Tuesday, September 30, 2014

An Old Saying

     My Dad always taught me to take care of the animals first, before anything else.  This probably came from his farming and ranching background in a time when people really depended on their animals, but I think his thoughts also came from his general fondness for animals.
     Unfortunately though, we as a country have generally left our agricultural heritage behind us and in doing so, many people have lost any interdependence with horses.  What I mean is this, we do not need our horses for plowing, hauling, transportation etc.  They're now "just" for our recreation - which I'm personally very grateful for - but here's the conundrum.....
     Horses depend on us for everything even though they only have indirect and subtle effects on our lives these days.  What I hear frequently is how much horses contribute to our emotional well being.  Now, I'm the first to admit that horses have contributed greatly and positively to my own emotional well being, but somehow, the horses still come out a distant second to many of our own needs.
     You can observe this conflict in the way we breed horses, in many training practices and in the way we care for horses.  So often, their needs are not truly our number one concern.  Examples include barns that are built to be warm and toasty for people but are really breeding grounds for germs that can attack a horse's fragile respiratory system.  You see it in mares that are bred at our convenience but foal so early that the resulting filly or colt will often struggle with health issues, lameness issues or have their ability to interact well with humans or even other horses severely stunted.  I've seen some barns that were beautiful by human standards but didn't have anything near adequate in the way of turnout or exercise facilities. And, one of my personal pet peeves, you see it in people who rush to ride or show on their busy schedule but without a thought to the down-time the horse might need before he's really ready to show or ride again.  And I could go on and on....  but you get the picture. 
     So, to wrap it up - and my apologies to John F. Kennedy:  "Ask not what your horse can do for you, but what you can do for your horse!"   Look around to figure out ways you can improve - truly improve - your horse's life.  Talk to you next week!  JD

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Riding Older Horses

     Training and conditioning older, geriatric horses is very different than working with younger horses and especially middle-aged horses.  Those guys, in the midst of their working lives are by far the easiest. 
     One thing I truly believe in is that working older horses in a manner that is approprite to their overall soundness is the best option for them, it simply keeps them younger, longer.  Now, it is very important to work with your vet too when you're working with an older horse (and any horse, really) because most older horses have some issues going on, but veterinary medicine has advanced so far, it's just amazing what we can do for older horses to keep them in great shape well into their older ages. 
     As you plan your work, you'll have to make some decisions on what is right for not only the horse but what you endeavor to do with him as well as what you can do within your budget.  Here are some tips for working with the older horse:

1) Older horses lose condition quicker with age and it takes longer, much longer, to return them to a good working condition so a solid and sustainable conditioning program is a must.  Work up to condition slowly, don't rush, but once you've started the program keep it up!
2) Older horses - just like people (darn it!) - need more work to stay in condition than their younger counterparts.  A well conditioned middle-aged horse will usually keep his condition on three or so days a week riding if turned out for some additional exercise.  I find that the older horse needs four or more days a week of moderate work in addition to their daily turn-out.
3) To achieve and maintain that certain level of condition, I like to work the older horses two days back-to-back then every other day for a few days, then two days back-to-back again (this can work well if you have a busy schedule yourself.  Work your horse every other day during the week, then both days on the weekend). 
4) Remember that the older horse needs his rest but may come out a bit stiff or stocked-up after that day off.  Don't let that deter you, just warm the older horse up slowly - I like to do lots (lots!) of walking and suppling before I start to work them.  I also like to give them a breather after doing any loping and walk them again for five minutes or so between harder work. 
5) I like to do "carrot stretches" (look it up) with my older horses before and after they work.   I've worked this into Wes's daily routine and it really loosens up his neck and back before a ride - and he loves the added carrots!
6) When I'm working the older horse, I encourage them to get their neck down while we're taking our walking breaks.  This helps them stretch out and can also help keep their back stronger.
7) I personally really like keeping my older horses on Adequan.  Most get a monthy dose and sometimes more if they're doing a long haul or a hard show.  I only give bute if they've done some exceptionally strenuous work or at my vet's instruction.
8) Regular shoeing is of the utmost importance as well.  These older horses just need all the help we can give them so work with both your farrier and vet to make sure you keep them at their best from bottom to top.
9) Some of my older horses also get accupuncture as well as chiropractic care to ensure they're as flexible and comfortable as possible.

I hope these thoughts help because these older horses are real treasures and there's no reason you shouldn't enjoy yours well into the golden years!   Talk to you next week, JD.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

A Guide

     According to the Oxford American Dictionary of Current English, the definition of a guide is:  "A person who leads or shows the way, or directs the movements of a person or group".
     All of the people I work with have various degrees of accomplishment in the horse world.  Some more, some less, some have a long list and some a list that's still growing.  But, all of "my" people have a very good grasp of horsemanship.  They cannot be hoodwinked with bad ideas or just plain gobbeldy-gook.  It's why I enjoy them all so much.  I try to make them all into better horsemen and they make me a better horseman and teacher.  God bless each of my "students"!
     So often with my more accomplished riders, I see my role as a guide rather than a teacher.  My role is to set examples and show them ways towards their goals and lead them down paths that have been successful for me.  My job as guide is also to help them avoid pitfalls that I have either fallen into myself or have seen trip up others.  I try to help my riders avoid the errant paths that I see some others so willfully go down....
     At this point in my career, I'm not into controlling other people's actions or decisions.  That makes everything so difficult and often causes clients much frustration.  Instead, I try to give my riders enough information and background so that they can make up their own minds and make their own decisions.  I give them the best advice I possibly can and I don't ever want to discourage anyone, but I do want all of my people to be realistic.  Realistic evaluations and realistic goals prevent everyone from being disappointed or frustrated.  Sometimes though, I find that my job as their guide is to nudge them back onto a successful path when they have made an unrealistic decision or, say - want too much, too fast, from their horse.
     So, I continue to guide, and I hope lead by example as well as by advice.  I want everyone to be successful but even more importantly, I want everyone to be the best they can be.  That's my personal goal!  Talk to you next week, JD.