Sunday, May 31, 2009

Birthing notes

I am delayed sharing birthing notes for our latest foal, born on the morning of the 24th. The delay is intentional. After all the sadness and pain from losing our last one, I have been scared. But scared or not, life is good, and I can’t stop living and enjoying as much as I can because of fear. I’ll do my best to take that to heart for foaling, horsemanship, and every aspect of my life.

Today the proud new Parents (well, at least Owners) of our new foal came to meet their baby, and something inside me started to accept that we have to trust, to believe, and to hope for the future. This little boy is going to have a wonderful life after weaning this fall…

In the meanwhile, a brief sharing of my foaling notes:

6:15 am on a wet and foggy morning. Checked mama Canella’s teats for signs of waxing. None visible. Mental note to self: it’s too muddy to notice waxing! I should wash her teats tonight. Canella is a young Quarter Horse mare, born here at the ranch. This will be her second baby.

9:15 am at the kitchen table doing Spanish lessons with Forrest and I keep looking outside at the pasture fence. Canella is not off grazing with the other horses, but is standing by the fence looking up at the house. She’s calling me! I excuse myself from school, grab a halter and go out to get my little mare. When she sees me, she lies right down. I get her up, and get her off the main pasture, and into our back yard.

9:35 am the baby is born. Last year the baby began to be presented high, through the rectum, and would have torn mama severely but we were able to reach in and reposition the presentation. Mama is a year older now, and the presentation was perfect, the little foal in the diver position, both feet slide out well. Floyd (yes, the Floyd of the stories here!) chose the perfect time to visit, and helped with traction, pulling downward with contractions to help the little mare who was having a bit of trouble getting the shoulders through the birth canal. I opened the sack when the head was fully through, removed mucus from the nasal cavity, and waited as the baby took a minute or so to breath. A healthy young boy presented himself!

He was up on all four within the hour, (Bob took a video clip of this if you'd like to see on YouTube) but finding the teats took a bit longer. After three hours without success, Bob and I milked out the mare and bottle fed baby to ensure he received colostrum in a timely manner. We bottle fed him ever 1 – 2 hours all day long, probably a total of 15 oz, until we were certain he was latching on to mama. By 6 pm, we were confident he figured it out! Baby’s navel was dipped in iodine directly after birth, and two additional times within the first 24 hours. A dose of ProBios was administered at 4 hours old, then additionally for the next 4 days.

Up until today, he’s been called “baby” or Twinkle Toes because of his one white foot which looked golden to my Mama J. Today he’s officially named by his new owner: Fadjurz Ascension. Nick name: Cricket.

Welcome to the world, Cricket. May it be a wonderful life for you.

The owners of Cricket are Patti & Creed de Avanzar of de Avanzar Arabians.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

How to slicker-proof a horse

In consideration of saddling in the rain, the question was raised on how to get a horse slicker-proof.

I don’t. I hate to say that, but it’s true. You can get any horse used to it, comfortable with it, and understanding of what it is so that most of the time he or she will be just fine with it. But I’ll never underestimate the wonderful mind of horse. Being the thoughtful, thinking, yes, even sometimes moody creatures that they are, I can’t guarantee that every day they will be OK with it. Would you be if someone suddenly threw a crinkly big blanket over your back without warning?

Therefore, I never take the act of untying my slicker from the back of my saddle, shaking it open, and slipping it on for granted. Or at least, I try not to, in order to be most respectful of the horse. Instead, I take just a second to let him or her know what I’m doing. “Hey you,” I tell him or her, by sliding the rolled up slicker from behind him and allowing the horse just a second to see it, “I’m putting this on. Remember this?” If I do that, he’s fine. If I don’t have the respect for my horse, or have him so desensitized to stimulations that he’s oblivious, I don’t want to be out there with that horse.

I will “sack out” the horse to the slicker before hand, and a tarp, and a plastic bag, and many other things. This is an essential part of ground work. Approach and retreat with the scary object until the horse is comfortable with it, and has therefore decided “on his own” that he can handle it, that it’s really not so scary. With each object, we build our horses’ confidence.

I do not want to completely desensitize my horse to all objects and motions and movements and sounds. They are horses – their sensitivity is an essential part of their nature, and I don’t want to change the horses’ nature. What I can do is increase their confidence by giving him or her the opportunity to deal with and overcome many challenges; and I can give him or her the necessary tools to handle his or her sensitivity. For example, even the most bomb-proof horse, unless he or she has been so deadened by overstimulation and is in an unnatural state of mental shut down, will spook from time to time. But a spook could and should just be a quick turn towards the object to check it out further, or a quick step to the side. Who among us with a good mind does not get startled from time to time? A horse could and should learn that a scary object, or a spook, is best handled with a simple motion; not a rear, a strike, a bolt, a buck or running back to the barn.

So, I allow my horses the opportunity to become comfortable with the slicker from the ground. Very comfortable. Then I try it from the saddle at a stand still. Slowly. Give him time to get it. Then hang the slicker from a railing or tree and ride the horse over to it; have him approach it, accept it in his own terms, and slowly pull it off and allow your horse to carry it. If it’s easier to start these things from the ground with the horse in hand, take your time, and do it that way. Just give the horse time to accept it, learn it, and realize on his own terms that he’s OK with it. Allow him the time to come to his own comfort level with. Don’t rush it, push it, or force him. Encourage him. Reward him. Pat him and tell him he’s done good.

I don’t think it has ever been a problem unless I (or others) have simply not had the respect for our horse to “tell” him or her what we’re doing, and think it’s OK to just whip open the slicker and shake it all over his back all of a sudden. I don’t know about you, but if I was that horse, and someone threw a fast ball like that at me unexpectedly, I’d be a little ticked off too.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Floyd's Horse Stories: Our first pack trip

I thought I’d tell you the story of our first pack trip.
After haying, as a reward, Dad and Mom promised Melvin and me that we could take our first pack trip; we could go up and spend a few days up in the mountains at sheep camp. Just us boys. I was 12 at the time; Melvin was 10. Our friend, Robert Kellin, joined us. Robert was 11.

Of course, I was riding Ginger. We had a pinto mare we called Babe that we planned on using for our pack horse. I don’t recall where she had come from, but I remember she was not a good stock horse. We were hoping she’d do better as a pack horse.

To start with, we didn’t have a pack saddle. Instead, we used an old double rig riding saddle. Then, we had no panniers. Instead, we put our gear in a couple gunny sacks, which we hung on each side of the riding saddle. All we took with us was some food and our bedrolls. We didn’t have sleeping bags; the bedrolls were made of wool blankets rolled up in bed tarps.

Well, we got up early that morning, and saddled the horses before sun up. Dad wouldn’t help us on this one; this was our trip.

By the time the three of us and our “sort of” pack horse got to the Gun Barrel Road, only mile away from home, we had to stop and repack.

From there, we headed to the neighbors ranch, across the canal, and onto BLM land. We followed the Rock Creek road to the end, taking a few short cuts across where the old horse trail followed

It was noon, and about 6 re-packs later, when we reached the end of the road and stopped to eat lunch.

After a quick lunch break, we went along the trail up South Rock Creek to Blow Out Pass, then followed the horse trail to the sheep driveway. Mind you, we were still stopping every 30 minutes to repack or readjust.

Three miles up the sheep trail, we entered the neighbors sheep range. There, we ran into the sheep herder, who of course, we knew. Well, we were stopped to repack when he rode up. He offered to help, and repacked our little mare. Tightened up the cinch and lash rope good and snug.

Onward we rode, the 5 miles into Campo Benito. Rode straight through the afternoon; thanks to the sheepherder, we didn’t have to repack once. However, when we go there, the little pinto mare was sick. She lied down and was acting miserable. We’re pretty sure now that the sheepherder had made the lash rope so tight she got sick.

Part of the deal of our being allowed to go by ourselves was that when we got to our sheep range, we had to ride into Summitville to call Mom and let her know were we OK. It wasn’t until about 6 when we got to the range. I rode into Summitville alone, and called Mom while the other two boys stayed back to care for the sick mare.

By the time I got back, the mare was feeling better. We repacked and headed onward to the sheep camp, which was located at the head of Beaver Creek. I had never been over there, but I had good directions and was pretty sure I could figure it out how to get there.

However, by the time we got up on Greyback and started on the pass into Beaver Creek, it was getting dark. As you can imagine, going across the top above treeline in the dark, it was getting harder and harder to find trail. Finally, we came out on little cliff. You could see sheep camp below. The herder was expecting us, and had hung a lantern to help guide us. But unsure of how to get off that cliff, we hollered down. The sheepherder heard us and yelled back up to us, telling us to wait where we were. He rode up and showed us the steep switch back trail down. Good thing. We got down to camp, pulled the bedrolls off the pinto mare, and that’s about all I remember that night. The sheepherder took care of our horses. I don’t even remember having supper. We were three tired kids.

Well, we spent a couple days at sheep camp. Then Dad came up in his truck and hauled us and our horses back home. That was our first pack trip.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Saddle in the rain

Ah! Rain sweet rain! Greening up our pasture and filling the creeks with the sweet flow of spring from which the horses drink.

I suppose the horses all must be singing about the Mud, sweet mud. They must be loving it: they are covered in it! Why bother even running a brush across their backs? I groomed up my little stud today before a ride, then rubbed him down nice and shiny after when I unsaddled. Only to have him roll in the best mud patch he could find within one minute of being put back out to pasture. No exaggeration. I should have known better.

Saddle in the rain. For better or for worse (I’ll try not to be judgmental here, but I don’t know anyone who is fond of doing this) we have to do this a lot. Some years we get numb to it, day after day with the rain pouring in a solid stream from the brim of my hat, soaking my jeans before I have a chance to get my slicker and chaps on. I can’t comfortably saddle up a string of horses and get a pack string together running around in heavy leathers. It’s awkward, cumbersome. So I wait till that work is done before getting my gear on, and all that’s left for me to do is sit in the wet saddle for the next four hours or so.

Sounds like I’m whining, doesn’t it? I’m not. I actually love it. It’s weird (and/or I’m weird) because I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been out there soaking wet in the saddle all day, and I look around at the soft, lush green of the mountain rolled up in the heavy clouds, and I can’t believe I’m so lucky to be out here, riding, working with my horses and my husband and son, as my soggy dog follows close behind. Calling this a job! At times I love it so much I could cry, and if I did, I’d be so wet already no one would notice and tease me for being so sappy.

Saddle in the rain. I know, it can be a bummer, it’s true. Starting the day off soggy, and knowing your saddle will be soaked before you even have a chance to get up in it, isn’t really great. But nothing that can endure the ropes and rubbing and leathers and brush of a day in the saddle that I know of is truly water proof. So you learn to be wet and dress warm. Silk scarves are good. And wool socks. I’m not beyond wearing Long Johns in July. I have these re-usable hand warmers along with a few pairs of extra gloves handy in my horn bag. You do what it takes.

Saddle in the rain. To me, that means get over it, and get it done anyway. And once you’re on your way, chances are pretty good you’ll find it’s not so bad. You might even find it’s wonderful.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Your veterinarian: considering the choices

You’ve probably already considered this topic, but since I’ve been through (far too) many vet visits as of late, I am reminded of the importance of establishing a relationship with a veterinarian.

For many, our choices are limited because of location. The closer the vet, the better, as far as emergencies go. More often than not, we are visiting the vet because of emergencies, aren’t we?

However, if you have a choice, consider your options. I’m rather trusting in believing that any vet is going to know far more than I ever will about animal health in general. The intensity of their studies and practice does pay off… And their expertise is irreplaceable.

I can change the oil in my truck and change a flat, but I can’t repair the motor or replace the clutch. I have a good mechanic I trust for that. Specialty service. Trust in the experts. I wouldn’t ask my mechanic to bake me a loaf of bread, clean a rental cabin, or take my guests out for a horseback ride.

So, considering every vet will be in the practice he or she is in because of such specialty knowledge, topped with years of focused experience, we can assume the vast majority are good, and do it because they care about animals. I don’t believe you will go wrong with you choice.

We then can look more closely, and make our choices based on person preferences. Do you like how your vet handles and treats your animals? What could be more personal? If not, keep looking! I can’t imagine anything more important. If your animals are important to you (and I am pretty sure if you’re reading this, that’s a given), why would we accept a vet would doesn’t treat our animals as we want them cared for? The vet I have chosen for our dog and cats I believe truly cares for them. And you can see it, as my critters are pretty comfortable in his presence. My dog is actually happy to visit our vet. That tells me a lot.

Horses are the same way. I have a different vet for our horses, because I am starting to put a great deal of value in continuity. In all my recent disasters, I got tired of telling the same story over and over. So, I’d like to stick with one, and to have her get to know my horses. I like the way she handles them. I imagine her knowledge is no better than the next vet, but her handling is in line with how I want my horses handled.

I believe that every time we interact with our horses, we have an opportunity to improve our relationship with them. We can use every opportunity as a chance for positive training. Even the vet visit. Yes, I know, they can just get it over with and get over it. Chances are, they’ll be OK. But… consider this: if the vet visit is a positive experience for the horse, don’t you bet your horse will be better about handling next time? Why wouldn’t you want to take every opportunity you had to work on a more positive relationship and knowledge base?

Consider again the ongoing relationship. I had been in a situation whereby the working horses were rarely taken to a vet, and if they were taken, it was based on convenience, who was available at that time. As a result, the horse (and I) rarely saw the same vet twice. But isn’t it nice to know you can call up or bring your animal in, and know the animal (and you) will be remembered? Saves a lot of repeating the same history over and over and over… I’m guessing that from the vet’s perspective, this continuity also makes their job a little easier.

For those of us who live remotely, this relationship with a vet who has knowledge of you and your animals is essential. I used to manage a much larger herd of horses (though my luck defiantly was a little better back then). My vet and his assistance would come out once every fall, spend the night, and take care of all our horse needs in those two days. Preg checks, geldings, teeth floating, etc. The rest of the time together was in “consultation.” He’d show me what I’d need to have on hand, and how to use it, so that for the rest of the year I could call him up (yes, I did have phone service back in those days), report the signs and symptoms, and get the best advice possible based on his knowledge of our horses and our facilities, and my knowledge of the information and medications he’d refer to. He would charge for the phone consultations, but would not have to take the time to drive all the way out to our ranch, which at the time was over two hours from his office. It was a win-win deal. Or rather win-win-win. The vet, me, and the horses.

Believe me, I’m the first to wish I knew it all when it comes to horse health. But my recent disasters have reminded me otherwise, and also opened my mind to anyone’s claim to know all the answers. A vet who admits to not having all the answers is probably the wisest. A neighbor who claims to know it all is probably not.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Floyd's Horse Stories: Ranch life in the 1930's

This is about life on the ranch in 1930’s.

Life was different.

My life started on the Getz Ranch back in 1931. The Getz Ranch was a 1600 acre ranch. I was the first of four boys and a sister. The ranch was owned by my grandfather, though my father and his brother were in process of buying it out when I was a kid. The ranch became known as the Getz Brothers Ranch, and remained in the family for 100 years. My grandfather, grandmother, Uncle Bill and my two maiden aunts lived in the big ranch house on the property; while my dad and our family lived there in a smaller house.

It was a big ranch, one of the bigger ranches of the time, running 1500 head of sheep and 275 head of mother cows. If that wasn’t big enough, in 1941, my uncle and dad bought out the Parma Ranch, a 3800 acre ranch that adjoined ours. The Parma had been foreclosed on during the depression, and neglected for 10 years. When my dad and uncle bought it, haying went from 20 days a year to 60. Seemed like we hayed all summer when we got that ranch…

Putting up hay on the Getz Ranch alone was a big job. We had to put up enough hay to feed 250 head of cattle and 1500 sheep through the winter. It took 15 teams, or 30 horses; and 19 men: 15 men to handle the horses, and four men to stack the hay. Then my two aunts and my mother would be busy taking care of feeding the crew, which was also a pretty big job. Every day, they’d bring a hot lunch out to the hay field: meat, potatoes, vegetables, ice tea, and then always 4-5 pies, every day. The haying operation was 6 days a week, and before they bought the Parma, it usually took about 18-22 working days to put up all the hay. It was a busy time, as you can figure.

As for the horses, well, the 15 teams consisted of 5 horse mowers, 5 sulky rakes, 4 horse buck rakes, and the stacker team. Most of the horses were heavy duty draft type horses of no particular breed. Our stud horse worked out there with the rest of them. He was a big stocky horse named Dick, and was teamed with a mare named Pearl on the mowing machine. When he wasn’t working, we ran him with the rest of the horses and there was no problem; they all got along.

Minnie & Mandy ran the buck rake. Those two were big mares, a Belgium type, though back then, nobody talked about pure breeds. It took a special horse to work the buck rake. The team was not hitched side by side, but rather one on each side of the bull rake. The back wheels of the bull rake were what are called “crazy wheels,” which means they’d come down on an angle, and could turn and go in all directions depending on which way they were pushed or pulled. That way, you could back up the team and the rake, really push or pull it in any direction you wanted to go. The driver was situated in the middle over the wheels, and had quite a job of directing the horses separately at times to move the rake just so. To turn, you’d slow up one horse, and have the outside horse speed up to pull the out side around. When they pushed hay onto the stacker, they had to back up together to pull the bull rake backwards. Sometimes they had to stop, give the pile of hay a push to get the hay onto stacker. They were pretty remarkable.

The other class of horse was the light horses that pulled the sulky rakes. The sulkies were easy to pull, so required a lighter horse. But the sulky was the most dangerous equipment on field because that rake was so light. If the horses spooked, they could take off running with the 12 foot wide rake bouncing behind them.

One time I remember, the horses did run away with the rake. My cousin was driving the team and she fell in front of teeth of the rake. For 200-300 yards, those horses ran, pulling the rake and rolling her in front of the teeth. The only reason we figured she didn’t get killed was because when they ran to the gate they hit the post with the wheel, and it stopped the teams. The gate was only 12 foot wide, and the rake was about the same. To get through, you had to be lined up just right. Fortunately, those running horses didn’t space it perfect. As you can figure, it took a lot of hide off my cousin, but she lived.

The hardest job in the hay field for the teams was the mowing machine. The cutting blade, or sickle, was six feet across, and the team had to pull this machine with enough power to run the sickle. To make matters more difficult, the blade stuck out to one side of the team, so the team had to pull against the drag off to the right from the blade. You had to really work to keep them driving straight, and hold that tongue straight between the two horses. Each night, my dad looked at the necks of the horses and inspected where the collar fit to make sure they weren’t eaten out from the pull of the mower.

I suppose I first became aware of all this around 1937. I was six, and my brother, Melvin was five. We started our first business that year. Can’t say it was much of a success. We started by buying a case of pop and a box of Hershey bars. Then we’d go out in the hay field and hang out by the stack and try to sell them to the hay men. We didn’t sell very many. You’d a thought maybe they would have bought them since we were the bosses sons, but when you’re only making a dollar a day plus room and board, which was the standard back then (2 dollars a day if you supplied your own team), there wasn’t much for pop and candy.

Well, it turned out to be my first business defeat. Our cost was about half of what we sold them for, and about the time we sold about half of our inventory, we were hanging out by the stack, and got distracted by something, which is no real surprise, considering our young age. So, we put the pop and candy on the north side of the stack to stay cool and took off to do something else. While we were gone, they moved the stacker around to the north side of the pile, and started stacking the hay on top of our goods. By the time we returned, there was a pile about 6 feet high already. In the spring when they fed the cattle out, I bet they found some old, moldy goods under there and wondered where they might have come from.

In 1941 when I was 10, my uncle Bill cut down a seat of one of the sulky rakes short enough so I could sit on it, run the rake, and drive the team. To operate the sulky, you hold the rake down with one foot, then lift your foot and step on the trip lever. All this while keeping and eye on the load and directing the team. I ran that sulky rake for two years. Then I was big enough to sit on a regular seat, so my brother Melvin got the short seat

It wasn’t until about 1943 we got our first tractor with a tractor mower. That took the place of two teams. We operated with just 3 horse mowers and that tractor mower for a couple years. Then we got a dump rake for the tractor which took the place of 3 teams. Then a couple years later, we got 2 tractor motors which took the place of all the horses. Things moved much faster with the motorized equipment: we could run the tractors as long as there was light, usually for 2 shifts a day.

We thought we were pretty first class, and I suppose the Getz Ranch was actually rather cutting edge. My Uncle Bill was mechanically inclined. He started with a 1929 Ford Coupe. That’s what he built the first buck rake out of. It wasn’t really heavy enough, so he bought some old Model A trucks and converted them by turning the seat around, moving the steering, and operating them backwards.

In any case, the horses were probably all replaced by tractors for the hay operation by 1946 or 47.
(Photos above: The cute kid in irrigation boots is Floyd standing proud with his shovel next to his dad, both ready to head to work. A field at the Getz Ranch. And the team ready to work for the day, with a foal ready to follow along and learn the ropes.)

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Part IV in the series on Horse Packing How-To: Getting the string together

Getting the string together starts with teaching the horse to both lead a pack string, and be part of the pack string. I never gave this much consideration until last week. Usually it’s just been a quick session of showing the horse what I’d like, what works, and allowing him/her the time and opportunity to get it. Really, it’s that simple.

Using a well seasoned, experienced horse, I’d ride one, and pony the other, then switch off. All of this work has already been introduced on the ground, and at this point, is well comprehended by the horse. The horse is comfortable and knowledgeable with what you are asking. The added ingredient here is only that you are asking the same things from the back of a horse, not from the ground, but that’s a remarkably simple transition for the horse. It only becomes more difficult for the person because of the complications of juggling the two horses at once; and any subtleties of fear and confusion on the part of the rider emerging into the equation.

Ideally, every one of our horses should be able to do it all: lead/pony, be led, and pack, step out as a guide horse, and follow in line as a dude horse. We can train each to do all, but some horses will excell in some things, others in other things. You can train any horse to learn and do anything, but you can’t change who he is. You can’t change his personality, and why would you want to? The best we can do it work with who they are; help them be the best at what they are by developing their strengths and helping the horse overcome his weaknesses; and do our best to help them feel safe and confident and understanding of the work at hand. All with positive leadership, without fighting or working against the horse. Our goal together should be to get whatever job needs to be done, done well and smoothly and comfortably for us, our horses, and any accompanying riders.

I know for many folks, having a “job” to do is not necessarily where you’re at. Most folks are not out here with an actual job. But I think it is all a matter of how you look at the task at hand, how you choose to focus and present the goal to your horse. Your “job” can still be a goal of getting safely and timely to a destination, working on a new skill, or a focused discipline in an arena. If you look at the task at hand with focus, it is still your, and your horses’, job. Somehow, I think it helps both horse and rider to have that focus.

OK, now all this said, last week I ran into the first major complication of this equation: the stallion in the pack string. There may be many a more confident and experienced horseman out there for whom working with a stud is simple business, but it throws me for a bit of a loop from time to time. Each simple task can become an escalated issue. But like everything else in learning to work with my little stud horse, every challenge he presents has become an opportunity for me to fine tune my learning, understanding, patience, leadership, and ultimately, my knowledge and skills as a horseman.

Like with so many specific “problems” we may have with our horse, if we overlook the small details and focus on the big picture, often the small details work themselves out. So, with the stud being quite upset and aggressive with the mare in front of him, being led by the mare (walking around with his nose under his tail, I suppose is a big confusing to the poor boy), we worked this problem out by focusing on leadership. My stud can not breed when his is being ridden by or working with me. Get him out there working with me more, and he’ll remember that there’s a time and a place for everything, and if I’m the leader, and hopefully a fair and good one, he’ll remember his respectful place in our working relationship. If I ask him fairly but firmly to be in line, he can accept it.

For a few days, I rode the little stud on the trail, alternating places in front of (he liked that) and behind (he didn’t like that) the red mare. Eventually he became more comfortable with that place.

Now, although his ears remained pinned back when he’s in the following position, he no longer snakes behind her as if he’s driving or pushing her along, and no longer aggressive, lunging towards her trying to bite her. In due time, I am certain he’ll feel more comfortable in this place. It’s my job to provide him with plenty of good, positive experiences there so that he can become more comfortable more quickly. If I’m afraid of the matter and avoid addressing it, it will not resolve itself. He will never be allowed the chance to get over this if I don’t give him the opportunity.

Or ask my husband to help out. Bob is a far more confident rider than I may ever be. The issues I have with fear do not exist for him. So he is, at times, my secret weapon for helping me overcome a horse obstacle that has me blocked. I see nothing wrong with that trick!

Well, at the end of the week of working on this, we find that this lesson of teaching a horse to follow the lead turned into a good example of rising above the little details, and addressing the bigger picture. This little horse needed a little more time on the trail, a little more time behind the mare, before he could feel comfortable back there. Pretty simple way to work out a “problem.” But please remember this: it has never been so difficult (although it’s hard to call this one really difficult) for Bob or I to teach a horse to follow a lead. Working with this little stud from the mare turned into a good lesson for us, going far beyond this simple matter at hand here of teaching the horse to follow in line. However, these are the great chance opportunities, when the bigger picture emerges and presents us with an occasion to be worked on and improved. And ultimately at the end of the lesson, both horse and horseman have a better understanding and knowledgebase because of the time spent working on one specific skill.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Floyd's Horse Stories: Horses I Have Known

Floyd’s Stories: Horses I have known, part 2

I rode Ginger to school up until the 6th grade at Rock Creek. That was a school about 4 miles south of Monte Vista, though it is no longer there. When it was time to go to high school, I had to go clear to Monte Vista, and take the bus. But me and Ginger still got to ride, just not back and forth to school every day.

Starting in the fifth grade, and then throughout high school, I spent all of March and April worrying about when school would be out, and hoping it would be done in time so I would not miss out. On May 25, the cattle were taken up to the mountains. I waited all winter for this, and didn’t want to miss it. If school was finished, I could go.

Most years, seemed like the last day of school was on the 25th. I’d leave after school and meet up with the herd at Cornelius Ranch, southwest of Monte Vista. It took us 7 days to drive the cattle to the range. We had an old sheep herders trailer that would follow us along. At night, we’d put up a tent, and the cowboys would sleep in that. When we got to the range, we loaded the horses on the truck and hauled them back to the ranch.

(On a side note here, I was just sitting here listing and writing all this down when Floyd was sharing this story, but now that I’m re-writing is all, I can tell you already I have a lot more questions, and want to hear a lot more details about this!)

In the fall of the year, we’d go back up to the mountains, and round the cattle up and drive them down to Wason Ranch, load them on the railroad, and ship them back to Monte Vista. It took a 100 car train to bring them all back to the valley for the winter. They unloaded at the Zinzer Switch back in Monte Vista and sort them out there between the five permittees who ran their cattle in the high country together. When we had our cattle unloaded and sorted, we’d drive them out to the ranch.

Ginger and I rode together till I graduated high school and went into the service. He died when I was in the service. He was probably 21 or 22. We were just about the same age.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

The chrome don't get you home

The chrome don’t get you home

My son is what you might call a Motor Head. Although his job is and has always been working with horses, his love, so unlike mine, is motors. Riding anything with a motor, working on motors, playing with motors, getting better with motors. You know. So, this expression I borrow from him.

Ah, but how it relates to horsemen!

Maybe you’ve seen it: the person who arrives at a clinic or lesson or group ride with the fanciest of tack, all decked out in the finest of gear.

Maybe you’ve even been there… done that….

For better or for worse, I haven’t. I haven’t had the money to spend on fancy tack. Perhaps one day I will. I’m not saying I’m proud of my bridles repaired with copper rivets and leather laces. But in the meanwhile, they work. And I’ve learned that it doesn’t matter what my headstall looks like, who made my saddle, or what kind of bit I’m using. If I’m a good rider, and good at communicating with my horses, those things are nothing but fluff, nothing but “chrome.”

Good gear does not make a good rider. The horse and rider may look great standing around there in that fine gear. Oh! And they do! But once both get moving, the fancy gear doesn’t make that horse or rider perform any better.

I’ve mentioned before my intrigue in the revival of interest in the Bridle Horse. In theory, the tack meant something to the Vaquero or Californio rider. The tack represented an improvement, a refinement, and a polishing of the horse and rider. The finer tack was a clear representation (to others) of how far advanced horse and rider had evolved, based on the elegance and fine tuning of the work together, based on time working together and an amassing of skills.

My goal for refinement with my horses and in my own horsemanship is to be the best rider and trainer and horseman I can be… without gimmicks, without fancy gear, without spending a fortune on things that in the long run are not improving my horsemanship. If I can achieve the refined results I seek without all this fancy gear, this chrome, then I will feel I’ve really succeeded. But by putting on the fancy gear, and still not being the rider or horseman I want to be… I’m being as false as a coat of shiny paint on an old beater pick up.

Along those lines, I told you before how I was working to introduce my little stud horse, Flying Crow, to the traditional Hackamore. The next stage in my journey to Chromedom. Yesterday, he and I took our first ride out there in the Hackamore and we felt wonderful, smooth, controlled, understanding. But the day before, we were working together just on ground work with my sweet red mare, Tres (yes, still working on that “learning to lead, learning to follow” lesson). Crow was decked out in all the finest: a hand tied rope halter, and home spliced lead rope. Not too fancy. No chrome there.

When my husband offered to go for a quick trail ride with me, I didn’t want to waste time changing gear, so just rode off up the mountain with Crow in that halter. We worked together beautifully. I was pleased with the lightness and ease of communication between the horse and I. I can’t say I “felt” any difference with the old rope halter as I did with the lovely hackamore. I imagine my horse did not either. If anything, I know the halter “felt” only lighter, more comfortable to him.

I guess what I’m trying to figure out here is although my goal is a great refinement, I would like to achieve this fine-tuning with my skills and abilities, not with my tack. I would like to be able to communicate with my horse just as smoothly, effortlessly and elegantly in an old rope halter, or even bridleless, as I could in a spade bit. And as such, I would personally feel as if I was a better horseman, relying more on my personal strengths and weaknesses, not on any fancy bit.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Fooling myself

All the affirmations in the world won’t save you from feeling like a fool sometimes. I’m there more often than not.

First, I’m convinced that both I worry too much, and I take myself too seriously. But what can I do about that? I try affirmations, but I just don’t believe them. I have not come close to figuring this out yet. I will keep trying.

I entered a blogging contest. Bad idea for the insecure. I should have known better, but I love writing, and am enjoying the blogging community, so I looked upon this as a fun opportunity to participate with fellow bloggers and fellow horsemen. I spent a week working on the post, then a week after that in anticipation of being a part of the community. When the deadline came and went for the big announcement, I figured I’d again been the fool. Nothing new there…

So of course, I’ve spent the last few days adding this to my reasons for wallowing in self pity and self doubt. Come on, girl. Get over it!

Just when I’m ready to lift myself up again from my self made misery, I receive an e-mail telling me the post actually won first place. If you have a moment, please take a look at it on the Enlightened Horsemanship Through Touch blog and tell me what you think. Only nice things, please.

More on feeling like the fool…

So, this afternoon, I’m out there trying to get you some first hand data together for showing you the next entry in the series on Horse Packing How-To. The next in the series was going to be about teaching your horse to both lead the pack string, and be led as a part of the pack string. I thought it would be a swell idea to explain the teaching process while I’m out there teaching… So, I get my little stallion decked out in a regular riding saddle, rope halter and lead, and saddle up my best mare to work off of. Well, we were looking good for about five minutes. If even. Then the stallion started the sweep: ears pinned back, aggressively following the mare. Ran in front of us a few times, in what looked like an attempt to cut us off. Even ran towards us trying to bite the mare a couple times. The mare of course kicks back and dodges his aggressions, but generally puts up with me as I’m on her back trying to communicate obviously not very effectively with the crazed stallion.

Hmmm… time to re-group. This pussy cat of a stallion, who is light like butter on the halter and lead when I’m on the ground. What’s going on inside that odd little stud head of his when I’m up there on his favorite mare?

We worked it out… only somewhat. I’ll try again tomorrow and perhaps find some insight into his behavior that will help us all figure this one out a little better, and work through it.

And maybe even, in the process, I’ll be able to learn what I’m trying to teach.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Floyd's Horse Stories: Horses I Have Known

I’m honored and rather tickled pink to share this with you.

Today, we’ll be starting a new series. This one is just stories. Good old, horse stories, and certainly not my own. Stories from a man born and raised with horses. Stories from a man who put more miles on horseback in the mountains than I will ever be able to amass in my lifetime. Stories from a man who began riding and working horses back when he had to, when the horse was the primary available mode of transportation and means of work. Stories from a man who still today at the age of nearly 78 is out there riding the high mountains, and one of the best riders I know. Watching this man sit in the saddle, so comfortable and confident, so knowing and experienced, opens the door to the many stories that must have made this man who he is.

These are the stories of my dad-in-law, Floyd Getz. Floyd grew up on a big family owned cattle and sheep ranch outside of Monte Vista in the San Luis Valley of southern Colorado. He grew up back in the day when horses were still used by many as both transportation and work force. And unlike so many back in the day who were quite satisfied turning in the bridle for the truck or tractor key, he grew up loving the horse and choosing a life that would enable him to continue riding. This love continues still… The horse has been a part of Floyd’s life, not just as working partner, but as focus and an obvious love.

These are simple stories, in a way. There are no big traumas or dramas, just a man growing up riding and working with horses. But so interesting and intriguing to those of us for whom this life is no more than chapters to someone else’s story. Which I suppose, is exactly what this is for me. A good opportunity for me to peak into a world I missed.

So, today I’d like to share with you the first installment of what I hope will be many a fun tale. Floyd’s horse stories: Horses I Have Known.

Horses I Have Known: My first riding horses

The first horse I remember, the first one I considered really to be mine, was Nellie. Nellie was a five year old mare when I first started riding her to school. I was six. Every day, I’d ride Nellie those three miles to school. The trip took about 35 minutes each way, as we’d lope half the way there and half the way back.

I rode to school, no matter if it was snowing, or cold, or raining. I don’t ever remember being taken to school, and you can be sure I couldn’t miss school. It was one of those things we just did. You didn’t question or think about other choices and easier, more comfortable ways. You just got on your horse and rode off to school.

At the school yard, we had a barn we could keep the horses in while we were in class. There were maybe six other kids who rode to school as well, and their horses would keep Nellie company while I was in lessons. Dad would take hay to that barn so Nellie was able to eat during the day.

That first year I rode her to school, Nellie had a colt that followed us to school. We didn’t think that too unusual, just what had to be done. Over the years, she had 5 colts, another one of which followed alongside while my younger brother, Melvin rode Nellie to school.

When Melvin started school, we rode Nellie double. We did that for 2 years. Then I got Ginger, and Melvin got Nellie to himself for a year. He rode her just one more year, then moved onto a big black horse named Skeeter.

When I turned 10, why, dad bought me a real nice saddle, a 16” Heiser saddle, brand new from Montgomery Wards. He paid $50 for it. That was also the year I got a new horse. That was when I got Ginger.

Ginger belonged to our neighbor and hired man’s boy. The man had bought the horse for his boy, who rode the horse to school. He was a dandy horse, and I was terribly envious. But that man got called into the service, the family had to leave, and they sold the horse to Dad. So, I ended up with that fine little horse.

Ginger was a little sorrel gelding with a light mane and tail, about 13 hands high, just a little horse. He was the horse that taught me to cut cattle. You could ride him into a bunch of cattle, point out the one you wanted, and hold onto the saddle horn. Ginger would bring that animal out. All you had to do was hold on. He loved that work, and he was good at it.

Anyway, in the morning while we were getting dressed and ready to go to school, Dad would go out and get the horses ready for us. Mom had made me a canvas bag that held food and a thermos that would hang over the saddle horn for me to bring my lunch to school. Well, one morning, I grabbed that canvas bag and headed out. That night, we had got two feet of snow. Pretty deep for the Valley, though I suppose pretty deed for anywhere, especially if you’re a horse. Ginger didn’t like it one bit. I would get on him and go out maybe 100 yards, then Ginger would stop, turn around, and head back to the barn. No matter what I did, I couldn’t get that little horse to plow through the snow. My brother was with me on his horse, but all that horse would do was follow, so that was no help.

Finally, my Uncle Bill got on Ginger and made him ride all the way to corner and back. There was this grown man plowing through the snow on the little horse, sitting up in my tiny saddle. Ginger was good to go after that. Figured taking me through the snow was easier than dealing with my Uncle Bill. So, off we went through the snow, once again to school. Oh, and by this time, my next younger brother, Alan, was with me riding double on Ginger…

We spent a lot of time in the saddle, and a lot of time doubling up back then. One day I was coming home with my brother, Alan, behind me. They had just paved the Gun Barrel road. It was the section we rode on for 1 ½ mile north of the property corner, a main road in those parts. I was coming home with Alan behind me. We always rode on the west side of the payment, because it was wider between road and bar ditch, so we’d have more room. Then, as you got to the property corner, you had to cross the pavement to go in the gate on the other side of the road. We were loping down that road, and just as we made that sharp turn across the payment to get home, Alan lost his balance, flew off from behind me, and skidded along on the pavement for a ways. Always something.

Another day, I had just come home from school, and Dad had left word for me that there was a bull out in east corral. I was to take that bull a few miles over to the Parma Ranch to turn him out with the cow herd. Ginger and I get him out of the east corral, drive him the 2 miles to the county road, then down that county road about quarter mile, then through a gate and down a lane and to the canal. Across the canal there was a home made bridge, only about a year old, made of new planks. That bridge rocked and rolled when any animal walked on it. Well, the bull took one step on that bridge and turned around back mighty quickly at me and Ginger, and ran right past us. He didn’t want a thing to do with crossing that bridge.

We stopped him about a quarter mile away, got him back and tried again. Still no luck. I unwound about 8-10 feet of my lariat, and kept the coil fastened on my saddle. I was using the lariat rope to whip bull to try to get him to move. I got him back to the bridge, and was trying to get him to go with that rope, when that bull turns and runs clear back to the county road. Problem was that the knot on the end of the lariat rope got caught on the bull’s tail. When I stopped and the bull kept running, he ripped the lariat tie strap clear off my saddle. I had been feeling proud and thinking I looked pretty good in my brand new saddle and riding Ginger. And there I go and get the leather strapped ripped clear off the nice saddle.

Meanwhile, the neighbors hired hand, Louis Ortega, sees me, and closes gate so the bull can’t go back all the way to the main road. He grabs that rope and runs it over a fence post. Why, of course the rope came out of bull’s tail, but with a gob of tail hair tangled in there. Louis had a bull whip in his pick up. He got it out and helped me get that bull across the bridge. As soon as that bull was half way across the bridge, he saw the girls on the other side and everything was easy from there.

Still, it was well after dark before I got home.

See? Pretty neat stories. This is only half of what I wrote down in our “interview” last night, but I’m thinking most of you don’t have time in one sitting for more than this. So, I’ll call it quits for one day, and look forward to sharing more of Floyd’s horse stories with you again soon.

Until next time…

Photo credit: Patrick Hall

Monday, May 11, 2009

Spring cleaning

Spring comes later to the high country, but alas, she comes. And when she finally does, how is it that every time, every year, we find ourselves so unprepared and overwhelmed with a zillion things to do, half of which we look at and ask why we didn’t get that done yesterday? Yesterday goes way too fast, I suppose, because I know we weren’t just sitting around eating bon-bons yesterday…

Plenty to do, but truly, all good stuff. I do my best to enjoy, and at the end of every day, am grateful that I’ve got so much real, healthy and enjoyable work to keep me busy, and so much more to look forward to doing tomorrow.

There’s the horses, still holding on tenaciously to their winter coats up here, and dragging on the shedding process as long as possible. For a month, I’ve been trying to help them “let go.” And in the process, have every sweater and jacket covered, and more than a healthy dose of horse hair in my nose, mouth and probably stomach and lungs. (I’ll guess that fleece was not invented by a horse person – nothing holds onto horse hair worse – or should I say, better?) I suppose the horses wait for the cold nights to end, and since that never really happens here in the high country, they know the longer they hold on to that hair, the more comfortable their nights will be.

Then there’s trimming their feet. We keep our herd barefoot all winter long, and find keeping them trimmed throughout the winter makes getting their feet back in shape in spring that much easier and healthier. More work for the farrier during the cold and snowy winter months, but he’s found his job is that much easier come summer. Still, the foot wall seems to grow with the grass, and this time of year, keeping them well trimmed is an ongoing race.

Next, there’s getting the horses fit once again, and back into “work mode.” This is the fun part of the job, and I find an easy one for the horses. After a winter of leisure, I believe they look forward to a job to do and a purpose to every day. Wouldn’t you?

Onto the barn, we begin to clean up from the horses using the saddle shed for a winter shelter, and replacing the manure with tack. 15 or so riding saddles and a good bunch of pack saddles, all in need of cleaning, oiling, inspecting, repairs… Bridles, lead ropes, halters, hobbles and more… lots of rope splicing, braiding, and leather work.

Onward to the trail clearing. The snow has melted off of our trails, though most are in need of major maintenance. Between the high winds of last autumn and the heavy snows of winter, there is not a trail around us that is free from serious tree damage. Being more than a little short on Forest Service trail crews up this way, we (the outfitters, and quite honestly, the hunters as well, since they are often the last to use a trail in the fall) do our best to care for the trails we ride. A few years ago, I bought my husband a custom leather chain saw scabbard for his saddle. Trail work is really that much a part of our riding! Otherwise, we always ride with saddle saws, which are all we use in the Wilderness, of course. Though, crossing the river to get to those trails is still a ways away.

I suppose you could say it is all work. But those of us who love our horses and everything about them, times like this you feel that life is especially good…

Friday, May 8, 2009

More on training your horse to stay at camp when you are still back home

I’ll explain briefly here our preferred methods for introducing all four of the “skills” I mentioned yesterday that come in handy for keeping horses in camp. These four skills are:
1. Using the Picket Line
2. Using the High Line
3. Hobbling your horse
4. Using the portable Electric Fence

For containing your horses in or near to camp, we use a combination of these. Often times, for grazing we will picket a lead mare, and the notorious run a-way, and hobble the other geldings; then at night we will keep our horses tied to the high line. For longer stays, we’ll set up the portable electric fence in a big, wide area, and still picket the lead mare within that perimeter. I’ve seen camps with well seasoned horses only picket the lead mares and allow the gelding to roam free. If riding all day, the horses are left out to graze all night. And for the most seasoned horses, they can learn to stick close to camp, especially if you camp in familiar places time and time again.

Using the Picket Line
What is it: A picket line is a long rope attached to the horses’ halter or single hobble around a front foot, with the other end of the rope firmly attached to a stake. The horse is able to graze around the stake to the length of the rope.
Precautions: We run our picket line from the halter. We have tried both methods, and find this to be easier for the horse to maneuver and to keep him/herself untangled and out of trouble with the rope. Still, we have had horses tangle, and I personally do not like to leave horses picketed for long periods of time unattended.
Teaching this to your horse: As with most of these skills, the first step is teaching lightness, respect and feel for the lead rope and halter. The second step is teaching the horse to keep off his rope. The best way I found to teach this is to allow the horse to walk around in a safe, small pen (a corral or round pen) with their lead rope dragging. They will step on it. And pretty shortly, they will learn from which foot the pressure comes, which one to lift, and how to get off their own rope. I start with a 10 foot lead, and eventually increase to a 20 foot lead. At this point, your horse will have learned well to stay off his lead, or to lift his foot to get off the lead before putting too much pressure on his head. So, the third step is then to have the end of the long rope secured, tied off, or staked, in a safe situation so that your horse can learn to give to the pressure and feel when he comes to the end of the line. This is also a rather useful skill for the horse to learn so that he/she does not step on dropped reins, or pull back if and when the horse does find himself on the reins.

Using the High Line
What is it: The high line is a long rope secured between to trees on which the horses lead rope can be tied overhead. The line is run with tree savers (we use old cinches) wrapped around large sturdy trees at about 8 - 9 feet high on the ends, and often sagging down to about 7 feet in the center. Yes, we usually have to climb the tree to wrap and tie off the rope, and we try to get the rope as tight as possible. We use a long rope, approximately 50 feet long with evenly placed rings to tie on the lead ropes. This prevents the lead ropes from slipping up and down the rope. I once woke to the whole lot of horses squooshed up in the middle where the lead ropes slipped along the high line. Now I secure the lead ropes with a slip proof device/string or use those rings.
Precautions: Horses should be evenly spaced, distance between horses should be considered out of kicking range, and placement or order of horses is essential. I put the ones who kick far off on the sides, and the ones who get along well can be closer to the center.
Teaching this to your horse: Again, first your horse should have lightness and respect for the halter and lead. Get your horse comfortable being tied up for an extended period of time. From there, this is a relatively safe thing to teach the horse. Seems like most new horses adjust naturally and easily to this, even being tied up all night long, if he’s there with his buddies near by, and they let him know it's OK.

Hobbling your horse
What is it: Hobbles are restraints put around the horses lower legs. Most hobbles go around the front two feet. I’ve seen some which include one of the back legs for a third leg. It’s a rather safe and comfortable way for your horse to remain out grazing for extended periods of time. I know some folks want to teach hobbling as something that keeps your horse in one spot and one spot only, but that’s not the point in the high country. A hobbled horse can move around and graze, but his motion is slower and he won’t be as likely to think he can run off, or be able to get as far as fast even if he thinks running off is the thing to do.
Precautions: Horses can learn to run pretty quickly when hobbled. Make sure you have a good saddle horse tied to the high line or picket line if the other horses are out hobbled. Rotating hobbled horses isn't a bad idea. We often put half the horses out hobbled to graze, the other half back at camp on the high line. And split the buddies up. One buddy out hobbled; one on the high line.
Teaching this to your horse: The lightness and feel we teach to the horse with lead rope and halter, here is taught to the horses feet. Start by getting your horse used to the feel of the rope around his feet, and comfortable with his feet being handled. Then teach your horse to give to the rope around his foot, one foot at a time. I do this by first having him lift the foot, first forward, then back, with the rope around his foot, teaching him to give (lift) with gentle pressure. If he fights at first, I ignore it. I don’t up the pressure. I just continue teaching. Soon your horse will feel comfortable with the rope on the foot, and comfortable giving to light pressure. At that point, lead the horse by the foot. I literally run a 20 foot lead around the horses foot, one foot at a time, and gently pull until I get him to step towards the pressure. Just one step at a time. Continue this for a few steps, and it only takes a few minutes before you can lead the horse anywhere in the corral by the gentle lead of the rope on the foot. Teach this to all four feet. When your horse is reasonably comfortable with this, I’ll put the hobbles on the front feet. There are all kinds of fancy hobbles on the market. My favorite for teaching are old thick cotton ones that won’t burn or cut into the horse in any way should he struggle. I do not try to get the horse to move when he has the hobbles on, but encourage him to stand still. He will eventually try to move, and usually this is an odd sight to see a horse learn to move with hobble for the first time. If you can imagine a very big, ungraceful bunny hop. Let him learn, stay out of his way, and comfort him when he’s relaxed again. Remove the hobbles from the relaxed horses, not one that is fighting or resisting.

Using the portable Electric Fence
What is it: This is a great invention, though it’s big and bulky to pack in, and takes a while to set up, so we don’t use the portable electric fence unless we are remaining at a camp for an extended period of time. But when we do use it, it is by far the safest and most comfortable means of containing horses in the back country. You can purchase the separate componants (stakes, tape or wire, charger, ground rod), or ready made packages that even come in handy carry cases which can be packed in and set up at camp.
Precautions: Make certain your horse can see the wire or tape, and that both have a breaking point should your horse panic, tangle or run through the fencing. I prefer to use 1 inch tape which is very visible to the horse.
Teaching this to your horse: Horses are quick to learn about electric fences. Start by running a line of electric fence to block off a section of pasture. Always make sure in the training stage that the juice is on! Horses are very smart. I’ve had horses learn to hear the clicking of the power, and could tell when it was on. And when it was off, learn to walk right under. Keep the power on, especially for training. Teach your horse to respect that tape or wire. They quickly learn to look for it and stay away.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Part III in the series on Horse Packing How-To: Training your horse to stay at camp when you are still back home

You’ll hear me say this a lot: There’s no one right way. It depends on the situation, on the horse, and on the rider. Every horse is different. Every rider different. And every day is different. We all have to figure out what works best for us and our horses. So although I’ll share with you my way of doing things, you may have or come up with a way that works better for you. I so strongly believe that, that it’s often difficult for me to share my way with you. I’m always assuming you’ll have your own way. But on the chance that sharing what I know might help in some way… here it goes.

Some things are better off taught back home. I personally believe most things. I don’t want to “work it out” on the trail. I have horses and riders and gear I'm responsible for out there. By the time my horses and I are in the back country, I want to feel confident that each horse knows pretty well what to do. There are plenty of surprises out there. Whichever ones I can cover back home will help my horse be safer and more prepared to handle the new stuff. I can’t teach my horse everything from the safety of our ranch, but I can teach a good enough foundation that he learns how to adapt and adjust and handle new stuff.

Now, keeping your horse in camp is an interesting topic, and a funny one to discuss here. First of all, because most everyone (no, I take that back: definately everyone) I know who has packed in the back country has at least one story of stock getting away, leaving camp, and/or leaving you. The battle scars of the back country horseman. Be proud of them. Share them and show them off. It’s these things that help us realize that our worst fears are often not so bad… It’s these things that help us learn what to differently next time.

There are four skills every horse could and should know for camping in the high country. Or rather, for remaining at camp in the high country.
1. using a picket line
2. using the high line
3. being hobbled
4. respect of the portable electric fence

All four of these skills can be easily introduced to the horse back home before heading out and having to rely on one or more of these skills in the back country. But truth be known, and most of you know this: horses are smart. Most horses learn these skills pretty fast. So fast, in fact, that often times we just introduce these skills to a new horse in a safe environment: out there in the tall high mountain grass under our supervision and the companionship of a few well seasoned horses. It's worked every time we've done it that way.

However... to play it safe, we try to introduce the horse to all four back home first. And that is what I’d recommend. But do remember, the horse picks these skills up so quickly. We can draw out the learning process, and go so slowly (out of our own fear, not because of the horses’ learning ability). Or we can have trust and confidence in our horse, and encourage him to grow in his own confidence by learning one more skill, and overcoming one more obstacle.

Tomorrow I’ll share our preferred method for introducing all four of these to our horses.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

On camping: Keeping it clean

I grew up with a dad that would pick up trash, even along the streets of New York City, in attempt to keep his world beautiful. How can you not respect that? So… how does it make you feel when you see trash? And what do you do about it?

To this day it remains a great upset of mine. And never more disturbing than trash in the wilds. You’d think the back country, the wilderness and Wilderness are no place to leave trash behind… but still you’ll find it. Perhaps it’s an accident at times; I’d like to hope it is. Perhaps something fell or blew away unnoticed, or the drag rider (for me, usually my son Forrest who is well trained in the art of trash spotting) did not see.

Does anyone else remember that commercial from the 70’s with the wise old Native American man riding his pony, a single tear falling down his cheek as he looks upon the litter spread out before him on this beautiful land? That was powerful stuff.

What can we do as we ride by except stop our horses, get off, and pick it up? I will every time. Fortunately, where I live, we are lucky enough to have trash be an exception, not a rule. But still, my horses no longer fear plastic bags (those things always seem to fly away from folks, I guess), and my saddle bags often come home full.

Trash is anything we humans left behind that does not belong. Including fire rings. How campers came to believe that stones had to be gathered and stacked in order to build a temporary fire is a mystery to me, and how one can leave a fire pit and think that the next folks by won’t notice… Stones don’t “grow” in a ring with a burned out center. We notice. Perhaps those campers are trying to be “thoughtful” by leaving it there for the next camper to use. No. The next camper hopefully knows how to follow Leave No Trace ethics.

This week I came across two such rings filled with trash. Hmmm. I’m thinking that either the campers didn’t know beer cans don’t burn and must have left the fire before it was dead out. Or else the campers thought their trash was… OK? Either way, I just don’t get it. You took such great efforts to pack your gear and get this far out. Did you find trash here when you arrived which spoiled your impression?

I’m far from perfect. I am certain I have lost and left things behind out there. Hopefully the next rider after me is caring enough to stop and pick up my mess. On the other hand, I do my best to clean up after others if need be. I just don’t think I’ll ever understand why it needs to be, if you know what I mean. There are few places remaining unspoiled by mans heavy hands. I’ll do what I can to keep the wild and the wilderness pristine

Sunday, May 3, 2009

A freebie

I just finished reading the book by Rick Lamb entitled “Human to Horseman.” No, I’m not doing a book review here. But being one of those folks who loves to hear if people like something of mine (a lesson, a blog post, a meal…), I often take the time to tell folks if I like something of theirs. So, I found Rick Lamb’s e-mail address and sent him a brief “thank you” note. In the note, I mentioned I’ve never seen him on TV (we don’t have TV) and never listened to his radio show (we don’t get radio), but I have read his books, and have really enjoyed and appreciated them. He wrote me back (don’t you love when folks do that?) and told me that with my satellite internet connection, I could sign up (for free) and have access to all the radio programs (for free). I tried it, and it’s really incredible. What a wealth of information there. The first one I listened to took up a long lunch break (I fast forwarded during the commercials) and was a super interview with Sally Swift. Tell you what, I could get hooked on listening to all of these, and there are a lot, though I’m not sure when I’ll find the time, and when my boys will put up with that chatter in the background. In any case, I’m hooked on learning. There is so much to learn, and this is a great way to do it. Check it out (unless I’m so behind the times that you already know all about this): The Horse Show with Rick Lamb.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Natural horsemanship and the back country rider/packer

Perhaps an odd combination, you may at first say: natural horsemanship and the back country rider/packer. But it’s really not. In fact, it’s as natural as, well, natural horsemanship.

Natural horsemanship. The horse world seems to be lacking of a better expression for horse gentling, starting and positive horse handling and training. I would prefer to use another term, as this one was first coined and made so popular by Parelli. Although I know he’s done such wonderful work in getting the word and method out there, there are so many other talented and skillful teachers spreading a similar word, and thanks to the research of Rick Lamb and Dr. Robert Miller, we know such positive approaches to horsemanship have been around though out history. In any case, whoever you follow, whoever you’ve read or watched, whoever you learn from, whoever you are most comfortable with their means and ways, most of us seem to be learning that you don’t have to use fear and force to have a willing partner. In fact, most of us are finding that fair, compassionate and clear leadership work a whole lot better.

I am going to guess that outfitters and back country horsemen have a rough and tough typecast. I know that’s what I used to think before meeting one, becoming one and marrying one. And yet, starting with the first “real” outfitter I ever met, I learned what a good, solid working relationship between horse and human can look like. I learned that there doesn’t have to be flash and dash and a beautiful dance in order to have a connection with your horse. Sometimes, there is a very subtle, subdued care and respect between the two, built upon years and hours and miles of getting through it together, helping each other out, taking care of each other, being out there surviving with each other. (Funny, this sounds like a description of an old married couple…)

When I first met that outfitter, alone and far away off in the mountains of the Trinity Alps in the far north of California, riding a solid sorrel with the kindest, wisest eyes I think I ever saw, with a pack of six or eight little burros trotting along quite contentedly in line behind… I decided he had the best job in the world. I wanted to do what he did. He obviously enjoyed his stock, and his stock, I could tell, worked with this man, not out of fear, but out of some sort of pride I didn’t really understand at the time. The man and his stock knew they had a real job to do.

Think about it. Who spends more time out there living and working with their stock than the outfitter? Not many. So wouldn’t it be fair to assume that they are not so far behind in their knowledge and understanding of a good horse/human relationship? Of course, but I don’t know why it took me a while to figure that one out.

Today, one of the finest outfitters I know trains his own stock, and although I have never seen his training in action, I can guarantee it is of a “natural horsemanship” inclination, though perhaps not filed under a certain popular name brand. I have ridden his horses and packed his stock and they are wise, thoughtful, patient and well mannered. They have been trained well, and treated well. They have no fear of flying hands or whips or ropes; they are obviously used to fair but firm ways and means. They expect just treatment, and in turn, are willing to work together with you to give you all they can. Quietly and calmly. With lightness.

In my last post, I mentioned how I strive for lightness on the rope, for the most response from my horse with the least amount of pressure. I don’t fight with my horses, and don’t tolerate them to fight with me. I once read about how so many of the problems we are concerned with are just little details of the big picture. Focus on the big picture, and the little problems work themselves out. Here’s a good example. My little Arab stud horse used to rear and strike when I’d work with him from the ground (and his back, for that matter). I ignored that, from a safe distance, and continued to work on the important lessons at hand. I didn’t fight back, thus stimulating the fight part of a horse’s “fight or flight” instinct, which I find is even stronger in stallions. And sure enough, he completely got over it. Hey, it’s a lot of work. There are better things to do. And why fight if you don’t get a reaction? So he stopped. And started working with me.

Whoever you have learned or are learning from, and I here make the assumption we are all still learning, not to the point where we feel we know it all (I hope to never be at that point), most underlying principles and the actual techniques for natural horsemanship are quite similar, regardless of your practice, discipline, style, form or direction of riding. Our goals seem to be the same: a positive, safe, solid working relationship with our horse. A horse that will do whatever we ask, lightly, thoughtfully, eagerly, safely. A rider that will communicate his or her needs and directions with the least amount of effort, blend smoothly and comfortably with his or her horse when riding, and achieve results with ease and grace.

First and foremost, we always must keep in mind to work with the horse, not against him; and to teach with firm but fair leadership. A horse understand a quick bite or kick from the boss mare that says “no!” or “stop that!” but he/she does not understand any amount of punishment or physical force that is not instant and directly related to the action at hand. All the horse learns from that is, “geez, what a bad mood he/she is in...” And really, isn’t that all it is? As Jane from The Literary Horse commented, “What it does take is more patience, awareness, focus, and self control/responsibility.”

The basic principles of natural horsemanship are the same for all of us, no matter what we do together with our equine companions: race or rope, hunt or jump, show or go… far off into the mountains.

Here’s a list I’ve been putting together as a regular reminder, based on quotes, ideas and teaching from all the many far more knowledgeable and experienced horsemen than myself. I personally have a long way to go, but many a goal to stive toward, working on myself first, my horse second.

1. Patience.
2. Consistency.
3. Remain centered, balanced – on the ground, in the saddle.
4. Focus. Have a job to do. You and the horse.
5. Communicate clearly. In a language the horse understands.
6. In every interaction with the horse, strive to be a positive leader; not one of the herd, not the harsh dictator.
7. Be fair. Be as gentle as possible, but as firm as necessary.
8. Make the right thing easy, the wrong thing difficult.
9. Reward the slightest try, the smallest change.
10. Teach with the release, the relief.
11. Have hands that close slowly, open quickly.
12. Think and feel of and for the horse. Work with the horses mind, not just his feet.
13. Set the horse up to succeed.
14. Take responsibility if the horse does not.
15. Make sure the horse understands what you are asking.
16. Adjust to fit the situation. Every horse, every lesson, every trail, every day is different.
17. Respect the horse, his need for self preservation, his limits, his bright mind, his sensitivity, his instincts and level of taught responses, his ways and means of communicating.
18. Practice approach and retreat. Nature does not usually follow the straight line.
19. Take the time it takes.
20. Less is more.
21. Know when to walk away.

This may sound like a list of quotes from Tom Dorrance, and I know much of this wisdom became shared so readily because of him, his love of the horse, and his ability to work with and care for the people he taught. (I believe you have to care about your students in order for them to want to listen to you.)

Well, that’s about the tip of the iceberg on this subject. But suppose I’ve already been sitting here long enough. Time to get out with my horses and work on putting the theory into practice!