Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Level Of Awareness

A couple of new tack catalogs arrived in the mail this week, big red letters on the cover indicating a SALE. I find myself flipping through the pages mindlessly because over the years I have all but memorized what the companies sell. Occasionally there is something new to look at. It just so happens I am on the hunt for a few things for the upcoming endurance season. This time however I couldn’t help but notice how there seemed to be more and more pages of gadgets and devices filling up the catalogs that claim to hold, tie, fix, shape, and probably scare horses into doing some of the things we ask of them.

Since the weather is absolutely foul in my neck of the woods, I have had to settle for simply watching from a distance as the horses romp and play in the pasture. Considering my observations along with the gadgets in the catalogs and I can’t help but wonder. Why on earth do we need all these gadgets?

When I watch the horses in the field, it becomes blatantly obvious to me that these fine creatures are more than capable of performing beautiful movements without all the gadgets. Even more amazing, they do it in ways that appear to be nonphysical and nonverbal ways. It’s more subtle, a look, a flick of an ear, a shift in weight. One horse’s subtle body language, an ounce of an expression, can ripple through the herd to take some type of action like run , look, go closer or just pay attention. I think of the situation in our little herd. Roman, perks up his head .. some noise or movement has drawn his attention away from grazing. His head goes up, his body goes more rigid or on alert, his ears forward . His whole body is charged with contained energy. The rest of the herd suddenly stops grazing and adopts his energy, posture.. ready to take whatever action.

Now imagine if we as horseman could somehow take that level of awareness and energy and harness it so that we as humans could communicate with our horses as horses communicate with each other.

I hate to make broad sweeping generalizations but it seems we as a society have somehow become pretty tuned out to most things. Think about it, how many of us go from work to the grocery store and while there, notice a gathering of people blocking the aisle way to chat, completely tuned out the fact that they may be in someone else’s way. It’s even worse nowadays with all the ipods and iphones and all the other gadgets on the markets today for people.

By becoming more aware, more focused on our surroundings, it would be truly amazing at the influence we might be able to have on the horse and to take it one step further, an influence that would actually make sense to him. How many of us could have avoided those hours spent trying to figure this round pen ground work thing out and standing in the middle of the round pen doing some kind of natural horsemanship Irish jig. We were just simply trying to go through the motions of what we learned at the clinic we attended or from the video we recently watched but we were missing the one key ingredient. We weren’t really tuned in….We weren’t clear on what it was we were asking of the horse and we probably didn’t really even know what we wanted to get out of this so called session. Meanwhile, the horse is out there trying to make sense of all these confused signals were sending that we expected him to understand when we didn’t’ even understand ourselves at the time.

In all seriousness , there are times when we do influence our horses and don’t even realize it. I think back to when I was showing and 3-day eventing in Pony Club. It never failed, my horse wouldn’t stand still to be mounted at these events. At home, he would stand like a statue. The fact that I was a ball of nerves may have had something to do with it although no one bothered to point that out at the time!. Ofcourse that had everything to do with it! We are influencing our horses all the time by our energy and emotions and the trick is to get that working for us instead of against us.

So, I could certainly call that 1-800 # and order that tiedown or chambon or some other gadget to get my horse to carry himself in a certain way or “frame” because that’s what trainer Joe down the road uses and his horses look nice. Using those devices might get the job done for a lot of people because horses will always try to find the comfort in most situations, and therefore yield to a given device out of fear or pain. Here’s the problem with that ….

For me, it’s not about how the horse looks on the outside, it’s about how the horse feels inside. I want to have a partnership with my horse and buying gadgets just doesn’t seem to fit into that equation. It’s kind of akin to sitting in the dentist’s chair as they are inserting 2’ needle into your gum and telling you to “just relax”. I yield for fear that if I don’t it might hurt worse. Not that different from a horse probably when he has training accoutrements hanging off of him.

In any good relationship, I think it’s a safe bet to say that it works best when you both want to be in said relationship.. correct? And then once that is established , doesn’t each party usually want to do things for the other willingly? And then, don’t good relationships grow to where each can tune into the other s thoughts so well that they can finish each other’s sentences or know what the other is going to do before they even do it? I would say that they are tuned in to each other. That is the sort of relationship I want to foster with my horses and by using gadgets and devices , it doesn’t fit.

So, I will choose to go without the tie downs, the chambons, and all those other devices designed to push, pull, strain, hold, etc. Instead I will strive to tap into a deeper level of awareness because the connection I am looking for goes well beyond physical contact or direct actions. I just hope my horse will be willing to continue to share his secrets.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Dashing through the Snow.....

Other than Christmas Day, our weekend was filled with many hours of being on ladders and scaffolding 20 feet in the air. Not my idea of fun since I am a major chicken when it comes to heights! Nevertheless,the work had to get done.

We are placing tongue and groove on our ceiling as part of the final repairs left remaining from our lightning strike last March . With school not back in session until the 5th , this was Tom’s one opportunity to get it completed before summer. Thanks to some very dedicated friends, we completed one side of the ceiling Saturday night at 8:30. It took 33.75 hours total and we were all exhausted. One more side to go.

While there was much work to do, I did manage to sneak out of the house for a few moments Saturday afternoon. The sun poked out and there was a break in the snow. I needed a horse fix. We have been getting plummeted with storm after storm, leaving no opportunity to ride.

While my good conscious told me to just go out for a short break to pet on a couple of horses , my bad conscious won out and I grabbed for a halter, caught up Rebel and climbed on bareback. My heart jumped with joy and I headed out along the pasture fence line for a trot around. As I rode along, Brego , Cass and Roman followed up behind like a parade wondering where we were going but not wanting to be left out.

Just my luck, I happened upon some fairly deep drifts out in the arena and couldn’t resist. Rebel willingly responded to my suggestion for a little more speed as we bounded through the drift, the snow sent flying, glistening in the sunlight and biting at my cheeks as it danced and sparkled all around me.

The other horses seemed to sense the new energy in the air and decided to make their own game of it as they ran around the pasture racing each other through the snow , jumping through the drifts. It almost seemed they were relieved for some excitement to arrive after being hunkered down with bad weather for the last several days.

There is nothing like bounding through a snow drift on a horse, and just for a moment I remembered what it felt like to be a child again, uninhibited exuberance to be riding bareback , invigorated by the cold air on my face and warmth of my horses neck against my hands, leaving me with a smile on my face for the rest of the day.

( unfortunately, no pics were taken since I snuck away leaving Tom to the work!)

Wednesday, December 24, 2008




Monday, December 22, 2008

The Magic of Winter

Winter Beauty When it's winter in the Valley and my breath hangs in the air,The snow will crunch beneath my feetand glisten in the air.The stars at night light up my worldso I never walk alone;It's clear and crisp and beautifulin the Valley I call home _ Joan Adams Burchell

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Who's Stirring up all the Dust????

Susan over at the The Pony Expression tagged me for a fun game of "Photo Meme" . It a fun game horse bloggers are participating in to try to keep things interesting. The idea goes like this; Go to your photo album, pick the 6th folder and then pick the 6th picture in the foler. Then post about what the photo is about. Last but not lieast, tag 5 other people to do the same by leaving a comment on their blog. So heres' mine. Now I have to go find a few more to tag!

This is our 2 year old Morgan/Barb colt . As you can see he decided to lay down and take a break in the middle of a training session. Actually this was his second time being saddled and he was really good about it. We finished up our session and I was ready to head otu the gate when Brego started acting like he was wanting to lay down. It's not uncommon for a colt to try to lay down in the beginning stages of saddling and I am glad he decided to try it before I was on him(although he still might) Typically they are just trying to get the itchy thing off their back. I always let them go ahead and do it so they can see that rolling with the saddle doesn't make it come off.. He did this on both sides and seemed satisfied when he was finally done

Monday, December 15, 2008

Feeding Down to a Science Part 2

On the December 7th post, I began the process of evaluating JB’s feed in an effort to play scientist for a bit in determining if his ration’s were on track.

I began in the last post figuring out exactly what JB needed to begin with. The process I went through to calculate his rations out is to be used as averages and is not absolutes. I had to keep in mind a few things in this process like: his current condition, his weight, appearance, energy levels, and attitude.

Several times during the course of trying to work out some of these figures, Tom would ask me why I was going through all of this. It was a valid question, seeing as how difficult it was and how the variables can change so easily regardless of what numbers I came up with.

So what motivated me to do this in depth analysis? Other than the fact that once I start something, I see it through to the end, and by getting as close as possible to seeing where JB was at with the feed he was receiving was important given some of the conditioning rides this past summer . Many times he seemed sluggish. I was never really sure if it was his energy level or the fact that he really didn't want to leave the herd. I was hoping this might reveal something more. Was his lack of enthusiam to go due to his feed not supplying enough energy level or was it just the fact that he didn't get excited about leaving home.

Here is what I found:

The last post I left off knowing two main things; the first was how much % of his body weight was he receiving in forage and concentrate combined. JB who weight roughly 850 lbs or better, is receiving 1.87 % of his body weight in forage and .28 % of his body weight in concentrate for a total of 2.87% of combined feed of his body weight. He was a bit above the recommended percentage, (2-2.5% of body weight) for his body weight but I feed him enough hay so that he has it in front of him most of the time.

The second bit of knowledge was determining what JB actually needed in daily requirements. For ease of reference I have listed this again below: again for 850 lbs

Digestible energy:19.5 mcal/day
Crude Protein: 1.7 lbs/per day
Calcium: 24 gram per day
Phosphorus: 16 grams per day
Vitamin A: 17 IU’s per day

The next step was to take his grain ration (Running Horse Cut and Slide) and his hay ration , about 22 lbs of hay per day , and calculate those items above for each, giving me his totals.

At first glance I thought getting this information for his grain and hay would fairly straight forward but as it turned out, I had to do some additional research to find the right numbers for the type of hay I feed and I had to some additional calculation to manually figure out the requirements for the grain he receives. The rep at Running horses surely thinks I have gone a little crazy.

I will start with the Hay. On the websites I was using for reference did not list the types of hay that I feed. I was able to locate another site that allowed me to key in a much closer version of the hay that I feed. That site is There is a tool on the page that you can use and fill in the feed type and the appropriate maturity levels of the hay. The tool will then calculate for you and will even allow you to customize it to your horse. The problem with this tool is that it calculates in percentages and for my purposes I needed lbs per day or grams per day. So you will have to do some additional calculations as a result.

The hay that I feed is mostly grass. I know that it has quite a bit of crested wheatgrass and some Timothy. Other than that, I can’t really say exactly what it is. In some bales there is more alfalfa. So, I had to use my best quess based on what I see in the bales. Unless I wanted to pay to have samples taken from the core of every round bale I have sitting out there, it would have to get me close enough. While it would be nice to be that accurate by testing, it wasn’t economical.

On the tool , I chose the option of Grass Hay – cool season (mid- mature) and Wheat hay ( mid to mature). JB gets approx 22 lbs of hay per day . Since I don’t know how much of that 22 lbs is grass and how much is Crested Wheat, I split the difference in my calculations, 11 lbs of each. I had to do some initial converting from Kg to lbs, and percentages to grams. For simplicity, I will give you my calculations for the lbs and grams that I have already done the conversions on. I have also shown below that I took those numbers and multiplied by the 11 lbs of each for final totals.

Grass Hay Cool Season:

Digestible Energy : 99 Mcal/lbs x 11 lbs = 10.89 Mcal (this was in Kg and had to be converted to lbs; ff you know there are 2.2 lbs in every Kg, than you can take 2.18 mcal/kg in this case, divided by the 2.2 gives you the .99 mcal/lb
Crude Protein: .146 lbs x 11 lbs= 1.61 lbs
Calcium: 32,99 grams x 11 lbs = 32.9 grams
Phosphorus: 1.32 grams x 11 lbs =1. 32 grams
Vitamin A :not available

WheatGrass Hay

Digestible Energy : .97 mcal/lbs x 11 lbs= 10.67 Mcal
Crude Protein: .113 lbs x 11 lbs= 1.24 lbs
Calcium: 15.47 grams x 11 lbs =15.4 grams
Phosphorus: .09 grams x 11 lbs = 9.9 grams
Vitamin A : not available

Vitamin A % was not available but I know that Vitamin A is lost as hay is stored. The final piece to calculating hay requirements is to calculate the total amounts of nutrients fed for the two hays fed.


Digestible Energy: 21.56 Mcal/lbs
Crude Protein: 2.85 lbs
Calcium: 48.46 grams
Phosphorus: 11.30 grams
Vitamin A : not available

Then I compared just the nutrients JB was receiving from Hay with the nutrient requirements that he needs . His numbers came out a bit in excess and initially I was a bit concerned, however there are quite a few variables. His weight is likely more than what I calculated at, the hay types I used from the charts are Hay types on the east coast and may have different nutrient values than what I am actually feeding, and then there is nutrient loss. I also am not certain if this truly is mid to mature level feed because given our spring last year, what would typically be mid to mature might have instead been cut a bit later.

The last part of my analysis is to include the requirements I was able to determine from the grain that JB receives. Last summer I started him on Running Horse Cut and Slide. According to the feed tag, for every pound of feed he receives the daily minimum requirements found on the feed tag. For instance, the feed tag indicated 15% protein for every pound fed. If I were to feed 4 # per day, it would calculate out to .6 lbs of protein, .36 lbs of fat, etc. JB received at the height of his conditioning 2.4 lbs of this grain per day... which really isn't much and quite a bit less than the recommended amounts.

The one thing I did not have for the grain was Digestible Energy. Many feeds will not list DE on the tag and therefore you will have to use the Crude Fiber and Crude Fat percentages to determine the DE (MCal/lb) of the grain mix. I was able to find a reference on the internet on how to calculate DE if it is not on the feed tag That link is

For Running Horse Cut and Slide, 14 % crude Fiber and 9 % Crude Fat, DE works out to be 1.15 Mcal/lb. At 2.4 lbs of Running Horse per day, I came up with following nutrient values on his grain ration:

Digestible Energy: 1.15 Mcal/lb x 2.4 lbs = 2.76 Mcal per day
Crude Protein : . .36 lb/day
Calcium: 10.23 grams
Phosphorus: 7.6 grams
Vitamin A: 9000 IU’s

In addition to the Hay values outlines above, combined with the grain, I can see JB is in excess on most of these items.

Digestible Energy- JB needs 19.5 Mcal/day; he is receiving total 24.32 Mcal per day with hay and grain concentrate. He is in excess of 4.82 Mcal /day

Crude Protein: JB needs 1.7 lbs per day; he is receiving 3.21 lbs per day. He is in excess of 1.51 per day.

Calcium: JB needs 24.15 gram per day; he is receiving 58.69; he is in excess of 34.54 grams per day.

Phosphorus: JB needs 16.42 grams per day, he is receiving 18.9 grams per day. He is in excess 2.48 grams per day.

Vitamin A: JB needs 17.4 IU’s (1000 IU) per day or 17,400. This was an unknown on the hay but the grain indicated 3750 IU /LB. Based on the 2.4 lbs he was receiving per day, he was getting 9000 IU’s per day. I am fairly certain he is receiving at least close to the remaining 8400 IU’s /day in his hay.

To go one step further, I want to calculate the Calcium to Phosphorus ratio; Even though JB’s intake is in excess of the requirements I know that these two minerals should more importantly be in balance with each other. Too much Phosphorus to Calcium or not meeting the minimum requirements could lead to various diseases. If I divide the calcium by the Phosphorus I come up with 1.82:1 which is an acceptable range.

What does all of this analysis tell me?

Well, in an broad sense, it tells me JB is getting plenty of what he needs. His Digestible energy is a bit high but I know that his DE requirements can increase dramatically when carrying a rider so I may not be as high as the numbers actually look. Also, he may weight more than 850 lbs which would change a few #’s. I can also see that JB may be a bit high on the protein for an endurance horses needs. That might be part of his lower than expected energy levels that he seemed to be displaying. I might opt to go to the senior feed that Running Horse offers or look at other options that would get the protein levels down without cutting back on fat levels too much. It’s possible that I may consider giving JB straight beet pulp this summer with just a touch of grain for extra flavor. Grain concentrates, like what I feed JB should be in the 7-10% range for fat levels. Running Horse is 9% per pound so it’s right in there. Fat is one of the most important feed requirements for an endurance horse because it can be metabolized for energy during aerobic trotting and cantering speeds, and helps conserve muscle glycogen (high energy sugars) during prolonged exercise. Also, aerobic metabolism of fat produces metabolic water within muscle cells, which may be of benefit to maintain cell fluid levels during exercise.It appears this “fat” topic could launch me into further research of available feeds on the market that provides adequate fat for energy but without the added protein. I’ll save that for another day. If anyone has any recommendations or suggestions on feeding the endurance horse, feel free to share. In the meantime I might put a call into my vet for more accurate feed recommendations. Turns out, she is an endurance rider

Riding out the Storm

Last Friday evening's drive home from work found me stuck in traffic moving at the speed of snail. The predicted storm had in fact arrived and while it wasn’t the first snow of the year, it was the first snow that was mking roads a challenge. Not exactly having the best read left on my tires, I dropped my Dakota into 4 high and made my way through the idiot drivers. By the time I arrived home, the wind was already picking up speed. The forecast predictions were -20 to -30 with the windchill factor. …Fabulous…

Cold, zero degree temps are one thing adding wind to the equation , that bring on a whole new level of complications when dealing with horses and livestock in general. It takes one person to get the gates and the other running with forkfuls of hay, all the while trying not to lose your own breath as the wind blows in your face.

That was pretty much our routine over the weekend with the storm that blew in ,and while we didn’t get quite as cold as they had predicted, it was plenty bitter out there. Regardless, we braved the weather 3-4 times a day to check on horses, throw more hay if they were out and when we could stand it, pick iceballs from horses hooves, not an easy job when it’s below zero and the ice is mixed with sand and gravel. Kinda resembles cement. We have tried everything from WD40 to Vaseline to try to prevent the snow from balling up in horses hooves and if the conditions are right, nothing seems to help. (If anyone knows of any trick, please do share!) One thing we didn’t have to worry about this time was water staying open. The insulated boxes were working like a charm.!

Saturday night, we were relieved when the wind let up just a bit but then watched the temperature continue to drop well below zero. We resigned to stay close to the woodstove when we weren’t out checking on horses. Besides, it seems I have caught the bug that Tom was just recovering from and staying warm and comfortable was at the top of my to do list.

On Monday, it’s sure to happen that the talk in the break room will be the weather and as usual there will be the one person in the crowd that pipes up to say “ Oh, I didn’t think it was all that bad out”.

As I think about the frozen appendages and eyelashes I suffered , clearly, this person doesn’t have livestock to deal with!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

A Note of Thanks

The other day, I received a letter in the mail from a person I have never met. I wanted to take a minute and say thank you to Connie who sent me the letter. Connie is a fellow Barb horse owner and is familiar with the horses from the Quien Sabe. She is a fan of the spanish Colonial type horses and I believe has horse from the Quien Sabe who she does some trail riding with on a remote ranch.

When I saw the envelope, I didn't really know what to expect. I was pleasantly surprised. Her letter was a source of encourgement to me to continue to follow my dreams and goals with my horses because you never know what curves life will throw at you . Do what you love whenever you can and cherish those special times.

What a nice surprise it was to receive this letter in the mail from a complete stranger who now, somehow, feels like a long time friend.

Connie, if your out there, from one Barb horse fan to another, thank you and if your ever in my neck of the woods, feel free to come on by. We would love to meet you

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Gentlemen: Start your Engines...Gearing up for Great Transitions

On Sunday, the roads were way to icy to take out for a ride. I was stuck with staying close to home and riding in the arena. Our arena is grass and we had about an inch of Snow fall Saturday so the footing wasn’t horrible. I would be limited to walking and with any luck, some slow trotting. With the recent holiday now well out of sight and me having been out of state for 11 days, it had been a while since JB had any riding.

Am I concerned about the conditioning he is losing? Of course, but quite frankly, there isn’t much I can do about it when the footing is treacherous. I don’t expect things to improve as we move deeper into winter with each passing day. This only adds to my concern. Spring may well be like starting over with JB’s conditioning. I will ride as often and as much as I can and that will have to suffice.

I can only hope this winter isn’t like last winter where the Spring seemed as thought it would never arrive. Two years ago, it was worse. In the Flathead, we tend to get a lot of rain mixed with snow which then freezes. Most of the roads around my place resemble ice skating rinks as a result and sometimes, it is so bad, out pasture also turns into large ice patches. One year was exceptionally horrible.. One January morning we woke up to a Pacific Storm which was feverishly depositing large amounts of wet heavy snow. By that same afternoon, it turned to rain. You can imagine by January in the North Country, our ground is quite frozen. Rain on frozen ground simply sits on the surface.

By the next afternoon, while we were away at work, the temperature has dropped again , winds picked up and it became bitterly cold. By the time we arrived home, we found the horses were out in the farthest reaches of our five acres. They were stranded on one little patch of earth that was not an ice skating rink, unwilling to move. As luck would have it, they were also about as far away from the barn and access to water as you can get on our place. With the wind howling about 30 MPH and the horses unable to move off their one patch of dirt , they were cold, stiff, hungry and thirsty. We clearly had a situation on our hands. To make a long story short, my brother come out with his sand truck and literally sand our pasture, and heavily sand one path from where they were to the corral so the horses could be to protection and water. Even with the sand, the horses didn’t realize they could move so Tom and I had to halter them one by one and coerce them along the sanded path to safety. Not exactly a yellow brick road but we were finally able to get them out of their predicament.

If this winter is anything like that, I suppose I will be hunting for an indoor arena to use once or twice a week to help maintain some sort of condition.

Getting back to what I wanted to post about, Sundays ride turned out to be better than I initially had hoped for. We were able to do about 30- 40 minutes of steady trotting along with some brisk walks. In an attempt to stave off extreme boredom of going ‘round and ‘round the arena , I worked on transitions from walk to trot , trot to walk, trot to halt, halt to trot. JB has a bit of a drag in him with his transitions so we worked on ‘responsiveness” as well as getting the engines turned on or in other words, getting him to use his hindquarters. If we were going to be stuck in the arena, I figured I may as well do something that would help keep both of us engaged. Asking for transitions and half halts helps improve engagement of the hindquarters and it keeps both of us thinking.

JB tends, as do a lot of horses, to pop his nose out and get a bit hollow back when moving to an up transition or into downward transition. Thus, getting on his forehand. It’s a lot like when you hit your brakes hard on your vehicle and the front end sinks forward? That’s pretty much what it feels like with a horse who dives onto his forehand when asking for a transition. Last year, I was concerned that JB’s hollow back and nose poking out may have been due to saddle fit but after some careful assessment, it’s not. He also had his teeth done so it wasn’t the bit. As with anything, I always try to rule out the physical first. It wasn’t the saddle and if it was his teeth, he now had that squared away. I had a training issue to work through.

Ofcourse, I can’t expect that this was only JB’s problem. I had to think about how I was asking for these transitions. I am half of the equation and it’s my job to make sure I am presenting the lesson clearly and fairly. How can I help him? Am I doing something that is causing him discomfort in how I am asking? I had to analyze my own position and aids and lucky for me I am my own worst critic. I know that I tend to get a brace in my lower back, which translates the same thing to my horse. ! I am also just barley smart enough to know that it’s pretty easy to get in my horses way with my aids without even realizing it all the time.

I want to mention also that I didn’t start this process of teaching transitions and half halts from the saddle. I started this in a halter to lay the groundwork. JB learned my voice commands and then went on to asking for transitions while on a lunge and again last winter, while training him to harness. By the time I ask from the saddle, JB understands the concept through voice commands and body language. Adding in the actual seat and legs aids once in the saddle seem to come along quicker as a result.

We have been working on this from the saddle for most of this year during our arena training sessions. As JB and I make our way around , I have go through my mental check list about my own positions and aids; Is my seat light and following JB’s movement, is my back supple? Are my hands light and following his movement? If that’s all in check, I have a marker picked out of where I am planning to be when we go into a walk. That means that I have to ask a few strides in front of that point and the timing of all that has to clear in my mind before I bother to ask.

As the marker approaches; I would simply stop the rein from moving in harmony with his movements. I apply a gently squeeze of the rein. This is different than pulling back. At the same time, while sitting the trot, I will close my knees and thighs a bit more against the saddle, and tighten the stomach muscles. What this does is to somewhat block JB from continuing to move quite as freely. I am getting in his way just a little bit with my seat and legs. He is receiving this message through his back and along the reins via my seat and hands. It is crucially important that I mention that while I am sitting the trot, I don’t GRIND DOWN into the saddle onto JB’s back and I don’t lean back with my upper body, a common mistake. Instead I think of a down transition as shifting my center of balance away from my core and up into my chest, tucking my pelvis much like what the horse would do as he is stopping and tucking his hindquarters, (although this is a very subtle thing) and growing up tall and lengthening down in your legs. My seat will actually lighten and soften in this process, allowing my seat to accept JB’s rounded back but resisting just enough to stop the forward momentum. As soon as I feel JB slow, my back and legs and seat go back to a more neutral position, while remaining in a balanced and quiet position. JB can now walk freely. This is his reward.

Sometimes a horse can also be a bit unruly with transitions, especially downward transitions, which seem to be more difficult to keep a horse in a rounded frame.. It’s been my experience that there is more resistance to using their hind quarters for downward transition. They hollow their back and the hindquarters are out there flopping around behind him. If I find this to be the case with JB, I will often use my hands as described earlier but I will add a little more leg to encourage him to step through more deeply with the hind legs.

It’s hard work for them to stay in a frame, especially when they are just learning. It also takes time to develop the strength and muscling to hold a frame. Keeping that in mind, there are times JB is just plain feeling unruly and has a case of the “I don’t wanna’s” . I am sure he would rather chase a cow or a mare any given day. Frankly so would I but these sort of exercises will benefit both of us long term so we must prevail!

I have found that as I have worked with a horse long enough, like JB, I usually have a sense of the difference between when JB is truly not understanding what is it I am asking for and when he is simply trying to evade the work.

In the case of the I don’t wanna’s, I might shift my focus and try to just get a couple of try’s as opposed to working on these exercises for the duration of the lesson.

I would again begin with all the same aids as described above beginning with the blocking with my hands. It’s important once again that I mention that this isn’t a pulling back; I am stopping my hands from following along with JB’s momentum. He is still moving but my hands have stopped. As soon JB softens in his jaw the slightest bit, I give him a release or soften the rein, but I don’t throw him away either. I just retain soft contact. Timing is crucial of course. I can usually tell at the moment before it happens , when JB is about to soften. My timing can therefore be in sync and he gets the reward at the correct time. If I am finding that JB continues his resistance by lean on the bit and getting heavier on the forehand, then at this point I will hold a while longer on the rein, which translates sometimes to taking a step or two backwards, until I feel him shift his weight to his haunches and his front end lighten . It’s okay if they take a step back because what I want is for him to move onto his haunches . If he needs to back up in order to achieve that and find the release , that ‘s fine. I know he is going to hunt for a release from that pressure. I hold long enough until I feel him soften in the jaw and neck and back, Once he does his nose will no longer be poking out and his back won’t be hollow. You will feel yourself raise up in the saddle as his backs fills underneath you and rounds. I am basically allowing him to find his own release when he gets on his hind quarters and softens through his body. A lot of times, a horse can really brace when asking this with both reins. It’s important to point out that when I hold and wait for JB to find his own release, I will ask with one rein just a bit shorter than the other to get him to pivot at his Atlas. If a horses head is slightly turned at the atlas, they can’t brace. I think Deb Bennett has a good article out there somewhere on this. As soon as JB shifts his onto the haunches and the heaviness of his front end lighten, he gets his release because my hands are not continually pulling back, they are holding in one spot. Then I would ask for him to walk out in a big walk. I would say at this point may be the lesson would be done.

I really try very hard not to drill these exercises as it can just lead to frustration for both horse and rider . Get a couple good ones as I mentioned, and then maybe go work on something else, like dragging a log or a tarp. Or go herd up the geldings for fun! If Tom’s around, we might shoot the bow for a bit or throw spears at one of the fake warrior men in my arena. My best advice is to constantly change up the program to keep it interesting. Barb horses seem to be brighter than average creatures and seem to need a little more stimulation than maybe a Quarter Horse ( no offense to QH lovers out there, just my own personal observations!).

In time, what all of this translates to is that the final result of a good transition begins with a half halt which requires a horse to be able to coil his loins. All of this rides on the riders aids and the responsiveness of the horse to those aids.

Eventually all I will have to do is I just put a squeeze on that rein, soften through my back and seat, and JB will hear me say.. “OK, pause to prepare yourself, I am going to ask you for a change” ;

JB will prepare by shifting his weight back onto his haunches, which allows him to be ready to do what ever task I ask of him and he will say in response to me,

“ I am ready, where can I take you next?”

..........and we will ride off in harmony having the loveliest of conversations.

A couple of words from the great Meistro- Nuno Oliveira

"This is the exact same principle as Neindorff's "The hand stands still, and yet it moves."

"The hands have to be like concrete when the horse resists and like butter when he yields."

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Nutritional Management ; Algebra 101

I mentioned in an earlier post that I was spending some time researching feed values. Well, I never imagined I would get this waist deep in the research. This weekend, my kitchen table and desk were covered in articles, downloaded material, charts, graphs, notes and formulas. Tom thinks I have stepped off the deep end for sure this time and I would probably have to agree. In fact I can’t remember that last time I had to do so much algebra and actually enjoyed it. The fact is that once you start looking, one thing leads to another that leads to another. It required quite a bit of information gathering on my part before I found what I was looking for. Then, the process of weeding out what you need and don’t need before you can even begin to try to make sense for your unique horse and situation. Since I make my living analyzing data, I was in all my glory and analyze I did.

My goal is to calculate out JB’s ration with respect to Degestible energy, crude protein, etc in order to best determine if he is getting what he needs for his work load. To begin, I had to figure out two things at least to start as a baseline:

1. How much feed is JB currently getting? ( Hay and Concentrate)
2. How much should he be getting?
The “How much “part is actually broken into two parts. The % of his body weight he receives in forage and concentrate and the actual Nutrient Requirements.

I knew a couple of things already that I would keep in mind as I go through this process.

JB weighs approx 850 lbs give or take. A horse that weight with moderate work (1-3 hrs of riding time per day) should be in the ball park of 20, 400 calories per day or for heavy work (4-5 hrs of riding time) 27,200 calories. Of course those numbers can fluctuate with the difficulty of work. If I rode JB for 2 hrs every day with most of the work out consisting of hills, he will obviously burn more than the average of 27,200 calories on a daily basis. It’s best to just use these as a ball park and let common sense lead from there.

Right now, we feed round bales and fork off feed morning and night for all the horses. Most of our horses are easy keepers. I first had to figure out how many pounds of hay each horse was receiving.

I know that on average the round bales are about 1200lbs and that one round bale lasts us 11 days worth of feeding. I feed 5 head of horses off that bale for 11 days.

1200 divided by 11= 109lbs of hay is fed out per day (am/pm)

I take 109 lbs divided by the 5 (horses)= 21.8 or lets round to 22 lbs . 22lbs is fed to each horse every day. That works out to be approx 11 lbs am and 11 lbs p.m. Now keeping in mind that the 4 geldings are fed out together and the amount of hay per horse may vary because it depends on herd rank. I know for a fact Roman and Rebel are getting more than Cassidy. As long as everyone is maintaining weight I don’t worry too much about it.

So I have #1 solved for with Hay. In addition I feed him 2.4 lbs of grain per day

Moving on to #2. I want to figure out what JB should be at. I started by calculating what % of body weight his feed is. For forage the average horse at moderate work should be between 1.0-2.0 % of its body weight.

22lbs works out to be 2.59% of 850 lbs. JB is receiving, if rounding, 2.6% of his weight (850lbs) in forage. That is a little over the recommended amounts noted above but I am not concerned because he doesn’t always clean all of it up . This number probably does fluctuate up a bit more in the summer as he spends 50-60% of his time grazing in a pasture as well. I would rather he receive more forage than concentrate anyways and as long as his condition is staying good, I am not concerned about his receiving too much forage. If I can have him in an eating situation as close as he can be to what he would do in the wild, the better off I am . Since he has a lot of area to move, he is expeding more energy as rest as well as during the time he is being ridden. It’s at this point that I feel that the formulas and numbers have to go a bit to the side and common sense has to play a role. If he’s gaining weight obviously it would tell me he is getting too much and I would cut back.

I did this same calculation for the grain as well. It is recommeneded that horses in moderate work levels be between .75-1.5% of their body weight in grain. I currently feed JB Running Horse Cut & Slide. It’s an extruded cereal grain with a beet pulp base. During the peak of his conditioning schedule this summer , he was receiving 2.4 lbs of grain per day. His work schedule was moderate to heavy.

2.4 lbs is approx .28 % of 850 lbs.

So- Final numbers reveal that his total % of forage and concentrate combined are 2.87%

Total combined intake of forage and concentrate should be in the range of 1.75-2.5 % of horses body weight. JB appears to be a bit over the recommended amount but again, JB appears to be in good flesh. It is possible that he weights more than 850 lbs as I only have a weight tape. It is probably off a bit.

This initial analysis has provided me with a baseline and a little insight as to what kind of keeper JB is. When I look at those percentages, I would expect that he would actually be a bit heavier than what he is currently maintaining. While he isn’t thin, he could stand to have a little more fat over his ribs and be just fine. This indicates to me that maybe he is not as easy of a keeper as I initially thought. Using the Condition Score System I would rate JB as a 5 for Moderate.

I will also have to keep in mind that he is a stallion and he tends to drop weight a little quicker, especially in the spring. If he is breeding this coming spring and is also maintaining a moderate to heavy conditioning program , these amounts will have to go up in order for him to continue to maintain.

The next step was to figure out exactly what JB’s daily nutrient requirements are for his level of work. There are several resources out there to help you with this. I reviewed several others out there, all of which are close to the same . I chose Purdue’s site because I liked the overall article content the best. Virginia Cooperative Extension is also another one that seemed very good as well. I used the charts provided by the Purdue Cooperative Extension. The link to Purdue is

JB is a 6 year old that weighs approx 850 lbs, maybe a bit more than that. He is in good condition and has a lot of room to move. Using table one of the article provided above, I had to do some additional math. The table is broken down by weight of horse and the two closest categories are 880 lbs or 1000 lbs. I probably could have used the 880 lbs and made it easy on myself but being an analytical I wanted to break it down further. That way, knowing JB likely is a bit heavier than 850, I am not too concerned if my #’s come out a bit higher .

I took the 20.1 Mcal/day for the 880lb horses and divided it by 880 lbs = .023 This tells me that for this weight division there are .023 Mcals /lb. I checked this ratio for some of the other weight categories as the numbers of each nutrient value range depending on the weight of the horse. Ironically enough for the 1100 lbs horse it’s almost the same and this should get me plenty close for JB.

Next, I took 850 X .023 to calculate JB Digestible energy; this comes to 19.5 Mcals of Digestible energy.

I followed the same logic for each requirement on the chart using the numbers from the 880 lbs line to calculate for JB’s weight.

After some number crunching and tedious note taking, I finally have the Daily Requirements for JB.

JB Needs:
Digestible Energy= 19.5 Mcals per day
Crude Protein= 1.7 lbs per day
Calcium= 24.15 grams per day
Phosphorus= 16.42 grams per day
Vitamin A = 17.4 IU per day.

My next steps are to calculate what JB is actually receiving in nutrient levels for his hay and grain. I have started that process but have run into a few snags because of the hay type we are feeding. The Purdue article has a chart listing the nutrient amounts for various hays. We are feeding a blended hay which is a combination of orchard , crested wheat , timothy and even a little Alfalfa. Crested wheat is not one that the article lists. I tried calculating it using the orchard and timothy but the majority of the hay is the wheat grass .

After a lot of hunting I have found another website that has the wheat grass listed. Thus site is and is more of an online tool that allows you to choose from a variety of forages. The down fall is that most of the values are in percentages rather than grams or pounds. I will have to do some additional math wizardry and a math student I am not.

I am working on that next phase of the calculation.

Stay tuned !

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Catching up;

I failed to mention that I did decide to join the AERC for the 2009 year. After much consideration, I decided that for the fairly low cost of membership it was worth it. I was hesitant mostly because I am still not certain if endurance will be a fit for JB. With the 2008 season having been a bit rough for us with his teeth, then substantial growth, and then the bruised sole, I have to believe he will make marked improvements in 2009, but it is an unknown. That being said, we do plan to give it our best shot and while we are at it , we may as well get credit for what we do accomplish. If he does begin to come into his own, which I suspect he will, I would hate to not get those miles accounted for. I should be seeing an envelope any day from AERC with my official paperwork!

On January 10th , I will be attending the Hooves and Company awards banquet and meeting. There is supposed to be some discussion on the possibility of the hosting an AERC event for the 2009 season. I hope that they do consider this carefully. Attendance has been down for the local rides and by hosting an acutal AERC sanctioned ride, I suspect it may help to draw a better crowd. If they decide not to put something on, I will be planning on doing some traveling in order to attend a sanctioned ride.

Other things happening at Acer Farm….well, this weekend is scheduled as worming time. That also means it’s weight tape time and Rebel is quite concerned about his weight at this point. He has a striking resemblence to a wood tick these days, being the one horse that seems to get the lion's share of the hay! Since he heard that he will be joining JB in a conditioning regimen this spring, he is certain he will need a lot of extra grain

Weight tapes are not 100% accurate but I have found they are usually within 20 -30 lbs of accurate weight. That is fairly insignificant when worming adult horses.

We have had a couple of good hard freezes now since the last worming in late August. We had such a warm fall , that we waited a little longer in between worming cycles. I prefer to wait until we have had a couple of good hard freezes before the winter worming. That has now occurred. We even have a dusting of snow on the ground.

I prefer to rotate between Quest, Pyrantel and Ivermectin and have had good luck. We seem to have problems with tapeworms here on our place and it never fails that the geldings start rubbing their tails in late winter. At that time, I like to use TapeCare Plus. It seems to do the trick. In addition to a routine worming schedule, , I have considered getting a few chickens around the place this coming spring. I have heard they help with the worm load situation but I haven’t actually done any research on that. Anyone have any insight on that? I do know chickens can help tremendously with flies because they clean up the nits in the manure, interupting the egg laying cycle. I am not a big fan of chickens but after this past fly season we suffered through, something has to be done in that departement. Besides, it’s always nice to have a few fresh eggs available. Why not, we have the horses, dogs , and cat.. what’s a couple of chickens , right? Right???

In years past, we have purchased liguid Ivermectin from our vet. We could get 100 ml bottle that would get us through two cycles of worming with one rotation of Quest in between but the manufacturers have had some problems with shelf life. So, I could still get the 100 mL bottle but I wouldn’t be saving myself any money because any unused portion would have to be discarded.

Instead of running to the local feed store and paying $8.99 a tube, I thought I should do a little price shopping. Don't get me wrong, I like to try to support local business whenever I can but I also know that it's important to save pennies where I can.

I checked out some of the online suppliers that I frequently receive catalogs from. Just so happens that I found a great deal at Valley Vet Supply on Ivermectin paste for $2.99 a dose! So I saved myself, after shipping cost, approx $5 a dose. Not too shabby! I am fairly certain I can find something to put that $20 towards; maybe a snug pax or a new saddle pad????

I may have mentioned that I had shipped back my Troxel Sierra helmet for repair. The adjustment strap that helps fit the helmet to your head broke off. I did drop the helmet one time in a clumsy moment but other than that I can’t remember any other event that would have caused it to break. Unfortuantely the helmet was outside of the warranty for replacement so I sent them my CC information in the event they could not fix it , with instructions to just send me a new helmet. I guess they couldn’t fix the strap that came apart. The box was returned with a brand new helmet enclosed but no receipt, which seemed odd.

I had assumed that they just charged my credit card that I had provided them but when I called my CC company, there had been no charge made to my account. HOT DAMN! . Maybe it’s just good PR or maybe they were feeling generous for the holiday season . Either way, I am sending them a thank you card and will most definitely be a return customer for that good customer service. That goes a long way in my book , especially these days!

Tom and I have started discussing plans to get the trailer set up a bit different to make it more 'camp friendly' for me since purchasing a new trailer isn't in the budget anytime soon. This past season I used the one man Eureka tent but sleeping on the ground is just not my idea of getting a good night sleep. So, we are going to close the stock trailer in a bit more so I can put a cot in the horse trailer and set up my sleeping quarters in there. Not sure how we will do it yet but we have some initial ideas. I will keep you posted on the progress.

This weekend should be a bit warmer so the plan is to steal a ride or two. The horses are quite fuzzy these days and with the temps dipping into the 20’s at night, I will have to be thoughtful about how much of a workout JB gets. It’s been more than two weeks that he has had any ride time. I am sure he will be feeling his oats.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Back To the Books; Equine Nutrition

I’ve got a confession to make; While on vacation, my spare minutes were spent pouring over various articles and books on feeding the endurance horse. While still in college, I was always fascinated with equine nutrition and now with endurance , it is a fairly important piece of the puzzle.While JB appears to be a relatively easy keeper, he isn't quite as easy as Rebel is (pictured above) and I want to be certain I am giving him optimal feed ratios.

Time to pick up the books again.

For the last several weeks I have been spending quite a bit of time studying equine nutrition , trying to determine the correct ratio of between fats, protein, fiber etc, the right amount Mcal for JB’s body size and the conditioning levels I hope to have him working at. I have found there are several complicated formulas out there to determine all these things. While I don’t want to get caught up in the minutia of scientific formulas, I think it’s important to have concrete understanding of what I am putting into my horse and how it fuels him. As a horse owner I want to make sure that I accurately account for the conditioning demands I place on JB this coming year, and a proper feeding program is essential.

This past year, I fed JB a cereal grain called Running Horse Cut & Slide. It came recommended by the local feed dealer and my vet. When I looked into it , I liked many things about it. I like that the energy is derived from vegetable oils rather than sugar and starch to keep the sugar spikes down. I liked that it had a beet pulp base and it was highly digestable with a good fiber percentage.

The recommended feeding amount found on the bag is broken out between work load levels as is the case on most feeds. For a horse that is in light to moderate work . the recommendation is .30 to .50 per 100 lb of weight of horse, based on the average sized horse in the range of 800-1000 lbs. JB is about 850 give or take. I took the middle of the road figure, .40, and multiplied it 8.5 (850) which gives me 3.4 lbs of feed per day. Since the protein is at 15% which is a bit higher than I need or want, I cut him back to just under 3 l lbs of feed per day. In addition he is given plenty of good grass hay (with minimal alfalfa). Doesn’t seem like much…

This is all pretty basic calculation but my next step is determine whether he is truly getting the right amount of Protein, fats, fiber, calcium , etc with that ration. Do I need to up his intake or decrease it with a light to moderate level of work, and if so how much? JB seems to have held his weight fairly well last summer with this feed but he is not a hard keeper either. Overall I think it’s probably one of the better horse feeds on the market today but I need to determine if it will provider JB with the nutrition he will need to perform his best this upcoming season.

I have copied below the breakdown of nutritive value below.
Crude Protein (min.).................................................15.00%
Lysine (min.)..............................................................0.60%
Crude Fat (min.).........................................................9.00%
Crude Fiber (max.).....................................................14.0%
Calcium (CA) (Min.)....................................................0.85%
Calcium (CA) (Max.)...................................................1.02%
Phosphorous (P) (Min.)...............................................0.70%
Copper (Min.).............................................................50 ppm
Selenium (Min.)..........................................................0.3 ppm
Zinc (Min.)..................................................................250 ppm
Vitamin A (Min.).......................................................3750 IU/IB
Ingredients: Wheat Middings, Distillers Grain With Solubles, Pearled Barley, Soybean Hulls, RIce Bran, Soybean Oil, Beet Pulp, Dicalcium Phosphate, Whole Flax, Whole Canola, Calcium Carbonate, Brewers Yeast, Salt, Yeast Extract, Dlmothionine, Calcium Propionate, L-Lysine, Choline Chloride, Threonine, Beta Carotine, Ascorbic Acid, Bentonite, Ferrous Sulfate, Zinc Methonine Complex, Zinc Oxide, Vitamin E Supplement, Niacinamide, Copper Lysine Complex, Copper Sulfate, Sodium Selenite, Managanese Methionine Complex, Manganous Oxide, Vitamine B 12 Supplement, Vitamine A Supplement, Calcium Pantothenate, Biotin, Thiamine Hydrochloride, Riboflavin, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride, Menadione Sodium Bisulfate Complex (Source of Vitamin K Activity), Ethylenediamine Dihydroiodide, Vitamine D3 Supplement, Folic Acid, Cobalt Glucoheptonate, Cobalt Carbonate

Do any of you experienced in feeding the endurance horse have any helpful hints?

By the way; I did have a good vacation overall, even though my sister and I did spend several of those days with the stomach flu and the Thanksgiving feast never did quite happen as a result.

We did get to go shopping a couple times, in fact we even visited the Coach purse outlet store. I watched as excited women would come and go in the store, most walking out with a big smile, a few hundred dollars lighter but happy nonetheless that they had their new fashion accutrament at what they thought was a good deal. All the while, the only thing I could think about was how many of those Renegade boots I could buy for what these women just spent on a purse; a purse that would soon be tossed into the corner of their closet with the passing of the season. (by the way, I don’t recommend going into a Coach store with a $20 Shopko clearance black leather purse strapped to your side, unless your willing to withstand to scoffs!) Unless it’s horse related, shopping is not my thing, especially for a Coach Purse!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Did someone say they wanted to Dance?


……Toothbrush….toothpaste…check… contact lens solution.. check…. Warm clothes…check….good it

No, I am not packing for an endurance ride, although I wish I was. I am not even packing for anything horse related.

Instead, I am headed to Connecticut to spend Thanksgiving with my sister and her husband. Before the sun even rises on sunday I will be boarded and blasting through the skies in a pressurized metal tube. With any luck I will make both connections with out any difficulties.

I am excited for the trip, but as any horse crazy person knows, leaving the farm is always difficult.

As a result, going on an extended trip like I am this time, is not something I choose to do very often unless it’s work related. If Tom and I do happen to travel, one of us usually winds up staying behind to “tend the rabbits”. Finding someone to take on 3 dogs, a cat and 5 horses is usually expensive and that’s only if you can even find someone crazy enough to agree!

This trip, unfortunately, will leave my very understanding husband behind. .. and all my beloved animals. My mom and I will travel back to Connecticut together, also leaving my dad behind. (I guess the boys are going to have to figure out Thanksgiving dinner this year)

I am one of the worlds worst worrier’s when it comes to my animals, especially the horses. Even though I know Tom is perfectly capable of managing things, there is just something about being there everyday to lay eyes on the horses and run down my mental checklist; morning and night….“ all horses accounted for, upright and walking fine, everyone is eagerly eating, things are ok” . Tom depends on my acute sense for when one of the critters "just not right". He going to have to be on his own and after Sunday, a nightly phone call from the home base will have to suffice and lay my worries to rest.

All things considered, this trip will be bittersweet. We have plans to get together with cousins that I haven’t seen in years. These are cousins that we used to spend every Thanksgiving and Christmas with. I am looking forward to catching up with everyone. They all have kids now that I have never even met. Not a single family member is "horsey" in the least so no horse talk for me.

We also have a trip into NYC planned, it’s been years since I have visited and I am really looking forward to that. I am not much of a city goer but NYC is worth a trip to every now and then. With all the plans, and the visiting with family and friends of long ago, I am certain I won’t have time to worry about what is going on at home ( yeah , right!)

I know when I return, I will be greeted with meows, woofs and nickers and that will be music to my ears!

Happy Trails everyone and maybe I will get time to send an update while I am still on vaca!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Just Right Night

I arrived home just before dusk this evening. A undeniable bite in the air as arctic front is about to bear down upon us. The chance of snow with rain according to the weather forecast beginning tomorrow. We have been enjoying mild November weather so far.

I tossed the heals and blouse and changed into crummy jeans, a warm hat and gloves , and headed out to feed horses. We use round bales to feed from, simply because we have not been able to build a hay barn yet. Round bales , when tarped, seem to shed water much better than squares. We end up losing a lot less to mold this way. Typically people who feed rounds also use the feeders. We don’t have those either. Instead we fork off hay from the bale morning and night. Personally, I would prefer feeders but that’s one of those things that I haven’t convinced Tom of yet. He thinks there would be too much waste and Rebel and Roman would tend to attach themselves to it like woodticks.

I loaded up the ‘rickshaw” with enough for 5 generous hay piles. The sun had set but it was not quite dark. As I approached the gate, I was greeted by 4 galloping , frisky geldings, obviously feeling the change in weather as well.

There is no sweeter sound to my ears than that of thundering hooves, no greater joy than being able to see my horses run and play.

I paused and watched as Cassidy and Brego romped about, leaving me in awe with their effortless rollbacks and airs above ground. Rebel and Roman were more interested in the hay but they did get caught up in all the excitement and joined the other two for a run about the pasture at a high speed, down to the other end of the pasture, around the outside of the round corral, and back towards me. What a thrill to see 4 geldings running right at me, almost full speed!

I doled out the piles and nattered greetings to them all, a scratch or two here and there, as they sorted out which pile tasted the best and settled in for a long chilly night. It occurred to me that it’s the small things in my life that I am so thankful for. How many of us get to experience that of running horses, cheeks bitten by fresh crisp air and soft fuzzy muzzles? All things at this moment are just right .

Monday, November 17, 2008

New Year, New Goals....

Settling into a season of less ride time, (forced due to darkness and weather), I shift focus a bit to thoughts about the upcoming ride season. I have been thinking about goals next season. Obviously I would like to stat next year off with completing a LD ride with JB early in the season .That’s a big one for me. It eluded me for the 2008 year due to JB’s bruised sole. I don’t intend to let it pass by for 2009.

Before I look ahead to far, I had to ponder where I have been. Ok 2008 was a rough year…not going to dwell on that.

Where did this desire to do endurance come from anyways? Why, more than anything has it motivated me ? When was the first time the thought of riding a horse for 50 or 100 miles over varied terrain begin to sound like fun????

It’s been hiding there in the back of my mind for a long time and it started with a special horse named Rebel. I can remember as clear as day the first time the idea of competing in endurance first entered my thoughts. It was during the first year I owned Rebel , after we sorted out some of his behavior issues he had. Rebel came to me as a rescue from an abuse situation. He had been mistreated and as a result , built in some pretty good defense mechanisms. I was told that all he knew how to do was rear or back up when a rider was on him. I had been warned that he was a renegade and I had better be careful.

At the time, I was about 17 years old and pretty much fearless. I hadn’t even heard of Natural horsemanship yet. But this was my first “horse of my own” that I had. It wasn’t a lesson horse, he wasn’t my sisters horse, he was mine. I had to make this horse right.

The first few rides out were a little rough. He had a couple of blow ups with me that included the aforementioned rearing and backing up. He bolted, he spooked, he tried to run away. He threw it all at me. Somehow, I managed to stay in the saddle during all of this , and maintained my composure (young and fearless) and just kept on about our ride.

Looking back on how I handled that, I never really got after Rebel for reacting like he was. At the time, knowing his past history of abuse, I was so fearful of doing anything he might perceive as me hurting him. I just went along with it and hoped for the best. I wanted him to realize that no matter what he did, I was still going to be right there with him. I didn’t really know what else to do. Just coming off of the last 8 years of riding Thoroughbreds retired from the track, over cross country courses, I was used to runaways.

Of course, when a horse rears like Trigger from the famed Roy Rogers show, I naturally threw the reins forward, clung to his neck and prayed to the heavens above we wouldn’t go over.

I just hoped that eventually he would realize I wasn’t going to try to hurt him and that he would eventually decide he didn’t need to do all those things. It must have worked.

After some time, I must have gained his trust on some level. He proved to be a decent riding horse. He was always a bit of a spooky, hot headed mount but over time it did lessen. THe rearing, bolting episodes lessened with each ride out and I got to see some great country atop his back as he swiftly carried us for miles and miles along the back roads of Stevensville, MT and into the Sapphire hills that shadowed the east side of the Bitterroot valley. On these rides, he astounded me with his ability for speed and it seemed I never could tire him. I rode with various people on various trail rides and ultimately would end up riding alone. No one could keep up with him. Rebel was my only riding horse for several years. I can’t tell you how many Montana sunsets I saw atop Rebels back.

… Thus the beginning of my quest to someday compete in endurance.

Since those early days, Rebel ended up having to be a bit of road warrior for me. While I floundered around through my twenties, Rebel made several moves with me from Stevensville, MT to Kalispell, MT to Helena, MT , back to Kalispell and a variety of moves around the Flathead valley at various boarding stables. It wasn’t until Tom and I married that Rebel was in any one place for any length of time. And yet, he was the one constant in a period of my life that seemed to be always changing.

In the last few years, Rebel has not been used very much. That has been eating on me. It’s easy to use his age and some of his quirks as an excuse to leave him behind as I drive off doing things with JB or any of the others at Acer Farm. It seems that there is always a youngster to work or some other project I have taken on. For a long time, I fooled myself into believing that Rebel was happier being ridden only once in a while and otherwise left to his own devices, grazing and loafing in the pasture but in my heart, I know better. Rebel has always loved getting out on the trail This past summer, I was so concerned about Rebel’s state of mind from not getting much use that Tom started him in Horseback archery, which he took too fairly quickly but if there is one thing Rebel loves to do, that is go…. and go fast.

All those years ago when it was just Rebel and I enjoying a Montana sunset, I promised him that someday we would make use of his speed and compete in an endurance ride together.

For the 2009 ride season, I intend to make good on that promise once and for all. Albeit, 14 years later and Rebel is approx 18 years old now. I might not consider it if he wasn’t in such good condition. I don’t think it’s too much to ask but it’s never too late to atleast try, right?

I realize he is older and maybe he won’t be quite as fast. Maybe I won’t find the fire he once had and I have to live with having missed making good on a promise, but my heart tells me that he has been patiently waiting all these years for me to finally give him a chance. After all, if it weren’t for Rebel, I likely would have never had the endurance bug.

Wouldn’t it be something if, after all this time, we finally get to accomplish what we intended to so many years ago?

Hoof Beats

Saturdays ride was bittersweet for me. I knew it would be my last time for a while that I would be able to take a jaunt up the gravel road with JB.

As a result, his conditioning will be limited going forward, atleast for a few months. Today , his EDSS shoes and pads finally do come off for the winter. I made Tom hold off until the very last possible minute, not wanting my riding to be limited to soft footing.

His EDSS shoes and pads have been on since September 15th. It is highly likely that once they are off, his sole has likely softened and he will be tender once again but only for a few days until he adjusts.I am keeping my fingers crossed that the pads did their job and gave him the time needed for the sole bruise to heal once and for all.

Over the next several months, Tom will trim JB using natural balance hoof care methods taught by Gene Ovnicek. Tom learned these methods years ago (Gene is from this very part of the contry in fact) and has followed these trimming methods for his own horses all this time. With JB, atleast initially the focus will be on getting his sole callus re-developed after his stint with pads.

In addition, we hope to help JB to develop thicker sole depth using these methods. This will be one piece of the hoof anatomy that will help keep him from becoming sore. JB has a bit of deformity in his front right hoof and it tends to to want to shape out like platters with under slung heels. With frequent trimming, getting the callus back, increasing his sole depth, and working to keep his hoof proportions correct, we hope to get JB's feet backto the point where he no longer has to be so sensitive. It will be a bit of an uphill battle since the footing he lives in is soft. We have very few rocks , if any, and when it rains, we get instant mud. We typically have a fairly wet weather pattern. If only for the desert!!

No hoof , no horse as they say. If I obsess over JB's feet for the next several months, just ignore me. We have to get his feet in top condition.

This endurance career I have embarked upon with him depends on it.


… Enjoying a steamy cup of coffee, I watched the first sunlight peek over the snowcapped Swan mountains , and I thought …

….Freedom is exactly what I needed a dose of today. A way to free my thoughts of deadlines, deliverables, meetings and conference calls.

I had a few household chores that I wanted to get out of the way (yuck) and then, I was headed out the door to get a dose of my freedom.

Vaccuming and 3 loads of laundry done, phonecalls from family wanting a piece of my time politely dodged, I was out the door and saddled in no time. I knew at some point, I would pay later for choosing horse activities over taking time with family. Nothing new, I was used to it.

I would have to settle for a ride today that would follow one of the two same routes we usually condition on. It gets a little boring but I am limited to where I can ride from home without trailering somewhere. It didn't matter much. I was happy to be out in the fresh air , on my horse. I thought we might plan for an 8 mile ride today. With the darkness beating me home most days of the week , I have been limited to saving longer rides for the weekend.

JB moved along at a steady, average pace for him. I let him pick the speed but had to encourage him to keep a steady rhythm. Occasionally, his mind would wander back to his herd at home and he would slow his pace, trying to look back towards home. I don’t know that he was enjoying the time out as much as I but he carried on at my suggestion. After 2.5 miles, he decided to walk and I let him. We walked along for about a half mile. I was distracted by the two redtail hawks performing some impressive aeronautical tricks, screeching and diving. We stirred up a clutch of pheasants and interrupted the path of three deer who stopped and watched us pass by. It seemed everyone was out enjoying the sunny mid November day.

As we picked up a trot again, we hit the 3.5 mile point and turned around to head back, only to detour and headed up another road that offered new scenery we hadn’t visited recently. I had hoped it might offer more interesting distractions for JB, like cattle and other residences with horses. The horses seemed to interest him, reviving him with a bit of speed as they trotted along their fence line with us for while. The cattle were too far off in the distance to be of much interest. At the 4.5 mile mark we had to turn around again and join back up to our main road that headed back towards home, 3 miles left. Initially I had planned to go on and take the other road that would give us our 8 miles but feeling JB’s energy and pace wain just a bit, decided to let him choose to see what he would do. Besides, today was about freedom. I didn’t want to make any more decisions that needed and once in a while I allow him to have a bit of say so in what happens on our rides. He chose to turn the corner to head home…of course…as any horse might. We joined back up to the main road that would take us home and JB offered a nice canter, which he maintained for about ¾ of a mile and then down to what I would guess to be about a 6.5 mph trot. JB has one of the nicest , smoothest trots I have ever ridden in a horse.

We happily clipped along at this rate until we were a ½ mile from home, when I reluctantly asked for a down transition into a walk. I was enjoying the pace and wished we could go on forever but JB was showing some sign of feeling a bit tired and was more than willing to walk.

When we arrived back , I decided as further cool down I would work on some lateral work, hind end releases, shoulder-n, leg yields. Occasionally I like to end a ride and use some of these exercises as a post exercises stretching routine.

We completed 7.5 miles in 1 hr and 12 minutes. Not the fastest, not the slowest but no less, the best time I had had all week. It was food for my soul.

Thoughts of next ride season are constantly on my mind these days. I can only hope that with ongoing conditioning and getting his sore feet squared away, JB will increase his willingness to move along at the speeds I know he is capable of.

Thursday, November 13, 2008


" The Psychology of the horse hold the key to the Emotive Patterns, they lead to physical

order and that leads to trust. Trust is inherant to lightness as is knowledge and self awareness.

To be aware is to live fully."

- Bettina Drummond

Riata's Story

I have already told you about me, my husband and our horses. And you already know I have a Barb stallion who I have started endurance with. I have given you a quick history lesson on what we know of the Barb horse and how it came to be. When I am out at events with JB, he always catches someones eye which leads to the discussion of what the Barb horse is. I am often asked how I came upon the Barb as a breed.

This is Riata’s story.....

When Tom and I first met in 2001, we could not have had more distinct types of the horses that we each kept. I had thoroughbreds and warmbloods. He had 2 Lippitt Morgans and one little Spanish Mustang named Riata he had acquired along the way. When we got married we had 7 horses combined. Little did we know, little Riata was the key to what our future held.

Tom acquired Riata through an older man who somehow acquired her from a known SMR horse trader in the area known as Bobby. The older man was just looking for a good home for her and Tom came along through an ad. The little information the old man had of the filly , he passed on to Tom. The extent of that was that the filly was a Jack Slade bred filly. In the SMR world, this is a fairly well known foundation line. We have no idea if this was true or not. The mare had no papers that came with her. Tom didn’t really know much about SMR at that time and he didn’t really care. He was interested in her strong Spanish features. She exhibited the dorsal stripe , the shoulder striping and the leg patterns of striping. Tom did make an attempt to track Bobby down to try to get more info on the filly but he didn’t have much luck. Apparently Bobby was purposely difficult to find due to a bit of history with not caring for her horses well.

Riata was a tiny thing and standing next to my 16.3 hand thoroughbreds, she looked even tinier. We hoped that she would at least mature to about 14.0 hands so that Tom could use her as a riding horse but after she hit 4, it wasn’t looking promising. The idea of Riata growing tall enough to be his riding horse was kind of slipping away butTom remained interested in the Spanish type horses. Now I have to point out, Tom isn’t all that concerned about having to ride big huge horses, in fact he prefers a smaller horse but sometimes you just have to be realistic! He is just over 6’1. A horse that stands 13.2 hands was just a little on the shy side for him!

That Spring of 2001, we began shopping for a new mount for Tom, something Spanish and something over 13.2 hands was the initial criteria. We weren’t really sure what we would do with Riata when we first began looking. Maybe find her a home as child’s mount or the possibility that I might use her. Height wasn’t an issue here!

After looking at a few horse sale websites, including various SMR breeders, we ran across the website of the Quien Sabe Ranch in Midvale, Idaho. Shortly thereafter, we were in contact with Robert Painter who owned the ranch. We were quite interested in the horses and Roberts account their history. While we suspected some of his stories were a bit tall at the time, we were still impressed by what he told of their abilities. It seemed like this was the kind of horse Tom was looking for; strong, sturdy, sensible, and with some fairly prevalent Spanish features. After some back and forth emails, phone calls, videos and pictures of available horses he had we decided it might be best to take a trip to the Quien Sabe to see the horses for ourselves.

It was still early Spring, I believe April when we made the trip. Picking out a horse at the Quien Sabe is not like any typical horse buying experience. At the time, Robert had well over 100 horses, and most were untouched by the human hand, running wild on several hundred acres and could not be approached. It was difficult to view any horses this way but with the help of Roberts specially designed stock trailer we could get a little closer to them but due to the fact that these horses were not the least bit tamed, touching them was limited at best.

In addition to Tom’ s preference of a Baroque or Spanish featured horse, Tom’s requirements also included; something untouched ( not a problem at Quien Sabe) , had to be at least 14.0 hands with fairly heavy bone ( remember, he was a Lippitt Morgan breeder) and he decided he would prefer a gelding.

At the time, Robert didn’t have any geldings he wanted to part with. There were two we really liked, Sunrise and Surefire, but were told that they were not for sale. He did have two other horses that were still stallions that he was willing to part with. I had to wonder, all of these horses, well over 100 at the time, and he only had two that he was willing to part with?? That seemed odd but Roberts explanation was that he was building depth within certain family groups in his breeding program. He could only let certain horses go at this time.

Nonetheless out of the two we had to choose from, one was known as Double Star and the other horse, was taller but a little leaner structure. I don't recall this horses name. Both were of similar bloodlines lines. Both were stallions and 5 years old. Tom looked Double Star over for quite some time. It was difficult to get a true feel for the horse because you could barely lay a hand on him. Double Star was contained by the man-made squeeze chute in Roberts’s stock trailer. Wide eyed, full of fear and every muscle in his body rippled with tension, he was like a caged cat. It was difficult not to want to stroke his magnificent, gleaming neck but one could see the horse’s fear of our close presence. He was ready to leap from his containments at any given moment.

We spent the rest of the day looking at mares and foals in a separate pasture. When we left the ranch , our plan was to give it some thought and return a call to Robert on our decision. One week later, Robert indicated that he was possibly interested in Riata as a trade, Riata for Double Star but he wanted to see pictures first. Discussions of a trade with Riata during out visit had only come up briefly. We were not expecting his willingness to trade for her, given her questionable history.

After sending him photos and videos, he said that Riata would fit his breeding requirements based on her ‘type. While she was unpapered and we only had sketchy information on her history, he said he was certain, based on her body type, that she would fit his breeding program. I did wonder about his decision, but then again, who were we to question? He had been breeding these horses for 40 plus years. I had to assume he knew what he was looking for.

After some thinking and discussing, Tom and I decided to make the trade, Riata for Double Star. We felt confident that Riata would have a good home where she could run on acres and acres and raise babies. We were thrilled at the time. We assured Robert that we would take Riata back if he ever changed his mind. A couple of months later, we met Robert at the halfway point and took Double Star home and sent Riata with Robert. And so the story goes; this was how we came to love the Barb Horse.

Double Star stayed with us for a couple of years. We spent most of that time working on ground work. We were able to make some great progress with him including haltering, handling and trimming his feet, trailer loading and we even had a saddle on him a few times but he was the most fearful horse I have ever met. We found that he could never quite allow himself to trust people 100% and at times was unpredictable, even after two solid years of working with him to gain his trust. His flight response was very strong.
He certainly seemed to be his own horse and we had to work everyday to gain even a piece of his trust. Keeping in mind he ran wild for 5 years as a stallion, getting gelded late in his 5th year, he had developed some fairly strong instincts.

Once we were able to routinely catch him we began to introduce him to the rest of our herd. For several months we struggled to get him acclimated into the existing herd of 6 horses. It didn’t go smoothly at all. We tried to introduce him to the herd in a variety of ways, putting him out with one horse at a time for a period , then add another horse and so on. We had five acres for them , and while it may be just a wild theory on my part, it almost seemed that Double Star was so used to roaming in a much more vast area, that 5 acres was not enough for him to sort things out with the other horses. He would bond with one other gelding we had and time and time again, put the run on the others. It got to a point that he was injuring the other horses routinely and we were fixing fence on a regular basis. Several vet bills later and ongoing attempts to get Double Star to accept his new herd; combined with Tom enrolling in his Master’s program, we realized we had to make some changes. We decided he was a horse that was going to require much more time but also much more room that we could offer. We could not keep him isolated in a corral for the rest of his life. We found a suitable home for him and Double Star now lives in Canada with the son of Adolf Hungry Wolf. Last we heard he was doing well. Double Star was the most amazing athlete of a horse I have come across. He was truly all horse; he was extremely sensitive and he taught me patience and the subtleties of communicating effectively with these animals.

I did say that this was Riata’s story. Riata went on to live at the Quien Sabe for some time and we received updates fairly regularly from Robert on her. This instilled some comfort to us. She was adjusting well by all accounts and Robert was enjoying having a horse around that he could lay hands on easily. Robert planned to have her bred the next spring when she turned 5. We missed her terribly but there was some comfort in knowing she had what appeared to be a fairly good life down there, running on acres of land. It was a bit later in Riata’s story that things changed.

We lost contact with Robert shortly after our trade. The loss of contact came for variety of reasons that would require a completely separate post. During that time, regardless of the reasons for our loss of contact, I attempted , on various occasions, to send an inquiry of Riata via email to Robert . I did get a responses back on occasion, but the question pertaining to Riata was never answered. Of course, Tom and I began to wonder, and in our hearts we knew it was likely something had happened that Robert was unwilling to tell us. But what could we do? It had been over a year that had passed since the trade.

Only a year or so ago, we came to understand through other sources that Riata never did make it as a broodmare with Roberts herd. It was heartbreaking news. Apparently, he kept Riata for a while but eventually he took her to the auction. I can only hope that someone other than the canner bought her. I guess Robert had a change of heart as to her quality. I guess he had his reasons, but my only wish is that he would have called us first. We told him at the time we would take her back if she didn’t work out. He assured us he would. We would have driven down there to get her in a heart beat and gladly given him payment for her. If he would have just asked.

Unfortunately, Riata’s story is not unlike many others horses that once roamed the Quien Sabe. With the high cost of feed these days, Roberts age, and lack of help to run his ranch, we have come to learn that more and more of these special horses are going the auction way. What Robert has spent a lifetime creating is now disappearing. While I don’t agree with how he is handling his situation, I can understand it. In my humble opinion, I think he has not done these horses justice in marketing them and is now facing the consequence of that. I don’t know what he has left for horses currently but I do know that he did not have much of a foal crop last year. It seems as though the future of the Quien Sabe is uncertain and the day will come when the Barb horses running on it’s land are no more

While there are only a few of us that have been lucky enough to acquire one of these Barbs, I do hope that we can continue to promote and preserve them to the best of our ability. My resources on land, time and the green stuff is certainly limited, but I hope to do my part by promoting JB and his abilities, in the hopes that people will opt to breed their mares to him, to pass on the unique genetics and qualities that he can offer. Genetics that are not found in many other horses today.

Sometimes, as I stroll out to the corrals to feed in the misty moonlight of morning, I can see the shadows and hear the foot falls of Riata and Double Star when they come home to visit Acer Farm.

Stay tuned for Part 2 on our visit to the Quien Sabe, including how we came to acquire El Gato Rojo JB.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Rain Rain Go Away

This week has been quite wet with no indications of it letting up anytime soon. Sunday was the our last ride and it was raining then too but I had my thrifty hat to keep the water out of my eyes. Ok, it's an ugly hat and has seen better days... but hey it works...

It's been dark by the time I arrive home after work so riding during the week isn't working out so well. Sundays ride went great however so I will linger on that until I can saddle up again. Tom took some pictures of us when we arrived back home and I took a couple more loops around the pasture. I am quite happy that he looks like he is moving as well as he feels when I am riding him. We had a bit of rough go this summer, our first year to work towards riding endurance. As a result he is now in pads andEDSS shoes. It seems to have done the trick. This summer he came up sore in his first LD ride. We didn't know at the time what it was because he did not exhibit symptoms when he was hoof tested and he never developed swelling or heat anywhere. I gave him a week off and in 3 days he appeared to be back to normal. In September, it was quite a bit worse and we realized at that point the July soreness was likely related. We made it about 8 miles into our last LD for the season and JB was stumbling alot when he finally tripped quite badly, nearly going down. His next step was acutely lame. I walked him back to ride camp...all remaining 6 miles of it. We feared a broken coffin bone but the xrays revelaed a 7 mm sole, a little on the thin side and likely a stone buise in the sole. So, to give him some relief and comfort while he healed, along with a couple days of bute, we opted to have the EDSS shoes and pads put on. Since then he has gradually improved his way of going. He reaches more and is much more forward than he was all summer.

Tom will remove his hoof accutraments before long and I will be left to decide what to do next year. Do I go back to pads and shoes or do I go the hoof boot route. Pads certainly don't help keep the sole healthy, that I know. Boots seem to be all the rave but they also have their pitfalls, like the possibility of losing them (they aren't cheap) , rubbing, etc. I guess I have all winter to decide! For now , I am enjoying the ride!