Equine Non-Profit Spotlight: The Brooke and BrookeUSA

Did you know that world-wide, an estimated 100 million equids help 600 million people to earn a living?

All around the world, mules, donkeys and horses help farm, move goods, work in the tourist industry and otherwise assist their humans survive.

To live and work so intimately with one’s animals, relying on their strength and skill for our very survival, is not something that many of us who live in more prosperous areas can easily relate to. I don’t think it’s something contemplated much outside of a historical context. But it is a daily reality for huge numbers of people.

While the horses, mules and donkeys are critical to the welfare of the families who own them, people with limited resources can struggle to properly care for them. It is these families that the Brooke works to assist.

Based in the UK, the Brooke, provides support to these families, their animals and their communities in the form of physical resources and education.

When a family can access appropriate veterinary care, farrier care, feed, training and better fitting equipment for their animals, the families and the communities have a better opportunity to prosper because their animals are healthier physically and mentally.

The Brooke was originally started in the 1930’s by Dorothy Brooke as a way to address the issue of ex-military horses left behind by allied forces in Cairo, Egypt after World War I. Now eighty years later, The Brooke has helped working equids the world over.

In 2008, Brooke USA (originally American Friends of the Brooke) became an affiliate of The Brooke, supporting the Great British organization’s work as well as branching out to manage their own Brooke USA projects.

While many of the stories of working-equids and their families are sad and disturbing, even more so in light of the COVID-19 pandemic impact, there are also stories of hope and resilience.

Every time I think about The Brooke, I am reminded of a trip to Egypt that I took with my grandmother in the 1980’s. She lived and worked overseas for many years and loved to travel. I grew up with a very different lifestyle than the one I live now and was fortunate to be my grandmother’s traveling companion for more than one overseas adventure. Our trip to Egypt was my favorite.

We saw lots of working donkeys during our trip. I often wondered about the quality of their lives and the people that cared for them. At that time in my life, I wasn’t aware of the work of The Brooke (or that it started its work in the very country where I was vacationing). But without that trip to Egypt, perhaps the issue of working equids would not have ever made my radar.

My grandmother was not an equestrian. I don’t recall her being a particularly staunch animal advocate. But I do remember that she was selective about which horse and carriage team we picked for a ride one afternoon. We avoided the horses that looked super thin, seemed exhausted or looked too small for the size of the carriage.

For example, the picture below is a horse we passed over. We were pleased to see the horse parked in a spot of much needed shade. His tack incorporated quite a bit of padding and seemed in good condition. But we were concerned that he appeared old and thin. We also noted how swollen his legs appeared.

I admit it is difficult to make snap judgements about situations you know little about. Sometimes things are not as they appear. But in the moment, we made a decision and went with our gut reaction to not hire this particular horse for a drive.

It made a big impact on me that my grandmother would consider such things. Any of us who travel and incorporate equids in our vacation can in fact help those working animals by thoughtfully choosing vacation destinations and businesses.

The Horse website has a detailed article on this subject that is definitely worth the read at https://thehorse.com/185798/how-to-book-a-vacation-ride-tour-thats-kind-to-horses/. Among other things, the article references The Brook’s “Happy Horses Holiday Code” (otherwise known as a “vacation code” for those of us who speak American-type English).

The code makes suggestions for how tourists can assess animal welfare when faced with a decision similar to the one my grandmother and I made. You can read the code at https://www.thebrooke.org/get-involved/responsible-use-animals-tourism/happy-horses-holiday-code. I think my grandmother would have liked what it has to say.

Here is the horse that my grandmother and I finally chose for a carriage ride in Egypt. I remember thinking that the horse was one of the better conditioned horses that we saw. Despite the rudimentary tack, he certainly did his job well, seeming to have a good rapport with his driver.

If you would like to read further about working horses, mules and donkeys, please visit The Brooke and Brook USA on their websites. You can also donate money to their cause and inquire about other ways to get involved in their mission.

https://www.thebrooke.org
https://www.brookeusa.org

On a related note, would you like to shop and have twenty percent of the proceeds donated to The Brook USA? Buy Beauty For Real’s tinted lip balm. Cruelty fee, vegan and paraben free, the lip balm is available in nine tints. Beauty For Real has a big Black Friday/Cyber Monday sale every year, and I usually stock up on my favorite shade at that time. I like knowing a portion of my money is going to help support a cause that is important to me. Go to http://www.beautyforreal.com to learn more.

Equine Illustrated Inspiration

Equine Illustrated Inspiration is a periodic feature on The Backyard Horse Blog. Through pairing photos of my backyard horses with inspiring quotes, I hope to encourage others to live their own versions of their best-horse-life. No matter our discipline, our skill level or even if we don’t ride at all, being around horses can enrich our lives in ways we never expected.

Product Review: Shoulder Relief Cinch By Total Saddle Fit

Looking for a new girth or cinch for your horse? I suggest you check out the products from Total Saddle Fit. In particular, their Shoulder Relief Cinch.

I first purchased one of their cinches in 2017 when my previous girth from a different manufacturer became worn. I was intrigued by the Total Saddle Fit claim that their English girths and Western cinches are more comfortable for horses based on their design.

“The Shoulder Relief Girth™ actually changes the position and angle of the billets to prevent the saddle from interfering with the shoulder. The center of the girth is set forward to sit in the horse’s natural girth groove. While the sides of the girth are cut back to meet the billets 2 inches behind where the horse’s natural girth groove lies. This brings the billets from angling forward, to becoming perpendicular to the ground (in the case of a forward girth groove horse), which reduces the saddle’s tendency to be pulled forward into the shoulders. With horses that have shoulder interference without angled billets, it simply moves the billets back to keep the saddle farther away from the shoulders… The secondary benefit to this shape, is that it is cutback at the elbows. This gives more room for elbow movement as well, and prevents galls in the elbow area.”

From the Total Saddle Fit website

I can’t say for sure if horses in general prefer them, but their design claims seem reasonable. I have been happy with how the cinches have performed for me and my horses. Happy enough to purchase a second cinch so I have an extra on hand.

The cinches strike me as very well made with quality material, including the stitching. Not surprisingly, the cinches are priced accordingly. They vary from $140-170 depending upon the type of liner selected. As an alternative to the pricier leather cinches, their website now also features a synthetic cinch for under $90 that I have not yet tried. To save money, I purchase my leather cinches during their annual Black Friday sales at a substantial discount.

Besides the quality materials, attractive design and choice of black or brown leather, the feature that I most appreciate is that the liners of the leather cinches are replaceable! They offer fleece, felt, neoprene liners. I have tried both the fleece and the neoprene liners but not the fleece yet.

For about $25, I recently purchased a new neoprene liner when I noticed the old neoprene had finally developed substantial wear and cracks. I simply pulled off the old liner and replaced it with the new. And I can switch them between my two girths. I feel like I have a nice, new girth without having to replace and pay for the entire thing!

Here is a current photo of the first girth I purchased from Total Saddle Fit in 2017.
The liner on the old cinch was definitely due for a replacement this year.
Separating the main part of the girth from the old liner was easy.
The old girth on the left with the new neoprene liner, still in its packaging, on the right.
Here I switched the felt liner from the brown girth to the black girth and then the black neoprene to the brown girth.

Total Saddle Fit also features a very generous 90 day return policy. You don’t even have to return the girths/cinches in pristine condition. It is really difficult to properly test a piece of tack and yet not get it somewhat dirty. I feel better purchasing something that is pricey when I know that I can return the item if it doesn’t work for me.

To top it all off, Total Saddle Fit offers free shipping on any size purchase. As someone who is budget conscious, that’s something I really appreciate as shipping costs can add substantially to the price of an order, especially for a small purchase.

For more information or to purchase one of their products, go to https://www.totalsaddlefit.com/shoulderreliefgirth/.

Please note this product review was unsolicited and uncompensated by Total Saddle Fit.

Ten Truths about Keeping Horses At Home (according to me)

Ten truths, according to me, as I reflect on having horses in my own backyard. All information that I would tell my younger self if I could go back in time.

  • You will spend lots of time riding. Riding your lawn mower.
  • Hay bales get more expensive as time goes by. They also get heavier.
  • You will be queen of your castle. And also the chamber-maid.
  • Being able to pop out the back door of your house, walk fifty feet and hand out carrots to eager, nickering noses attached to expressive faces with perked ears has got to be one of life’s greatest pleasures.
  • Two main pros- You get to make all the decisions about your horse’s care. You are the only person that handles your horses.
  • Two main cons- You get to make all the decisions about your horse’s care. You are the only person that handles your horses.
  • Vacations are . . . Wait, what is a vacation again?
  • You get to experience the intimacy of knowing your horses on a level that is different from when you boarded.
  • You also miss out on the amenities provided at those boarding barns like professional riding facilities, easy access to instruction, camaraderie with other equestrians and ready-made opportunities to train/show/trail ride with a group.
  • You will cry as you walk through your house, pass by your back window and for the first time see your horse grazing in the pasture (after a lifetime of wishing and waiting for that very moment).

Like pretty much every other life choice, keeping horses at home is a series of trade offs. You do all this with an awareness that, like all earthly things, it will come to an end someday. You need to savor the good stuff. Find lessons or humor in the not so good.

Sometimes you can’t believe how fortunate you are. Other times, you wonder what you got yourself into. Sometimes you feel sad about the things you miss out on (like those indoor areas and vacations). But at the end of the day? On most days at least. You wouldn’t trade any of it for the world.

Equine Inspired Poetry- Time For A Drink

He saunters towards the trough
Licking and chewing in anticipation as he travels

Body slows to stillness at the water’s edge
Eyes and ears survey the immediate area

He assesses it is safe for the moment
Head lowers to take the first sip

Lips play with the water’s surface, making it dance
Ears flick back and forth in time to successive swallows

Cool water washes over whiskers, muzzle, tongue and throat
Vulnerable in this position as he tends to his own needs

Sometimes, he hears himself loudly slurping
Always, he is on alert

Now he lifts his head
The last sip of water lingers

Tongue sucks to the roof of his mouth
Droplets dribble from the tip of his muzzle, down his chin and onto the ground

He opens and closes his jaw
His thirst finally satisfied

Pausing for a moment in relaxation
Body, mind and spirit now hydrated

Turning to carry on with the rest of his day
Extending his neck and snorting as he strolls away

Until the next time thirst comes to visit
When the time is right for another drink

The Dog Days of Summer (Equestrian Style)

Is it sizzling where you are? July is a mostly hot, humid month in my neck of the woods.

Summer presents special horse-care challenges. For me, Summer is all about trying to mitigate the harsh effects of the weather while still trying to stay in the saddle (or at least on top of my horse bareback!) regularly.

For today’s post, I gathered up links to three Summer-themed posts that I published last year on this blog. If you didn’t read them in 2020, they will give you a sense of how I manage my horses’ care during the hottest months of the year.

Stay cool and hydrated out there!

Reading Round Up

Looking for some new reading material online? About horses, of course? I’ve got you covered! Here’s my suggestions for some interesting and informative horse-related reading.

Does Your Horse Like You?
https://blog.redmondequine.com/does-your-horse-like-you?

This article, written by horse professional Julie Goodnight, touches on something that I think many horse people wonder about. Using the example of a clinic participant who was struggling with their young horse, Julie explains the miscommunication occurring between the pair. Goodnight details from her professional perspective what horses need from their people in order to be happy. Lots of good food for thought in this piece for anyone who has ever tried to build a relationship with a horse.

The Rules of ‘Poopspection’: Analyzing Your Horses’ Manure
https://thehorse.com/188030/the-rules-of-poopspection-analyzing-your-horses-manure/

Written with a wonderful dose of humor, this article takes a deep dive into what a horse’s manure has to say about his or her health. The article’s author, a PhD, interviews veterinarians for their input on your horse’s output. A really good piece for anyone who wants to learn how to “read” horse poop.

6 Ways to Compete Against Yourself in Horse Riding
https://www.horselistening.com/2017/09/28/6-ways-to-compete-against-yourself-in-horse-riding/

If you haven’t recently perused the Horse Listening website, you are missing out. Chock full of sound, useful information for the rider, it is a treasure trove of knowledge. Written both for riders who show and those who don’t, this particular article encourages its readers to think a little differently about measuring horsemanship progress.

Happy reading!

Equine Non Profit Spotlight: Best Friends Animal Sanctuary

You may already be familiar with Best Friends Animal Sanctuary if you are involved in the world of pet rescue, wildlife rehabilitation or have seen the TV show DogTown or DogTown, USA. But did you know that Best Friends also has an equine division called Horse Haven?

Located in the beautiful red rock desert area of Southern Utah, Best Friends is the largest no-kill animal sanctuary in the USA. It supports animal welfare on a local, state and national level, partnering with many organizations across the States. Their national campaign “Save Them All” has a goal to end shelter killings in all 50 States by 2025.

Horses at Horse Haven, part of the Best Friends Animal Sanctuary. Photo taken from the Best Friends website.

I have never visited Best Friends, but I have been a long-time reader of their Best Friends magazine. For a $25 donation, you can receive the printed, bimonthly magazine filled with animal related rescue and care information. Go to https://bestfriends.org/stories/best-friends-magazine to subscribe.

I do have a family connection of sorts to Best Friends. My mother, who was heavily involved in cat rescue for much of her adult life, spent about a week at Best Friends some years ago as a volunteer. This was even before working vacations were really a thing.

It’s something I would like to do someday, be a working volunteer at Best Friends. Since my mother’s visit, they built an onsite hotel (that is pet centric, of course) on the sanctuary grounds. What a wonderful idea to vacation in a beautiful part of the country AND give back to animals by volunteering at the sanctuary during your stay!

The variety of animals that Best Friends cares for and the scale on which they do so is inspiring. Best Friends areas include Dogtown, Cat World, Bunny House, Parrot Garden, Horse Haven, Marshall’s Piggy Paradise and Wild Friends. They also have a beautiful memorial area titled Angels Rest to honor animals who have passed on.

Their equine division, Horse Haven, is home to horses, mules, donkeys (and goats too). Just like any other rescue, equines find their way to Horse Haven due to a variety of circumstances, including abuse, neglect and financial/health hardships suffered by their original owners. Best Friends website shows 26 equines (horses/mules/donkeys) currently available for adoption.

Photo taken from Best Friends website.

If you are at all interested in any form of animal rescue/rehab/adoption, I highly recommend you visit the Best Friends website at https://bestfriends.org/. It’s filled with not only information about the sanctuary itself, but information about animal rescue, care and welfare.

As a horse lover, I am glad that horses, mules and donkeys are a part of the Best Friends vision and mission. To read more about Horse Haven and see their list of adoptable equines, go to https://bestfriends.org/sanctuary/about-sanctuary/animal-areas/horse-haven or https://bestfriends.org/adopt/adopt-our-sanctuary/equine.

Please Pass The Salt: Does Your Horse Have A Preference?

“Salt is the only mineral for which horses have an indisputable appetite, thereby displaying a degree of nutritional wisdom regarding its consumption.”

From Kentucky Equine Research at https://ker.com/equinews/nitty-gritty-salt/

Salt is an essential nutrient for horses. They can’t manufacture salt themselves within their bodies, so they must obtain it from their diet. But have you ever thought about what type or form of salt that you horse prefers?

During a recent trip with my horses to a friend’s barn, I noticed that my horse, Shiloh, started licking the Himalayan rock salt that my friend had set out for her own horse. Shiloh licked it like he just found a long-lost friend.

At home, I keep a 50 pound white salt block out for my horse’s in their paddock at all times (I learned to put it in the shade under the awning of their run in shed- those blocks get hot to the touch in the sunlight and Summer weather). I also add table salt to my horses’ ration balancer during Summer. But I had never given my horses Himalayan rock salt.

After seeing how much Shiloh enjoyed that type of salt, I went ahead and bought one to hang in the paddock. The photos show Shiloh appreciatively licking and nibbling his new pink block. Bear was less impressed. He sniffed it but did not taste-test. I have yet to see him do so. To each his own I suppose.

Fortunately, there are multiple options for providing a horse with salt. There is the option of providing free-choice salt (in a salt block or loose salt in a pan) or adding salt to their grain. Some provide their horses with a mineral lick like the red salt blocks or something similar. These licks include salt plus other minerals (note that the Himalayan salt lick seen above also includes some additional minerals besides salt).

Interestingly, there is debate about whether or not mineral licks could imbalance a horse’s diet because of all the mineral additives in addition to the salt itself. Others question if a horse can even get enough salt, much less too many other minerals, from any kind of salt/mineral lick at all. Those folks recommend loose salt instead.

Since I am not a veterinarian or an equine nutritionist, I don’t have much personal knowledge to add regarding the appropriateness of one source of salt or another. I do, however, have a list of resource links from several reputable sources on the subject of horses and salt that I found interesting. Lots of information to mull over and help plan your own equine salt usage.

Have you met a horse with a notable preference for a certain type or form of salt?

Holiday-Horse-Shopping Brief

For those of you in the USA, you may want to take advantage of holiday shopping deals for equestrian tack and gear in between your patriotic Fourth of July celebrations and remembrances.

Here is a list of several sales I came across this past weekend. Many end today, Monday, July 5th, 2021 at Midnight. See each store’s website for exact details and conditions.

15% off plus free $30 gift card with the order of $200 or more. Use code: July21

10% sitewide and free standard shipping. Use code: REDWHITEBLUE

10% off most items (some exceptions apply) through July 6th. Use code: USA21

Independence day bargain bin sale. Shop their website for steep discounts on a variety of sale items.

Equine Illustrated Inspiration

“When horses meet, they gently blow into each other’s nostrils. That is how they come to recognize individuals- by their breath. To me, there’s something wonderfully gentle, honest, and accepting about that behavior- breathing in another’s essence, getting to know them from the inside out.”

From “Living with HorsePower!: Personally Empowering Life Lessons Learned From The Horse” By Rebekah Ferran Witter

Equine Illustrated Inspiration is a periodic feature on The Backyard Horse Blog. I pair photos of my backyard horses with quotes that I hope will fire the reader’s spirit and imagination. Thanks to my horse, Bear, on the right and to my former foster-horse, Bitkana, on the left for the photo featured in this edition.