Barbara is a Professional Cutting Horse Trainer, Personal Performance Coach, Author, Clinician, and Equine Consultant. She was inducted into the National Cowgirl Hall of Fame in 2012.
Barbara is currently offering free sign up to her “Just For Today” daily inspiration emails. From her website: “They include horsemanship and mental game tips, as well as personal meaning reflections and physical conditioning tips. They arrive in your email inbox on Monday through Friday. There’s nothing to buy. They’re free.”
For a number of years, Barbara would send out these daily emails. She eventually stopped doing so in order to use her energies for other worthy projects. But I really enjoyed these horsemanship-related suggestions/ little nuggests of wisdom and was sad to see them go. So excited to start receiving these emails again.
Many of us are trying to adjust to travel restrictions, job lay offs and having access to only essential services. Sometimes taking your eyes off your own problems for a minute is balm for the soul. I thought I would pass on a few ideas I have come across for spreading goodwill in a time of stress I really like this community action response poster that I found online for UK residents (you will notice the reference to Public Health England). It provides ideas for all of us no matter where we live. Seems like a great place to start. Read on for other ideas.
SHOP WITH SMARTPAK AND CONSIDER DONATING TO A HORSE RESCUE– I just saw that Smartpak equine at http://www.smartpakequine.com is currently offering free shipping with any order. No minimum shipping requirement. Usually their minimum for free shipping is $75. If you are watching your pennies but still in need of a horse product, now is a great time to shop with Smartpak.
And if you have money to give, why not contact your local horse rescue and see if they have a product need? You could purchase items to have sent directly to the rescue OR buy them an e-gift certificate and let them know about the current free shipping offer so they can take advantage. I am guessing that the broader economic strain of the Corona virus will have a big impact on our horse rescues across the country. If you can, please support them.
FOSTER A DOG OR CAT (OR OTHER SMALL CRITTER) FROM AN ANIMAL SHELTER– On a similar note, animal shelters are also feeling the strain. Many are asking for folks to foster dogs, cats and other critters during this time. Fostering can be a very rewarding experience. And it is such a treat for an animal to get out of a crowded shelter and get some individual attention. If you can, please contact your local animal shelter to inquire about their fostering needs and policies.
BUY A LIP BALM AND HELP WORKING EQUIDS WORLDWIDE– I know, maybe purchasing makeup is not at the top of your priority list now.
But did you know that according to Brooke USA website that “100 Million Horses, Donkeys And Mules Support 600 Million Of The World’s Poorest People”? By purchasing Lip Revival Tinted Lip Balm from Beauty for Real, you can help support the working equids of the world. 20% of the proceeds from each lip balm purchase goes to Brooke USA. Brooke USA supports the international organization the Brooke that helps working equids (horses, donkeys, mules) and their owners around the world.
CHECK OUT FREEKIBBLE.COM– Finally, for those who don’t have extra money to donate but still want to help the animal-shelter community, check out http://www.freekibble.com. By answering a question of the day, you prompt the sponsoring organization to donate a few pieces of dog/cat food or cat litter to shelter pets depending upon the link you select. It is free to participate. Sign up to receive a daily email reminder.
If you have resource ideas for helping out others during this pandemic and beyond, please post them to the comments section below. Even small acts of thoughtfulness and kindness can have a broad impact through the ripple effect of spreading goodwill.
PREFACE: The issue of timing comes up a lot in the equestrian world. Generally, it is mentioned in the context of the application of aids. Matching which aid to apply with which footfall of the horse. Coordination of aids during a certain moment of a movement. The more precise you want your riding to be, the more important that timing becomes. But timing can be thought of within other contexts when it comes to our lives with horses. I share with you below an essay that I originally wrote for a magazine. Turns out it wan’t quite right for that particular publication. Maybe it wasn’t the right timing? Apparently my riding is not the only place I struggle to apply this concept . . .
The Right Horse At The Right Time By Mary Lynne Carpenter
After many years of wanting and wishing, 2003 was the year that I finally became a backyard horse-owner. I had purchased my first horse, Blue, in 2001 and began boarding him at a local facility. My family and I, living in an apartment complex at that time, soon started the search for a rural property with room for horses. We must have visited a hundred properties before we found one that was suitable and affordable. Save for a brief stint living in another State, we have kept the same address for seventeen years now.
My newest horse, Shiloh, was coincidentally born in 2003. Just as I was getting my sea legs as a backyard horse-owner, Shiloh was learning to stand on his own four legs. We were both trying to navigate the world of horses in our own ways, me as a new horse-owner and him as a new foal.
Shiloh was 15 years old when I bought him. It is not lost on me that Shiloh and I, by virtue of us both now being middle-aged, have more time behind us than ahead of us. Who knows how many of those years will be healthy riding years where we are both willing and able to be active?
On the other hand, I also realize that Shiloh and I would likely not have been a good match for each other back in 2003. At that time, I was still dipping my toes back into all things equestrian as a re-rider. Shiloh was a young horse with a blank slate, ready to absorb and learn. Both of us needed to acquire knowledge and experience, but we probably couldn’t have done that together very successfully. We most likely would have taught each other the wrong lessons. I might have ended up a very scared and disappointed owner. Shiloh might have turned into a very mixed-up horse with an uncertain future.
Before I bought Shiloh, he had spent the previous five years mostly unridden. He was well-cared for. He was sound in mind and body. He had a good training foundation, but he had also gotten rusty in his handling and riding skills. I needed all my years of horse experience that I had accumulated since 2003 to help Shiloh acclimate to a new home where he would resume life as a riding horse. Shiloh and I have only been together about a year and a half now. We are still getting to know each other. I enjoy peeling back the layers, uncovering just how much good training other folks had obviously put into him over the years. Some might say we have come together too late, but our meeting up in mid-life actually seems to be good timing.
Even as I continue to develop my relationship with Shiloh, I sometimes wonder where my next horse is right now. That is, Lord willing I have the opportunity to bring another horse home in the future. Is he just being born or does he have some years under his belt already? What does she look like and how does she ride? Whatever package he or she comes in, I do hope that the timing is right when we meet each other. I hope that we each come to the table with complimentary life experiences that set us up for success. As the old saying goes, “timing is everything”. How this rings true when it comes to horses.
I haven’t seen any statistics, but I would bet that most backyard horse-keepers also care for other animals. If you have dogs or cats, you may already be familiar with the online pet- product company Chewy.
Did you know that Chewy also sells products for horses? While their horse offerings do not rival a typical tack store, they boast enough product variety to make them worth a look. Horse products sold through Chewy include feed, supplements, treats, fly spray, vet wrap, grooming supplies, prescription medications and tack.
Like most folks, I enjoy the convenience of shopping online. On the downside, I find it especially difficult paying for shipping costs or meeting the minimum requirements for free shipping. Many online stores have a fairly high minimum of $75 or so for the free shipping feature. When I am just looking to buy one inexpensive product, it is frustrating that I might have to pay more for shipping than the cost of the item itself. On a similar note, it is not very often that I have an extra $75 to spend on products I don’t really need just to get free shipping on the one item I do need.
Shopping at Chewy.com helps solve this problem for me, because they offer free shipping on orders over $49. Not only that, but their free shipping is generally a one to two day shipping offer as well. Usually you have to pay extra at most other websites for that speed of shipping. And if I already have an order of pet food coming, it is easy to add a small horse product or two to my order. Their auto-ship feature is super convenient as I can save a shopping list online and decide “what I want sent when”. Generally you will get a small discount on items you order via auto ship too.
Chewy’s prices on horse items aren’t often the lowest I have found online, but they aren’t typically outrageous. When I visit their website, I normally click on their “Today’s Deals” link and then “Horse Deals” to see if an item I want might be on sale.
I don’t know what it is like to work for Chewy or how employee friendly they are, but I found them customer friendly. I once called Chewy after my cat died. I explained that I wanted to return a couple of crates of food. They told me to just keep the food and donate it to an animal shelter. They refunded me the full amount (even though I wouldn’t need to return the food to them) and then sent me a bouquet of flowers with a nice sympathy note! I think that is the first time a company (or anybody else, for that matter), has sent me a bouquet of flowers when one of my pets has passed. I hope Chewy is as considerate towards their employees as they are their customers.
Probably the only difference I have noticed with Chewy as compared to other online shops with horse products is how they package their fly spray. If you have ever purchased fly spray from say, Smartpak, you may notice that the trigger bottles are wrapped and bagged to try to prevent/contain leaks. Unfortunately, I have not know Chewy to do this yet. The fly spray that I have ordered has arrived with no protective packaging and often laying down rather than standing up. One bottle arrived almost completely leaked out. Fortunately, other items packaged inside the box were easily wiped down. But that leak might have ruined an order that also contained a bag of pet food or something more porous. Their customer service department was understanding and promptly refunded me my money for the fly spray. I am all for supporting less packaging as a kindness to the environment, but perhaps they could at least try to ship spray bottles standing up so as to minimize potential messes.
If you haven’t already checked out Chewy’s horse-related products, you might be pleasantly surprised. If you are a FIRST TIME Chewy customer, you can use the following link to place your order AND have Chewy donate $20 to the Heart of Phoenix horse rescue. Heart of Phoenix is based in West Virginia and serves horses in need all over Appalachia. This is a terrific opportunity to try out Chewy as a first time customer and help a deserving horse rescue. Go to https://www.chewy.com/rp/6779.
P.S.- This post is completely unsolicited and uncompensated. 🙂
I appreciate many aspects of keeping my horses at home. One thing that has caught my attention as of late is how their presence encourages me to keep a routine. I don’t usually need much prompting in this department as I seem naturally drawn to structure and organization. But during times in my life when the chips are down, knowing that my horses still need me serves as an important reminder that life continues. Any chaos in life is mitigated by the regular rhythms of horse care.
While I have seen some varied opinions on the topics, most horse people think that maintaining a routine in feeding times contributes to their horse’s well-being. In reading about horses living in the wild, the descriptions of their lives sound quite organized to me. Preferring to live in communal herds, they seem to naturally appreciate structure. While some contend that horse herds in the wild are very hierarchical, others think that an observed pecking order among equines is only seen in domestic horses where being housed in close quarters creates competition for resources.
Still, whether more rigidly organized or not, horses naturally seem drawn to predictability in many forms. Any time I have welcomed a new horse into my backyard, it is my observation that they calm down once they catch on that I am coming out to feed and otherwise care for them on a set time schedule.
Nature in general seems to share this innate sense of structure and organization that I find so appealing. In spending time these last few days out in the pasture and in the barn, I am everywhere seeing signs of Spring. My horses are shedding their Winter coats. The grass is starting to grow and get green. It prompts me to wait for the ground to dry out so I can start the first mow of the season. The avian activity is increasing. I see some birds flying with pieces of horse hay in their mouths. Fathers and mothers building nests in anticipation of egg laying.
The rhythms of the Spring season and of nature itself gives me quiet comfort when other events in my life seem out of control. In my own faith tradition, nature is God’s handiwork. Nature reminds me to look to Him for inspiration and guidance, both in times of plenty and in times of want. It is a beautiful thing to appreciate His creation. It is in many ways an act of worship that calms and centers me.
So as I prepare to head out into the darkness for early morning feed, I will be thankful to have this opportunity to care for these awesome creatures called horses (and my barn cats, too!). For the thousandth time I will stuff the hay bags full of forage, check the water trough, dole out portions of cat food and gather the muck tools to start cleaning the run-in-shed and remove manure from around the paddock.
It is hard work, not always completely welcome to my ever-aging body, but yet the process never gets old. Performing this routine and related ones means that I have horses in my backyard for one more day. No matter what else is going on in my world, for this I am ever so grateful.
Here are five internet articles that I have used to get ideas for my own backyard horse-keeping. For those of you who are cost-conscious like I am, you may especially appreciate that many of the ideas are free or low-cost to implement.
PREFACE TO ORIGINAL POST: Originally, I was going to tie this post about mental fitness into a report covering my first horse show of the year. I was scheduled to participate at an indoor horse show at a really cool venue courtesy of the barn where I take riding lessons during the Winter. Unfortunately, the show was cancelled due to the Corona virus pandemic. So, I will be awaiting a hopefully future opportunity to practice my mental fitness while riding in a busy setting. Still, I think what I have to say here applies to riding even in more casual settings, like my own backyard. In fact, I got in a quick bareback ride on Shiloh on Monday, 3/16 just when my two barn cats decided it would be fun to run around the round pen as they were excited by all the Spring bird activity. Great opportunity to keep myself and my horse focused instead of letting the feline antics bulldoze our ride.
One of the toughest parts of riding for me is the mental aspect. I struggle with
Keeping myself focused.
Keeping myself in tune with my horse in the moment while also thinking ahead to the next movement or the next obstacle.
Keeping myself calm under pressure in a busy riding atmosphere or in the show ring.
Keeping myself calm during surprise moments in my ride like when my horse spooks.
What bothers me the most about all this is that if I am worrying about myself, I am not really making myself mentally available to the horse. If the horse has spooked or refused, she is clearly struggling with some issue on some level in that moment. I want to be the kind of rider that can reach out to the horse right there and help her through that sticky spot. This is a hard thing to do well when I am fearful.
At this point in my life, I doubt I will ever completely “get over” these issues, but that doesn’t keep me from trying to improve my mental fitness as an equestrian. I still enjoy riding too much to completely give up on myself just yet. I continue to seek out ideas on how I can improve in these areas.
So on that note, a video from Barbara Schulte recently popped into my inbox. Barbara is a Professional Cutting Horse Trainer, Personal Performance Coach, Author, Clinician, and Equine Consultant. She was inducted into the National Cowgirl Hall of Fame in 2012. The video is entitled “Tune into Your Horse” and discusses a couple of different ways to cope with a horse that “gets big”. You know, when he gets worried about something in the environment and raises his head up and hesitates to go forward, that sort of thing. She filmed the video from the saddle while she was riding her horse in an open field. I don’t see a whole lot of instructional videos filmed this way so it caught my attention. I thought I would share it with you here. Click on the link below to go to the video and a written transcript. I am going to practice channeling my inner Barbra the next time I ride.
As a new blogger, I follow many other horse blogs so I can keep up with current topics in the horse world. Today I am reblogging this current (3/17/20) post from The $900 Facebook pony. She commiserates with many of us who have had events cancelled but also stresses the importance of eliminating these gatherings. She also details suggestions for how we can be supportive of each other and the horse industry in general during this Corona Virus season.
Like many others, I have had a long anticipated horse show cancelled this month. Last week after I learned of the closure of that event, my husband’s job was eliminated.
I know many of us are stressed. At the same time, please remember to be kind with your words and actions towards others. Help where you can.
Smiles are free.
Well guys, this corona thing really spiraled quickly didn’t it? Things look a lot different today than they did a week ago, or even just 4 days ago. USEF, USEA, and FEI have cancelled shows for now, and everything is coming to a screeching halt. Whether or not any of us contracts the virus, this is definitely going to affect all of us in some way.
Over the weekend I have to admit that I was very disappointed to see the people on social media who wanted to keep horse showing in the coming weeks despite all this, and the organizers who wanted to keep offering schooling shows because riders asked for them. I’m not sure why some of us seem to feel exempt from what all the experts are recommending, and what our societal obligation demands. The time to buckle down is now, and there is nothing special about…
Today, March 16th, 2020 is my 15 year anniversary with Bear who is today’s model for our Inspiration Ideation quote.
I suspect that if Bear could read, he would heartily agree with the John Lyon’s quote written above.
Thank you, my dear Bear, for all the important lessons you continue to teach me and for all the great rides. You are one-in-a-million. I feel so fortunate to have been your main person for all these years.
While many folks are stocking up on toilet paper, food and cleaning supplies in case of quarantine due to contraction of the Corona Virus, we backyard horse-owners have additional issues to consider. Namely, if we ourselves were required to stay home, do we have all the horse supplies that we would need?
The above article appeared yesterday on The Horse: Your Guide To Equine Health Care website. The author, who lives in Washington State, details how she is stocking up on supplies based on her own horses’ particular needs. The article is tailor-made for the backyard horse-owner who wants some ideas for how to prepare for this “what if” scenario. Hopefully, all the preparation will turn out to be unnecessary. But for those of us who feel calmer when better prepared, this article will help formulate a horse-care plan.
On 3/10, Horse Nation published my essay “Why This Rural Middle-Aged White Woman is Looking Forward to Reading “Compton Cowboys: The New Generation of Cowboys in America’s Urban Heartland”. The book’s release date is in April so I have not read the book yet. The “review” is actually a commentary on why this book caught my attention.
Many years ago, I completed a graduate degree in social work. A lot of the material we covered was about confronting our own biases and preconceived notions in working with people from a different racial background than our own. It introduced me to issues that many non-white people experience in a largely white America.
As an equestrian, I see that in most parts of the country, there is not much diversity among riders. And beyond that, it is not a topic that is even generally discussed. When I read a review of the Compton Cowboys book in Untacked (published by Chronicle of The Horse), I saw an opportunity to address this issue through my freelance writing.
Perhaps the essay can help further the conversation about diversity among equestrians. In a time when the equine industry is seeing a leveling or even reduction in participants, how can we welcome everyone who would like to participate?
When most equestrians think of senses, I imagine that the sense of sight first comes to mind. What is more gorgeous to look at than a horse, right? But a person who is sighted often forgets that people can and do absorb information in other ways.
Years ago, I volunteered at a therapeutic riding center. I later became a NARHA certified instructor (NARHA has since changed its name to PATH International- Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship). I eventually worked at the center as a staff member. My experiences there gave me lots of exposure to folks with sensory differences. It made me think about the varied ways that many different kinds of people experience the world.
If you are sighted, you absorb a tremendous amount of information through your eyes. It is easy to forget that there are other senses that can give us “insight” into the world around us.
We can use other senses in our backyard horse-keeping to either add to the information that we absorb through our eyes or lead us to an awareness that we might not have “observed” otherwise.
Sometimes we can pick up on issues that are not actually visible to the eye but rather knowable through touch, smell, hearing or resonance. Here are some examples of how I try to incorporate the use of multiple senses in my backyard horse care.
TOUCH– We can feel texture, heat, cold and movement through our hands. This can help us detect health issues that we can only feel and not see. For example, at the start of Winter, I was running my hands across Shiloh’s back and felt a lump. His coat was thick enough at that point in the season that the lump was not at all visible. Upon further inspection, I believed it to be a small spot of rain rot. I applied sheath cleaner to remove the scab, gently cleaned the area with water and kept an eye on it. The skin quickly healed over and the hair grew back before the worst of Winter (if it had not healed or if it had started to spread, I would have called a vet out to take a look and give an official diagnosis and advise me on a course of better treatment). Periodically running an un-gloved hand through my horse’s Winter coat helped me nip a potentially big problem in the bud.
SMELL– Thrush, a festering wound and dental issues can emit distinct odors as can moldy hay. Ditto for a stall that needs cleaning. Not to get too gross, BUT, when my horse, Bear, has experienced diarrhea, I notice that it has a differing odor from normal horse manure. I can often tell if he has been recently stressed just by how a manure pile smells before I even get close enough to see its consistency. I know, not the most pleasant subject, but if you are a backyard horse-keeper, these are the kinds of details that you will want to note. No one else may be around to notice and address the issue if you don’t.
HEARING– There have been several times I have heard a problem before I saw it. A lose shoe can’t always be seen but it can be heard, especially on a hard surface. Another example is my experience of filling up the water trough on a hot summer day and then heading into the house with my back turned towards the pasture. If I had not heard the tell-tale sloshing sound, I would not have realized that Bear was standing in the water trough giving himself a nice splash bath. While I don’t begrudge him the opportunity to cool off, he tends to splash every last drop of water out of the big rubber buckets. If I don’t hear the noise, he and his pasture mates will be without water all night long. And yes, I often place a second big rubber bucket out in the heat of Summer, but Bear has been known to take a double-bath . . .
RESONANCE– This is a word that you see used in many diverse areas of study from physics to marketing. One of my favorite definitions of the word comes from music where resonance is described as “reinforcement and prolongation of a sound or musical tone by reflection or by sympathetic vibration of other bodies” (taken from yourdictionary.com). Have you ever had a feeling about your horse? An intuition about something going on with him or her? An impression of what they might be thinking? Sometimes those are informed by something you see, hear or smell, but sometimes not. It comes from a totally different place outside of those senses. While some people dismiss those feelings as too “woo-woo” to be real, there is scientific backing for the idea of resonance or vibration between beings, including across the horse-human divide. Of course, we can mistakenly project our own thoughts and feelings onto our horses (people do this too each other all the time), but we can also accurately pick up on things going on with other people and animals. And our horses and other animals can pick up on things going on with us! Listed below are some links that discuss fascinating research into these areas. I often ponder ways that my horses and I can influence each other through this concept of resonance; I think about how I might be able to use the idea of resonance to set a positive tone for my horses when I am with them in my backyard.
I suspect that horses, and animals in general, are much more adept at experiencing the world across their many senses than humans generally are. I think this is part of why so many of us are strongly drawn to them. In being around them, we get this marvelous opportunity to stop overthinking and to start feeling/sensing.
Note that using our senses of touch, smell, hearing and resonance doesn’t have to be all about problem identification! Using all our senses can enrich our positive experiences at the barn if we pay attention.
Think about the smell of fresh hay, the softness of a horse’s muzzle, the sound of a gentle nicker or the feel of electricity going through you as your horse gallops around the pasture with his tail raised and mane flying. And let’s not forget about riding. Riding a horse is its own exquisite feeling. All that dynamic movement is amazing.
Being around horses, whether on the ground or in the saddle, can be quite the sensory experience. That is, if we notice it. If we allow it.
You may note that I did not mention the sense of taste. I omitted it because I can’t think of anything that might be safe to taste in the course of horse care, other than sharing human-edible treats like apples, carrots and the like.
So, what senses do you incorporate into your own horse-keeping?
As a backyard horse-keeper, I am responsible for all my horses’ care. I make the decisions about housing, feeding, exercising, health care, etc . . . I am the only person out there with my horses day in and day out. In many ways, I welcome the autonomy that backyard horse-keeping entails, but an enormous responsibility comes with that independence.
My horses do well or don’t do well largely because of me. It is a sobering thought.
They rely on me to make appropriate decisions on their behalf. When I do, they thrive. When I don’t, there have been serious consequences.
Unfortunately, when it comes to horse care, I have repeated more than one mistake and made plenty of new ones along the way. As long as I have breath, I expect I will struggle with putting all the right pieces together in the right order at the right time.
To that end, I need to keep learning. I don’t want to be one of those people who does the same thing for thirty years without taking into account whether or not my actions continue to benefit my horses and me.
As someone with a more modest income, it is not easy for me to access the amount or level of equine education that I would otherwise like to have. I see lots of things I am interested in, but the prices to participate are frequently out of my reach. While I do occasionally attend a multi-day clinic or something along those lines, most of my education has to come from lower cost or free sources. In future posts, I will explore different educational experiences I have had over the years with my horses, but today I want to mention the topic of free equine education events.
I have been attending these types of events for years and really enjoy them. These free equine education events are usually hosted by local veterinary offices or feed stores. They are held on weekends or on a weekday evening so working equestrians can more easily attend. Generally they are a short-format event lasting maybe a couple of hours. Often door prizes are offered (yah!) as well as free swag (pens, bags, coupons, etc . . .) and product samples. I grab any handouts offered and usually take copious notes that I save as reference. I learn something new at almost every event and enjoy trying the samples.
I do keep in mind who is sponsoring the event. Often, though not always, these are designed to be marketing events. If it is a pharmaceutical company or a feed company, they obviously are hoping that the presentation will eventually result in my buying one of their products. That doesn’t necessarily mean the information is not sound, but I just keep the reason for the presentation in mind as I make choices about the featured product.
So where do you find announcements about these events? Check out Facebook/ websites/email newsletter lists from your favorite local horse businesses. Ask your friends and your local horse club for suggestions too.
If you are a backyard horse-keeper like me, your horses are counting on you to take care of them. Arm yourself with good information and then go out and apply what you learn. May all our horses be better for the efforts we put into our continuing education.
Some of you lucky readers get to ride year around. Maybe you live someplace where it is seventy degrees 12 months of the year. Maybe you have your very own indoor arena that protects you from inclement weather. Maybe you are just super-duper immune to heat, rain, wind and cold. As for me, well, I don’t have any of those advantages.
While during the Winter I often ride at a local lesson barn on other people’s horses, my own horses typically have a good four-five months off every season. I find the temperature, weather and footing/road conditions are not conducive to riding at my own place or even trailering anywhere else to ride during long Mid-Western Winters.
This Winter I did get in a couple of bareback rides at home on my newest horse, Shiloh. Our first ride of the year was also our very first bareback ride together. He has one of those broad backs that ended up making for a very comfortable ride without a saddle.
So every Spring, once the weather warms up and the constant rain stops, I need to get my horses used to being ridden again. Its not so much that they seem to forget their training, its just that they get rusty with the whole process and are out of shape.
My goal each year is to start them off slowly. Usually this means lots of short rides at first (like 10-15 minutes rides). I spend more time tacking up and untacking than I do riding unfortunately, but for me, I find this helps re-acclimate them to a routine without the risk of souring them on work early in the season.
It also means that I do a lot of walking, but that doesn’t mean I can’t be productive. I was reminded of this when I was reading a recent post from the Relaxed and Forward Horse Blog by Anna Blake. You can read the post here:
Anna Blake’s post is complementary to a a previous post of mine. The post entitled “Ten Ideas For Staying in The Saddle If You Struggle With Riding Alone” includes a section with ideas for riding at the walk.
In re-reading that post, I now realize that I forgot to include a section on using ground poles at the walk. That gives me another idea for a future post. Stay tuned . . .
It will probably be another month or two before I will be able to start riding regularly at home again. I expect there is still plenty of March cold weather and an April rainy season to endure where I live, but I always look forward to that eventual first Spring ride in my own backyard!
I know that some of you are still dealing with snow and cold temperatures, but I promise, Spring is coming. In yesterday’s post, my horse Shiloh showed us that Spring is indeed on the way.
In many parts of the country, Spring means that horses will soon have access to a fresh growth of grass. I can tell you from previously living in a high desert area that grass is precious. In Western Colorado near the Utah border, grass didn’t grow all that much without irrigation.
Here where I am living now in the Midwest, grass is lush and abundant. We get about eight full grazing months. Hay is more reasonably priced here than in other parts of the country. Sounds great, right?
But if you have ever had a horse that is overweight or has been diagnosed with Equine Metabolic Syndrome (EMS) and/or Cushing’s Disease (Pituitary Pars Intermedia Dysfunction), all that grass can cause serious health problems for your horse. You may enter Spring with dread in your heart, as do I, due to the increased laminitis risk that comes with that growing grass (Please note though: horses can and do develop laminitis other times of the year including Fall and Winter. It is NOT an occurrence limited to just Spring time).
Enter the grazing muzzle. These are designed to slow down the rate of grass consumption and reduce the overall amount eaten.
It is worth noting here that how much grass your horse can safely consume can change over time. My horse, Bear, lived with me for ten+ years with 24/7 access to grass pasture without health problems before it became an issue for him. I had a really hard time wrapping my head around the fact that the lifestyle that used to work for him was now in fact hurting him.
For information on the often inter-related issues of diet, obesity, laminitis, Equine Metabolic Syndrome (EMS), insulin resistance and Cushing’s Disease/ PPID, here are a few resources:
The complexity of these issues is a very good reason to have a working relationship with a local veterinarian. Your vet can help guide you on the choice of if/when/how to use a muzzle for your particular horse.
I bought my first grazing muzzle back in the day when the only option available to me was the classic Best Friends Grazing Muzzle. Since then, the number of manufacturers offering different types of muzzles has grown as has the number of horse owners who incorporate muzzle use into their horse care. Via a quick Google search, I came across grazing muzzles made by manufacturers Tough 1, Best Friends, Weaver Leather, Thin Line, Greenguard and Cashel among others.
Figuring out how to use the muzzle can be a bit of a puzzle. I had all kinds of questions when I first started using them like how to fit a muzzle, acclimate a horse to the muzzle, length of use, what to do if your horse doesn’t adjust to the muzzle, etc. Two online articles that help answer these types of questions are
I have used different types of muzzles off and on over the years. The last few years I have preferred the Tough-1 Easy Breathe Grazing Horse Muzzle for my gelding, Bear, who has Equine Metabolic Syndrome and Pituitary Pars Intermedia Dysfunction. I do add a synthetic sheepskin liner (also made by Tough-1) in strategic places where he tends to get rubs around the sides of his face under the straps as well as behind his ears, but otherwise I have been happy with this muzzle. I live in an area with very humid Summers and like how the muzzle appears to allow more air flow than some other types.
No one product seems to work for all horses unfortunately so you may need to experiment to find the right muzzle for your own horse.
Two recommendations I do have no matter what product you use is to replace your muzzles periodically and to clean them regularly. I wipe my horse’s muzzle out with a cloth at the end of each use and will let it dry (ideally in the sun) when it gets wet. An incredible amount of dirt, mud, grass, horse snot, etc . . . can get caked to the muzzle on the inside. The webbing can also develop and retain really strong odors. I don’t know whether the dirt and odors are bothersome to the horse or pose health concerns, but it bothers me.
I would also suggest keeping an extra muzzle on hand at all times. If one muzzle breaks, you will not have to wait to turn your horse out until you can obtain another. Speaking of breaking, you DO want to have a grazing muzzle with some kind of break-away safety feature to reduce risk of injury should your horse get the muzzle caught on something.
As a backyard horse owner, I try to strike a balance between giving my horses as much freedom to roam/graze as I can while also trying to keep them from getting too fat. This has been much more of a challenge than I ever anticipated, particularly with certain horses. I don’t always get this balance right. It takes continual vigilance and reassessment. Fortunately, there are more options now for maintaining our horses weight and health than ever before. I am still waiting for the creation of a magic pill for complete and easy weight control though. In the mean time, the grazing muzzle will likely remain a part of my horse-care tool box.
What IS a busy equestrian to do? Not everyone has the time to contribute to the horse industry by doing activities like serving on a horse club committee, volunteering at a therapeutic riding center or fostering a horse for a rescue.
A busy equestrian CAN though be positive with their words and their demeanor. You can contribute so much towards our horse world with your attitude and how you chose to express yourself within it. Everyone has the opportunity to point out something good that they see happening in those around them.
I recently read a wonderful essay written by Deann Long Sloan, the Associate Editor of Horse Nation. The piece is entitled “I am a Rock- I am an Island- Feelings of Isolation in Horseback Riding”. She describes how we as equestrians can feel separated from one another and how we can conduct ourselves differently to bridge that gap. It is a lovely essay that I encourage you to read.
I know that as a backyard horse owner, I may not spend a lot of time with other equestrians like I would if I were boarding my horses. I think this fact makes it even more important that I make the time count when I AM with other riders and horse owners. I believe that horses benefit too when we chose to be more positive. They so readily pick up on moods and feelings from those around them. I may not have many resources to share, but a smile or a kind word towards a fellow equestrian or their horse costs me nothing. I can also chose to have compassion for an equestrian that is having a bad day and hope that they return the favor towards me during my less than generous moments.
How can you make a positive contribution in your corner of the horse world?