Sunday, April 29, 2012

Giving Them a Good Foundation.

     I've recently been working with a newly born foal.  This filly is friendly and unafraid, and her mother is watchful but not worried so my work with her has been an easy and pleasant task.
     With help, I've been putting on and taking off her halter and asking her to move a step or two towards me, starting with asking her to move her head towards me to the left and then to the right side.  I ran a long rope around her butt and gently tugged on it, encouraging her to move forward. 
    I think it's important to talk about how this relates to a young horse's early career under saddle.  When I ask this filly to move her head or take a step, I gently bump then release, giving her time to respond before I gently bump again (and it's helpful to move her towards, not away from, her mother).  Never, ever, do I just pull on the lead or the butt rope.  In handling her this way, she doesn't fight me and her reward is that I leave her alone, not putting pressure on her nose and poll again.  She gets a little break, then I go through the routine again.   I only work with her for a few minutes at a time because I think it's very important to remember that foals this young have not developed any attention span yet.
     Now, this lesson is key because all horses naturally want to move their noses into pressure.  That's how they bring the milk down to nurse.  This bump and release is all the more necessary for them to learn and if you're considering riding your young prospect in a hackamore, it will make it easier for your horse to understand what's being asked of him.  All horses must learn to move away from the pressure on their nose, but it's especially true of junior hackamore horses. 
     This is a good lesson for you as well because you will be learning skills needed to ride in a hackamore.  You can do these early lessons in a manner that discourages resistance and encourages yielding.  Starting your foals this way not only puts you far ahead of the game, it helps to make the next lessons, including the all-important tieing lesson, that much easier to learn.  See you next week!  JD  (P.S. I'll talk more about my work with this foal later.)

Sunday, April 22, 2012

A Sad Day

     We had a horse at the barn that had suffered a significant and ultimately "unhealable" injury.  His accident happened three years ago and we have never really known what happened.  We suspect that another horse stomped on the outside wall of one of this horse's front hooves.
     We really tried to help this horse but the hoof never grew out properly.  In the injury process, he had blown out the whole side of his hoof, leaving nothing to support the laminae.  This, in turn, caused the coffin bone to severely rotate and you get the picture.... 
     We always took care of this horse as if he were still showing.  Grooming, clipping and all the good basic care and husbandry that entails.  The horse was brave.  He had a big heart - and so did his owner Jessica.  Every attempt was made to keep his quality of life to as high a standard as possible but unfortunately, this brave horse's condition continued to deteriorate and he also began to founder in his good front hoof too.
     Even with the best of care we couldn't get him stabilized, so then what?  This is the really hard part of horsemanship.  To find the right thing for a struggling horse.  Everyone has to find their own way through this dark and difficult valley.  No one wants to see an animal suffer and when it is hopeless, it seems to me the most humane answer is euthanasia.  Horses in the wild do not die quiet, easy deaths - make no mistake, there is no such thing in the world.
     So, with the advice of our veterinarians, farriers and me, Jessica made the brave decision to "put this horse down".  It was the right thing but for her and everyone who knew this horse, the hard thing.  When people truly love and respect an animal (his beauty, athletisism, talent), this is the kindest gift and ultimately the most selfless act. 
     Talk to you next week, JD.


Sunday, April 15, 2012


     There is a saying "blessed are the brood mares".  I love this saying and always think of it when I see a good mare with her foal.  We all want nice mares to breed and pass on their genes but mares contribute so much more than that.  Mares give much more to the personality of a foal than the stallion.
     I believe good minds in horses are not only inherited but also formed by these really wonderful mares.  These matrons give their foals such a good start in life.  The great matrons are calm and easy going, not fretting and worrying, yet they are watchful and show concern. They stand with their babies in a confident manner, while showing trust and respect for people.  This helps foals find their proper place in the human herd and just makes everything easier.
     When the time comes to turn them out with other mares and foals, it is really helpful if the mare has an established place in the herd.  An easy-going place that is safe and fun for a foal to grow.  I personally prefer horses that were raised by the more dominant mares but not by tyrants who push and bully thier way around.  Those babies can become difficult as they have been taught to have their own way and that can mean a hard collision with humans when the time comes to fit into their human herd. 
     But back to my point, the wonderful mares know when to discipline their foals when they get out of line and they give them protection and safety when needed.  They are patient and affectionate, kind and "worldy-wise".  The all important bond between a great mare and foal gives that foal a great start in life.  See you next week!  JD   (P.S.  My congratulations to Angela Wilson and Anita Maguire on their new addition, filly Bristol Bey - pictured here with their wonderful mare Ella -  x Quick Silver Bey ++++//.)

Sunday, April 8, 2012

My Friend Gina

     A few years ago Gina Heinricks came to my barn and asked me to train her horse "Montego Bay Star".  Montego was a youngish Arabian gelding who was well-started but that was all, no finishing. Gina thought she might like to do a little Western Pleasure and maybe some Hunter-under-saddle but the Class A Arabian circuit being what it is, you need a horse with particular talents and that special look.  Montego did just fine but not well enough to be a real Regional contender.  So what's next?  Well, I decided to teach him Trail and Gina wholeheartedly agreed.
     What's interesting about this is that Montego wasn't the most athletic horse so in the beginning, everything was hard for him and he wasn't sure about his new job.  But Gina let me take him slowly which allowed him to gain confidence as he learned the necessary skills.  Then a cool thing happened:  Montego started to like Trail!  This horse who was "kinda owly" and jumpy learned to focus  There were no more "bears in the woods".  The poles were "his poles" and he latched onto them like a cow horse latches onto cattle - in other words, Montego "owned" them.  This is what I really like in a Trail horse.
     Now I know I'm bragging but you should see this horse with trot-overs, lope-overs and walk-overs because he just doesn't hit them.  He's happy and confident, showing lots of expression while working - and best of all, Gina is smiling.
     Gina has shown Montego limitedly the last couple of years and though she doesn't go to many shows, she has managed to win her share of classes, win her share of Championships and gone Top 5 in Region V.  And, in the process, beat some very nice horses - she's always a contender.
     I'm proud of Gina and Montego and in the process of teaching them trail, I got a really wonderful friend.  What could be better than that!?   See you next week, JD

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Horses and Football

     I received news recently that a lovely mare who competes with Joanne Salisbury's Sport Horse Rosies First Gold ++/ has been seriously injured.  As all of you know, I admire good horses and it's distressing when a good horse is hurt.  Now these two mares really competed with one another.  On any given day, either one could win.  This made for a healthy competition - everyone trying their best.  It's why we go to horse shows and it propels the sport ever forward.
     Now compare this to teams like the New Orleans Saints.  How sad that players were allegedly paid to hurt others from the opposing teams and were encouraged to "take other players out", sometimes caused lasting injuries.  This unfortunate attitude is shameful - how any sport could stoop so low, I really can't imagine.
     Getting back to horses, most of us who have shown horses for a while understand that good sportsmanship makes for a healthy atmosphere that allows our sport to grow and can help it to thrive.  Part of good sportsmanship is caring for one another, not being gleeful at another competitor's misfortune.  It's all part of being a good horseman.
     When VP Midnitestranger+// was hurt, many people, including those he competed against, wished him well and a speedy recovery.  People made the effort to show their concern and it really helped during a difficult time.  This kind of outreach helps create a sense of community because we all know what it's like to have a injured or sick horse.
     In closing, I wish "Annie Get Your Gun" a speedy and full recovery.  I hope to see her and her rider at shows again soon!   See you next week, JD