Why do we love horses? Why are we drawn to them, even after injury or heartbreak?
Famed clinician and trainer Julie Goodnight shares her thoughts on the topic:
Horses have their own gravity. If you’ve loved them in the past and been pushed away because of an injury or accident, it’s possible you’ll be drawn right back to their beautiful, sleek, powerful sides. Gravity pulls you back even if your worries or fears make you wonder why, even when our biological responses to fear tell us not to go back to a dangerous situation. Here’s a look at why I think horsemen want to overcome the very natural fears that enter in after accidents with horses.
I often wonder why we want to be around horses when horses step on your feet, bite, kick, and buck you off. Have you ever had your foot stepped on by a horse? Been bitten? Been kicked? Have you ever fallen off or gotten bucked off your horse? Have you ever started out on a ride and ended up at the Emergency Room? I ask these questions to rooms full of horse people and just about all raise their hands.
Why do we do this? Gravity. Horses have a power to draw us in, make us learn from our mistakes and prompt us to keep trying.
I do hope that you are never hurt by horses—physically or physiologically. I do believe that if you are conscientious, systematic and methodical about safety, the chances of getting hurt are greatly reduced. I’ve worked with many large riding operations through the Certified Horsemanship Association (a nonprofit organization focused on horsemanship safety and excellence) and seen many of them that have almost zero incident rates. That’s not luck— that’s by design. But I realize accidents do happen. Horses are powerful beings with their own minds and strong bodies.
Let me go on record here: I DO NOT believe that getting hurt should be an expected or accepted outcome with horses. I DO believe that most, if not all, accidents are preventable and no matter how wild and unpredictable we think horses are, if you really analyze an accident, you’ll find a way you could’ve prevented it. I know for myself that when I look at the horse wrecks I’ve been in, they all started with me doing something stupid or going against that little voice in my head that tried to warn me.
Still, even when we make a commitment to safety, things happen. Horses are big and flighty animals and it’s a given that bumps, bruises and scrapes will happen–even in the best of circumstances. And when you are perched on top of a half-ton of live and somewhat volatile horse flesh with a balance of its own and–more significantly–a will of its own, you will on occasion have an unscheduled dismount. I’ve sure had my share, but fortunately I’ve never had more than a few broken ribs to contend with. But that was enough to mess with my head. With my chosen profession and my love of horses, I had to work through the worry.
Biology of Fear
I’ve known plenty of riders who have had incidents with horses that resulted in serious injury– I’ve heard stories that are so horrific that I wonder why the person would ever want to ride again. But amazingly, they do. Gravity.
Our hard-wired biological responses after a traumatic event can be hard to overcome, but overcoming is possible. Our love of horses makes us want to overcome. When an accident or injury occurs, a “fear memory” is lodged in your mind; it’s purpose is to remind you of this injury so it doesn’t happen again. Fear memories are supposed to prevent us from doing a stupid thing again, like reaching out and touching a hot wood stove. But when coming back after a riding accident, sometimes fear memories get in our way of hopping back into the saddle.
Fear memories can not be deleted, but you can learn to manage them. If you were bucked off and hurt one day when you asked your horse to canter, the next time you canter (or even think about it) that fear memory will surface— it’s a biological fact. So don’t let it surprise you and don’t let it take control. Expect the fear memory to surface and have a plan to keep it at bay.
I think it is really important to “intellectualize your fear” after an accident. When enough time has passed and you have healed both physically and emotionally, it is important to thoroughly analyze what happened. What went wrong and what you might have done to prevent it from happening?
Learning from your mistakes and understanding the situation better should help diffuse your fear. If, for instance, you ignored an earlier warning sign, then you can make up your mind to never do that again. Knowledge and understanding of how an accident may have been prevented—and establishing concrete actions you can take in the future to prevent a repeat–will lead to more confidence.
Fear is a powerful emotion and it is generated from a subconscious part of the brain. But you can learn to control your fear. It’s not always easy; it’s something you have to work at, but it can be done. Coming back after an accident will require some work and self-discipline on your part, but I know many, many people who have done it. Their love of the sport, the way of life and the love of their horses seems to drive them to face that fear and create a plan to overcome.
Answer this: Why?
After you’ve had an accident or mishap, it is critically important that you do some serious introspection to determine why you are doing this horse thing. Why are horses important to you and why do you want to keep riding?
These are not easy questions to answer but the answers are critically important to your comeback. You have to decide if horses are pulling you back. You have to know if you are being pulled by their gravity or just think you “should” ride again.
“Why?” is always the most difficult question to answer; how and what are much easier. But there are reasons why you are committed to coming back to riding and it is important to get in touch with those reasons, because of this simple fact: purpose leads to courage. If you can really come to terms with why you want this so badly, then you remind yourself of that purpose when things get tough, your purpose will give you courage.
Plan of Action
Your fear can come back to you like gravity just like your love of horses. Fear has a way of finding its way in—especially if you don’t have a plan to subdue it. When coming back after an accident or injury, it is important to practice mental control. Know that your fear memory will surface— don’t let it take you by surprise or dictate your actions. Your thinking, your body language and your emotions are all connected: mind, body and spirit. When the emotion of fear takes over, your mind devolves into negative “what if” thinking and your posture starts to reflect the emotion too.
Here is the secret key to overcoming your fear– keep your mind operating in a proactive and positive way (plan ahead of time what you will think about or what song you will sing; disallow negative thoughts and replace them quickly). If you think of falling each time you mount up, make a list of all the wonderful rides you’ve had and focus on those memories. Feel those wonderful rides. Make that memory a reality in the present. Make sure your body language shows confidence (sit up straight, square your shoulders– look tough!). By keeping control of the mental and the physical aspects of your being, the emotion doesn’t stand a chance.
A recap and to-do list: Analyze what happened to cause your fears, know what lessons can be learned and make a commitment to safety. Gain a better understanding of why you are doing this; the ‘why’ is your purpose, your “gravity. ” Purpose leads to courage. Finally, make sure you have a plan of action when you ride: practice deep breathing, keep your eyes focused and your mind engaged in a positive direction, and keep your body language strong and confident.
You can do it! I hope your love of horses pulls you back to the fun of the sport.
Nobody likes to diet–especially your horse. Not only that, putting your horse on a diet can be dangerous for him.
Equine nutritionist Dr. Juliet Getty explains:
Your horse is overweight. You’ve been told to feed him a lot less hay and you’re desperately trying to do the right thing. But it won’t work! It won’t work for your horse any more than a strict diet would work for people. We have known this for years when it comes to human obesity. The reason is simple – dieting restricts calories, which lowers the metabolic rate. Weight loss may occur at first, but the body goes into “survival mode” and starts to hold on to fat and becomes sluggish in burning calories, making it extremely easy to put all the weight back on.
Horses have an additional issue: Their digestive tract cannot tolerate periods of time without food; it requires a steady flow of forage. There are several reasons for this, including the constant secretion of stomach acid, the potential for ulcers, the need for the cecum to be full in order for digested feed to exit at the top, and more. Please take a look at my book, Equine Digestion – It’s Decidedly Different, for a complete understanding of how the horse is designed on the inside.
Free-choice forage (hay and/or pasture) does not make a horse obese; on the contrary, restricting forage is what leads to obesity. You should reduce or even eliminate the amount of concentrates you feed (e.g., beet pulp, grains, commercial feeds, etc.) but you must never reduce forage (be sure to add a vitamin/mineral supplement to a hay diet). Ideally, you should test your hay1 to make certain it is low enough in calories, sugar, and starch to be fed to an overweight horse (who is likely insulin resistant) and then, feed it free-choice, 24/7, all day and all night. At first the horse will overeat, but once he gets the message that the hay is always there, that he can walk away from it and it will still be there when he returns – then, and only then, will he start to self-regulate and eat only what his body needs to maintain condition. If you let him run out of hay, even for 10 minutes, he will always perceive that as a shor tage, and will continue to overeat.
But why does self-regulation take forever to occur in some horses? It often has to do with the way he was previously fed. If the horse had been enduring periods of time where there was no hay, his body went into starvation mode; that is, his metabolic rate severely declined. Now that you’re feeding free-choice, he will gain weight (which is temporary for most horses, especially if you are providing him opportunities to move). But for some horses, the drive to continually eat seems to never end and self-regulation appears impossible. The reason? Leptin.
Leptin comes from body fat
Excess body fat, especially regional fat deposits along particular areas of the body1, is a clear indication of the tissues’ reluctance to recognize insulin. Insulin is required for glucose (blood sugar) to enter the cells. When the fat slows down the tissues’ recognition of insulin, the pancreas will continue to produce more and more in an attempt to finally get glucose to enter the cells. Elevated insulin tells the tissues to hold onto body fat, making the horse even fatter.
Enter leptin. Leptin is a hormone that is secreted from body fat. It is a good hormone; it tells the brain that the horse is full and he can stop eating. This mechanism works perfectly for the horse of normal weight. But the overly fat horse does not get the message that he is satisfied; the signal that the brain is supposed to get that says I’m no longer hungry doesn’t happen. He has become leptin resistant.
In an effort to help the horse lose weight, more times than not the horse owner will be advised to severely restrict the amount that the horse eats, and this starts a vicious cycle: The horse will likely lose some body fat and hence, the leptin level will drop. A decline in leptin signals the horse to eat more, potentially gaining back all of the body fat lost (which also happens in humans3) combined with a decreased metabolic rate making it very easy to put back the pounds. Forage restriction, in particular, is extremely detrimental because the stress involved will increase cortisol, which subsequently induces elevated insulin, which promotes fat storage, and you’re back where you started.
But that’s the key! The more body fat, the more leptin is produced. That should be a good thing, no? The higher leptin level should tell the brain that it has had enough to eat, right? That’s what leptin is supposed to do. But it doesn’t.
It has to do with inflammation. Body fat produces inflammatory molecules known as cytokines. These substances have two negative impacts: First, cytokines disrupt insulin action, reducing the cells’ insulin sensitivity, making your horse store more body fat. And second, and very important, cytokines impair the neurons in the brain’s hypothalamus4 — the area that normally responds to leptin!
What’s the solution?
Reduce inflammation5. This can be accomplished through dietary changes and adding anti-inflammatory nutraceuticals to the diet:
- Improve protein quality by feeding several sources: Mixed grasses and legumes, as well as whole foods such as ground flaxseeds, split peas, copra meal, whey protein isolate, hemp seeds, and chia seeds.
- Avoid added sugar and starch by eliminating sweetened feeds, cereal grains, wheat middlings, and rice bran.
- Avoid high-omega 6 oils, which are highly inflammatory (e.g., soybean, vegetable, corn, wheat germ, and safflower oils).
- Increase omega 3s by feeding ground flaxseeds and/or chia seeds. Fish oils can be included for high levels of inflammation.
- Look for a vitamin/mineral supplement that provides high amounts of antioxidants, particularly vitamins E, C, beta carotene (or vitamin A), and lipoic acid.
- Offer anti-inflammatory herbs such as grape seed extract, green tea extract, spirulina, curcumin, and boswellia6.
By reducing inflammation, the brain will likely become more responsive to leptin, allowing the horse to stop eating when he is full. Stress needs to be eliminated through unlimited grazing on an appropriate forage. Slow-feeders can be useful in reducing intake7. Combine all this with increased movement, and you have a formula for success.
1Testing your hay for its caloric content (digestible energy), as well as its sugar (ESC) and starch levels, is the only true way to know if the hay is appropriate to feed free-choice. Equi-Analytical Labs offers economical tests to provide equine-based results – www.equi-analytical.com. Equi-Tech test is recommended.
2Areas include a cresty neck, crease going down the spine, fat along the ribs, behind the shoulders, on the tail head, and even over the eyes.
3Rosenbaum, M., Goldsmith, R., Bloomfield, D., et al., 2005. Low-dose leptin reverses skeletal muscle, autonomic, neuroendocrine adaptations to maintenance of reduced weight. J. Clin Invest, 115, 3579-3586.
4Guyenet, S.J., and Schwartz, M.W., 2012. Regulation of food intake, energy balance, and body fat mass: Implications for the pathogenesis and treatment of obesity. J. Clin. Endocrinol Metab., 97(3), 745-755.
5Thaler, J.P., Yi, C., Schur, E.A., et al., 2011. Obesity is association with hypothalamic injury in rodents and humans. J. Clin Invest, 10.1172/JC159660.[PubMed]
6Please refer to articles on nutritional management in the Library section of Getty Equine Nutrition – www.gettyequinenutrition.com
7Getty, J.M., 2014. The correct way to use slow-feeders. http://gettyequinenutrition.biz/library/thecorrectwaytouseslowfeeders.htm
I’ve been trying to help a friend find a kid-friendly horse for her daughters, and after looking at more than a half-dozen horses that started out promising and turned into pathetic I am left feeling a little wiser and a lot more wary.
There was the “kid-friendly” paint mare who looked lovely in her videos and who turned out to be incredibly rude and pushy on the ground. The seller’s husband actually called the mare “monster” and “pig” in our presence. Monster? No thank you!
There was the gelding who gave me a stink eye when I asked him to yield, and the older mare who threw her head up into the air rather than back. There was the mare who was so mellow during riding that we scheduled a vet exam–which she flunked, not because of lameness issues, but because she acted so awful for the vet that we feared she might have been drugged when we rode her.
And we’re not alone. After asking around for horse-buying stories, I’ve heard a variety of tales, such as the woman who took a horse home only to return it two weeks later when it changed personalities. Or the woman who looked for a horse for about a year, and saw at least fifteen different horses. “Each horse I saw I just wanted to take home,” she told me, “not considering the shape it was in, because I wanted one so bad.”
A year? Whew (and she did finally find The One).
Yet hands down, the following story is my favorite of those I’ve had sent to me. It’s from a woman named Elizabeth whose childhood horse turned out to be quite a challenge:
“As an 11-year-old, I looked at a 5-year-old Thoroughbred mare who was off the track but never raced. My current horse had turned out to be more of an eventer and we were looking for a hunter prospect. We drove two hours one way to go try this mare, twice. She was young, goofy, long-legged and no where near done growing. At $1,200 she was a steal. She had toted me around and hopped over little verticals at a trackside barn without so much as an ear twitch. We decided to bring her home on the second try.
“Red flag #1 – no trial period.
“Red flag #2 – it took 4 hours to get her on the trailer.
“Red flag#3 – She literally ran the fence for three days, dropped fifty pounds, and would not be quiet. My trainers thought we were insane and demanded we return her… no luck with that of course. After a couple of weeks, she had finally settled enough to put weight back on and enter the training schedule. I was not allowed to ride her for the first six weeks. She finally came around to be sane enough for me to take lessons on her (I was the kid who was put on all the bad green ponies, so it was a big deal that my trainers didn’t want me to ride my own horse… she must have been bad!).
“The first horse show was at the farm, and she lost it when all those strange horses showed up. Fast-forward five years…after lots of tears and sweat, she was the epitome of a lady: Talented, top-notch confirmation hunter, sweet puppy dog, unflappable on hacks through the woods (we were seriously hit by a deer and she knickered at it)… all that with a serious bucking problem. Three strides from the second fence and one stride after the seventh… guaranteed every time, first round. It was about that time that I fell in love with her and all her quirks.
“I was that rider with the tough horse that no one wanted to ride, but it was fine by me. My trainer finally told me why he was so reluctant in the beginning… she had failed her purchase-day drug screen and once he knew who she was, he remembered why she never raced; she had flipped over in the gate and killed her exercise jockey. Mighty fine horse for an eleven year old equitation hunter rider… and that’s just what she became. She didn’t have a mean bone in her body, just a really reactive one. She’s now 24 years old, fully retired, fat, happy, living the good life and is still my princess.”
If you have a scary horse-buying story of your own you’d like to share, please do! Meanwhile, for everyone who is currently looking, here are some horse-buying tips from Be A Smart Horse Buyer, by Bob Avila with Sue Copeland:
- Eye appeal–are the eyes large, small, show any white? (Bob Avila says to look for a “big, soft, kind eye and a relaxed expression.”
- How is her conformation in person? (Bob Avila says make sure the horse’s body “blends seamlessly from one part to the next, indicating balance.”
- Ask to see her in a stall (to see if she has any stall vices)
- Ask to see being caught in a paddock
- Push her nose away (does she yield, or brace?)
- Observe her being led (does she crowd? lead quietly?)
- Ask to have her led away from the barn (is she barn sour?)
- Ask to see her tied in a variety of places
- Ask to see her loaded into a trailer
- Ask to have her feet picked up
Lately, I’ve been thinking about something said by Mae Mays, a woman I interviewed for MyHorse Daily, about her search for a horse: “The longer I looked, the younger they got.”
Which is how I found a little mare named Mocha.
Many horse owners like to pull their horse’s shoes in the winter, and some experts say their horse could enjoy the same benefits of increased circulation and better hoof health if they were kept in a barefoot trim all year long.
Here’s one barefoot farrier’s take on the matter, as told to Stephanie Davis:
Keith Jacobson couldn’t wait for the summer to start. Like every child in the early 1960s Keith was looking forward to running around without shoes and having the freedom to spend his days doing whatever he wanted.
Most of all, he was looking forward to riding his horse everywhere. However, right before school ended, the family’s farrier significantly over-trimmed the horse’s hooves.
“I remember watching her walk across surfaces as soft as grass, and seeing how painful it was for her,” Jacobson said. “I was so disappointed. I wasn’t able to ride her all summer.”
Shortly after the farrier cut the mare’s feet too short, one of Keith’s neighbors told him to “never let that man touch your horse again.”
“Jack was too poor to shoes his own racehorses, harness racers,” Jacobson said. “This was the kind of man that would pick hay at the side of the road instead of paying for it. He didn’t have a horse stall or a barn for them. But his horses thrived.”
The neighbor showed the 11-year-old Keith how to trim and file hooves to the point where the horseshoe was no longer needed, resulting in essentially a pedicure for an 1,100-pound mammal.
Now, nearly half a century later, Jacobson still practices the skills he learned from his neighbor.
“There’s an old saying that a horse has five hearts,” said Jacobson. “There’s one in each foot, and one in their chest. The horse’s foot is much more complex than most people think. Only half an inch in is a vascular layer—all the blood vessels in it look like steel wool. If you cut too deep, you can make the foot bleed.”
To start off, Jacobson uses nippers, a tool that resembles 18-inch-long toenail clippers bred with pliers, and have a function not too much different. These serve just as toenail clippers do, removing excess protein from the end of the toe.
“Good boy, good boy,” said Jacobson to Taceo, the once-wild-mustang-turned-tame. “There you go. See, it’s not so bad. He never really needs that much work. His hooves are always very well worn and don’t need much attention.”
After the nippers are put down, the loop knife comes out, removing the layers from the inside of the hoof.
“The trick is knowing where to stop,” Jacobson said as he wrapped Taceo’s leg around his own. “There are different textures to the hoof. There’s the flaky, chalky, waxy and soft and vascular. I stop at the chalky texture. Horse shoers stop at the waxy.”
Jacobson lets the horse’s leg go, and it scrapes against his well-worn leather apron as he grabs for the rasp.
“Horses that run wild can run over 25 miles in a single day,” Jacobson said. “The terrain they roam on acts as a natural rasp. That’s really what we’re trying to get back to with the natural hoof care.”
The rasp looks like a giant nail file, and Jacobson’s gloves reveal a few too many encounters with the sharp instrument. A knuckle on his right hand shows through the torn fabric, and blood replaces where the skin was moments ago. That doesn’t slow him down, although the job does present a physical challenge to Jacobson.
“My hands have taken a beating,” Jacobson said. “I get cut all the time. I have some bad arthritic days too.”
When a farrier chooses to use horseshoes, much of the frog, the heart-shaped structure of the horse’s foot, is cut away and no longer makes contact with the ground.
“What most people don’t understand is that a horse’s hoof isn’t like a rock,” Jacobson said. “The shoe restricts movement. It doesn’t allow the foot to expand. The frog acts like a hydraulic system. It absorbs the impact of the animal hitting the ground.”
However, Jacobson said some aspects of shoeing are useful.
“Not all shoeing is bad,” said Jacobson. “Without the shoes, many horses would have never survived.”
Jacobson said taking a horse off the shoes is easy. “All you really have to do is take the shoe off, minimally trim the foot, and put the horse out to pasture. From there, the foot essentially cures itself.”
Jacobson hasn’t always worked with horses on a professional level. Before becoming a farrier, Jacobson was a project manager at Rocky Flats, the nuclear plant near Boulder, until it was shut down.
“After they shut down, I decided to reinvent myself,” Jacobson said. “I wasn’t planning on doing this full time. I thought it would just be spare cash here and there. I’m glad I’m doing this though. My back has never felt better, and I’m making as much doing this as I was sitting at a desk.”
In the end, Jacobson said, it’s all about the horse.
“Horses are the only animals we stick nails into,” Jacobson said. It’s very unnatural. It’s counterintuitive to the animals welfare.”
To find out more about a barefoot trim or to contact Keith Jacobson, visit his website, Natural Hoof Care of Colorado.
Story by Stephanie Davis.
He suddenly appeared from the woods, riding a ferocious black beast and wielding a mighty axe…
O.K., so it was Matt and his gelding, Yukon. No one loves Halloween more than Matt, who every year would pimp out our little urban oasis in Louisville, Colo., and then climb into his own scary costume and become part of the display. And every year, unsuspecting kids would walk right past him and not realize the “stuffed man” was truly real until Matt would suddenly rise up! -causing them to shriek and run.
So now that we’re on a farm, the question was, If we decorate for Halloween, will anyone come? Do trick or treaters come out to rural areas? We asked our neighbors and were told no.
No Halloween? It can’t be! So we decided to make our own fun.
So this is Matt and Yukon, who I must say was a really good sport. This horse hadn’t been ridden in weeks, yet gave no protest when we pulled him out, saddled him, and asked him to stand still so a thing that sounded like his human and smelled like his human but looked NOTHING like his human could climb aboard. Then the two of them rode up to the road and waved to passing cars.
And if you truly want to be inspired for next year, check out all the great pictures of horsey Halloween costumes on Horse&Rider, sent in by their readers. While it was really hard to pick just one, I’d have to say my favorite was the horse who wore the giant skull. Kudos to the owner whose horse allowed that one!
Have you ever had the luck to meet a Curly horse?
And no, I’m not talking about the tell-tale coat of a horse with Cushing’s Disease. Rather, Amercian Curly Horses are a distinct breed, and are aptly named for their curly coat. They’re a rare breed, and even more rare are Curly Mustangs in the wild.
Yet one couple, Heather and Zak Smith of Mimir’s Grove in Olympia, Wash., has plans to adopt not one, but two Curly Mustangs, including a very rare and yet also hard-to-place Curly Draft Mustang stallion. Their story is below, told by Heather:
We leave November 6th, for the November 7th Checkerboard, Wyoming region’s Mustang adoption. We plan to adopt a very rare, but also hard to place mature Curly Draft Mustang stallion.
Mimir’s Grove has been raising, breeding, and promoting American Curly Horses for several years now. All domestic Curly Horses’ are of Mustang decent. As a piece of our regenerative agriculture practices, we have hopes of adding draft horse assistance to our farming practices. Curly horses are, themselves, as a breed, incredibly rare, with fewer than 4,000 world-wide, it has been something of a dream come true to have a small herd of them here.
It has just come to our attention that, rarer than rare, Curly Draft Mustangs exist, in Wyoming, in a holding facility, where what appear to be the very last draft style of Curly Mustangs have just been rounded up. Along with the young, easier to gentle individuals are older stallions, which are more challenging to tame and less likely to find a good home. They are all awaiting their fates, be it to new homes through the next auction, or fated to living out their days, gelded, in long-term holding facilities.
I have many years’ experience gentling, training, re-starting, re-habiliitating, and rescuing domestic horses. However, a long-time dream of mine has been to adopt a Mustang, gentle them, and have them be part of the Equine Assisted Learning activities here at Mimir’s Grove. Helping humans learn more effective communication practices, anger and addictions management, along with self-awareness and coaching to realize goals and dreams.
A long-time dream of Zak’s has been to gentle, train, and work each day in the forests and farm lands with a kind team of draft horses. Draft-horse-powered farming and forestry diminishes dependence on fossil fuels, helps produce sustainably harvested farm and forestry products and does not compact the soil as much as traditional farming or forestry practices.
It would seem both dreams could be realized in one moment, as one of these Curly Draft Mustangs are strong enough and could be trained to help with the farming and forestry tasks at hand, meanwhile educating all who get to bear witness to their transformation about themselves, effective communication and so much more. But we need help.
Taking on a wild horse is a huge responsibility and requires a few resources which we aren’t quite prepared for. As many of you might know, hay prices were high this year as we had an unusually warm and dry summer, resulting in only one hay cutting for many farmers as opposed to two. We need more hay to take in another horse, especially a big one.
Additionally, Mustangs fresh caught out of the wild, require special transportation and living accommodations. While we have a truck and horse trailer, going and getting one of these last remnants of the “Great American West” requires a four horse slant load or stock type horse trailer, which we do not yet possess. Their living accommodations include a six foot high, sturdy corral. Our son’s safety also hinges on this corral’s ability to keep him out until this Mustang is gentled. Our horses live a grand life out on a Paddock Paradise track, however it consists of three strands of electric, not convincing enough to keep a wild Mustang in or our toddler son out.
If you would like to help preserve a piece of America’s heritage, make a positive difference in several lives, and help make this dream a reality; we are gladly accepting help. To each who participate in this journey with us, we will be keeping an updated account, with pictures, video, and information, on Mimir’s Grove’s website, facebook and Twitter pages and would be very happy to keep all who assist us informed about how the adoption, gentling, and training is progressing.
And now here’s more on the Curly breed, with some of the information coming from the International Curly Horse Organization website:
Traits - Curlies are known for their calm, intelligent and friendly personalities. They show an easily trainable temperament. They are also known for having a tough constitution and great stamina. Most Curlies greatly enjoy being around people, starting at birth. Curlies are typically not flighty, and they tend to possess more reasoning than most breeds. They are very reliable and have a great work ethic.
Origins - The origins of the Curly is one of the horse world’s greatest unknowns! Research is still very much in progress to try to unlock the secret of this mystery!
Curly horses were documented in Asian artwork as early as 161 AD. Charles Darwin documented curly horses in South America in the early 1800s. The early Sioux Indians regarded curly horses as sacred mounts that were reserved for Chiefs and Medicine Men. Other early artwork, shows Curlies carrying warriors in the Battle of Little Bighorn (June 25, 1876).
It was once believed that these curly coated horses were ancestors of the Russian Bashkir of Bashkortostan, hence the initial name Bashkir Curly Horse, however in recent years this was found to be untrue and unfounded.
Some have suggested that they came across the Bering Strait land bridge during the last ice age, but no fossil evidence has been found to support that. Others suggest that curly coated horses were imported while the Russians occupied parts of the West Coast of North America. However, Shan Thomas’ research, in Myth and Mystery: The Curly Horse in America, shows there was no mention of the importation of horses into North America by Russian settlers in their ship logs.
Another suggestion is that Norse or Celtic explorers brought curly horses to North America prior to 1492 but this theory has yet to be fully investigated.
What is known, is that the original stock used to start the current day Curly Horse registries can be traced back to a fateful day amidst the wild Mustang herds of Eureka, Nevada. During the early 1900s, rancher John Damele and his sons managed to catch one, break it to ride and sell it; thus starting their relationship with the breed.
Build - The Curly has a characteristically long stride coupled with bold movement. They have tough hooves, strong bones and exceptional endurance. Most Curlies stand between 13.2 and 15.2 hands (1 hand equals 4 inches), though they can range in size from Miniature horses to Draft horses.
Coat, mane and tail - The unique genotype that gives Curlies their hypoallergenic property is best displayed while they are sporting their luxurious, thick, winter, curly coats. Their coats can be expressed in a varying degree of curl. Typically the coat in the summer shows a slight wave in it, but not as curly as the winter curls.
Genetically Curlies are a breed “type” and typically are heterozygous for their external curls, meaning two Curly coated parents have a 75 percent chance of producing a curly-coated foal. A curly-coated parent bred to a non-Curly only has a 50 percent chance of producing a curly-coated foal. As opposed to a homozygous individual, when bred to any other horse (curly or not) will produce a curly-coated foal 100 percent of the time.
Curlies have split manes (their manes fall on both sides of their neck) and are not braided or clipped when shown in competitions. Curlies can be found in every color and pattern known to horses.
Hypoallergenic - Curlies are acclaimed to be the only hypoallergenic horse breed. Most people allergic to horses can interact with Curly Horses without suffering any allergic reactions, or, at least greatly reduced allergic reactions. About 15 percent of the human population is allergic to horses. Research indicates a protein is missing from the genetic makeup of Curlies, this may be the cause of allergic reactions to horses. Unfortunately the study was never officially published. Members of the Curly Community are working towards funding more research on this.
To be hypoallergenic means to have a decreased tendency to cause allergies; hypo means less, not none. Hypoallergenic pets still produce allergens, but because of their coat type and genetic differences they typically produce less than others of the same species. People with severe allergies and asthma might still be affected by a hypoallergenic pet.
Versatility - While eye catching and unusual in the show ring, Curlies also have the movement, endurance, and heart to excel in competition. Curlies have been shown at upper levels of dressage and show jumping. They have proven to be reliable mounts and patient teachers for the weekend competitor. Curlies are characteristically quiet, level headed horses, and make excellent first horses for supervised beginner riders and children. Curlies have also been used for combined driving, western riding, ranch horses, trail horses, and are even crossbred to gaited horses for saddle seat and trail extraordinaire mounts. The only sport which Curlies are not competitive in is horse racing.
What happens with that rescue horse once you bring it home?
Will the horse eventually settle in, or will she show signs of problems that begin to fill you with regret?
A month ago I wrote about going along on a mission to rescue a filly and a colt from a feedlot. Since then, the young horses in question spent three weeks in quaratine at horse trainer Jessica Colling‘s place, where the filly was named Shadowfax and the colt became Maverick. Then it was time for the filly’s owner, Tracy Roberson, and Tracy’s two sons, Dylan and Nick, to welcome her to their farm where they have sheep, miniature horses and a 19-year-old rescue mare named Cocoa.
Tracy has this account of how it went:
This first week has been about just letting her be a horse and get used to her new home. She loves having so much room to run, and older and wiser Cocoa to protect her. They are closed in separately in the dry lot area at night. I have only seen her try give Cocoa the double barrels once, but Cocoa moved fast. I think there were other times so they are across the hot fence at night to be safe.
At first Shadowfax was not sure about the fuzzy giant marshmallows (the sheep) but now she has figured out that they are fun to herd and move away fast. She was worried about the minis from afar, but once she saw them up close, she just let out a sigh and went back to eating the green grass. They are in a separate pasture. We’re not taking any chances of her kicking them for a long time.
She has not had the halter on since she’s been here, but lets us brush and pet her almost everywhere while she’s eating. And did I mention she can really eat!! Pasture all day, hay all night!
Today she even let me brush out half her tail before she decided she prefers brushing on her other end. And she’s always looking for treats! We will be working on personal space soon with Jessica. Right now, I just make her back up before giving her a treat. I make her stand and she lets me pet and brush her mid section.
When I walk, she follows and I say whoa. Then I back her up and then give the treat. She is very brave and trusting of people. I am sure she was loved by whoever had to give her up. She’s just young, playful and goof at times. Today she got spooked by the wind and the giant “panther” on the fence post.
She’s good with both the boys, especially Dylan (who is 9). Nick (almost 5) is not allowed to be around her without mom or dad, but the other night after feeding he fell and came crying to me. I was in with Cocoa and he tried to come through Shadowfax’s area, with the hot wire separating us. I was doing the freaked-out mommy “Stop, right there, go back!” etc. Shadowfax was resting calmly with heavy eyelids, her head down, and he literally stood screaming right under her nose. She didn’t even move. I did get him to back out before having heart failure…
Ok, last but not least is how sad it was when the trailer drove off with her little “baby” (the colt). I thought she was going to jump the fence. Heartbreaking.
And how about the colt? The filly had been his surrogate mother at the feedlot, the only herd he’d known for months. How would he handle being separated from her?
Jessica, who is keeping the colt at her farm, had this to say:
It’s “Maverick” officially, but I still call him Leppy. I didn’t realize how far he’d come, and how much he trusted me, until the day we moved the horses from quarantine to their respective homes. On a whim I tried loading Leppy first, not looking forward to setting up a chute and running him in again. Lo and behold, with minimal hesitation, he walked in after me, and stood quietly while Shadowfax was loaded.
He hauled well, until the filly was unloaded at Tracy’s house. He was in such bad shape that I decided to ride with him the few short miles to my pasture. I had to keep one hand on him at all times to keep him upright and somewhat calm. It was nerve-wracking. Once I unloaded him he immediately settled.
I led him into the pasture and he trotted off bravely to meet his new herd. They weren’t entirely welcoming and he spent two days on the fringe. I was worried about him. Not for his physical welfare, as he had food, water, and the other horses weren’t hurting him, but for his emotional state. We had brought him out of the feedlot, yes, but then had torn him away from his only friend–even though she had taken to running him pretty badly in their shared turnout.
Tracy kindly offered to let him stay with Shadowfax for a while, but I declined, hoping he would forge a friendship with at least one of my herd. I had almost given up when my client’s Appaloosa, Bear, spoke for the little guy. They have formed a strong bond. Leppy follows him everywhere, and Bear enjoys having a baby of his very own.
Whenever Bear is turned out after a ride and rolls in the dirt, Leppy is right behind him, practicing his rolls as well.
He still wears a breakaway halter, but is getting easier to catch and handle every day. Especially if I am holding Bear.
There’s a very well-respected horse trainer (who shall go unnamed) who told the following story that makes a big point about horse treats:
“One lady whose horse I was training used to come out to see her horse wearing an apron. And this apron had many pockets, and in every pocket she’d have a piece of horse candy.
“Before the end of her visit, she would have given every single piece of horse candy to her horse. I said nothing.
“Finally one day she asked, ‘Why haven’t you ever said anything about me giving my horse treats?’
“And I told her, ‘It’s your horse.’
“She said, ‘So do you think I should not feed him treats?’
“And I said, ‘Well, why do you do it?’
“And she said, ‘So he’ll like me.’
“So I said, ‘Well, let’s see if he does.’ And I had her stand in one corner of the arena, and we put her horse in the middle, and I stood clear to the other end in the far corner. And we waited to see who the horse would come to–her with a treat, or me.
“I had only been working that horse for about a week. But the horse chose me. And it broke her heart–looking back on it, it wasn’t the best idea, and I’ll never do it again.
“But the horse went to the person who was his leader. They don’t care if you love them. They want you to be a leader, direct and fair. They understand clarity and direction. That makes them feel safe, and that’s why, no matter where they might be and who else is there, they’ll choose to be with you.”
Have you ever wondered how a barefoot horse would do in steep, rocky terrain?
Horsewoman and barefoot enthusiast Ruthie Thompson-Klein, of Equine Balance Hoof Care, recently returned from just such an adventure in Washington state and has the full report on how it all went:
After conditioning rides around our Washington San Juan Islands’ gentle road and forest trails, three of my clients and adventure-mates and I set out for some serious riding in the North Cascades. It was our “last blast of summer,” and a great test for a variety of EasyCare hoof wear. The four of us spent several days riding steep and rugged wilderness trails as well as easy riverside meanders in the Methow Valley of Washington State.
Here’s our multi-breed lineup: Monique’s Chincoteague gelding sported a pair of EasyShoe Performances on front feet, bare behind. At home he is ridden barefoot or with front EasyBoot Gloves; on mountain rocks he needed protection. Since Monique would be riding intensely for a month, we decided EasyShoes were the best application.
Jet is a solid black horse with solid black feet, that made my Easyshoe Performance glue work look pretty . The shoes were applied with Adhere, five days before our trip, and ride-tested.
Jan’s Arabian gelding, Farli, sported Easyboot Glove Back Country boots on front, bare behind the first day.
When this endurance horse among us began lagging, short-striding and avoiding center trail, I suggested booting behind. I swapped boots, with a pair of firm-padded Glove Back Country behind and Power-Strapped Easyboot Gloves in front.
Farli became his sound and comfortable self on the trail the rest of the trip. No vet call necessary. Alice’s Dutch Warmblood mare (a very large and intrepid trail horse!) trekked in Easyboot Gloves all around; size 4.5 Wide in front and size 4 Wide behind, no accessories necessary.
An attentive owner/trimmer, Alice spent considerable time making sure Amira’s Easyboot Gloves fit her trim perfectly.
My very-green Appaloosa gelding worked in our usual Power-Strapped Gloves in front and I added Easyboot Glove Back Country boots behind.
Our first few days were low elevation trails with water and rocky river crossings, bridges and forest paths. We then trailered to elevation where the terrain got much more technical. At Cutthroat Peak, we traversed a landslide, encountered sharp rocks, a steep, rocky water crossing scramble, and a boggy lakeshore when we reached Cutthroat Lake to rest and water the horses at about 5,000 feet. This is where we decided we’d rather hang out and experience the scenery than forge further up the trail.
The most demanding boot test may have been when I had to dismount to send my gelding ahead of me across a steep water crossing and up a rocky bank. It was too dangerous to ride at his level, and I was worried I might have to pick up boots in his thrashing, dashing wake, but Monique snagged him—still booted—on the other side.
Happy with our big adventure, we spent the rest of our time on more casual rides to give the horses a break. With so many details involved in this sort of trip, a large part of our success was carefree hoof protection, and we put it to the test to my satisfaction. This type of multi-day group ride used to require multiple shoe and tool preparation headaches, now those days are over. Thank you, EasyCare!
See more hoof blogs at http://blog.easycareinc.com/blog/insights-from-the-inside. Ruthie Thompson-Klein is AHA & PHCP Certified, and operates Equine Balance Hoof Care. http://www.pacifichoofcare.org http://www.americanhoofassociation.org
What would your horse do if you were to suddenly run past it while screaming? Would it bolt like a racehorse out of a gate or stand calmly?
My 8-year-old Friesian-cross mare Neela doesn’t fall into either category–she spooks sideways a short distance and then freezes, quivering–but we’re working on getting to option B. That’s why we recently had another lesson with Sus Kellogg, a natural horsemanship trainer here on San Juan Island in Washington State whose specialties include conscious groundwork, working at liberty, and brideless riding.
“I like to think of a totally bombproof horse as one that can handle the unpredictable behavior of kids,” Sus said at the start of our lesson. And bombproof is my goal with Neela, who had only been a broodmare before coming to me last year and clearly has a lot of holes in her foundation. After she threw me during a ride a few weeks ago–which I don’t remember as I suffered a concussion as a result–I’ve been trying to piece together what might have caused her eruption. I did learn she had a hip out of alignment, and thanks to an equine massage therapist and an equine chiropractor, she’s feeling much better physically.
Mentally, however, is a whole new ballgame. Neela, who is in foal and due in May, is incredibly tense. She also lacks confidence. At one point, while Sus was sacking her out and Neela spooked and scampered sideways, Sus said out loud the thought that immediately went through my mind: “You were riding that.”
What I learned from Sus during this lesson is that even the simple act of haltering my horse can help her learn to relax.
I asked Sus to describe her technique:
It’s easy for a horse (and person) to become mechanical with haltering, and then actual softness can be missed. First put aside any idea of getting a halter on and instead work toward (or with) the softness before anything else. With the halter tail in one hand and loop in the other and both hands on the same side of the horse, begin with some long rhythmic strokes along the horse’s crest with the tail hand. Beginning at the withers, approach the poll, retreat to the withers, and repeat in a relaxed and easy rhythm. Every so often linger at the poll and rub, then retreat again. When the horse is soft, lowering and flexing the head will follow naturally. The halter tail can can then be passed in front of and around the horse’s head. Massaging with the halter and your fingertips before and after tying will both encourage and acknowledge the softness. Finish always with the soft feel as the most important element between you. Release completely, walking away a few steps, not looking at the horse.
Since Neela has the dual challenge of lacking confidence and being dominant, she also needs reminders that she’s not in charge. Toward that end, Sus showed me how to ask her to yield her forequarters, yet do it in a way that requires finesse. Neela is very smart, and gets bored, and then resentful, quickly.
So instead of just putting pressure on her shoulder and asking her to yield, Sus showed me how I could very softly request the smallest of movements that would allow the mare to both yield her shoulder and yet keep one hind foot in place (like a showmanship pivot). It’s always interesting to watch a horse search for the right answer, and then see the licking and chewing when they figure it out.
We took turns lightly sacking out Neela, and Sus pointed out that I need to offer Neela more breaks during these desenstization sessions as a reward. Then it was time to up the ante. As Sus pointed out, while I have increased the pressure on Neela somewhat, I had not pushed her far enough. So she put her on a 22-foot line for the next exercise, called Rub and Go.
“Try bringing your energy up by walking fast, and then work up to skipping past her,” Sus suggested. “Then run. And yell,” which she demonstrated by suddenly darting toward Neela while yelling, “Oh!!! Lookout!!” before stopping next to her, rubbing the mare’s side and then casually walking away.
Important things to remember while doing this exercise, according to Sus, are to exhale so that you’re relaxed, don’t look directly at the horse with any intention–so that the horse doesn’t think you’re asking anything of her–and to offer a rub when you get close to let them know it’s O.K. Then retreat.
“Make sure she really relaxes and isn’t just faking it,” Sus said. “Watch for her head to go down, and for her to lick and chew.”
Finally, to give Neela something else new to master, Sus showed me Tail Backing: Put the horse on a long lead and run it directly under their body. From a safe distance behind the horse, gently pull on their tail to see if they’ll back. If so, reward the slightest step by releasing. If not, wiggle the long lead and ask them to back while also giving a steady, soft tug on their tail. With so much that we do with our horse being in their face, this offers them a new challenge with less pressure.
Our homework: Continue to sack Neela out and do liberty work with her as often as I like, but only practice Rub and Go two days in a row before giving her a break from it. So I’ll practice whooping, hollering and charging past my mare and let you know next week how we’re getting along. My goal is to have her look as relaxed as she does at the end of a session with Sus.
Have you ever visited a horse feedlot?
After being messaged about a Facebook page listing a yearling colt as one of many horses in need of immediate adoption or they’d be shipped to slaughter, I decided to see this situation for myself. I know two people who adopted horses this way; one outcome was terrific and the other a costly disappointment.
Yet this wasn’t simply a dispassionate visit in the name of journalism. The picture of the colt in question had tugged on my heartstrings enough to cause me to roll my eyes and yet open my wallet and post his $250 bail in order to save him from slaughter. Someone else offered to pay to have him gelded. Another resident of San Juan Island, where we live, bailed out a filly. Horse trainer Jessica Colling volunteered her time, rig and trailer to make the trip from San Juan Island to just outside Yakima, Wash., to pick up the pair, so the two of us packed human snacks, halters, hay, water buckets and away we went.
I was hopeful, skeptical and apprehensive, all at the same time. I had heard that often people who try to adopt a rescue horse this way will show up only to be given a different (lesser) horse than the one they paid for, with various stories being given as to why (such as, ‘The horse you wanted got kicked and became so lame we had to ship it off.’). My brother, a practical engineer who was visiting at the time, was convinced the whole thing was a scam.
“If we end up with the colt on the trailer, how is it a scam?” I countered. Apparently, like this: The kill buyer purchases horses cheaply at auction, sometimes for as little as $25, and then while they’re on the feedlot being fattened up in order to ship to slaughter in Canada or Mexico (horse slaughter is illegal here in the U.S.), they are profiled as desperately needing rescue and sold for hundreds of dollars.
My husband and I have rescued two horses in the past 7 years, both with good outcomes (his gelding is a cherished family member, and I enjoyed five wonderful years with my first mare until I lost her in 2012). Both of these horses were young when we got them–my mare was a weanling, his gelding was a yearling. No doubt the odds of success were higher with a young horse.
The morning we arrived to pick up our two rescues, we passed a man in a pickup who saw the horse trailer and motioned for Jessica to stop. This was the owner of the feed lot, known as The Kill Buyer, an occupation that is either demonized or shrugged off as a necessity, depending upon who you talk to.
This KB looked like a regular guy. He told us there were some women coming from California to pick up some horses from the next pen, and that they’d need to go through our horse’s pen to do so. We asked him if he knew anything about the horses we were picking up. He offered a small detail on the colt.
“He came from a cuttin’ place down the road,” he said. Why did they get rid of him?
“I don’t know, maybe they thought he was a little leppy,” he said, adding, “If you open a gate, shut it.” We agreed, he drove off, and we headed toward the feedlot, wondering what in the heck a “leppy” was. A quick search on my iPhone revealed that leppy was slang for a small, motherless calf.
And small and motherless is what this colt looked like. He was easy to spot as he and the filly were in the first pen of their row. The filly was a striking black bay, and the colt a chocolate bay, his only white being a few small hairs on his forehead. They both appeared to be a little underweight. I had expected much worse.
There were two long rows of pens, separated by a concrete alley filled with hay, and each pen had at least two or more equine animals-either horses, ponies, donkeys or mules. Although the alley in the middle was filled with large square bales of dusty alfalfa, the horses couldn’t reach it over the fence, and many of them began to whinny with urgency when they saw us, no doubt hoping we’d throw breakfast.
What is horrific? Traumatic? No. A few of the horses were thin, but in an old-age way, not neglect. The ground in their pens was full of poop but it wasn’t layered as if it was never scooped. They had water, and I even saw a couple of tubes of dewormer on the ground.
Was it depressing? Oh, yes. It was wrenchingly sad to see so many unwanted horses–dozens of them, of every shape, size and color–milling around restlessly in barren pens. I finally had to stop looking at them. There wasn’t a speck of hay in any of the pens. I didn’t see any shelters. While we could open the gate to the pen with our two rescues, the rest of them appeared to be padlocked shut.
Jessica and I moved quickly. She backed her trailer up to our horse’s pen with a precision that would make a veteran trucker proud, and we took some extra panels from the middle of the pen in order to construct a chute, as we had been told that neither of the horses was halter broke. The filly was much larger than the colt, and he clearly regarded her as a surrogate mother. Where she moved, he followed, like a foal with its dam. The two ran up and down their pen, the filly snorting at us suspiciously and making a big show of how she was in charge.
We took a few minutes to fill up some hay bags from the big bales in the alley so they’d have transition hay (we’d asked ahead of time, and been granted permission) and while we did so we came up with a loose plan: The filly, who appeareed to be about age two, was large enough to fit in the front stall of the 3-horse slant load trailer, but the colt was so small he’d be able to crawl under a partition if we tried to keep him inside one, so we decided to let him be loose in the back.
This meant we’d have to load the filly first and then try to catch the colt, who would rocket past us from time to time, showing the whites of his eyes. We had no sooner decided on the plan than the filly, who had stopped posturing and now appeared to be curious to the point of brazen, decided to load herself and walked up the ramp and into the trailer. She turned around and walked calmly out, stepped in again, then out. She looked like she knew what was expected.
“She might be halter broke after all,” said Jessica, who then approached the filly with a halter and lead rope. Yes, she sort of was, and soon Jessica had her haltered and coaxed back into the trailer before ducking out the escape door as I latched the partition in place. One down!
With his adopted dam out of reach, the colt became frantic, calling out to her in a high-pitched whinny even while ducking away if we approached. His agility became impressive once we got a good look at his feet: His front hooves were so overgrown that he slung his legs forward as he moved.
We looked at our phones–it was not quite 9:30 a.m., and we had all day to drive back. We were in no hurry, so we decided to take the time it would take–no matter how long–and work on halter training the colt, as it would be safer to unload him on the other side with a halter and lead rope.
Yet before we could even begin our plan, the colt walked up the ramp and into the trailer, no doubt seeking the security of being near his only friend, the filly. Jessica and I looked at each other and smiled as we shut the doors, saying, We’ll take it!
Meanwhile, the three women from California had arrived, with one of them saying they had driven 9 hours the day before to retrieve some horses that weren’t supposed to have been sold. But when they looked at the horses in the lot next to where ours had been, they frowned.
“Those aren’t our horses,” one of the women said, adding that she would be calling the feedlot owner. We wished them luck and drove away, the filly beginning to kick in protest until the trailer rocked into motion.
Once back at Jessica’s place on San Juan Island, unloading proved to also be surprisingly easy. T’he day before, my husband Matt and I had come out to help Jessica move several of her panels to build two small quarantine pens. Horses that have been at a feedlot, with so many other horses coming and going, need to be kept from other horses for at least a month to determine if they’re healthy and carrying any viruses or diseases.
Jessica slipped a halter on the colt and waited for him to find his land legs and walk unsteadily down the ramp of the trailer, then handed the lead rope to me while she collected the filly. Both of them, after some snorting, dancing and calling to each other, slowly walked into their adjacent pens, where they soon got down to the business of long drinks of water and cropping the small amount of grass in the pen before turning their attention to their hay bags. Soon, beet pulp, rice bran, flax and vitamins and minerals would follow.
As I write this, the colt and the filly have been at Jessica’s for only two days, but that’s all it has taken for them to start to transform. The filly, named Shadowfax by her new owner Tracy Roberson and Tracy’s two sons, Dylan and Nick, is showing signs of such a sweet nature that Dylan, who is 9, is able to easily lead her around.
The colt, who we at first dubbed “Leppy,” has gone from darting away from human contact to allowing
himself to be haltered, rubbed, brushed, led and loved on. For perhaps the first time ever in his young life, his hooves have been trimmed. Jessica, who is also an accomplished farrier, did the honors, patiently handling each leg and working quickly for short stretches at a time. I held the lead rope and braced myself for a whirling dervish, but for the most part the colt stood quietly, licking and chewing and craning his head to see just what was going on. He’s clearly a thinker.
After his first hoof was trimmed, the colt cautiously extended his leg in front of himself, like someone feeling their way in the dark, trying to understand this new sensation of relief. Soon he was putting weight on it, so Jessica quickly trimmed the other front hoof to a shorter length before deciding to finish the rest the next day in order to give the colt a break.
While I’ve been guilty of also referring to him as “Leppy,” I have given the colt another name in my mind: Owen, named after the main character in the novel, “A Prayer for Owen Meany.” Like his namesake in the book, the colt is small yet also clearly sports a mighty mind. And he has already fulfilleld a purpose in his short span: as a living reminder that caring can change someone’s fate for the better.
If a horse launches a human like a lawn dart, it’s almost always the human’s fault.
–That’s one thing I have come to believe over the years. Horses live in the moment, and their reactions and responses are honest. Even the wrecks that are lightning-fast can be mulled over and dissected and the precipitating factor found, and it’s usually something the rider incorrectly did or did not do.
Or something they missed.
In my case, as I try to determine why my mare threw me with enough force to give me a concussion that landed me in the hospital, I am playing detective with present-day clues only, as I have no memory of what happened. But since I am pretty sure it was my fault, I reached out to some equine experts who could evaluate my mare physically and mentally. There were some physical factors I could already rule out:
Neela was obviously not lame. Her saddle fit well. Thanks to equine nutritionist Dr. Juliet Getty, her diet was excellent. She didn’t have any sharp wolf teeth that would make having a bit in her mouth painful, as I’d had her teeth floated six months before, and her feet are kept in a neat barefoot trim by Ruthie Thompson-Klein of Equine Balance Hoof Care, so it wasn’t a shoeing issue. Shortly after we drove Neela to Washington from Colorado, veterinarian Laura Waitt from Mount Vernon Veterinary Hospital checked her over and did an ultrasound, determing that the mare was still in foal and apparently none the worse for wear from her three-day move. And pregnancy is not known for making a mare act so unpredictable.
It had to be something else. But what?
The first person I called was Sus Kellogg, a natural horsemanship trainer here in Washington State whose specialties include conscious groundwork, working at liberty, and brideless riding. I had contacted Sus before we moved to Washington from Colorado since we were looking at living on an island–San Juan Island–and I wanted to make sure there was a strong horse community on the island before committing to living there. After several conversations with Sus, I was convinced it was a good fit. Not only were there other horse owners on SJI, as the residents refer to their island, but there was a strong following of natural horsemanship, which is how we live and train with our horses.Less than two weeks after we moved to SJI, my husband Matt and I abandoned the boxes for one morning to go watch Sus giving a clinic at her place, Free Horse Farm. We stayed for an hour, even though I saw what I was looking for in the first minute, which I whispered excitedly to Matt.
“She’s got feel!” I said with delight, recogning that coveted trait among horse folk that is a combination of sensitivity, timing and even intuition for communicating with a horse. You don’t see it every day. To know there was a natural horsemanship trainer on the island who had feel was as sweet as finding gold in our back yard.
Now, after I explained to Sus about my concussion and that I was at a loss to understand what happened, she agreed at once to help. Two days later, my head still aching horribly, I limped into the truck, Matt loaded up Neela and we drove down a shady country road to Sus’s farm.
Within a few minutes of working with the mare in her arena, Sus voiced a conclusion that was obvious to see.
“She is very tense,” she said of Neela, who was so wired that even the slightest touch could make her tremble. I didn’t recognize this side of my mare, and I wondered, had it been there that day, and I just missed it? Had I been so clueless?
For the next two hours, Sus focused on helping Neela find a place of trust and relaxation, talking while she worked. Her conclusions (and I agree with every one):
Neela was tight and holding herself together. Her signs can be subtle, but no less meaningful than more obvious ones. She can be light and responsive without being soft. She is open but insecure and has a dominant streak. She is overall still very green and uncertain. And she is a wonderful horse with a lot of heart.
Before the session was over, the mare, who started out flinching and braced, was standing hip-shot with a lowered head, licking and chewing with a sleepy expression in her eyes. This was a good start, and Sus and I scheduled another session.
A few days after that, equine massage therapist Karen Chadwick came to our farm to work on Neela. And my mare, who loves to be groomed and massaged, presented the same reactive way she did with Sus: Don’t touch me. Was it the pregnancy, I wondered, or something else?
Karen began with an all-over feel of the mare’s body, pressing lightly on every area to detect any discomfort. There was nothing swollen or obvious, so she continued with massage, pressure and squeezing, which Neela seemed to enjoy.
Then suddenly the mare reacted, backing away and pinning her ears: There was obvious discomfort on her spine around the withers, especially on the right side. So Karen gently massaged around the area, kneading and rubbing to increase blood flow and circulation and promote relaxation. She also performed a gentle tapotement to wake up the nervous system and to break up any possible lymph fluid.After watching Neela react during Karen’s massage session, I was convinced that something was physically wrong with my mare. At the start of our second session with Sus Kellogg, she checked the mare’s back, and also found that Neela seemed to be in pain alongside her withers. Once again Sus worked with Neela to help her relax, and before we left, Neela was yawning, licking and chewing with a lowered head and a peaceful look in her eye. So once again I made plans to bring Neela back.
Meanwhile, I had asked around for the name of a good equine chiropractor, as I’m a firm believer in word-of-mouth references. The following week, Robin Littlefield, described by several local horse owners as “the real deal,” drove up to our farm, and after she met our water buffalo, I introduced Robin to Neela. One of the first things Robin did was ask me to have Neela stand square–which the mare had trouble doing.
“This mare’s in a lot of pain,” Robin announced as she assessed her, deftly moving her hands over Neela, and then she stepped behind Neela and gently placed her hands on top of the mare’s rump and pressed. Suddenly, Neela exploded forward with such force that I was barely able to hold on to the lead rope.
“Ah, so that’s why you threw your mom,” Robin said in the mare’s direction, even as Neela tossed her head, clearly unhappy.“What?” I said with a combination of strong dread and overwhelming curiousity. “Her left hip is out of alignment,” Robin said matter-of-factly, “and her muscles are spasming.” I felt a sense of both horror and relief at the same time, thinking, You were riding that. But finally, an answer! As Robin continued to work her way around the mare, who now didn’t want to stand still, she was able to find out more: Neela’s L3 and L4 vertebrae were out of alignment, as were the corresponding ribs on her right side, causing the muscles surrounding those areas to spasm. That was why both Karen and Sus had detected something wrong near the mare’s withers. As Robin worked on the mare, one thing became clear: Neela was in a lot of pain. What had happened? “It could have been caused by a number of things,” Robin said. “It could have happened during the move, or she could have slipped while running in the pasture, or from turning a corner too fast.” There was no way to know how long it had been going on; if Neela had thrown me because she was wild with pain or if, in the process of bucking me off, she had thrown her hip out of alignment. One thing was certain: For the most part, she had hidden it. “When a horse gets hurt in the wild, they have to keep moving and be able to run, no matter what,” said Robin, who urged me to not feel guilty for missing what was wrong, because there was no way to know it until I sat down on Neela’s back. Easier said than done; later that day I would repeatedly lament about my obvious ignorance of my mare’s pain to my husband and friends.
At the end of the hour, after a lot of work, Karen had come to two conclusions: Neela was back in correct alignment, but her muscles were so tense that she stood a good chance of throwing her hip out again. The prescription: The mare should rest away from the other horses for 24 hours, so she wouldn’t be in danger of getting bumped, and then be hand walked for at least a week, maybe two, while her muscles relaxed and became stronger once again.So that’s where we are for now, walking laps around the pasture. I’m taking this opportunity to slowly start Neela on Jonathan Field’s Liberty Series. Since I can’t ride her for several months–not until well after she delivers next May–I figured this would be a way to keep up her fitness and also work on building our bond until I’m able to ride her again, which I am longing to do. Meanwhile, I need to help Neela learn to be soft, and I need to be able to recognize when she’s faking it. And since Sus Kellogg also does liberty work and more, I am lucky to have a kindred spirit guide us in person as we start on this new path.
How do you get a rescue horse ready for competition? A Home for Every Horse’s Equine Comeback Challenge trainer Erin Zellefrow shares her story with Horse&Rider and will provide us with updates about Ruby and her training progress in the days leading up to the October 14 event in Pennsylvania.
Here, she’s provided some insight about herself, her training philosophy, and her work with rescue horses.
First, tell us about yourself.
I grew up in a small town near Erie, Pennsylvania, where we owned riding and draft horses. I currently own and operate a boarding and training facility with my husband and daughter. It feels like we live in the barn, as there is always something that needs to be done. It pretty much defines who I am; it’s a lifestyle. It’s a blessing because the whole family is involved in my workday. I do lessons throughout the week and have training horses that come and go. My passion is to see the growth in the horses; but more importantly with the owners who learn to understand how their horses think, learn, and communicate. Building the communication between horse and owner is where the real journey begins for them, as they are able to better understand one another.
What/who influenced you to turn horse training into a career?
My parents had a lot to do with me choosing to do this as a career; however, my inspiration was from a good cowboy friend from Mississippi. He inspired me to want to learn more. He gave me confidence and taught me to use my gifts and abilities to help horses with their people problems by teaching owners to understand their horses.
Where do you foresee your training career going?
I currently get a lot of “problem” or second-chance horses; I actually love it. Horses can tell you a lot with their eyes and responses to different things. They tell their own story. I like to unwrap that story day-by-day, teach them to trust, and be a leader to them. Horses are looking for a leader; that’s how they’re made (a herd animal, always establishing a pecking order). I want to be at the top of that order out of respect, not fear. And that is earned with trust, confidence, and boundaries. So as far as my training goals, I get to live them daily. However, I would like to reach a wider audience to be able to help people better communicate with their horses. That’s what horsemanship is, and no matter the level or discipline, it is beneficial to the partnership both on the ground and under saddle.
What are your professional goals?
A major goal that I have for the future is to start a leadership-training program for horses with a gifted friend of mine. This friend has inspired me to use the horses and my background to teach people about self-awareness and leadership. When working with a horse, you can learn a lot about yourself. (You may ask yourself: Am I too soft, too passive, too barbaric, too quick, too assuming, etc.?) This relates to every relationship you have with others. Horses are honest; they respond to pressure and learn from release. They require leadership to get the response you are looking for, and if you’re not their leader, they’ll become yours. (It’s never a good idea to have 1,000- to 2,000-pound animal in charge.)
What encouraged you to get involved with training rescue horses (in particular, ANNA)?
The ANNA rescue is operated by one of my closest friends. She’s an amazing businesswoman, but more importantly has a genuine heart. Two years she asked me whether I thought a horse rescue should be added under the ANNA shelter umbrella, and if I would help her. It started small, and it took off a few short months later. We have such an amazing, knowledgeable team with diverse strengths and personalities, but with the same passion and goals. I love to work with the rescue horses because they represent so many different backgrounds and personalities. I enjoy establishing a relationship with them and then see them move onto a good future with the right home.
What is your favorite training tool and/or exercise?
My favorite training tool is the round pen. I start every horse in the round pen; it’s a natural way for them to learn and read me. I can add and release pressure from a safe distance, which is necessary for some horses, and from there we can establish an understanding.
How did you become involved with the Equine Comeback Challenge?
An ANNA team member submitted an application for me to be considered for the Equine Comeback Challenge. I received an email that said that I’d been chosen along with a picture of the horse that I’d be working with.
What do you hope to learn from the experience?
So far, I’ve learned a lot about myself. Ruby has a challenging, unique personality. Aside from her barn name, I have a few nicknames for her. I call her “Miss K” because she reminds me of my daughter’s friend Kaylin who is so smart and downright sweet, but who can’t keep her attention on anything for more than 30 seconds. Ruby is so herd-bound; I didn’t have her full attention at all for the first 30 days. I also call her “mare-be-go-round,” as she is really good at moving her feet—–constantly. We would make daily progress, but she didn’t retain the information from day to day, making it very hard for us to build a relationship and progress. She’s taught me more about patience, understanding, and how to look at the positive in situations. That’s what matters most: the growth and progress that has come thus far. Each horse learns at a different pace; comes from a different situation; and has different strengths and weaknesses, just like us. The trick is to capitalize on her strengths.
Look for more about Erin and Ruby in future blog posts. Follow Horse&Rider on Facebook to keep up with the pair.See more at: http://horseandrider.com/blog/equine-comeback-challenge-25041#sthash.ngA2h6gE.dpuf.
I’m in a hospital bed staring at a piece of paper with a sentence that makes no sense: “Fell off horse Neela who is pregnant by Litrik.”
That cursory line is in my husband’s bold print handwriting, and is the second of a dozen answers he wrote down for me because apparently I keep asking the same questions over and over.
Because apparently I have a concussion.
I have a concussion?
(See #10: “You have a concussion.”)
Altogether, the statements summarize what happened rather neatly:
- Helmet? -Yes
- Fell off horse Neela who is pregnant by Litrik
- Helmet not cracked
- Riding at home in roundpen
- Drove to hospital with Karen
- Why ride Neela?–You wanted to
- Bob & Karen are visiting w/ Matt & Rachel
- No sulfa
- Neela has been ridden before
- You have a concussion
- You did groundwork
- Had a CT scan–Ok
Coming around after a concussion is like struggling to wake up after a deep sleep and being told the alarming news that you really weren’t asleep at all, despite the fact you have no memory of what happened. It’s now been two weeks and my only recollection of that entire day is a snapshot of having lunch with our good friends Bob and Karen and their two kids, Matt and Rachel. That evening, I’m told, I went to ride my mare Neela, a 1,500 pound, 8-year-old blue roan Friesian/Quarter Horse cross who spent most of her life as a broodmare before she came to me and so is very green.
I had put a couple of rides on her in January and turned her over to Colorado-based natural horsemanship trainer Larry Fleming for 60 days of riding, and after that Neela was bred to a stunning Friesian stallion named Litrik for a spring 2015 foal before we finally moved her from Colorado to join us at our new farm in Washington state.
Six months had passed since she was ridden with any regularity, and now that we were settled into our new home on our farm I was trying to pick up her training again before she advanced too far in her pregnancy. That was the plan, anyway, before that day.
The reality was that Neela had other ideas and threw me with such force that our friend’s son remembers seeing my legs fly through the air, and his parents and my husband Matt all turned around when they heard me hit the ground. I was slow to get up, and began to ask what happened. Over and over.
Matt, who as a retired park ranger has experience as a medic, started to ask me simple questions: Who is the president? What year is it? What month is it?
I didn’t know. I also didn’t know Bob, Karen or their kids, and then I insisted that I had never ridden Neela before.
Fast forward to the hospital, where the CT scans showed I had no bleeding on my brain and no broken tail bone. I was very lucky. And very sore. And very curious as to what the heck had happened.
This wasn’t the first time Neela had thrown me, but it was by far the worst. A few weeks prior she threw me three times in a row–bam, bam, bam, the moment my butt hit the saddle. The first time, she spooked and then erupted into bucking from that, so I immediately climbed back on only to be unseated at once as she exploded across the round pen. I caught her, did some groundwork and got back on. Got thrown again. So then I took off her bridle, put her halter back on and spent the next hour doing ground work with her until I was sure she was in a better frame of mind. Then I climbed back on, slowly, carefully, suspended on her side at first as if she were a green colt. I then fully mounted and we walked around the round pen and I called it a day.
Since then I had ridden a half-dozen more times and we were making progress with each ride. Or so I thought. This latest agony inside my head and at the base of my spine clearly indicated that I was wrong, wrong, wrong, that Neela had been doing the equine equivalent of white-knuckling it through our rides until she finally exploded with enough force to really hurt me.
What was I going to do now?
Riding her was out, as my husband, who stalwartly saw me through a rough bout of breast cancer only two years before, made me promise I would not ride Neela again while she was pregnant. He wasn’t sure if raging hormones were the cause, but if they were a factor, it was a sure-fire way to keep me safe for the next eight months.
It hurt my heart more than my head to see him sitting in a hospital room chair, again, looking at me with that I’m-worried-sick-but-acting-cheery-for-you smoke screen in his eyes, again, so I agreed.
One good friend immediately urged me to sell Neela. I’m not doing that, either, because I’m clinging to the truth of what I knew about my mare before this happened: She’s basically a very sweet horse, and I love her for that. She’s also reluctant to move her feet and lacks confidence, an emotional state that I’m now familiar with when it comes to her. Not knowing what I did so wrong that day is incredibly unnerving.
We would work through this together, I decided, and do it from the ground. First I would have Neela checked from head to hoof for any physical problems that could have contributed to her blowups. After that, I would enlist the help of a natural horsemanship trainer here in Washington state who specializes in teaching horses at liberty.
I will be sharing all of it with you here in the weeks to come as I strive to peel away our layers of fear and create a new relationship with my horse.
Each summer, horse owners travel with their horses to explore different parts of North America. The summer heat and bugs create a melting pot for equine viruses to keep travelers from enjoying the summer and horse events. This year, equestrians are faced withEquine Vesicular Stomatitis. So far, the virus has been reported in Colorado and Texas with the first detections in southern Texas in early 2014.
In mid-July, the first case was reported in Colorado from the National Veterinary Services Laboratory.
Equine Vesicular Stomatitis afflicts not only horses, but any livestock, wildlife and even humans. It is a contagious disease, but rarely life threatening. Though not completely understood, the transmission of this virus is thought to be mainly through insects. Equine Vesicular Stomatitis can be painful as it causes oral blisters and sores making it hard for horses to eat or drink. Appearance of the virus can take up to eight days after contamination. Early symptoms are slight fever, excessive drooling, and small blisters that appear around nostrils, gums, tongue, lips and corners of the mouth. Some lesions may also appear around the coronary band which may cause some lameness.
If you are planning to travel with your horse, extreme precaution should be taken. Be aware that some equine shows have canceled or re-scheduled to prevent this virus from spreading. If you decide to travel, it is important that you keep up with fly spray and even disinfect your trailer before and after your trip. Avoid going to large horse shows and trail rides as riders come from all over the country. As previously stated, it can take up to eight days for the virus to surface, so you may be around horses that are infected without knowing.
Should you suspect your horse has been infected, you may want to place him in quarantine. To confirm if your horse has fallen to Equine Vesicular Stomatitis, you will need a blood test performed by your veterinarian. If you have a confirmed case, horses should not be moved or brought to your property.
If you are moving a horse across the country, there may be health certificate requirements for certain areas. Some horse shows may require health certificates performed within the previous 2-5 days. To learn more about these requirements, contact your state veterinarian for more information or visit usrider.org and click on travel safety > Transportation Info > Links to State Equine Info. NOTE: If you are moving your horse internationally, contact the USDA for any movement restrictions or testing requirements.
About them: USRider – in its 13th year of operation – is the only company to provide emergency roadside assistance for horse owners. Through the Equestrian Motor Plan, USRider provides nationwide roadside assistance and towing services along with other travel-related benefits to its Members. The plan includes standard features such as flat-tire repair, battery assistance, lockout services, and roadside repairs for tow vehicles and trailers with horses, plus towing up to 100 miles. As an additional service, USRider maintains a national database that includes emergency stabling, veterinary and farrier referrals.
For more information about the USRider Equestrian Motor Plan, visit www.usrider.org online or call (800) 844-1409. For additional safety and travel tips, visit the Equine Travel Safety Area on the USRider website at www.usrider.org.
About the Equine Network
The Equine Network provides, creates, and distributes relevant content and services to passionate horse enthusiasts while connecting them to each other and the marketplace. The Equine Network is the publisher of award-winning magazines: Horse & Rider, EQUUS, Dressage Today, The Trail Rider, Spin to Win Rodeo, American Cowboy, Practical Horseman, and Horse Journal. The Equine Network also publishes a proprietary line of books and DVDs for sale through its store, HorseBooksEtc.com. The Equine Network provides emergency roadside assistance through its acquisition of USRider, and is home to several websites including: EquiSearch.com, Equine.com, MyHorseDaily.com, DiscoverHorses.com, Horse-Journal.com, andAmericanCowboy.com
Let them have dinner together!
I came up with the idea out of necessity. I’ve been taking Quill the colt for walks every evening in order to spend a few minutes of training time with him away from his doting dam, Neela, who has finally stopped whinnying in protest when I lead him away.
In order for those two overly-joined-at-the-hip horses to be out of eyesight of each other (the colt is physically weaned, just not emotionally), I’m following the advice of Sus Kellogg of Free Horse Farm, who told me she takes her young horses on walks off property to get them used to being away from their dams.
So I’ve started leading Quill past the water buffalo paddock and around the corner of the barn to the front of the house where he and the mare can’t see each other, and I’ll have his evening feed waiting as a reward. My plan is to gradually increase the distance. Yet every time we would walk past the water buffalo, inevitably Lil Bit, the cow, would raise her head to get a good whiff of the colt and blow through her big nostrils, causing Quill to startle.
I’d walk him in circles in both directions so he could look at Lil Bit and Betty from each eye, but he never seemed to relax. And this is a colt who’s pretty confident, who handled the move like an old hand, and is used to everything from dogs to cats to kids.
Finally one evening I took his feed dish and set it on the other side of the fence from the water buffalo as they languidly ate their evening hay. Temptation! With a growth rate to match that of a baby dinosaur, that colt loves his feed. He’s also a ponderously slow eater, so much so that I often drop his lead rope and do something else nearby while he chews in slow motion and apparently contemplates life.
Would the colt be willing to eat near the snorty, horned beasts he regarded with such suspicion?
You betcha. He glanced at his dining companions and then calmly began to chew.
For the past three evenings, Quill has had dinner with Lil Bit and Betty, and they all seem to enjoy the arrangement. Now that he’s over his trepidation of the water buffalo, I will once again increase the distance on our walks.
Now to convince my mare, Neela…
If you like the kinder, gentler methods of horse training that are part of natural horsemanship, consider learning its tenets from one of the best: Bryan Neubert.
Neubert, a former Road to the Horse colt-starting judge, is a stellar horseman who demonstrates his natural horsemanship skills at every clinic he gives.
His schedule came to my attention as he prepares to visit Colorado in June, hosting a colt-starting and horsemanship clinic at horse trainer Larry Fleming‘s ranch in Hudson, Colo., June 6-9. Contact information for that clinic, and others, is at the bottom of this page.
If you want to know more about Bryan Neubert, here’s some information from his website:
Bryan was raised on his family’s ranch near Salinas, California. In his teen years he became friends with neighbor Bill Dorrance. He spent all the time he could with Bill, working with horses and braiding rawhide.
After college he worked with Bill steadily, starting and riding colts on Bill’s ranch. During this time Bryan met Bill’s friend Ray Hunt and Bill’s brother Tom Dorrance. He had many opportunities since those years to work for and with these gifted men. They have greatly influenced and helped him learn what he is able to accomplish with a horse and ultimately with parts of his life.
Bryan has spent 20 years cowboying and riding colts on some of the biggest ranches in Nevada and California. Thirteen of those years were spent as cowboss in charge of cattle, horses and the cowboy crew. He has had valuable experience working with wild horses in Nevada, as well as conducting demonstrations on wild horse handling across the country. He has a video titled Wild Horse Handling and was featured in Western Horseman. See the February ’96 issue, “Taking the Wild out of Mustangs” by Jim Overstreet.
Bryan and his wife Patty have been married for 27 years and are blessed with three children, Jim, Kate and Luke. They all make their living working with horses.
Since 1992, Bryan calls Alturas, California home. Alturas is located in the northeastern part of the state. He holds clinics at his home for part of the year and travels the United States and Canada the rest of the year helping people and their horses through his colt starting, horsemanship and cow working clinics.
Bryan is eager to share what he has learned. He believes that he is constantly learning and considers himself to be a continual student of horsemanship.
Here’s the rest of Bryan Neubert’s May schedule, followed by June through October. Find one near you and learn natural horsemanship skills from one of the best!22-26 Neubert Home Clinic
CS, H, CW
Alturas, CA Patty Neubert 530-233-3582 OR
email@example.com 5/29-6/2 Neubert Home Clinic
CS, H, CW
Alturas, CA Patty Neubert 530-233-3582 OR
firstname.lastname@example.org June 6-9 Hudson, CO
CS, H Ronda Nicoley 303-443-8550 cell
970-737-2505 home 13-15 Winterset, IA
CS, H Kara Muchow 608-334-3508 July 10-13 Bozeman, MT
CS, H/CW Jess Holloway 406-763-4113 17-20 Victor, ID
CS, H Bill/Jodi Seaton 208-7872382
email@example.com 25-27 Sheridan, WY
CS, RR Adam Gable 307-751-3938
firstname.lastname@example.org September 12-17 Special Problems, H
Limerick, ME Frannie Burridge 207-793-4101
email@example.com 19-20 Marion, MA
CS, H Jason Drass 508-946-9971
firstname.lastname@example.org 25-28 Pittstown, NJ
CS, H, CW 7 Springs Farm Lara 908-238-9589 cell email@example.com October 17-19 Junction City, OR
CW, H Scott DePaolo 541-607-1902 23-27 Neubert Home Clinic
CS, H, CW
Alturas, CA Patty Neubert 530-233-3582 OR
Research from Washington University in St Louis indicates that treating children who have autism in occupational therapy sessions using the movements of the horse, commonly called hippotherapy, may significantly improve balance, social responsiveness and other “life outcomes.”
The Horses and Humans Research Foundation provided funding to Washington University in St. Louis with the purpose of determining if using horse movement (hippotherapy) could improve balance and behavior in children with Autism.
The team measured outcomes from Occupational and Physical Therapy using horse movement (hippotherapy) for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). The project was innovative because it used objective quantitative data collection in addition to qualitative standardized clinical scales.
The project followed thirteen children with Autism Spectrum Disorder as they participated in 12 weeks of 45-minute weekly hippotherapy sessions. These weekly treatments were conducted by an occupational therapist (OT) or OT Assistant who used horses, their movement and related activities as a primary part of the OT treatment.
“Hippotherapy is commonly used for children with ASD,” said Principal Investigator Tim L. Shurtleff, OTD, OTR/L. “However, up to this point no systematic evidence had been published on the impact of hippotherapy on children with ASD. No studies of hippotherapy have been reported about children with ASD but many children with ASD participate in hippotherapy. Evidence was needed to support treatment planning, and to support reimbursement for these interventions.”
Quantitatively, several variables studied indicated that participants had significant improvements in balance. Improving balance may enable these children to participate in many activities which may have previously been difficult for them. Qualitatively, interviews with parents to measure social responsiveness, sensory response, adaptive behaviors and outcomes at home, at school and on the playground were used to determine if treatments made a difference in the lives of the participants with ASD.
Several “life outcomes” were found to be significant. Parents reported the child learned to listen better, became less stubborn or sullen, showed higher levels of confidence during participation in leisure activities, played and interacted more appropriately with peers and they gained better body awareness.
Based upon these results, hippotherapy treatment may provide an alternative treatment that could enable children with ASD to participate more in typical activities of childhood with their peers.
Horses and Humans Research Foundation is the only organization dedicated solely to funding research to support the equine-assisted activities and therapies field. Since its founding, HHRF has awarded $400,000 in professional research efforts led by eight research teams in the United States, Canada and Germany. This is the second grant the Washington University in St Louis team has received from HHRF.
In the first study of its kind, researchers have determined that spending time with horses eases symptoms of Alzheimer’s dementia.
A collaboration between The Ohio State University, an equine therapy center and an adult daycare center found that people with Alzheimer’s were able to safely groom, feed and walk horses under supervision—and the experience buoyed their mood and made them less likely to resist care or become upset later in the day.
The small pilot study, which appears in the journal Anthrozoös, suggests that equine therapy—a treatment used today for children and teens who have emotional and developmental disorders—could work for adults, too.
Holly Dabelko-Schoeny, associate professor of social work at Ohio State, said that equine therapy could supplement more common forms of animal therapy involving dogs or cats and provide a unique way to ease the symptoms of dementia without drugs.
“We wanted to test whether people with dementia could have positive interactions with horses, and we found that they can—absolutely,” Dabelko-Schoeny said. “The experience immediately lifted their mood, and we saw a connection to fewer incidents of negative behavior.”
In addition to memory loss, people with Alzheimer’s often experience personality changes, she explained. They can become depressed, withdrawn—even aggressive. As researchers look for a way to prevent or treat the disease, today’s therapies are becoming more focused on how to ease the emotional burden for patients and their families.
“Our focus is on the ‘now.’ What can we do to make them feel better and enjoy themselves right now? Even if they don’t remember it later, how can we help in this moment?” she said.
At the adult daycare center, a National Church Residences Center for Senior Health in downtown Columbus, clients normally partake in crafts, exercise and other activities to manage their dementia. For this study, sixteen of the center’s clients who had Alzheimer’s—nine women and seven men—volunteered to break with their regular routine.
Once a week, eight of the clients would remain at the center and pursue other activities while the other eight took a bus trip to the Field of Dreams Equine Education Center in Blacklick, Ohio. There, they visited with horses under the supervision of National Church Residences caretakers, as well as faculty and students from the College of Social Work and the College of Veterinary Medicine at Ohio State.
The clients visited the farm once a week for a month, so that every participant had four visits total. They groomed and bathed the horses, walked them, and fed them buckets of grass.
The four horses were chosen for their gentle dispositions and calmness when facing new people and new situations. All participate in therapeutic riding programs for children and teens at Field of Dreams.
The researchers saw obvious signs that the clients enjoyed their time on the farm: they smiled, laughed and talked to the horses. Even those who normally acted withdrawn became fully engaged in the experience.
There was a clear improvement in dementia-related behavior among the clients who visited the farm. To track behavior, the researchers used a scoring system called the Modified Nursing Home Behavior Problem Scale, in which staff at the center rated the frequency with which the participants fidgeted, resisted care, became upset or lost their temper on days they went to the farm or stayed at the center.
On a scale of zero to four—zero meaning the client never engaged in the problem behavior, and four meaning that they always engaged in it—scores for the participants who went to the farm were an average of one point lower than the scores for their peers who stayed at the center. So clients who visited the farm were, on average, better behaved throughout that day.
Through mouth swabs, the researchers also measured the levels of the stress hormone cortisol in the patients’ saliva. For participants with less severe dementia, the researchers saw a rise in cortisol levels, possibly due to the “good stress” of being in a new situation.
There was one unexpected benefit, though: the therapy boosted physical activity. The clients all had physical limitations, but when presented with the horses, they were inspired to push the boundaries of those limitations.
Some clients who never wanted to leave their wheelchair asked for help in standing up; others who rarely wanted to walk stood up and walked unassisted, though a caretaker was always there to help them balance. The clients grew more physically active on each visit to the farm.
Family members reported that their loved one remained engaged with the experience even after returning home. One commented to researchers that her mother “would never remember what she did at the center during the day, but she always remembered what she did at the farm.”
While much study has gone into animal therapy as a treatment for dementia, that work has focused on dogs and cats, which can easily be brought to community-based care centers. This is the first study to examine equine therapy for the same population.
And while horses could possibly be brought to community centers for outdoor therapy, a situation where clients could periodically visit an equine therapy center might be the best option, Dabelko-Schoeny said. That way they get the full experience of being on the farm.
“I think another positive influence for these clients was the environment. They found the quietness and smells of the country very relaxing and restful. This was in contrast to their normal day care environment and their intercity dwelling,” Lorch said. “It is difficult to tell what factors made this successful, but we do know that it was most likely a combination of events.”
This study was funded by a private donor who wanted Ohio State to study the effectiveness of equine therapy for dementia. Now that the study is over, some of the clients’ families have elected to continue to visit the farm.
Coauthors on the paper included Gary Phillips, senior biostatistician at Ohio State’s Center for Biostatistics; Emily Darrough and Sara De Anna, both former master’s students in social work who have since graduated; and Marie Jarden and Denise Johnson, both doctoral students in veterinary medicine.
Ice storms, blizzards, floods, or tornadoes – it seems that over the past few years, horse owners have seen them all.
Disasters often strike without warning as demonstrated by the notable December ice storm that wreaked havoc on hundreds of thousands residents in Ontario, the Maritimes, and the northeastern U.S. with downed tree limbs and power lines. Many were without power for days, while for others it was weeks, which meant no heat, hydro or water.
No one is immune from the possible effects of a disaster, no matter what the season, but preparing ahead of time and having an emergency plan in place before disaster strikes will help to keep our horses safe and out of harm’s way.
To help horse owners be prepared, Barbara Sheridan of Equine Guelph put together the following advice:
Plan it Out
Being aware of the possible risks in your region is the first step toward preparing for any possible disaster that has the potential to cause a short term or long term disruption to you, your family and your animals. Is your area prone to flooding? What about tornadoes or blizzards? If the roads are closed, how do you get food to your horses?
The next step is to plan for any possible extended disruption of services. Authorities usually recommend having at least two weeks supply of feed/hay on hand, and kept stored in a dry area. Top off all water tanks and buckets before an impending storm, and store additional water in plastic trash cans secured with lids in a safe place. Consider having well-maintained generators on hand to provide emergency power, and have enough fuel to keep them running for several days. Always keep an up-to-date emergency care kit that includes vetwrap, bandages, medications, flashlights, batteries, etc. Having an envelope set aside with emergency cash, the amount depending on your budget and needs will also come in handy for times such as these.
In addition to Mother Nature’s list of natural disasters, you should also consider other potential dangers such as wildfires or the possibility of manmade emergencies including gas leaks or propane spills. Many times, these result in evacuation with very little notice.
In the case of an evacuation, while you might be able to take the family pet along with you to a hotel, it’s not the time to start calling around to find a safe location to move your horses. Prearrange an evacuation site for your horses and map out primary and secondary routes in advance. Develop a buddy system with friends and neighbouring barns. Don’t hesitate to ask for help when the time comes. Also, make sure your horses are trained to easily load and unload from a trailer. If evacuation is not possible, decide where on the property to safely store your horses. Micro chipping, branding, or tattooing, along with registration with online identification agencies, provides a permanent form of animal identification. As an alternative, ensure that your horses are equipped with some form of identification such as a halter tag, neck collar, or leg tag that contains your contact information, should you have to leave them behind.
Human Safety Comes First
In the case of a natural or man-made disaster, it’s important that the safety of humans come first, says District Chief Victor MacPherson of the Adjala-Tosorontio Fire Department. “Make sure that you and your family are safe before assisting your animals,” he says. “In the case of a fire, this is where emergency preparedness comes into play. If the barn is on fire, what do you do? What do you do with your livestock? My advice is, if it’s safe to do so, try to get them out. However, if you bring them out of the barn and just turn them loose, most likely the horses will try to run back into the barn. That’s where their haven is; what they consider to be their safe place. People should have a location in mind ahead of time to safely keep them together, such as a field or another barn far away from the fire.”
MacPherson recalls an incident with a large grass fire that claimed nearly 200 acres in the Adjala-Tosorontio area in July 2012. “The grass fire was moving aggressively towards a certain farm area, and was a heavy fuel load [had a lot to burn], with a lot of smoke,” he says. “Smoke can be just as dangerous as fire because it’ll spook the horses. With the help of the property owner, we were successful in moving them out to a safer place.”
As is often the case in an emergency when people call 911, firefighters are usually the first responders to the scene. Because of this, many firefighters are now receiving training in how to handle animals in emergency situations.
Last year, the Adjala-Tosorontio Fire Department held a Technical Large Animal Emergency Rescue (TLAER) course for first responders and animals owners. Deborah Chute, owner and operator of Laurenwood Stables and a volunteer firefighter with the Adjala-Tosorontio Fire Department, helped co-ordinate this course after seeing the need for such a training program.
“I first started thinking about the need for a course such as this one after the grass fire in June 2012,” she says. “It was necessary to evacuate people, but there were over 50 horses that were also at risk, as well as other large animals and livestock. Thankfully, the fire was brought under control, but contemplating the logistics of moving that many animals made me realize we needed some additional training.”
Preparedness is Essential
While it’s impossible to prepare for all conditions, don’t let an emergency situation catch you off guard. Having a basic plan in place ahead of time for either the evacuation or sheltering of your horses allows you to handle an emergency with less stress and a clearer head.
“Pre-incident planning is crucial for any farm owner,” says Chute. “Farms by their very nature contain many hazards to humans, animals and the environment, and careful planning before the event of an emergency can save lives and property. Local fire departments are usually quite happy to assist in developing pre-incident plans and can give further advice on fire detection and suppression systems that can be retrofitted or installed in new buildings. Regular inspection and repair of all human and animal housing and fencing will go a long way to keep you and your animals safe.”
Sign up for our free e-newsletter at EquineGuelph.ca which will deliver monthly welfare tips throughout 2014 and announce tools to aid all horse owners in carrying out their ‘Full-Circle-Responsibility’ to our beloved horses.
Visit Equine Guelph’s Welfare Education page for more information http://www.equineguelph.ca/education/welfare.php
In partnership with the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food, Equine Guelph is developing a ‘Full-Circle-Responsibility’ equine welfare educational initiative which stands to benefit the welfare of horses in both the racing and non-racing sectors.
Equine Guelph will be hosting an Emergency Preparedness course for horse owners Sept 18 (tentative date) followed by a Technical Large Animal Emergency Rescue Awareness and Operations Level course Sept 19, 20, 21 (tentative dates). Contact Susan Raymond firstname.lastname@example.org for more details.
About them: Equine Guelph is the horse owners’ and care givers’ Centre at the University of Guelph. It is a unique partnership dedicated to the health and well-being of horses, supported and overseen by equine industry groups. Equine Guelph is the epicentre for academia, industry and government – for the good of the equine industry as a whole. For further information, visit www.EquineGuelph.ca.