Please join me in congratulating my horse, Bear, on making it another year around the sun. This past Sunday, April 26th, Bear turned 25.
I wanted to mark the actual day with a photo shoot, but the weather didn’t cooperate so we waited until the next day, April 27th, to take pictures.
Funny that Bear is exactly half my age in chronological years but yet in human years, he is thought to be the equivalent of a person in their seventies. The average life span of a horse is approximately twenty-five to thirty years. So each birthday is made more precious by virtue of the fact that Bear is not likely to have that many more.
In honor of his birthday, Bear wanted all The Backyard Horse Blog readers to get a little party gift as you leave this page and go on your way. He wanted to let you know that the magazine, The Horse: Your Guide to Equine Healthcare, has made its April issue free for digital viewing. Go to http://www.thehorse.com and click on the link that is at the very top of the page to view the issue. This magazine provided me lots of articles over the years that have helped me navigate Bear’s senior-horse health issues. Seemed a fitting party gift to celebrate him entering his 25th year on planet earth. Happy birthday, Bear!
Everyone has their different preferences for digesting information. For whatever reason, I have never been a huge consumer of audiobooks or podcasts. I must say that I am a fan of the Equus Barn Story Podcasts. I remember reading Equus magazine as a child. It continues to be my favorite equine magazine. When Equus magazine went from a monthly format to its current quarterly format, they decided to expand their online offerings. Hence the start of the Podcasts. Equus takes some of their favorite essay stories from magazine issues past and morphs them into the audio format.
Equus’s website says “EQUUS Barn Stories focus on the softer side of horse ownership, serving as a reminder of why we have horses and highlighting the fellowship among riders. They are meant to be listened to on the way to the barn, while cleaning tack or simply relaxing in the quieter moments of the day. Barn Stories are not instructional, but instead seek to underscore and celebrate the way horses enrich our lives.”
“If human beings are perceived as potentials rather than problems, as possessing strengths instead of weaknesses, as unlimited rather that dull and unresponsive, then they thrive and grow to their capabilities.”
I love this quote from Barbara Bush. The first thing that came to my mind when I read this saying was to take out the words “human beings” and substitute “horses”!
The US public lands are home to thousands of wild horses and burros. The federal public lands, managed by the Bureau of Land Management under the Department of the Interior and the US Forest Service under the Department of Agriculture, house some of the most rich, vast and inviting North American landscapes. Those federal public lands belong collectively to all of us who are US citizens.
Federal public lands are multi-use, meaning many parties are allowed to use the land for various activities. This includes individuals and corporations. Everything from gas & oil to mining to ranching to hunting & fishing to hikers to bikers to campers to horseback riders and more. And of course, that open land is home to an incredible variety of wildlife including those wild horses and burros.
The BLM is charged with managing not only the land itself but also all the people/company who want to use the land. Unfortunately for the mustangs and burros (and other wild animals), there is a long history of their presence being in conflict other interested land users. For wild horses and burros, that can mean being rounded up off the range, placed in long-term holding facilities or put up for adoption. Millions of tax payer dollars are spent on this process every year. Those that survive the roundups end up living very different lives from the ones they were born into originally.
As for me personally, Mustangs have long been of interest. I remember first reading about mustangs as a child and feeling moved to help. I set up a cup on my elementary school desk and asked for donations to help a particular mustang organization whose name I no longer recall. I proudly mailed in all the coins I collected, maybe a couple of dollars worth.
Fast forward many years later, and I briefly moved to the area of Grand Junction in Mesa County, Colorado. Mesa County sits on Colorado’s Western slope. It is about a four hour drive West from Denver and is a stone’s throw away from the border with Utah. It is a high desert paradise out there. Mesa county is about 70% public land with over 900,000 acres managed by the BLM and over 500,000 acres managed by the US Forest Service. It is also home to the Little Bookcliff Mountain range that houses a wild horse herd.
During my six month stint in Colorado, I got to trail ride on BLM land as well as hike into the Little Bookcliff Mountains and see the wild horse herd for myself. It was an emotional experience for me. Never mind that I can look out my living room window at any moment and see a horse in my backyard. Meeting these wild horses was different, and I couldn’t get enough of it. These were the wild horses that I read about all my life. These were the ones I had donated money for both as a child and as adult. These were the ones that I still regularly write to my Senate and Congress people about. These are the ones that I would like to see remain wild.
Once back in the Midwest, I ended up fostering a series of horses for the Indiana Horse Rescue. One of my first fosters was a formerly wild horse that had been given the name, Adonis. Many years earlier, Adonis had been rounded up off the range in Nevada by the BLM and marked with a freeze brand. For those of you that don’t know, the freeze brand markings give information about where and when the animal was taken. Go to https://wildhorseeducation.org/blm-freezemark/ to learn how to read a BLM freeze brand.
Sometime after round up, he entered one of several mustang training programs housed in US prisons. After completing his training program, Adonis was placed for public adoption. While there are certainly formerly wild horses that end up being domesticated with the help of loving owners, Adonis’s story differed. After Adonis was adopted and moved to Indiana, he and another BLM mustang named Willie ended up being starved and neglected. Authorities were alerted and both Adonis and Willie eventually arrived at the Indiana Horse Rescue. To read more about their journey to the Indiana Horse Rescue go to https://www.indystar.com/story/news/2015/03/25/starved-horses-expose-loophole-in-indianas-neglect-law/70417488/.
Willie, after a failed adoption or two, was taken under the wing of Madison Shambaugh. You may know her as Mustang Madie. She provided Willie with a wonderful restart in life. Willie became quite famous among her followers as she detailed online his training journey with her. Willie was later adopted by a new family. If you would like to read about Mustang Madie’s decision to take on Willie, go to https://www.mustangmaddy.com/lesson-5-saving-willie-saving-the-world/.
I respect that opinions about the wild horse and burro issue vary widely. There is something like 200 years worth of policies, practices and beliefs that continue to play out today. There is a ton of history behind what is going on right this moment with our federal public lands, the animals and all the various parties that use the land. There are many competing interests all wanting to advocate for their particular industry rights. And of course, federal land is contained within the boundaries of individual States with governments and citizens that have their own interests and opinions. Talk about a complicated issue to unpack and navigate.
As for me, I personally would like to see the wild horse and burro round ups largely stopped. While the BLM often talks about a wild horse overpopulation problem that creates land degredation, other organizations with boots on the ground don’t agree. If you are interested in learning more about wild horses and burros and about organizations that advocate for them to remain on the range, I recommend Wild Horse Education (WHE). Wild Horse Education wants to inform the public about our public lands, public land use and mustang and burros issues. They work on the ground with the mustangs on the range as well as advocating for them in political and legal spheres. If you have some extra time on your hands and have always wanted to learn more about these issues, please visit this link to Wild Horse 101 at https://wildhorseeducation.org/2020/04/09/reference-wild-horses-101/. Even if you ultimately don’t agree with their viewpoints, the information they have to share is fascinating.
On a similar note, a document I would highly recommend is “Moving Forward: A Unified Statement on the Humane, Sustainable, and Cost-Effective On-Range Management of America’s Wild Horses and Burros.” Drafted as a united statement by multiple wild horse and burro advocacy groups in 2018, it details solutions to the management of wild horses and burros that mostly stand in contrast to how the BLM typically manages them. If you ever wondered how the horses might be successfully managed without round ups, this in the document to read. You can find this report at http://www.idausa.org/unifiedstatement.
Once travel restrictions are lifted for many of us post-Corona Virus pandemic, I would encourage anyone who doesn’t already live out West or hasn’t visited the public lands to schedule a visit. See if you can visit a wild horse herd area. Once you have visited our federal public lands, you may come away with a new and fresh perspective to better inform your own opinion of these issues.
The post is based on the book “Freestyle: The Ultimate Guide to Riding, Training and Competing to Music” by Sandra Beaulieu. The book is primarily geared towards dressage riders. Even if you aren’t a dressage rider, there seems to be lots of good information in this book that any rider could apply. I have not read the book myself, but I really enjoyed this particular blog post that focused on creating forward energy. For such a short piece, it has lots of good insights into reasons a horse may be on the slow side. It also discusses how a rider’s energy can affect the horse. That concept of managing energy is something I have long struggled with and continue to grapple with in my riding. I don’t have answers or resolutions for myself or anyone else on this topic. No nuggets of wisdom coming from me on this topic! That’s for sure. But I am always drawn to reading similar articles in my quest to understand this issue more so hence my interest in their blog post about the book.
Beyond the whole “how to manage your energy” angle, the post also drew me in because it dove-tailed on a recent experience I had. Before the Corona Virus arrived in full-force, I planned on riding in a horse-show courtesy of the barn where I take lessons during the Winter. While I was looking forward to riding at the chosen venue, I know from past experience that I can get nervous and/or distracted by all the typical show commotion. So I had picked a tune to sing in my head that happened to match the trot beat of the lesson horse that I would be riding. I wanted a snappy, forward tune that I could sing in my head. I wanted to encourage my body to release any nerves, to settle into a steady rhythm and invite the horse to match me.
The tune that I chose was “Bad Moon Rising” by Creedence Clearwater Revival. Maybe you can see where this is going? Those of you familiar with the words may recognize it as a dooms-day song. Despite the lyrics, the tune is upbeat. It was just the right tempo for the jaunty posting-trot of the Saddlebred I would be riding in a walk-trot huntseat class. I was initially so pleased with my choice. In light of what happened, however, I now find it creepy that I picked this particular song. “Don’t go ’round tonight, it’s bound to take your life, there’s a bad moon on the rise” goes the otherwise chirpy chorus. Needless to say, my March show was cancelled due to social distancing concerns. That same week my lessons came to a crashing halt after my husband was laid off. For those of us who have been fortunate enough to stay healthy so far during the pandemic, we have now rearrranged our lives in sometimes dramatic ways to try to remain virus-free. Bad moon rising indeed.
While my first attempt at incorporating music into my riding was misguided, I still like the general idea. On a brighter note, I am mulling over how I can incorporate music into my current rides at home. In the past, I have periodically sung while in the saddle. Bear used to get more calm and steady when I would sing “row, row, row your boat” during tense moments, for example. No other song seemed to work for him as well as that one. My newest horse, Shiloh, is a different sort of creature than Bear. While Bear went better when I tried to encourage relaxation, I think Shiloh goes better when I try to gently encourage more animation. Maybe there is music I could sing to myself in my head in order to set a more dynamic (yet not mind blowing) tone during a ride?
This European commerical from Volkswagen premiered a few years ago. Many of you may have already seen it, but I think it is just as funny the 50th time as the first time. If you have not viewed it yet, you are in for a treat. I promise it is very much horse-related. Go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uQs-oEuDzSw. Let Shiloh and me know what you think!
Today I thought I’d give a shout out to one of my favorite products: the pop-up barrel set by Seventeenflat.
Seventeenflat is not the only company that sells pop-up barrels, but my understanding is that they were the first to offer them. The pop-barrel set was originally designed for barrel racers, of course, but I love the contribution these barrels have made to my obstacle collection. I bought my pop-up barrel set almost ten years ago, and they are still in great condition. A little dirt encrusted maybe, but they sport no rips or cuts. Most importantly, they still retain their shape. The set includes three pop-up barrels and a carrying case. The barrels are lightweight making them easy to move, stand up and collapse.
So how do I use them in my horse work? Let me count the ways:
Just like cones, I use the barrels as markers in making patterns. Because they are larger than cones and quite colorful, they add visual interest and variety to any pattern. I can weave the barrels, circle around them or decide to make transitions between gaits when I pass by the barrels.
Another idea is to set two of them up side by side at varying distances. I then ask my horse to pass between the barrels at any gait. Don’t forget that backing between the barrels is a great exercise in encouraging straightness. For an added challenge, try backing a figure-eight pattern around them!
Use the barrels to hold long, skinny items like lightweight broom handles and flags. I practice lining my horse up next to the barrel so I can then accustom them to my picking up and putting down the broom handles and flags.
It is also fun to accustom my horse to accept my picking the barrels up and relocating them from the saddle. This comes in handy at clean-up time.
Try “layering” the barrels with other objects! For example, I might open up a tarp and place two barrels on top. Then I ask my horse to walk over the tarp while passing between the barrels.
Don’t forget that even if you don’t ride, you can incorporate the barrels into your groundwork with horses. I practice leading my horses between the barrels, sending my horses between the barrels and backing them up between the barrels. Horses can also learn tricks with the barrels like using their noses to roll them as well as pushing them with their knees or giving the barrels a tap with their hooves. It is fun to watch a nervous horse develop confidence as he or she learns to safely manipulate and control the barrels.
In working with the barrels in any variation, I expose my horses to the sound and feeling of the barrel fabric as well as the spring-action movement of the barrels. On that note, I wouldn’t recommend unfurling the barrels right in front of your horse until he or she is very comfortable with them as the sound and movement of the pop-up can be startling. Also, I will point out that I do not recommend their use in high wind. The barrels are somewhat weighted on the bottom, but they can and do get blown over. Use caution during the windy season. I like to expose my horses to all sorts of things in an effort to help them become good equine citizens, but I don’t really want to be surprised by barrels blowing over in a sudden wind gust while I am riding by them.
Since I bought my barrel set awhile ago, I thought I’d visit the seventeen flat website and see what they have been up to. I notice that they still sell the full set (three barrels and carrying case), but that now they also offer the option to buy a single barrel or just the carrying case. The full set is listed at $159.99, a single barrel at $55 and the bag by itself at $20. Not inexpensive, I know. But I have gotten about ten years use out of them and continue to use them to this day. This makes the per-year price come to $15.99. Considering the amount of mileage I have gotten and continue to get out of them, I consider them worth the cost. If you enjoy incorporating cones and obstacles into your work with horses like I do, these barrels might turn out to be a favorite product for you, too. Check them out at https://seventeenflat.com/.
For those of you who are Pinterest fans, please check out my new The Backyard Horse Blog Pinterest pins and boards. I’ll be periodically incorporating photos and/or quotes that have appeared on The Backyard Horse Blog as well as other content that I think you, the readers, might find useful. Feel free to follow and share!
In the first part of the piece, she tells about a horse that she met while riding in her college equestrian program. It is a powerful story. Jeanne makes the point that many of the unwanted behaviors that our animals display are the result of something they experienced before we even met them or the result of our inadvertently rewarding them for their actions. This lack of understanding probably damages more human-animal relationships than we realize.
The article goes on to talk about dogs, and then further along in the piece, the author tells a second story about a different horse. I actually had a very similar experience to this particular story. My horse, Bear, was a gaiting machine back in the day (he is now retired from riding). Bear’s sire was a one-time World Grand Champion Speed-Racking horse, and Bear inherited a tendency for a smooth, fast, consistent gait. Bear always ran “hot”, but when you could harness his focus and attention, the ride he gave was AMAZING. He is definitely the most light, the most sensitive horse I have ever owned.
At first I wasn’t really used to riding a horse like Bear. This caused us lots of problems during our initial years together. But over time, we attended clinics and lessons. I did a lot of work on myself, my own mental fitness and my own riding skills. Eventually, we developed a really nice relationship and went on to have fun doing a wide variety of activities (that is my opinion-I guess you’d have to ask Bear about his own perspective).
Anywho, I noticed pretty quickly after bringing Bear home that whenever I shortened the reins, he would speed up. Never in my life had I shortened my horse’s reins with the intention that they go faster! I couldn’t figure it out. About five years into our relationship, I was able to track down Bear’s breeder. She mentioned that the speed-racking horse cue to hit a different gear (speed up) is for the rider to shorten the reins. Bear performed EXACTLY as he had been trained; Bear performed EXACTLY the opposite from what I expected. How many horses and riders have experienced this same scenario without realizing?
So, have you ever had a situation like this in your relationship with a horse or a dog?
Happiness Between Tails recently invited me to write a guest-post after the blog’s author read one of my essays on the website Medium. How exciting!
The blog’s author, da-Al, wrote a beautiful introduction to my post. It was another reminder that having horses in my life is a privilege not everyone shares. A big thank you to her for asking me to guest-post on her popular, international blog! It is a much appreciated opportunity to introduce new readers to my writing.
My guest-post entitled “The Circle of Life” is about a little horse-hair bird nest I found in my yard.
Thank you to the Savvy Horsewoman for inviting me to participate in their Spring guest-blogger round up!
As part of this Spring round-up, I wrote an article detailing my yearly Spring to do list around the farm. Of course, I wrote this article before the spread of the Corona Virus impacted many of our Spring plans. Even so, I think that most of the article’s suggestions are still relevant.
The Savvy Horsewoman is a blog and shop that has many active social media accounts. They encourage their readers to share, pin or tweet their favorite posts. With your help, this could be a great opportunity for The Backyard Horse Blog to gain exposure to a wider audience.
I need some comic relief! So today, I am giving a nod to April Fool’s Day with a compilation of horse jokes, puns and silly sayings for some unbridled laughs. So let’s quit stalling and get to it.
The LaffGaff website says “We’re not trying to stirrup trouble, but we reckon these are the best horse jokes and puns you’ll find…. there’s no night-mare jokes here!” The following are my favorites from the LaffGaff horse-related joke list:
100 years ago everyone owned horses and only the rich drove cars. These days everyone drives cars and only the rich own horses. Oh, how the stables have turned.
What did the horse say when it fell down? “Help, I’ve fallen, and I can’t giddy up!”
What do you call a horse that lives next door to you? A neigh-bor.
When do vampires like horse racing? When it’s neck and neck.
What’s a horse’s favorite sport? Stable tennis.
What kind of bread does a racehorse eat? Thoroughbred.
What do racehorses eat? Fast food.
I have a horse named Mayo.Mayo neighs.
Do you know why the horse stalls at a racetrack are labeled A, B, D, E, and F? Because no one would bet on a seahorse.
I found another collection of funny sayings on the website Wideopenpets. Here are my favorites:
401k…check. It’s nice to be financially stable.
I wasn’t planning to take a vacation, but I did. It was a spur of the moment decision.
Lost the bet? Pony up.
Late to your appointment? Better hoof it.
I appreciate your unbridled enthusiasm. But it’s a bit much.
Quit stalling and answer the question.
Yessss! Just got promoted. But now I’m saddled with a ton more responsibility.
Let’s skip the opener and just show up for the mane event.
It was cheap. Only cost me a couple bucks.
Spending time around those two is exhausting. They’re constantly jockeying for position.
Why the long face? Friends bailed on you? That’s lame.
This shindig’s getting too rowdy. Rein it in, party people.
For a last laugh, I’ll share a short video clip with you. My now retired horse, Bear, learned a few tricks over the years. But really, his main trick was bowing down on one knee to be mounted. And technically, Bear is a pony as he stands at 14.1 hands. So I had fun calling him my “one-trick pony”. Anyway, after we had learned the trick at a clinic, I had been wanting for awhile to show the trick to my husband and get it captured on video. I was super excited when my husband agreed to come outside with me one day to film. But I’d forgotten that earlier that day I had ridden another horse bareback and hadn’t yet changed my pants since I had been doing barn chores in the mean time. Would have been nice if my husband had pointed that out to me before he started filming. Oh well, it is good for a laugh.