I went bitless I was constantly looking into a horses mouth. I don't mean needing their teeth floated (though minimum once a year maintenance should be done, bitless or bit alike!) or teeth pulled. I am talking about their tongue, lips, jaw and hard palate.

So far in the bitless revolution we are still a baby. A very small revolution that is indeed taking the horse world by storm. We sometimes need to use bits if we intend to show our horses so we can do the kindest thing and buy a bit for the horses mouth, not just assume every bit fits every horse mouth mold.

I won't get too far into this because I could talk all day on bit and bridle fit but I'll go over basics.

Measure your horses mouth. Put something like a wooden dowel in his mouth and mark it off. If clip-clop is between sizes go for the next one up.

Look at your horses tongue. Is it thick, is it thin? Does it have scars? Thick tongues will require a thinner bit (not wire thin, just thinner) maybe even a slight curve or mullen mouth to allow that tongue to rest properly in the oral cavity. A bit that restricts a thick tongue is going to be uncomfortable even with no pressure on the reins.
If your horses tongue is thin you want to use a thicker bit to distribute that pressure over a bigger area and avoid pinching it bad between metal and the bars.

Look at the hard palate (roof of the mouth). Is it low? You might want to try something with a very mild joint such as something that doesn't have a join like a mullen or a french link that has two joints. A horse with a very low hard palate will have a very short distance between you putting pressure on the reins and a single jointed bit poking like an upside down V into the hard palate. Not comfortable.
If you have a high hard palate a single jointed bit may be just fine. It may take quite the bit of pressure for that joint to hit the hard palate. A double jointed (such as a french link) may create two pressure points that are very small and be uncomfortable in this type of mouth.

The jaw. Try putting a fist between your horses cheeks (near his throat but between his big ol cheeks) a standard horse (14-16 HH) normally you can just barely fit your fist between the cheeks. If you have a lot of room you got a wide jaw. If you can't get anything you have a narrow jaw. This will also influence what type of jointed bit and thickness you will need.
Have you ever noticed some horses, no matter the length of bit it seems to wrap around their jaw? Thats where you might want to check the jaw width.

So having said this, like saddles bits are never one size fits all.

Keep those questions coming.

I'll leave you with something to chew on that a good friend of mine said the other day: "A horse has to be moving forward even to back up."

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

On this episode of as the round bale turns

It was a nice day. It snowed lightly and there as an odd fog this morning that caused hoar frost to stick to the plants. I decided it was a great day for picture taking.Indigo agrees only if there are cookies involved.

As I looked through the images I took today, I caught eye of this.
What on earth is she getting her tail in a knot about?

AGH SEBASTIAN!! When are you going to learn!? Stupid boys. Leave the girls in peace. They can see past your tricks.

The girls are gonna tag team him.

I do say Indigo and Sheba make a good boy beating team.
No Sebastians were hurt (other than his gelding ego) in the production of as the round bale turns.

Remember in my happy award post how I mentioned Morgan horses were racist? Well they are.
Suzy, Stormy and Sebastian always hang with each other.
When Indigo or Sheba interferes in the paddock they hold a tight formation, minus Sebastian who tries to convert the girls but they don't buy it.
These horses live together, 24/7 theres no stalls to separate them at night. We had to separate the Morgans (Suzy, Sebastian, Stormy) from the non-Morgans (Sheba and Indigo) because there would surely be a scuffle at meal time. The barnyard is split into two halves because of them.
Racist I tell ya, racist.

I did get some lovely pictures today of the hoar frost. Unfortunately I did some chores before I took pictures. It was much thicker early on in the day.
I promise if there is hoar frost tomorrow morning I will bring my camera. It is quite interesting.
Another horse hair post coming up.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

What I won't do for a dollar

So sometimes being in the horse/horse drawn vehicle service I get called upon to do some odd jobs.

Like funerals.

I get a call late Friday night from a woman who is bawling before she even replied to my hello. She took a moment to stop crying to explain why she was calling.

Her father just died. They truthfully did not expect him to survive longer than his late wife but he did.
He was the last sheeny man in Windsor.

What is a Sheeny man? Well a Sheeny is a person (mostly men) Who drove a horse drawn wagon and picked up scrap to take to the scrap yard. They had a horn and would holler out wile honking "Scrap! Scrap!". Anyone remember the sheeny men?
This man happened to have a white percheron mare named Belle.
His children (8 of them) remember this horse. He loved horses and often talked of his mare.

They wanted me to lead the herst through the cemetery with Indigo. They wanted feathers braided into her mane and tail. There was to be just one white feather.
I suggested them bringing me a pair of his boots and putting them backwards in the stirrups for a riderless horse ceremony.

Of course there was a catch. Just as I had given them a receipt (or tried to, they rejected it saying their father never used them) and they scooped up with tearful eyes the 35 old horse shoes we had lying around the farm (easywalkers are our horses shoe future, not steel) she asked me to wear a native american headdress. Of course they wanted the shoes to give to his kids and grandkids along with a picture of him and his mare, Belle picking up scrap.

Here goes the saying what I won't do for a dollar.
Picture credit to Nick Brancaccio, The Windsor Star

I guess I didn't look like as big a goon as I though I did.

Indigo wasn't looking too bad either after reluctantly spending the night in a stall to avoid mid morning mud rollings.

We walked ahead of the herst through the cemetary to the mans final resting spot.

Someone called the city newspaper and before I knew it I was going to be in the news for the 463827483729th time. Good thing or bad? Haha.

I think I am probably the most photographed horse person for hours honestly. I have a whole stack of articles of me and a horse. I even got front page Windsor star too. Of course this picture made the 2nd page but I did get half the page for this picture.

Monday, February 22, 2010

The happy award

I got this award from my good friend Jo

I am to write ten things that make me happy and tag ten people.

Things that make me happy

1. Horses.
This is such a given. I don't think I could be happy in this life without some sort of equine contact. I feel at ease, something big has been lifted off my shoulders even when my horse and I have a big job to do (like tomorrow you wouldn't believe what I have to do)

2. My friends and family.
I just spent a few hours of nonsense, including throwing frozen bananas at another friend in the bathtub and eating nearly a whole jumbo box of nerds candy by myself. We talked about past stories we told each other before and ones we hadn't. We were laughing so hard it hurt.

3. Laughter.
This is the most important one. I can't get enough. Especially things that make others who are not in on the joke raise an eyebrow and question your sanity. Things that are totally random like when you are in a wal-mart and you hear a kid three isles over making some random noise and you just have to laugh and imitate the noise for the next two days.
Once my best friend Lisa and I were in a store and there was this plastic baby doll that had a big fat eyebrow ridge, two bottom teeth and little saggy man boobies. We laughed so hard we were literally on the floor. Thank goodness no one came around the isle they would have thought we were doing drugs. The truth is we are just high off life, laughing at simple things(like the buck toothed, unibrow, moob baby). It makes a day go by so much easier laughing a little or even lots.

4. Shiny things.
Especially bright, colourful shiny things. This one I cannot explain. My aunt once said it was because I am a dragon, being born in the year of the dragon. I really, really do like shiny things I can't help but stare at peoples earrings or necklaces I just can't help myself. I used to collect super shiny things and even had a shiny box that had random balls of tin foil in it. I had to come to terms of having too much junk being a habitual pack rat and threw it out some time ago.

5. Creation.
This can be anything from drawing a picture, braiding horse hair into jewelry, painting, building stuff and using big tools or making a box of odds and ends into something useful. I love creation and all the joy it brings to be able to make something out of nothing.

6. Getting up early in the morning.
I am such a morning person. I was the kid when I was little that would suddenly go quiet and my mom would go looking for me only to find me in my bed already asleep. She never had to set a bed time for me. However when I get really tired it's not wise to push my buttons. It's one of the only times my patience runs thin and I have a lot of patience.
I can't say I honestly ever wake up in the morning and say to myself "I do not want to feed the horses, why the heck do I do this!?" I always want to get up and feed my horses, other peoples horses. Sometimes I want to drag my feet like tomorrow because I know I will have to scrape the ice off my car to drive to my first barn at 7 am. I never don't want to do it or call someone in to do my work for me.
I believe getting up early builds good character and that you shouldn't sleep too much; after all people die in their sleep.

7. Teaching.
I love to share what I have learned. I especially love teaching people new things about horses. A lady at my one barn I do once commented and said I was the walking horse encyclopedia. What can I say, I read a lot and research what I do read.

8. Learning. I love to learn. It is why after my equine science diploma (that and our area has a very sparse horse population) I have continued my education. I don't want to stop learning, ever. Does this mean I will be in school forever? Definitely not but I want to try as many new things as possible, broaden my horizons.

9. Being active.
I love to walk and run and jump and swim. I think if I was forced to be inside in an office I would truely go crazy. I need to move around.

10. Love.
Above all things I believe in love (cue Moulin Rouge quote). My friends, my family, my horses. I know no matter where I go, what I do, I will have people who admire, look up to and most importantly, love me. I am truely lucky in this life to have so many wonderful people who think of me in such a great way. I only wish to return to the world what I have recieved. When you think of love the most important thing to remember is before you love someone else you have to love who you are.
I love who I am. I am not perfect, nobody is but I can live with what I have and always will happily knowing I am loved.
I also have to say I love getting comments from all of you. It is what makes this blog worth keeping up.

Having said this I now have to tag 10 people! Geeze that is a lot!

1. My aunt Gaye- Shes always made me happy, supporting me in my horse addiction and my need to create art.

2. Lisa from Laughing orcha ranch - I love to read Lisa's posts. She always leaves great comments for me to read. It makes me happy to see her progress shes been having with her riding.

3. Sarah - Sarah is a very laid back friend of mine. Shes great to talk to about anything and crazy for following me today trying to climb into one of the turbines as my horse galloped home without us.

4. Lisa from South view farm - I greatly enjoy her posts and life on her little farm. Shes always such a great commenter.

5. Shirley from Ride a good horse - Shes been getting those gears in my head going lately thinking. I love her little herd.

6. Misha from my front porch in the mountains - Her posts make me smile. I love the way she writes, even the most lengthy posts keep me reading.

7. NuzzMuzz from Nuzzling Muzzles - A wonderful lady who is passionate for her Arabian horses. Her blog is always an entertaining read.

8. Janice from own a morgan - As you all know I love morgans. Indigo is indifferent. She says they are racist but thats for another post.

9. All horse stuff - I envy her and her sister being riders. I have one lonely picture of my sister on Suzy and shes clinging on for dear life.

10. YOU! I had about 5 other people I could have included but I do not want to exclude anyone. Please accept this award and leave me a link so I can see your blog post.

So what makes you all happy? Please do comment it makes me happy to see all of your comments and sometimes e-mails I get. After all you can never be too happy.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Sunday stills: G= Green energy

Theres something pretty exciting going up on the farm. It's green energy. Wind turbines. We got three going up.

See this monster. It is pretty darn tall when in motion. I was standing at the edge of the paddock when I took these.This is the biggest crane in motion you can see the "little" big crane below it. If you really want proportions click the image to enlarge it and see the KR wind companies 4X4 truck stuck up to it's axles in mud near the blades.

When it is not moving it bends over right into the neighbors field.

They had to quit due to winds on Friday. Everyone packed up and split in a hurry, right before they were going to raise the blades. Phooey. Guess I will have to wait until Monday.

This is the biggest (size and money) project our little hick county has ever seen. The Chrysler plant in the city wasn't even in comparison money wise. This is a one hundred and three million dollar project. I guess our county is really behind on the times in terms of expensive projects.

There are twenty four turbines going up just in our town. Other towns nearby might be getting them.
A lot of people are against the turbines. I think green energy is a good idea, especially because you can clearly see fermie two, the nuclear power plant just by walking down my road and looking across the lake. That should be an interesting picture. Now I just need a clear day.

So what are your opinions? Like them, hate em, want to know more facts?
Actually most of the anti turbine/wind factory people present information that is irrelevant. By that I mean the research was done 30 years ago on completely different model turbines. These ones are far safer, more aerodynamic and compact. If it was recent things they are bringing up (like some sort of "turbine sickness") theres no scientific data to prove it! Only haters that go crying wolf that the turbines make them sick.

Personally I love to hear the turbines. They remind me almost of ocean waves. I seen a whole ton of them on Prince Edward Island a few years back and they were right on the ocean on a windy day. You know what, they didn't make much of a sound.

Personally I can't wait to see a change. Renewable energy means better environment. I think I can deal with that.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Every snowmans worst nightmare

"Someone quick sculpt me legs so I can run away"


"Oh nose!"

So I had one of those days where I woke up purely miserable. I was up most of the night, I was cold, the dog bit me when I stepped on her in the dark and then proceeded to slip and land hard on my tail bone out the back steps.
*note to self- put salt on the steps after the snow has been melting off the roof the day before*
I wanted to just curl up and go back to bed.

One of those days that I question my sanity in career choice.

Maybe an office job would be easier?

This gelding walked through the fence twice today at my one barn. This isn't the first day either. The owners refuse to put up wood or even an electric wire.
I am so tired of fixing fencing at this barn and chasing loose horses I was about ready to tell them to do their own chores. I just wanted to sit down in my car and all the horses be magically tucked back into their stalls. Of course that does not happen so I got it done.

Then I went and seen my horses.

Indigo always seems to know when I am having a bad day.
I stood in the paddock with my camera in hand. I was taking pictures of the turbines from the barnyard. I walked back there yesterday with Indigo and it was so muddy. Today there is literally two to five inches of water in certain spots on the lane from all the trucks going up and down and the warm sun melting the snow.

Indigo kept following right behind me like a shadow, wuffling my pony tail as I went. I tried to shoo her away a few times, which usually works but she kept coming back. She would trot off about five paces and come back to nose me on the shoulder. I wanted to take pictures in peace without a snowy muzzle sliming my lens.

About this time I had the feeling of being watched. I looked because sometimes the construction workers come over to pet the horses. No one was there.
I looked over in the other direction. No one there either. The other horses were all out in the pasture and I could see them. All but one.
Suzy, stairballing me from the corner of the fence dividing the two halves of the barnyard. I totally missed her.
She was leaning as far as she could over the gate, ears forward. When I turned to her she nickered.
I have ridden this horse probably more miles than I could ever count. We have been an unbeatable team in show for many years now. I have so many ribbons from this horse it amazes me. What else amazes me is she has the ability to know when people need a horse to hug.

So I got a couple long hours of my horses, a lot of grooming, even more hair shedding *note no.2 to self- do not wear chap stick wile grooming* and of course with a carrot and some snow, afternoon entertainment.

Of course once I think about being stuck inside the office job instead of being able to be around the animals I love, it does not quite seem as appealing as trudging through the muddy paddock to hug a horse.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Science VS tradition: Training aids

Luanne asked about training forks here is what she said:

"Two of the three horses we had in training this year had issues with being tied down with the training forks (nothing abusive or anything like that) (I don't know if you followed us along in the summer with Derby & Maduro, who are full brother/sister) but they were not into the training forks that we never introduced to them in our training program....which was a J.Lyons snaffle? But they just didn't like the in your mouth stuff at all "training fork". Personally, I did not like using it but we didn't really know how to do it and the trainer was using we went out and bought them to train in when the horses arrived home. They were back in their own environment so they were ornery and not as worn out but come spring....want a fresh start without any issues. What do we need to get and do for the first few times in the training of using the bitless approach? Thanks! Luanne"

I really would like to know the reasoning why the trainer is using one of these all the time.

Training forks or running martingales for you english riders. They are essentially to keep a horses head from raising above a certain point. They also give you leverage on the reins when you pull on them.

These are "artificial aids" meaning they are something other than your hands/legs/body/voice that you use to attain a desired result from your horse.

They are often misused a lot. I personally have one, yes. I have quite the tack collection I wouldn't know where to begin explaining how much tack I randomly acquired for whatever reason and how much I don't use on a horse (like over 30 bits! I do use those when I help do bit/bitless clinics explaining how each bit works). However I do not and never will use a training fork/running martingale.

What do I use? Consistent training.
As I mentioned a lot of riders use training forks for leverage to aid them in getting their horses head to lower. If your horses head keeps popping up and your getting frustrated before jumping on the quick fix boat ask yourself and your horse these questions:

By the way this applies to bitted horses or bitless though I rarely ever see a horse bitless needing these artificial aids.

Does my horse know how to flex at the poll when I apply pressure to the reins at a standstill?
Does my horse know how to flex at the poll when I apply pressure to the reins at a walk/trot/canter?
Does my horse know how to flex left and right when I pull each rein independently?
Is my horse conformationally able to carry his head as low as I want?
Can I move my horses shoulders on his back where I want?
Can I move my horses hips on his back where I want?

If you answered no to any of those questions make them into a yes.

Without a solid foundation of the above, especially the flexing at the poll you are going to run into your horse resisting your rein signals. The idea here is for your horse to give his face in whatever direction you pull on the reins by.

I will focus on vertical flexion(flexing at the poll).
You need vertical flexion before you can even think about collection, extention, controlled stops at any speed, lead changes, half passes, side passes etc.

Start with asking your horse to flex at the poll from a standstill. Equp your horse with either a bitless bridle or snaffle bit. NO CURBS OR CURB CHAINS!! Curb chains/bits that act on the mental nerve can result in a horse that is responding to the leverage on the mental nerve, not the actual pounds you are pulling on the reins by. You also want your reins joined or tied in a knot if they are split reins. We don't need any dropped reins.

I use ductape on my reins when I do this to make sure I am clear and consistent, every time.
As stupid as it sounds and as advanced riders you all might be it will make training go quicker because you will be grabbing those reins in the exact same spot every time and it will be consistent. Just do it, feel silly but know your doing something kind and consistent for your horse.

I pick up the reins on the duct tape. I pull them back towards MY HIPS. Not my arm pits, knees, etc. My hips.

The horse might back up and that is ok. Let him. Only release when he flexes at that poll and is standing still. Wait for him to stop, he will eventually or bump into something. Don't move your legs or ask him to move forward or you are going to be sending conflicting signals.

You want to reward a try. Don't go looking for the whole thing on the first attempt.

The second your horse flexes and drops his head, even an inch, toss your reins onto his neck. I mean literally toss. Make it dramatic, instant release that is rewarding. The quicker you release the softer your horse will be.
Have you ever rode one of those horses that instantly flexed when you picked up the reins and asked for flexion? Yeah that is what we are looking for.

Praise, good horsie.

Repeat, asking a little more each time. It's very much normal for a horse to toss his head in the beginning or throw his head up. He will get over it. Focus on one thing: getting that vertical flexion.

Remember to give your horse a 5-10 second break between asking for that flexion.

Once your horse has mastered it at a stand still do it at a walk, trot and canter.

Eventually if you have done this correctly your horse will start to clue into what you are asking and you will require very little pressure on the reins for your horse to flex at the poll.

You can start asking your horse to hold it there for a second. Then a few seconds etc until the desired time is achieved.

I wish more riders taught their horses this.
Not to point fingers but I see far too many english riders that just pick up their reins and pull on them until their horse flexes and then just holds him/her there in a "frame" instead of properly teaching the horse.
Do you know what that creates? A horse that leans on your hands and wants to constantly pop his nose out instead of giving to that pressure.

Lateral flexion is something else I like to teach my horses. It is also my emergency break.

Again I use ducttape.
I grab one rein, lets say the right. I would drop my left rein and put my left hand on my left hip.
Why do I do this? To avoid accidentally pulling on that left rein when my horses head flexes around to the right.

Anyway back to flexing. I want my horse to flex his head and neck at a standstill in whatever direction I pick up my rein and touch my boot/stirrup. I want him to hold it there for a second. All four feet planted on the ground.

So I grab my rein at the ducttape, place the opposite hand on my hip (drop that rein!). Keep your legs still. Place the rein/hand at the ductape on your hip. Plant it there. Act like your hand is glued to your hip.
The horse will spin in circles. Let him.
The second your horse stands still and touches your boot or stirrup, creating a little slack in the reins throw your reins onto his neck!
Praise. Repeat. Do both sides equally.
Pick up the rein on the ducttape, have horse stand still, touch your boot and create slack in the rein.
Eventually you will be able to pick up a rein at a time and have your horse touch your boot.

Easy, peasy, supple horse.

This is the beginning of moving shoulders, hips and getting a lower, supple head.

Of course make sure you look into things such as if your horse carries his head high or tosses his head. If these exercises do not cure that make sure there is not a problem such as dental (bit or no bit!), ill fitting saddle, back out of alignment etc.

Remember to look at how your horse naturally carries himself in the pasture. If he is a Tennessee walker or thoroughbred (I know yours are QH's Luanne but I am making a point) they are not going to be the peanut pusher low head western pleasure horses. If your horse does not do it naturally in the paddock there is a good chance an artificial aid such as a training fork is going to create an issue with your horse.

About starting a horse bitless, these are the first two things I ever teach a horse on his back no matter if hes been ridden for years or is just a greenie.
I want him to flex his head then once we get walking, follow his nose. Never steered me wrong before and anyone who has ridden or driven my horses can attest to the fact that they are incredibly supple. I like them that way and I think we can all agree, a horse that gives to your hands is wonderful to ride.

Keep the questions coming guys it's really getting the gears in my head going.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Dashing through the snow, in an Indigo drawn sleigh

My boots have snow and horse poop on them, my jacket smells like 2-stroke oil I say it's been a good valentines day weekend.
Oddly enough just like a crazy horse person (count me in on this one too) likes the smell of shavings, manure and leather I can't stop smelling my jacket because of the 2-stroke oil smell from snowmobiling we got in over the course of the weekend. I guess thats what happens when you grow up in a mechanically inclined family. It reminds me of my grandpa's garage, driving the boat on the lake and the old three wheeler we had.

Finally I got pictures of Indigo's now second time on the sleigh ever.

So my Aunt Gaye and my guy followed me out on Sunday to go for a sleigh ride.

My aunt kept asking me what day she could come out. My usual reply was "when there is snow". Shes the photographer. She brings her camera and realizes by the time she gets out here (a good 45 minutes from her house in the city to the boondocks here) the battery she had for her Nikon was completely dead. I handed her my Nikon - shes the only one I trust to take my camera for more than a second- and told her to snap away.

Here is what we ended up with. The pictures are taken by my aunt

I pulled the sleigh into the Alfalfa field because the snow melted on the driveway after it was plowed. It's hard to pull on non snowy ground with people in it.

Indigo is such a good girl, standing with a completely slack lead rope as I adjust the breeching. She looks good all in harness. She needs to gain a few pounds (a hundred probably haha just kidding) for the sleigh bells. They were made for a bigger horse. I guess I could have put them around the shaves but they were not going anyplace so it didn't matter.

Adjusting harness. See the baling twine in my hand? Yeah we use that stuff for a bit too much around here. The tugs for the collar don't hook up securely to the single tree (as in they can pop off I need to get my harness guy to make me some clips) so I use baling twine as my safety tie.

Off we go.

Going along the far side of the alfalfa field. She broke into a canter after this, goof. You can see the wind turbines going up on neighboring farms. Ours are going up soon too.

We made it back in just before sun down. What a fun weekend. Now I hope for more snow. More please?
I want more of these winter sports to cure the winter blahs.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Sunday stills: Valentines day

This weeks challenge is valentines day

I am about to reveal to you THE MOST DANGEROUS recipe ever!

An awesome chocolate cake recipe.

You need the following:

1 large coffee mug
4 tbsp flour
4 tbsp sugar
1 heaping tbsp coco
3 tbsp milk
3 tbsp oil (I used vegetable or canola)
One egg, whisked
splash of vanilla
Chocolate chips to taste (of course I used pink M&M's just because) This is an absolute must, it is what makes the cake the best. Of course you could add things like nuts or candies.

Mix all ingredients in your mug MINUS the chocolate chips because they sink to the bottom. Add them last.

Once it is thoroughly mixed in your valentines day mug I might add, put it in the microwave for three minutes.

It might rise over the top of the mug. Don't worry. If it actually spills over just clean the mess when it is done and use a bigger mug next time.

Once it is done take it out and right away shake it onto a plate. If you did it right it should fall right out. It's best eaten warm and dusted with a little powered sugar.

Why you might ask?

Well we are now only 5 minutes away from chocolate cake at any time.

The most important message today is the following: You must first love yourself before being able to love someone else.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

A hairy situation part1

I had a few bloggers ask to show the process I go through when making a custom horse hair item.

I recieved some hair the other day in the mail from a fellow blogger (whom I will not name, let's call her horse lady) Horse lady has requested two horse hair mirror hangs with tassels and a special bead she sent along with it that she wants incorporated.

This is a very large amount of hair. This is not exactly how I would like to receive hair because the tape around the hair was very difficult for me to take off without taking a whole whack of good hairs with it and not drop the rest. I much prefer an elastic band but I made do just fine because there was a lot of hair here.

I washed the hair. I did not take pictures of this because it got quite dirty and I didn't want to get my camera wet.

The next pictures are the hair all clean and combed out to dry. This is how I would like to receive hair. Not necessarily clean (please do not use conditioner if you do wash your horse hair!) just neat and maybe even braided and banded with a hair tie or elastic band at the cut end. I did not use or clean all the black hair. There was so much I could have made 6 of what horse lady was requesting.

These are called pulls. I count each individual hair and twist them into these strings for braiding. I used 200 hairs in each mirror hang. Making the pulls is the longest part. I took almost an hour each to sort and count the longest hairs.

On to braiding.
This is the easy and fun part and only takes me about 15-20 minutes normally. I do not have pictures of this process because the herringbone braid is very tricky. Drop one hair and you will be stuck re-doing the whole thing. It's frustrating. I re-did one of them three times between having the phone ring, the dog jump on me and someone banging on the door.
Once I was done this one was so nice. My personal opinion, this would make such a nice necklace. It's not often to get horse hair long enough to make this thick of a herringbone braid and have it be this long without having to add extra pulls. Adding extra pulls on a piece intending to be worn is not ideal. One hair loose can be extremely scratchy.

Of course I haven't added the bead and concho yet. I know horse lady already picked my last concho I had like my other rear view mirror hang I made and showed in my braided horse hair FAQ post. b I happened to have two of them I didn't think I had. Shes in luck. I also did the second pull the same pattern as the mirror hang in that post. I probably would have had enough to do both of them like this and still probably have enough if horse lady wants (e-mail me please horse lady! I want to finish this project)

Part two coming up soon. I gotta hear back from horse lady about what she wants.

In the mean time here's some bead work I did on a bracelet for a lady earlier this week. This is the peyote stitch in the middle there. It was quite fun I could have done it all day. I am going to start doing this stitch hopefully more on some of my pieces when it is requested. It's hard to do button knots out of horse hair on bracelets and necklaces because they can leave ends of hair that can be scratchy. I think the beads are a nice touch.

Also, I finally got to drive Indigo in the sleigh today.
I did not get pictures. Saturday for sure. She was awesome.
Here is where I point out she hasn't been driven since early September before she lacerated her shoulder. It was too ouchy for a collar or even breast collar since she was snotty about me touching it or even ruffling her fur even once it was healed over.
She has never pulled the sleigh before. She was amazing. Even when the runners scraped on the stones in the driveway and made a loud scratchy noise she just walked on. First she thought it would be easier to pull by trotting, which is true for a carriage that has wheels and rolls. I was trying to convince her otherwise. She tried cantering. Not my idea of fun, I do not appreciate a face full of snow Indigo.
Finally she got the idea and walked, and walked, and walked. Did I tell you? She walked! She did have a very, very small temper tantrum when I asked her to slow down at first and she was all about trotting. She hopped and tossed her head but that was it!.
When you give that horse a job to do she takes everything more seriously and slows the hell down. I just need to figure how to incorporate this into our other rides/drives.
Have I mentioned how much I love this horse? Well I do. She was seriously so good, just like someone had driven her this morning instead of 5 months ago. I mean I do ride her but driving is a whole other game.

After a short intermission

I have a bunch of stuff to post, mostly related to horse hair braiding but my card reader decided to crap out yesterday and I cannot upload any images that need to accompany this post. I tried the card reader on the printer, my laptop, my old card reader and even my camera but I guess the SD cars I have are too high speed for any of them to put on the computer. Geeze.

A run to wally world is in the works. Stick around for later today there will be a full post.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Science VS tradition: bit to bitless

For the record I clean between 20 and 50 stalls a day, Mon-Wed and Friday. Thursday is my easy day as I only do about 15 stalls and the weekends I leave for my own horses and doing wedding/carriage related events. Sometimes I do more, sometimes I do less. Most of the barns I do are little places that the owners can't do 7 days a week so I am called in. The few big barns that I do are boarding barns for pleasure horses that might compete a few times in the summer. 95% of the barns here are pleasure barns or standardbred racehorses (which I try not to deal with anymore). I think I need to find a place with more show barns, broaden my horizon but there just isn't that horse population in this area to feed my desire.

Bitless bridles. Where to start? Several people asked me about what bitless to start with.

For many riders ditching a bit makes them anxious, nervous, sweaty at the palms. The word control comes to their minds, or lack thereof. Or so you would think.

One thing any bitless will do is make any holes in your horses training show up. This may be as little as your horse not listening to leg cues as well as you thought or the lack of knowing how to bend at the poll. Both of which are extremely common issues with bitless.
By far the biggest issue I see is the lack of knowing how to flex.

Looking at the horses anatomy (our science) a bit presses on several crucial points in the trigeminal nerve branch. The points on which a bit rest in a horses mouth are the closest to the surface of the skin and the easiest to injure.
If a horse has a bit that has a curb chain the chain rests on a nerve that is part of the trigeminal branch called the mental nerve. It is just behind the lower lip, where a curb strap or chain rests. This is what gives a curb it's power. Your pounds you pull on the reins can be amplified by ten or more times when a curb strap/chain is applied when it presses on the mental nerve.

Having said this I do not endorse the use of "mechanical" hackamores as bitless bridles AKA: Hackamores that use a curb strap or chain and have a solid or metal nose band. They work on the idea of causing pain to get the desired reaction out of a horse. Because of this you often find horses that are worked in mechanical hackamores find the habit of head shaking and sometimes rearing.

The whole point of bitless should be to take away the issues a bit causes (pain, even in small amounts, rearing, bucking, headshaking etc) and replace it with something more natural to the horses anatomy.

Not all horses have to have an issue with bitting to go bitless either. Take Indigo for example. I rode her for 6 months after I got her in a bit. She has the most buttery soft mouth I have ever ridden. She listened to cues from your pinkie finger and still does bitless. However Indigo is a lot of horse. She likes to run, spook, turn on a dime, get excited and act like shes two instead of eighteen. If she knows you are nervous she will try and take advantage of that. Shes not a horse to ride out of a paddock if you are faint of heart.

I wanted to ride and train bitless because I believe in the saying "Take away the equipment and you will be left with the truth"
I wanted to take away the bit which so many riders are stuck on as a symbol of control and put in place something that made more anatomical sense.

What I got was an Indigo with a lot more spunk, more willing to go forward when her old owner explained she rode her with spurs. Now I could imagine me trying to ride her in spurs I would be across the county in a point of a second. Shes very, very forward. This is that truth I was looking for. Although she was completely responsive in a bit it was slowing her down mentally, in turn this resulted in physical let down.

I went through many bitless bridles. I could ride in them all but I wanted something with a little more precision that felt like a bit (because that is how I learned to ride, with one) but offered the kindness to be able to ask firmly but not cause pain.

I already had a mechanical hackamore. This caused my normally level headed horse to begin to shake her head from side to side when pressure was applied on both reins.
My next step was a bosal. A bosal was great, I rode around in it for a long time, however I found Indigo getting excited wanted to lean on it or grab at weeds as we walked by and I was helpless. She leaned on the thick noseband and my hands where she previously did not. I also wanted to do english riding with her and a bosal just was not suitable.
Then I had a sidepull. Again it worked great, if not better than the bosal but it offered little precision. I found I needed something that my horse could feel me move my fingers and respond, just like she did with a bit.
I dabbled riding in her normal halter and then rope halters but again I had the same thing as the sidepull. I wanted more.
Finally I borrowed my first cross under, which happened to be a dr.cook. I loved the feel of it but Indigo leaned on the noseband. The rein straps also became twisted and I found myself un-twisting them more than they were strait. The friend that I borrowed it from used it on her mare for jumping. She was great other than she got really excited over fences. When she came back from a particularly fast paced course she found her mare had a "dent" in her nose. She was appalled as I was. Back to the training ring for the mare and into the tack room went the dr.cooks.
I have to say then I was intrigued by the cross under bitless.
Cross under bitless works on believe it or not acupressure points in the cheeks. Many nervous horses find a sudden overwhelming calm and need to stand still when switched from the bit to a cross under bitless for the first time (Just type in nurtural bit to bitless in youtube to see what I am talking about)
So I went Canadian and got a Nurtural. My mom bought it for me as a present for passing a semester with good marks. I ran out right away and put it on Indigo to go for a drive (She was green at driving).
I fell in love.
Not only were the problems with the dr.cooks fixed it felt exactly like a bit in my hands. If I were blind I would not know the difference. I found Indigo would trot, ears alert and forward with a spring in her step instead of the usual nagging. This was within 10 minutes of it being on her. I was simply amazed.
Long story short after a little issue I had with an older version of a Nurtural, I contacted Zoe (creator of the nurtural bridles) and I helped develop todays circle X. It offered the release we were looking for with the precision of the nurtural.

Yes I have competed in my cross under. Was it legal in all the shows? No. I wanted to make a statement. I sacrificed over $300 in winnings at a show two years ago. I asked the judge to place me, but I forfeited all winnings. Luckily cross under bitless bridles are being readily accepted in many disciplines and even in the rule books they are allowed.
For example the premier internet dressage test website Interdressage has classes just for bitless riders.

I have seen a steady increase in cross country eventers, jumpers, dressage and mostly trail or endurance riders finding their way into competition with our bridles.

I suggest starting with any bitless on the ground. Teach the horse to go left, then right, stop and back up with the bridle in hand.

Whatever bridle you choose I suggest to do the following with it.
Get on your horse with your REGULAR bridle. Ride in an enclosed area first. Do walk, halt, trot, halt, canter, halt. Sidepasses, spins, jumping, whatever you do in your normal bridle.
Get off the horse, put on whatever bitless you choose. On the ground make the horse go right, left, halt and back up. You can even lunge your horse if you want. Then get back on. Do walk, halt, trot, halt, canter halt, sidepasses, spins, jumping or whatever.
We normally have someone asking the rider to do these maneuvers when we request so the audience can judge them. I suggest to pick certain spots you are going to especially stop so you can gage your horses reaction accurately.
In 100% of our clinics we have given the audience has rated that the horse went better bitless than with a bit. These horses ranged from high caliber performance horses (like the Canadian Olympic jumping team and even Ian miller himself) and little grade ponies packing around kids. If the horse was not better in the bitless the audience on a very rare occasion rated them as the same with a bit. NOT ONE HORSE AND RIDER HAS FAILED THIS CHALLENGE! Every single horse did exactly as the rider requested.

Some common comments were that the rider needed less rein and more seat. This is 100% true with any bitless.
Some horses would not flex at the poll and collect (AKA go on the bit) with a bitless and would with a bit.
This is very simple.
With a bit it is very easy to crank a horses head into a "frame" his back will be hollowed, he will travel on the forehand and it is very incorrect. The horse learns to avoid the pain of the bit and tuck his nose in. When a bitless is placed on his head he finds there is no need to tuck his nose in to avoid the pressure and may often even throw his head up.
Here is where the earlier saying comes in "Take away the equipment and you will be left with the truth". This separates the horses that are just having their heads tucked in and still traveling on the forehand and those that have their hind end engaged, flexed at the poll and traveling in a truely collected manner.

With all training but especially bitless let the release be the reward. Use your seat and find a deeper connection with your body and your horses back. Less rein, more leg and seat. With these you will be set up for bitless success. Remember to keep safety first in mind. We always suggest riding in an enclosed area first but it's not uncommon to find people galloping down a field on their first ride bitless (I know I did).

I'll be back again with more questions to answer in the meantime if you have more about anything, me, bitless, training, anatomy, etc. please comment here or e-mail me epona_64[AT] (remember to change the [AT] to the actual symbol)

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Sunday stills:hot sauces and Salsa

So I looked and looked for a victim volunteer to eat some jalapeno's for me to take pictures of but there were no takers. Wusses. I remember now as I don't have my camera with me that I could have taken pictures of myself because I have a camera remote. Oh well.

My friend Michelle and I decided today we were going to hang out and went to get some munchies. Luckily we both love cheesy and jalapeno poppers. Yummo. Iced caps are also the best. Tim hortons for the win!We are eating them as I post this. I used her cannon powershot A1000. If I were to get another compact this would be the camera let me tell you. It does a pretty good job for no flash in a dark basement kitchen and moving subjects (we were far to hyper to sit still).

After giving carriage rides today in the blustering wind I needed something hot to warm myself up. I was frozen.
Michelle says "they are HOT" as in we left them in the oven too long and they exploded when you bit into them. The smoke detector went off.Tortilla chips are the best for dipping.
and eating. Mmmmm, see you all tomorrow for your Sunday stills salsa!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

It's only funny until someone gets hurt

Then it's fricken hilarious!

Reading Grey horse matters post today about horse people. We are a strange lot. How many people can find falling off at high speeds, breaking bones, bruising butts, knees, arms, legs, ribs and just about every other part of your body, funny? Only horse people.

It seems that horse people, unlike any other people need to find humor day to day. It's what fuels our need to keep on keeping on in the barn.

For the amount of time I have owned and ridden Indigo and for the amount of random spooks, temper tantrums and general goofiness she throws my way I have fallen off her the least out of any horse I have ridden as long. I guess my butt is just bound to be on her back, but the two times I fell off of her.

Both times I was riding bareback. Both times she did a spook and teleport. Both times she spooked at something that normally would not spook her.

The first time I had just got a new style Nurtural bridle Zoe wanted me to test. I put it on Indigo and headed out down the lane bareback. I could see this thing moving in the neighbors field and I couldn't quite tell what it was. As I got closer I realized it was two foil helium balloons that were partially deflated and attached at the center with a piece of ribbon. Indigo could have cared less until we got a foot from it. Without warning she teleported 5 feet to the side and I landed as slick as snot....On both my feet standing upright.
Now I had to stop for a moment and assess how on earth that just happened. If I know physics (which I really don't) I should have been on my head or back rolling around in the dirt as my horse galloped back home but here I was, two feet firmly planted on the ground holding both reins. Indigo was making this face at me as if she never spooked at the balloon and I was some sort of lunatic for randomly ejecting myself off her back. I picked up the balloons, rubbed her all over with them, draped them over her withers and rode home with them to go torture desensitize the other horses with.

See when I fall off my first instinct is to grab the reins. It's saved me, and got me into trouble more than once.

See I was taking jumping lessons on my friends awesome thoroughbred mare. This little mare was so great I enjoyed riding her so much.
This happened a few winters ago in an indoor arena. I was jumping a grid and this mare DID NOT want to take her left lead off the grid one way down the arena. The person instructing me turned her back for a second. I took the last jump in the grid, set the mare up for the left lead and she took it. Only to do a flying lead change and split in the other direction. The instructors fiancée seen this and assured me it was the coolest thing he had ever seen anyone do on a horse.
The horse took the right lead, I was thinking left. When this happens generally you can assume the horse and rider are going to part ways. Somehow I did a complete 360 in the air, spinning gracefully like a figure skater doing a salchow and landing buttcheeks first in the only patch of snow on the arena. The instructor turned around after seeing her fiancées horrified face to see me standing upright, holding the mares reins and dusting snow off myself.
Of course heres the part where I neglect to mention I hit two and broke one board on the way down, bruising three ribs (which is possibly one of the most painful things to bruise) and leaving a big square goose egg on my left buttcheek.

This one I remember quite vividly as it happened twice in the same week and then never again. I was riding Suzy, galloping down the recently harvested rows of corn. Theres these weeds that grow about chest height in the fields that the combines miss. We were trucking along at a good clip, suzy spots a weed and without warning slams on the breaks. Of course when one is not expecting this one generally gets launched over the horses head. I landed butt first on the remains of corn stalks (note to self: 1/2 foot corn stubs DO NOT make a suitable place to land, EVER) facing Suzy, holding the reins. Shes sitting there with a smug look on her face, eating said weed. Oh I could have killed her. If that wasn't bad enough she did it again a week later!

Then theres the time I last fell off. It was a little over a year ago. I agreed to ride my friends little sisters (a few screws too loose) mare in a team penning competition. I had ridden this mare once but little did I know she had never seen cows. She was TERRIFIED! We relucantly got her through all the team stuff when it came to our solo round.
Here is where I mention my friends little sister is a "it's gotta look cute, who cares if it's functional" attitude. She bought this weaver western saddle in pink. If me riding in pink isn't bad enough this was the most uncomfortable, ugly, worst made, cheap saddle I have ever set my buns in. It didn't fit the mare, made her miserable in fact before our solo I run into the tack room and find another saddle for the mare. It was a big horn, almost as uncomfortable but it wasn't as bad a fit.
One thing I always drill into my 4-H kids heads is when riding western ALWAYS have stirrup hobbles. Stirrup hobbles are little leather (or maybe baling twine) ties that keep your stirrups from twisting and entrapping your feet in the event of a fall.
Know how you have one of those moments, right before something really bad is about to happen and you think "gee I should have done ____" but it's already too late, well this was one of them.

We headed down the wall after this heifer, we just about had the big jackpot secured. The little mare suddenly decided to abandon ship. She wanted nothing to do with those horse eating demons who moo'ed and oozed from every orifice. She took off for the gate. We were too close for me to stop her so I thought "bail!" That is what I did, only my right foot got caught in the stirrup on my way down when it twisted from no hobble. The whole result in this was my foot suddenly becoming un-stuck and me being pretty flexible KICKING MYSELF IN THE CROTCH WITH MY BOOT HEEL!!
At this moment my friends little sister is video taping this whole thing (thank god!) and you can hear my friends step dad in the background "Hehehehehhe, hahahahhah Syd almost sucked fence!" Thanks. I am glad someone can laugh at my pain, I can assure you kicking yourself in the crotch, even for a girl is the single most painful time I have ever been kicked (even if I did kick myself). I'll save you all the graphic details but I also managed to pull several tendons in the top of my foot and as the friends step dad said, "Almost sucked fence".

Or like last year when I got head butted by a horse, and lost. New horses at one of my barns. The owner used to just open the stall doors in the morning and let them race out to the paddock. I opened the stall door WHAMMO! Horse cocobutt right to the sniffer. My nose was on the left side of my face, I was seeing stars (which funny enough is the horses name) blood came promptly spilling out of my nose. I grabbed my face and felt my nose. Oh gosh, this was not good.
Most rational people I have come to realize would have gone to the hospital at this point. I put both hands on my nose and cracked it back into place before running to a mirror. It was 10 am I had 4 more barns to do!
Everyone hears the commotion and comes running. I am standing there followed by a trail of blood in the mirror. One boarder shreiks with horror. The barn owners husband breaks into a fit of laughter. I turn around and snap "It's not funny!" He makes some comments about his wife (the BO) breaking her nose by her one nasty gelding and one of the boarders breaking her nose by her stall confined injured gelding and then me getting head butted and then cracks up.
The boarder was frantic, runs to the fridge and hands me a packet of frozen mares milk to put on my nose -heres the point where you know, normal people put peas or corn on their injuries-.
Everyone was seriously convinced I was not capable of finishing my stalls but I had FOUR MORE BARNS! Like I didn't break an arm. For some reason every person I told the story to after that laughed. See it's hilarious when people (Sydney) gets hurt.

Some stories do not involve pain at all, but mildly amusing mishaps that involve undergarments and miscalculated driving (or riding)

Then theres funny stories like the laundry race at a horse show where you (the driver) and a friend (passenger) have to drive up and take several articles of clothing off a clothesline in a timely manner. We got everything (I mention everything was also sopping wet) when we go to this bra. It was huge and I had in an attempt to cut it as close as possible to the line, run over the end cone that was holding the line tight. As we rolled off it and my friend reached for the last article on the line, the bra the line un-tightened, sending the bra and clothespins airborn.
About 15-10 cowboys on horses were standing about 10 feet away at the fence watching this amusing event. The large bra hit the ground with a resounding THWACK! Heres me screaming "GET THE BRA! GET THE BRA" and practically shoving my friend out of the carriage wile holding a particularly disturbed Suzy by the reins with one hand because a large white boulder holder just when rocketing past her face.
When I snapped back to reality I had realized most of the guys watching on their horses by the fence were off them, rolling around with laughter.

I won't even get into the time Ryan (Murdo's son) and I had to go on a pleasure drive and got elected the carriage to drive the two aunts (who are both loud and love their wine). See on this 6 mile drive we stop half way to have sandwiches, wine and other finger foods. Both aunts had quite the bit of wine between the two of them and started to tell embarrassing neiece(me) and nephew(Ryan) stories.
We were so disgusted when we got back, hitting potholes and hearing them yell we exclaimed "next year someone ELSE takes the drunken aunts!"

So horse people, I want to hear your embarassing, hilarious, painful stories. God knows if you've been riding horses for any time you can tell one, or two, or three (or more like me) Lets hear em.

Monday, February 1, 2010

science VS tradition: Questions

I do a lot of stalls in a day.
A lot.
I am usually by myself at a barn so I have a lot of time to think and this thinking sometimes gets me into trouble. Today I was thinking about my blog and horses. I mean, I almost always think of horses but my blog has been a little blah as of lately.
I don't do much in the winter, the horses stand around looking like big hairy yaks and I shovel sh*t, clean barns and take care of others horses from before dawn till dusk. Not that I am complaining.

Which brings me to todays thoughts. The whole point of me starting this blog was to talk about my horses, other horses I rode and people I met that had horses and what we all had in common: being bitless.
I realize now it's not about bitless, but rather the science behind it.
I want to prove that science and rule out tradition. Having got my diploma in equine science I learned a thing or two. Okay maybe more like a million things but I think it's time for me to start talking about them more, give me something to write about.

So from now on I am going to do a (hopefully) weekly post. I want you to send me in questions mostly pretaining to horses, but they can be anything; Questions you want to know about me, maybe my opinion, about my horses, about how the weather is here ANYTHING. I need to get out of this winter blogger blah and I think you guys can help

Leave a comment in any post and I'll address it in the weekly Science vs tradition post. Even if you don't comment I want to hear from you feel free to e-mail me epona_64[AT] (replace the [AT] with the sign, I do this to prevent spammers) and put in the subject line Science VS tradition.

This weeks question was e-mailed by a reader identifiying herself as seba.

What are some common mistakes that owners do with their horses feed?

I see a lot of problems with horses feed because I work at many different barns in a week. I could go on all day about feeding problems that irk me and do no good for the horse and it shows.

The worst one is not knowing whats in your hay. Forage should make up minimum 50% by weight of your horses total daily ration.

I do not mean what plants are in your hay but what nutritional content your hay holds.

The simpliest way to figure this out is to find your local feed mill or equine nutritionist and send some of your hay away for a hay analysis. This costs $25 to $45 usually and will give you the low down on exactly how much grain you need and what vitamins should be in it.
This is especailly important for horses prone to laminitis and preventing insulin resistance.

A good example of this is a lady who has welsh ponies that I do several times a week. She had five ponies when I started. Now she has three. Three of them have foundered, two so badly they are barely sustainable as pasture puffs. She thought the first two (a very lovely team of blacks) were eating grass through the fence and had foundered off that. I pointed at the grain and alfalfa hay they were getting. She ignored my suggestions. When the third pony foundered for the second time finally she listened to me and tested the hay.
Sure enough the hay was not only hosting a very large amount of fructan (Carbohydrate like sugars, to read more look up my post on grass founder) it was incredibly high in protein. Protein does not equal energy and is not a good energy source, especially when in excess.
This was an eye opener for the pony owner. She rushed out right away and found someone to trade her alfalfa for a more nutritionally suitable grass hay.
The pony has not relapsed since and is driven regularly with special farrier care and getting their hay tested every time they get a new batch in the summer.

By getting your hay analized you can assess how much or how little grain you need to feed, what vitamins may need to be supplemented and how much hay you really do need to feed. Believe me you save a lot of money by getting a hay analysis. You use the right amount of hay for your horses body condition and weight and usually less grain than you would think for your horses fitness regime. It's an all around win-win deal.

One other would be bran mash. A lot of the barns I am at still feed a bran mash once a week under the assumption it keeps their horses "regular". Theres a lot of problems behind bran and I will explain.

Bran is the byproduct of the milling process when wheat was processed. It is the reddish outer shell of the grain that was normally discarded by mills when processing flour(of course theres other types of bran too) . Horses love the taste of bran and it is very cheap to buy so farmers started feeding it in place of a lot of grains.

Theres a little problem with bran. See bran has an inverted calcium to phospherous ratio. This means that for every 1 calcium theres 12 phospherous. To compensate for this imbalance the horses body would begin to take calcium from other places of the body, specifically the bones. This would lead to a condition called "big head". An ideal calcium to phospherous ratio in a horses diet should be 1:2.

So horse owners started feeding bran only once a week in the tradition (yes traditon, notice where I am going here) that it was a laxative like humans used it for and would keep their horses regular.
See now looking into the science of things horses diets should consist of %50 or more forage. Forage is, you guessed it, very high in fiber. Moreso than bran. Another thing is bran is made of mostly indigestable cell wall lignin, hemicellulose and cellulose. This means it may produce more feces of fed regularly. Regularly of course is the way to feed bran if you are going to feed it (5-7% of a horses daily ration has been noted without ill effects). The reason why your horse may have runny stool when fed bran once a week is the sudden death of microbes in the gut. Introducing a new food causes good, and bad bacteria to suddenly die off. A lot of these microbes are those that would stop constipation, or in our case, diarrhea.
Having said that the best way to introduce anything new into a horses diet is gradually. I mean by 10 percent a day adding or decreasing until the desired amount is being fed to the horse.

I look forward to hearing your questions for next weeks science vs tradition.
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