They say that you attract whatever you think about. I’m not sure this is entirely true. As an equestrian, I think about horses all the time. And yet I wake up everyday with the same two horses in my backyard instead of a pasture full of ponies.
Don’t get me wrong, I am very happy with my horses, Bear and Shiloh. I’m just saying that thinking in and of itself doesn’t necessarily make something so. Results generally necessitate action of some kind. Thinking about a horse doesn’t make it appear.
While I may not have a sea of horses in my possession, I do seem to find the mention of horses in lots of unexpected places. In that sense, I guess I do end up attracting what I think about.
The most recent occurrence of the phenomenon happened while perusing an issue of Poets and Writers magazine. This isn’t a place I would expect to find an article related to horses. And yet, there it was.
The horse article I came a cross is titled “Saddle Up and Read.” It features equestrian Caitlin Gooch and her non-profit organization that pairs reading and horses. Last year, I mentioned Saddle Up and Read in my post about Giving Tuesday. If you’d like to learn more about Saddle Up and Read, please visit https://www.saddleupandread.org/.
I was delighted to see the organization featured in a literary magazine. Hopefully it will be good exposure to a wider audience outside the horse world. Although I must say that Caitlin has had no trouble attracting positive attention. I saw her featured on a national morning news segment. Oprah knows her name too. That is pretty good advertising, if you ask me.
My hunch is that I will keep thinking about horses until I die. Even if I develop a cognitive disorder as I age, I bet that horses will still figure prominently in my mind somewhere. I would venture to guess that the mention, sight, sound or scent of a horse will still evoke a visceral response in me. I will keep seeing horses everywhere.
In the mean time, I will keep finding horses in unexpected places. After all, for those of us afflicted by the horse bug, the roads we travel have a tendency to lead us to horses. The horse right in front of us or the horse we dream about. Real roads or imagined roads. I can’t think of any more scenic highways to drive.
Are you curious or concerned about your horse’s nutrition? Want ideas about how you can optimize what you feed your horse? If so, take a look at Feed XL.
“Simply tell FeedXL about your horse and what he is being fed and FeedXL will clearly show you if any nutrients are above or below the amount he needs to stay healthy.”
-From the FeedXL website
I will say upfront that I am not a current FeedXL member, but I have used the program in the past about seven years ago. I recently came across a piece of literature from them. It reminded me of their website. I then wondered how many other horse people are aware of their service. Thought it would be worth passing along to The Backyard Horse Blog readers.
FeedXL calculators allow you to input specific criteria about your horse (including specific medical conditions very much affected by nutrition like EMS and PSSM) to help analyze your current feed program and suggest the most appropriate diet.
There are other very handy calculators included such as a supplement finder and a comparative feed-cost calculator. FeedXL can do this because it keeps nutritional and price information from most USA feed and supplement manufacturers. For hay values, you can use their general calculations or input specific numbers from any hay analysis you might have performed on the hay you are currently feeding.
One of its best features is that it is independent of any feed company. It is refreshing to see information that is not tied specifically to wanting to sell you a particular product.
“FeedXL is totally, 100% independent from ALL feed and supplement companies. This means we don’t have any sort of vested interest in what you feed. All we care about is that your horse is getting everything he needs and that what you are feeding is truly what is best for him!”
– From the FeedXL website
FeedXl offers different pricing plans depending upon length of membership and number of horses. Plans start at $20 USD per month for one horse and increase from there. Not ready to plunk your money down yet for a membership? You can still access a ton of general horse nutrition information by signing up at the bottom of their website home page for their free enewsleter, browsing through their “Knowledge Hub” or downloading free ebooks on equine nutrition.
Please note that FeedXL plans are paid in US dollars. While you can sign up online and use their calculators from anywhere in the world, I am not sure how well the program would work for those based outside the US if you are feeding a product not manufactured in the USA or if you use a different metric system. If this is your situation, I would suggest contacting FeedXL directly for more information before signing up.
I am also aware that if you board your horse, you may not have control over what your horse is fed. Due to the issue of working with a volume of horses and owners, it is not always practical for a boarding barn to feed every horse in a highly individualized manner. If this is your situation, you’ll have to judge how much value you can get out of the program in relation to how much input you have over what your horse eats.
Fortunately, most horse people are able to feed their horses adequately throughout their lives without the help of a specialized calculator! But I remember finding it really interesting to play around with the calculator, inputting different types of hay and feed and supplements to see what combination seemed to provide the best nutrition for my horses. It also could help save you money if the calculator shows you are feeding multiple supplements that are unnecessary from a nutrition standpoint. And for some situations, like when you are feeding horses with certain health challenges, FeedXL could be especially helpful in formulating a safer feeding program along with your veterinarian’s input.
Riding during Spring in my neck of the woods often means riding in the wind. I captured these mane-in-the-wind pictures on Shiloh recently.
On an otherwise warm and sunny day, I can cope with wind, but it doesn’t make for my favorite riding conditions.
It is also hard to work with obstacles in the wind, even if you are just doing groundwork with them.
Bear realizing all his toys are blowing away . . .
It got me to thinking about some “horses and wind” quotes that I have read. That led me to do a Google search on the topic.
My research found me taking a global time-travel trip. Apparently lots of folks over the centuries had plenty to say about horses and wind. Read below what I managed to unearth on the subject.
How about you? Do you have a favorite “horses and wind” quote you’d like to share?
“Through his mane and tail the high wind sings.” -Shakespeare
“When the Almighty put hoofs on the wind and a bridle on the lightening. He called it a horse.” -Unknown
“The wind of heaven is that which blows between a horse’s ears.” -Bedouin Proverb
“God made the horse from the breath of the wind, the beauty of the earth and the soul of the angel…May they forever run with our hearts….”-Bonnie Piper
“Horses are the dolphins of the plains, the spirits of the wind; yet we sit astride them for the sake of being well-groomed . . .” -Lauren Salerno
“When God wanted to create the horse, he said to the South Wind, “I want to make a creature of you. Condense.” And the Wind condensed.”-Abdelkader El Djezairi
“Horses have hooves to carry them over frost and snow; hair to protect them from wind and cold. They eat grass and drink water, and fling up their heels… Such is the real nature of the horse.” -Chang Tzu
“Sailing is in the same vein as horse riding. There’s a beauty to it; it’s an elegant sport. You have to employ your intelligence. It’s technical, but you also have to take into account the natural elements – the wind, the water, the weather.” -Pier Luigi Loro Piana
“Ah, steeds, steeds, what steeds! Has the whirlwind a home in your manes? Is there a sensitive ear, alert as a flame, in your every fiber? Hearing the familiar song from above, all in one accord you strain your bronze chests and, hooves barely touching the ground, turn into straight lines cleaving the air, and all inspired by God it rushes on!” -Nikolai V. Gogol
Here is the recipe ingredients as featured on the Horses of the Ozark Hills blog: 2 cups quick oats 1 cup flour 1 cup shredded carrots ¾ cup apple sauce 2 tablespoons molasses ¼ cup coconut oil
Here is my own version of the recipe based on what I already had in my pantry: 2 cups old-fashioned oats 1 cup shredded carrots 3/4 cup cinnamon apple sauce 2 tablespoons light corn syrup (I bet honey would be delicious too)
In case you missed my Monday announcement, this week I am reblogging some of my favorite posts with some updates.
Today’s recycled post is “Ten Ideas For Staying In The Saddle If You Struggle With Riding Alone.” I also created a fresh Pinterest pin to accompany the post.
At home with my horses, I am in a situation where I mostly ride by myself. While I actually largely enjoy riding alone, it does come with its own set of challenges and safety concerns. It is not always ideal.
I figure I can’t be the only one in this situation so I wanted to share what I do to try to stay in the saddle as much as possible. Even without horsey family nearby. Even without a barn full of friends in my backyard. I want to keep riding as often as I can, for as long as I can, no matter my circumstances.
***If you are an email subscriber to this blog, you may note that these reblogged posts show up really wonky in your inbox. I have not figured out yet how to fix that. BUT, if you simply click on the post’s title, you will be transported to The Backyard Horse Blog website. There you can read a more organized version of the post.***
In mypreviouspost, I mentioned some challenges of staying in the saddle as a backyard horse owner. Definitely among them is the issue of riding alone. While some preferthe experience ofriding solo, I venture to guess that many more find it difficult. If you want to ride at home, think about how you can either avoid riding alone in the first place or increase your personal skills/focus when you do chose to ride alone. The following is a list of ideas for tackling this very real problem.Iemploymany of these ideas in an ever rotating combination.
1. Find a ridingbuddy
Are you open to keeping a friend’s horse at your home so you can ride together? Can a friend trailer his horse over to your place or you theirs? If you have a friend who is willing to ride your horse, can you ride “together” by takingturns-you ride your horse the first…
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.
Great British Equinery of Indiana now offers a discount code to The Backyard Horse Blog readers!
Why Great British Equinery? My first review on The Backyard Horse Blog was of a set of fly masks I bought from Great British Equinery of Indiana. Since that time, Great British Equinery has periodically sent me products to test and review on this blog. If you’ve read The Backyard Horse Blog for awhile, you will have seen previous posts about those reviews. For a recap, check out this link at https://thebackyardhorseblog.com/2021/01/25/shout-out-to-great-british-equinery-of-indiana/.
Interested in reading someone else’s thoughts about the products they sell? Some readers may remember that I awarded a Great British Equinery gift certificate during a previous blog contest. The winner of that gift certificate is the author of her own blog, Horses of The Ozark Hills. She reviewed on her blog the products that she chose with that gift certificate. Read her own product reviews at https://horsesoftheozarkhills.com/treats-fly-masks-from-the-great-british-equinery-product-review/.
The Backyard Horse Blog readers can now get a 10% discount when they shop at Great British Equinery with a special coupon code! Even on sale items! Enter this coupon code at checkout: BYHB
There is currently no particular time-limit on this offer, but since we all know nothing lasts forever, be sure to head on over to their site soon. Go see if there is something you might like to buy this weekend at https://www.greatbritishequinery.com!
***For inquiring minds who want to know, Shiloh in the photo above sports a Harrison Howard fly mask in the color teal.***
Interesting how horses can look beautiful when they are on the edge of exploding. Granted, this is not the most flattering photo of me in the saddle, but it IS one of my favorite photos of my horse, Bear. The photo was taken in 2011 during a weekend of casual camping and participating in a timed obstacle-course competition. To say that Bear was pumped that day would be an understatement. I was worried about riding that much horse out into this big, open field of obstacles. The photo was taken as we rushed back to the finish line. It was like 95 degrees with 100% humidity. I was nervous, overheated, exhausted. It was all I could do to keep Bear together and not get completely out of control on our return run. The photo definitely captures a time when I felt nervous in the saddle. 🙂
I know I am not the only equestrian that struggles with their nerves while riding. As much as I absolutely love to ride, I still get nervous. I feel most alive, most electric, most vibrant when in the saddle. Yet I can get quite apprehensive at times too. Weird but true.
When we learn to ride, much of what we are taught focuses on the mechanics of riding. What we should do with our bodies. Less attention is often paid to the mental aspects of riding. What we should do with our thoughts, emotions and energy. It is often left to the rider to figure this out for themselves.
I know for me that when I start to feel nervous and then think about why I am nervous, that pattern takes me out of the present moment and out of my body. Thinking about those nerves takes my attention off my horse and what I need to be doing in that moment of my ride to help my horse.
It is really hard to stay with my horse when I am ruminating about my nerves and then jumping into the future imagining some disaster scenario. For me, the saddest part about rider nerves is when the horse gets blamed for spooky and anxious behavior that actually originates with that nervous rider.
Even if we are not a naturally relaxed and confident rider, we can still learn to channel our mind to refocus negative thoughts/emotions and increase positive ones.
One of my favorite techniques to help relax and refocus myself is to recognize when I am starting to feel nervous and then implement three proactive steps that bring me back into the present moment.Here’s an example. If I am riding and then I feel my stomach tighten, my heart rate rise or my body curl forward, I know that I am getting tense and need to implement my action steps.
My three proactive steps might change depending upon the horse I am riding or where I am riding (at home verses a show) but they often include
(1) Taking a deep breath where I breath into my belly ( and exhale too) (2) Looking up and out between my horse’s ears (3) Feeling the rhythm and hearing the sound of my horse’s hoofbeats.
Other ideas are to make sure I can see my horse’s inside eyelashes as we are going around the ring (aiming for correct bend in the arena). I might also check in with my body to address some of my less than helpful habits such as seeing if I need to bend my elbows, roll my shoulders back or point my toes forward. I might remind myself to smile.
I’ll go through this pattern every time my nerves come into my awareness, as often as I need to during my ride, until I forget about my nerves and refocus on what my horse and I are physically doing in the present moment.
If I can’t seem to refocus and the nerves stay, I take that as a sign that I need to slow down. Maybe change the activity. Maybe ask for some help. Remember, nerves CAN be useful in keeping us out of dangerous situations.
We riders have to regularly practice discernment in figuring out when we should proceed with an activity while simultaneously managing our nerves VERSES using our nerves as a sign that we need to stop and change course.
I know this can be tricky as all horse activities carry an element of danger just by the very size, strength and nature of the horse. It can be a journey to try to mitigate the dangers and yet also make peace with a certain amount of risk inherent with horses.
I try to do all this in a spirit of positivity. With a spirit of generosity towards myself. Some of us will never be the bold riders that we would otherwise like to be. We just aren’t’ wired that way. I know I am not. I feel sad about this, but I also don’t want to beat myself up about it.
Even with nerves, I still think we can be successful riders with the right type of the horse in a suitable discipline, surrounded by the right type of support. We can still enjoy the ride.
How about you? Do you struggle with nerves while riding? What are your favorite ways to cope?
“The moment I put my left foot in the stirrup, step up on the horse, and settle into the saddle, I just come alive . . . That is the greatest feeling in the world. It isn’t a feeling of power or superiority or even the anticipation that I’m going to do something; it’s just this general feeling of being in harmony with . . . the whole world! That sounds very high blown, but that’s just the way it is with me, and I believe, with many people. It’s one of God’s privileges . . . it’s God’s gift is what it is!”
-Helen Crabtree as quoted in 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 combine pictures of my backyard horses with inspirational quotes from a variety of sources.
This edition of Equine Illustrated Inspiration is dedicated to my horse, Bear (shown in the photo), who just turned 26. Bear is retired now. But I have MANY fond memories of coming alive as I put my left foot in the stirrup of his saddle. Happy birthday, my dear Bear!
Do you live in the USA and like to enter contests or sweepstakes like I do? Head on over to Valley Vet Supply to enter their Swingin’ for the Fences contest. Despite the baseball theme, the nine prize packages are all horse, farm, livestock or pet related. You can also sign up for their email or catalog lists while entering. Or just enter the contest and opt-out of the rest.
“We’re kicking off 2021 with a load of packages that will have you Swingin’ for the Fences! Step up to the plate; we have nine gift packages you and your animals are sure to love! Entries close on April 23. Not entering this giveaway is a swing-and’a-miss, because this giveaway is outta the park!” – Valley Vet Supply
If you are not familiar with Valley Vet Supply, you might enjoy checking out their internet store that includes products for horses, pets, livestock and people. Valley Vet also has a Facebook page for you who favor social media. Please note this post was not solicited or compensated by Valley Vet Supply. 🙂
Remember, enter by midnight on April 23rd at http://bit.ly/3vg4qH2 (FYI- this is a link through their Facebook page so it will take you from Facebook back through to the Valley Vet website).
FEC? Say what? For the uninitiated, FEC stands for fecal egg count. Egg of what, you may ask? Well, worms. Worms that can have negative health consequences for your horse. For the why/when/how of equine FEC’s (fecal egg counts), I recommend the following sources of information:
When I bought my first horse, rotational deworming (deworming your horse with a different class of chemical dewormer every other month) was the norm. In the last ten years or so, many veterinarians have switched to recommending deworming based on an individual horse’s fecal-egg-count as a way to combat worm resistance to currently available deworming drugs.
On this topic of FEC’s, my horse, Bear, has a confession to make. Drum roll . . . He is what is known as a “high shedder” and tends to have FEC’s in the 1000 eggs-per-gram range. He used to be a medium shedder, but now that he is a senior horse with PPID(Cushing’s Disease), his FEC’s have gone even higher. Age and PPID tend to reduce immunity.
In case you are wondering if I might already have a case of dewormer resistance on my property, the FEC reduction test we had done last year showed that the deworming chemical Moxidectin still works well to temporarily reduce his egg burden. But the egg numbers build back up in between dewormings.
Bear’s FEC for this Spring was 1050. Shiloh’s FEC was 75. Two horses sharing the same home environment. Two horses cared for pretty much the same way. Yet two horses showing very individual FEC results. My veterinarian recommended that I deworm Bear this month but not Shiloh. Both horses were recommended for retesting in the Fall.
Last week, I took both these photos of Bear shown here in this post. Yes, he is a retired, senior horse (turning 26 next week!) with Cushing’s disease. He no longer has the muscle of a horse in work. He is still in the process of shedding his now dull, end of Winter coat. Even so, I wouldn’t suspect that Bear’s FEC was so high just from his outward appearance. To me, that is a big benefit of fecal egg counts. It helps identify an internal issue that doesn’t necessarily show externally.
How about your horse(s)? Have you had a FEC performed? Has a FEC result ever surprised you?
***As with anything horse-health related that you read on the internet, please remember to consult your veterinarian for guidelines about how you should treat your particular horse(s). What my veterinarian recommends for my own horses may not be appropriate for yours. ***
Whoot, whoot! I got my Pivo device to work properly. Last post, I showed a few video clips taken with the Pivo when I couldn’t get it to rotate. Now I have some clips to share of the Pivo working in all its glory.
Pivo really is a cool little device. As long as it tracks me properly, it records everything from start to finish. When I have a person take video, they don’t record every single segment of my ride. If you’ve ever held up a camera for a long time/stared into a little screen, you will know what a pain that can be. The Pivo gets the good, the bad and the ugly in equal measure without having to wear out your human video photographer!
Thanks to Pivo, I now have some nice footage of Shiloh in his foxtrot (takes him a minute to get, but you can hear when he goes from his flat-walk into the foxtrot). This is about as good a foxtrot as we can do at this point. Good job, Shiloh.
From online Pivo reviews, I understand that it does sometimes loose track of the horse. In my longest 37 minute clip, it lost me three times. But not for very long. It always picked me back up the next time I came into view. Here is an example:
The Pivo also does a good job of tracking me from further away. In this next clip, I take a little walk outside of the round pen. You can see the Pivo lose me behind a tree but then pick me back up on the other side.
I am SO excited to get full videos of my rides for learning purposes. I can watch the whole video multiple times while taking in different aspects with each separate view.
Maybe one time I will concentrate on my horse’s expression to get a sense of how he might be feeling about our work together. Another time I will hone in on gait identification to more clearly see when my horse is going in and out of his foxtrot. A different time I will focus on my own position and aids. During another viewing I will concentrate on our general presentation as a team. The possibilities are endless.
The videos taken with Pivo also have real potential to show differences over time. I unfortunately have hardly any early videos of Shiloh and me, but I was able to see progress by comparing a short clip from 2019 to a recent one.
This first clip was taken by a kind friend in 2019. I wanted to document how quietly Shiloh carries a flag (I actually got more than I bargained for as I hadn’t anticipated the wind would change directions like it did!). Anywho, if you watch Shiloh’s body instead of the flag, you will see him pacing. Both pairs of legs on the same side are moving almost in unison. The rhythm is more 1-2 than a correct walk rhythym of 1-2-3-4. Note that he is so stiff that there is almost no head nod.
In this second video taken with my Pivo device this month, you can see a decent 1-2-3-4 rhythm with a head nod at the walk before he starts gaiting. There is actually a big difference in how he used to move compared to now. A difference that I hope will contribute to his soundness and longevity as a riding horse.
Lest you have concerns, I won’t blog about the Pivo during every future post (although I will incorporate relevant video clips from time to time). But I wanted to emphasize that the Pivo really is a nifty little gadget that has the potential to add a lot to one’s horsemanship journey.
Even if you don’t ride, you could record any groundwork you do with your horse like lunging, trick training, liberty work, trailer loading, etc . . . Interesting to observe your own body language and watch how your horse responds.
If you’d like to learn more about the Pivo, I highly suggest googling “Pivo horse review.” Lots of equestrians have made really detailed You Tube videos, written posts, etc . . . that show you the different kinds of Pivos, their features and how they function. Many of them review the Pivo Silver version, but I have the Red version which is less expensive and slower. The Backyard Horse Blog has no affiliation with Pivo, other than being a happy Pivo user. 🙂
Have you used a Pivo device to record your arena rides? Pivo is a small device that sinks with your Smartphone. To record your ride, place Pivo (with your Smartphone attached on top) in the middle of your arena on a barrel. Your Pivo and Smartphone work together to track and video tape you and your horse as you go around your arena or roundpen.
It is a great way to view your rides if you don’t have a helpful ground person to do the recording. If you would like to read/watch how other riders use their Pivo devices, just google “Pivo horse review.” I was thinking of doing a formal review of it for this blog, but others have done such a stellar job that I think readers will get better value from their reviews.
I bought my Pivo last year, only to find that my cell phone was not compatible. I now have a more updated phone so I decided to unearth my Pivo from a back closet and give it a try earlier this week.
Unfortunately, I had trouble working the Pivo app. I did get video of my ride, but since I did not activate the device properly, it did not rotate. I think I finally figured out what I did wrong. Next time I bring it out, I hopefully can get my entire ride recorded.
Even so, the video clip I captured contains useful footage. I can see Shiloh in the video only when we pass in front of the camera, but some video is better than no video.
It records with sound so even when I can’t see Shiloh and me when we passed behind the camera, I can hear his hoofbeats. Gaits have different sounds, including the different intermediate gaits like the pace, running walk, fox trot, etc . . . So sound can be useful in deciphering the puzzle of gait identification.
We had made quite a bit of progress by the end of last year, mostly leaving the pace behind us, but seem to have lost some ground with our Winter break. I am in the process of trying to help Shiloh find a more consistent gait again.
Here are two snippets from this week’s video footage. In this first 28 second clip, Shiloh transitions into a foxtrot. It is not a super clean or distinct foxtrot in my view, but it is in the ball park.
Below you see what happens when I don’t’ set him up well for a decent transition into the foxtrot and then struggle to help him find his foxtrot as we go along. In these instances, we often just find a hard trot. In this particular case, we found mostly a weird pace/canter combo. Sometimes I can encourage him to rebalance and bring him back into foxtrot, either using my seat aids and/or my voice. This was one of those times where I wasn’t effective. In those cases, I bring him back to the walk, try to establish a relaxed four-beat rhythm and then ask again for the foxtrot again.
In transferring the video footage to my computer, I can stop the action and get “still photos” that can provide useful information in a different way from the videos. For example, here is a photo moment of backing. The back is really hard for Shiloh. Here I can see that he is getting better at transferring his weight backwards while stretching over his back while moving those diagonal pairs of legs simultaneously and not getting too crooked. It is a lot to coordinate for him (and me!).
Long story short, I think the Pivo will prove even more useful once I get it to work properly. 🙂 To have a complete video of entire rides ought to really help me document our progress and give me more insights into areas in which we struggle. Plus it is always great to have lots of photos and videos to mark our time together for posterity.
Finally, here is my favorite photo moment. Me just pleased as punch to be spending some time in the saddle. Go Pivo. Go riding!
Have you seen some of the infographics from the American Association of Equine Practitioners? I love the simple clarity that most infographics provide. I also really like knowing these particular selections come from the AAEP. It gives me added confidence that the information presented is accurate.
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
– Theodore Roosevelt
I am guessing readers are familiar with this oft quoted tidbit of wisdom from US President Theodore Roosevelt. It is a small part of a lengthy speech titled “Citizenship In A Republic” that he delivered in France in 1910. If you’ve read about his life, you will recognize a man who was an accomplished horseman and extremely gritty in a way that I never have been and never will be. So while I’m thinking President Roosevelt did not have my kind of life or my recent clinic experience in mind when he wrote it, I am still grabbing the spirit of the quote and running with it.
One can in fact argue whether taking two horses by oneself to a clinic fits the description of “daring greatly.” I will say that for me, it probably comes close. Sometimes I just have to gently laugh at myself. For all my equestrian ambitions, I have a tendency to not get as far as I would like.
In a post last week, I talked about my efforts to prepare my two horses for separating at clinics. I also mentioned how amazed I feel when I actually manage to arrive somewhere with my horses in tow considering all the obstacles that often present when I try to participate in horse events. I DID actually make it to my first clinic of the year. But instead of staying for the two day event as planned, I ended up staying about four hours.
After packing, hooking up the trailer, loading, driving to the clinic, unloading, unpacking, making a little staging area for my equipment and setting Bear and Shiloh up in their stalls (including lugging around the dreaded water buckets), it was time to take Shiloh to the arena. We started with groundwork. That portion ended up lasting longer than I anticipated. It was then I realized I wasn’t going to make it through the clinic.
All that time on my feet made my arthritis act up and set off a chain of pain across my body. I was worried I wouldn’t be able to walk properly if I kept pushing myself, so I made the choice to pack up at lunch time and head home.
Normally, I am able to schedule my daily activities so that I’m not in so much pain. When I’m pushed past a certain point, though, the pain unfortunately takes over. And apparently the beginning of the clinic experience was that point. You know the horse that is labeled as “limited use only” or “intermittently lame”? That’s me in human form.
I am obviously disappointed that I didn’t get my full money’s worth out of the experience. I didn’t even ride. I didn’t even snap one photo. Still, I had some important experiences that made me glad I at least gave the clinic a go:
I drove my new trailer on the highway for the first time. Seemed to pull well at higher speeds even in the wind and rain.
The horses loaded both times pretty smoothly, even in the rain for the drive home.
At the clinic, there were about 12 horses in a fairly small indoor arena. Shiloh and I aren’t used to that excitement so it was needed exposure to a jazzier environment.
Bear and Shiloh got some much needed practice separating. In a previous post I addressed my attempts at doing some practice on this issue, but as it turns out, the practice did not seem to apply well in this particular clinic situation as the horses behaviors were different than what I’d seen before. Bear (who doesn’t seem to mind my taking Shiloh away to ride at home or at the local indoor we frequent) started hollering as soon as I took Shiloh away from their adjoining clinic stalls. Then there was constant hollering back and forth between Bear and Shiloh for the first half-hour or so. Yes, I was that one person with the screaming horse (or in this case two horses) that seems to appear at every clinic. Shiloh wasn’t doing anything terrible, but he wasn’t really “there” with me either. His mind was on Bear. Shiloh was much quieter after the clinician did some groundwork with him- but it is something I’d like to develop for myself- that ability to draw Shiloh’s attention even if he is feeling insecure. My experience is that attending clinics can bring out the holes in your own horsemanship and your relationship with your horse. Holes that don’t show up when you work in the comparatively comfortable setting of your own backyard. Even just attending a few hours of the clinic proved that point. My horsemanship looks more like swiss cheese than solid cheddar.
In the process of my unloading the horses at the clinic barn, another participant noted that I didn’t have the lead ropes tossed over the horses backs. At the time, I didn’t understand what that person meant, but it later occurred to me. In my old trailer with mangers, I had to untie the horses through the small feed door but am not tall enough to reach through and put the lead ropes over their backs. The lead ropes just dangled in front, and I reached out and caught the ends when the horses came off. With the new trailer, I have full doors on both sides. I must enter through one of them in order to untie (the look on Bear’s face the first time I appeared in front of him on that trailer was priceless. He probably wondered how I crawled up in there when I hadn’t done that to him in the ten years he traveled in the old trailer). I was so used to leaving the lead ropes dangling in front of the horses with the old trailer that it never occurred to me that I can now untie and place the lead ropes over their backs. So when we returned home, I made sure to untie and toss the leap ropes over before I asked them to back out so I can start a new habit. It is in fact easier and safer to grab the lead rope this way. Funny how you get in such a pattern that it doesn’t occur to you that adjustments could be made!
Finally, we all traveled safely and managed to get to the clinic and home again in one piece. A simple thing perhaps. But not to be taken for granted.
Looking forward, my next clinic multi-day clinic isn’t scheduled until the Summer. I need to make some adjustments, figure out some different way of doing things, maybe get some help along the way so I don’t exacerbate my chronic physical issues. But having horses in my life is too much of a gift to not continue to strive to do something with it. Even if it means performing my own version of Teddy Roosevelt’s failing while daring greatly.
An offer recently popped up in my email box from HorseandRider magazine regarding the Ask Annie podcast. The podcast is looking for suggestions on horse products to review.
“Curious about different horse products? Heard about a tool, but want to know how it works before you purchase it? That’s where the AskAnnie Podcast comes in! Every episode features useful, relatable, and insightful reviews on products or conversations with the people who make them. Learn how gear works in Annie’s everyday equestrian life as she tests, reviews, and reports her findings back to you.” – From HorseandRider Magazine Newsletter issued on 4/2/21
It doesn’t cost anything to submit your suggestion. There is no guarantee that they will use it, but if they do, that would be kind of cool!
If you haven’t check out the AskAnnie podcast, you can do so here at https://horseandrider.com/podcasts/askannie. AskAnnie also hosts Facebook and Pinterest pages. If you prefer the written word, they provide transcripts of each episode for you to read instead.
I can’t think of anything off the top of my head that I would like reviewed, but if I come up with a question about a product, I’ll be sure to ask Annie!
I really like the above quote by horse trainer, Nahshon Cook. The issue of developing feel in our horsemanship is a tough one for those of us who tend to live in our heads.
Some folks just seem to naturally stay in the moment with their horses and can absorb every movement, every gesture while also responding to the horse automatically.
Others of us feel something from our horses and then start thinking about it in a way that is not particularly helpful in the moment. “What just happened? Why did he do that? Now I’m scared. What is wrong with me? I wish I were a braver rider. What do I do now?”
Thinking is good in general, of course. But staying in my mind while absorbed in my own spiraling thoughts? That is usually not helpful to my horse. As with so many things in life and horsemanship, there is an ideal balance between thinking and feeling and thinking about what we are feeling.
When I am staying in My mind, focusing on MY thoughts, MY feelings, MY past, MY future, I have stopped thinking about the horse. I suspect it feels to the horse like I have stopped riding and abandoned him to his own devices.
Too much thought and the emoting about those thoughts as Nahshon Cook mentions? They take me right off the horse in the middle of the ride. No wonder some of us riders can get really good at creating anxiety in our equines.
What if instead I can stay in touch with how the horse feels underneath me, in each moment of each stride? That is how I can create calm for me and my horse.
What if instead of thinking and emoting about the last big, scary moment during my ride (say a big spook), I can take a deep breath and go back to feeling my horse underneath me, feeling each next stride? If so, the rest of the ride goes so much better than if I dwell on that incident.
If I keep on focusing on that spook during the rest of the ride? There I go again, mentally dismounting. Maybe even right when the horse needed me the most to help regain his own sense of safety and composure.
I also like Nahshon Cook’s imagery of floating within the ocean. I imagine myself making small adjustments to keep swimming along in the direction I want to go while keeping my face above the water. I am going with the water and yet still charting a course, whether further out into the ocean or circling around back to the shore.
In making lots of those small adjustments, I am not fighting the water (horse). I am learning how to move with the water (horse) while at the same time accomplishing my goal of us arriving safely at my chosen training destination. It is an interesting give and take.
Trying to maintain this frame of mind is definitely a work in progress for me, particularly on days where I seem to have misplaced my confidence and can’t find it anywhere. But it is exactly what I want to aspire to with every horse I ride.
Do you know what the downside is to keeping only two horses? Sometimes separation anxiety appears when the horses are removed from each others’ presence. This can present some challenges when you are one person traveling with two horses.
Bear and Shiloh have been pastures mates for about 2 and half years now. Fortunately so far, I can easily remove either of them from their paddock to go do groundwork, riding or have the farrier/veterinarian attend to them.
Neither horse fusses about leaving other. I am able to safely work with each horse without them turning into a ball of nerves when they are alone with me.
But for the horse left behind in the paddock? That is more problematic. Bear generally handles those situations better than Shiloh. He rarely gets visibly upset. Shiloh, though, can become much more emotional. He often whinnies. Sometimes he even races the fence line with his tail flagged.
It is hard to be a herd animal and find yourself suddenly single. Your instincts from birth tell you that being by yourself is unsafe. And then you add in some stressful life experiences to the mix.
At both their ages, Bear at almost 26 and Shiloh at almost 18, they were obviously weaned from their mothers. They have changed owners a number of times. They have also both been the only horse left after their respective pasture mates died. They know that sometimes, a horse leaves and doesn’t come back.
Of course, I don’t know exactly how they process or associate these issues. I don’t think anybody can say for sure since we can’t get inside their heads. But clearly, anybody who has been around horses for longer than a minute will see that separation is a source of stress for many horses.
So what does all this have to do with clinic preparation? I’ve signed Shiloh and me up for two, multi-day riding clinics this year. I don’t want to leave Bear behind at home by himself so I’ve secured stalls for both of horses at the clinic locations.
Since Bear is retired, I won’t be riding him in the clinics, but if I have the opportunity, I would like to see if I can include him in a groundwork segment or two. At the very least, I’ll probably want to hand walk him periodically. He’s not used to stall confinement. As an aged horse with arthritis, I don’t want him to stock up or stiffen up. This means Shiloh will have to stay behind in his stall and watch me and Bear walk off together.
So in addition to riding Shiloh as I usually do, I am taking Bear out of their shared paddock. I do a little groundwork with him in my round pen while we leave Shiloh behind.
Below, Bear and I practice some liberty work without halter or lead rope. I work to see if I can encourage him to follow me through a little obstacle course. Shiloh is alone in his paddock while Bear and I are in the round pen.
Now see if you can “spy with your little eye” Shiloh watching Bear like a hawk.
When I asked Shiloh how he felt about being left behind, here was his response to my inquiry (he also showed off his off-set pair of chompers in this photo- you may recall my mentioning that he was kicked in the face as a foal- one of the reasons I ride him bitless).
My horses have a new ride this year so part of the clinic preparation is also practicing loading and unloading in a new set up with a ramp. And I’m thinking I need to give those tails and back legs a nice shampooing to remove a Winter’s worth of staining!
We also completed our first, brief field-trip of the year off the property to the local boarding/training barn. Bear practiced staying in a stall while I rode Shiloh in their indoor arena. The day we loaded and traveled was super windy so it was good exposure in working in less than ideal conditions. We all know that clinics don’t always take place on sunny and 75 degree days.
Here is Shiloh post-ride and sporting his travel halter. He is looking worried about what we are going to do next, but he loaded back up like a champ. Bear, Shiloh (and I!) returned home safe and sound.
Hopefully we will be able to get to our clinics and have a successful experience in tackling this separation issue. But there’s a lot of steps before we get there. Ever noticed how many stars have to align for you to go somewhere with your horse(s)?
You have to stay healthy. Your horse(s) have to stay healthy. Both your truck AND trailer have to stay in working order. Your horses have to load (this is a biggie!). Your family and any pets/livestock remaining behind must avoid having any crisis that require your attention. Ditto for work emergencies.
I’ve had trails rides, horse shows and clinic plans all derailed by every one of those issues, much to my disappointment. Whenever I actually arrive at a ride location with horses in tow, I always feel charmed and amazed (maybe a little dazed too).
How about you? Any plans with your horses this year? How are you preparing yourself and your horses for your own adventures?
*Today I bring you an essay that I previously wrote and published on another site last Spring. The link to the essay no longer functions so I rewrote it here (with a few tweaks) for inclusion on this blog.
I have been a backyard horse-keeper for about eighteen years now. I appreciate many aspects of keeping my horses at home including how their very presence encourages me to maintain a routine.
I am naturally drawn to structure and organization so I don’t need much prompting to keep a schedule. But during times in life when the chips are down, the regular rhythms of horse care help mitigate the chaos.
Knowing that my horses still need me, no matter what else is going on in the world, provides much needed normalcy.
While there are some varied opinions on the topic, most horse people seem to think that maintaining a routine is beneficial to horse well-being.
In reading about horses living in the wild, the description 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. They believe that being housed in close quarters creates competition for resources that gives rise to those hierarchies.
Pecking order or no pecking order, 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 relax once they catch on that I am coming back to feed and otherwise care for them on a set time-schedule.
Nature in general seems to share this innate sense of organization that I find so appealing. In spending time recently in the pasture and barn, I see signs of Spring everywhere. Each season has its own familiar structure.
My horse are shedding their Winter coats. The grass is staring to grow and go green, prompting 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 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 give me quiet comfort when other evens in my life seem out of control. They connect me to something larger than myself.
In my own Christian faith tradition, nature is God’s handiwork. The wonder of 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. This appreciation is in many ways an act of worship that calms and centers me.
As I prepare to head out today to serve another horse meal, I will be thankful to have the opportunity. For the thousandth time, I will stuff the hay bags full of forage, check the water trough and gather the tools to start cleaning the run-in-shed.
Horse care is physical work, not always completely welcome to my ever-aging body, but the process never gets old. Performing this routine means that I have horses in my backyard for at least one more day. No matter what else is going on in my world, for this I am ever so grateful.
Last week, I mentioned that I would describe my recent participation in a handful of dressage lessons. After competing in an online western-dressage show last year, the judges’ comments made me realize I needed help in clarifying some basic dressage concepts.
As it so happens, my aunt is a dressage instructor, Lynne Sprinsky Echols. Before she was a dressage rider, she introduced me to the world of horses. Then after studying riding at the Reitinstitut von Neindorff in Germany, she later became a Graduate Balimo Instructor. As part of her student outreach, she now hosts an interesting and informative page for riders at https://www.facebook.com/RiderSeatMD/. I encourage all my readers to check it out!
Unfortunately, I live too far away from her to take advantage of her expertise in person. I needed to find someone who at least lived in the same State.
After doing an online search, I found Ken Levy at Legacy Farm Dressage. He is a United States Equestrian Federation “r” judge who is waiting to take the final exam for his “R” license. Ken is also a United States Dressage Federation Certified Instructor/Trainer.
A USEF “r” judge can judge through second level and has completed a rigorous licensing process. While a beginner dressage rider like me can’t fully take advantage of everything such an instructor has to offer, I figured that lessons from a licensed judge would help me better understand the test comments that I received. I was not disappointed.
My equine partner for these lessons was a tall, handsome Hanoverian gelding named Gin, trained through second level. That’s us in the above photo. Those of you who are regular readers have read about my admiration for lesson horses.
I never did see Gin ridden by another rider, but I saw how he went on the lunge-line as a warm up before my lessons. He looked like a very nice mover who could easily go forward, even and round, at all three gaits.
In one of my final lessons, the instructor gave me the opportunity to film my ride. To be honest, my heart dropped when I saw the video. My riding clearly prompted Gin to go in a flat, strung out, pokey kind of way while I was flailing around in the saddle trying to follow the instructions given. At times it is admittedly disheartening to ponder that after years and years of riding, I still have so much to learn.
But learn I did, at least in the sense of having my eyes opened to certain issues. I realize that to some people, claiming to learn is equal to claiming mastery. For riders like me who are unlikely to reach an advanced level of riding, I think learning means something a little different.
Improvement may come in smaller increments and at a slower pace than it does for others. It is more akin to an increase in awareness of issues verses a measurable increase in skills. I may or may not be able to move up the levels, but I figure any effort to make myself a better load to carry for the horse is worth while.
My first few lessons, I did some work on the lunge-line where I rode the horse but the instructor controlled Gin in a large circle at the end of the line. Riding is an exercise in coordination if nothing else. For those of us who have trouble doing several things at once, lunge lessons can be a real treat. They allow the rider to concentrate on her position and feel without having to add in the major complication of directing the horse.
Off the line, I received instruction on various basic skills depending upon the day. The difference between flexion and bend. The different ways to apply my legs and seat for a varying range of gaits. Leg yielding. Aids for the canter. Practicing turns and using the corners (and the need to stay out of the corners if you are trying to ride a circle).
Each lesson included instruction on the geometry of riding dressage figures, including circles, serpentines, traveling down center/quarter lines and change of rein across the diagonal.
In both of the judges’ comments from my online test, I received more than one note on my lack of correct geometry. I realized from these lessons that I frequently am traveling straight during figures when I actually should be bending. I am also often failing to start and stop the figures at the correct points in the arena.
I apparently have quite a bit of trouble visualizing the movements and then linking how I am riding the movements to how they should actually look. This is something I can’t solve within a handful of lessons, but I can take that awareness home with me.
I can try to be more alert while practicing with my own horse. Hopefully I can reduce the number of “watch your geometry” comments regarding any future tests.
Now that Winter has come to an end and my dressage lesson-budget has dried up, I turn my attention to riding my own horse at home as regularly as the weather allows.
Many thanks to the patience of my instructor and his lesson horse. I certainly have a renewed appreciation for the precision of dressage. My top hat is off to you dressage riders out there who allow your horses to move and perform so beautifully while making it look easy. They don’t call it “the art of dressage” for nothing.
*On a related noted, for those of you interested in following an actual dressage blogger who trains and competes, please check out the Horse Addict blog at https://horseaddict.net. There you will meet the writer, Anne Leueen, and her horse, Biasini. Anne trains with Belinda Trussell, a Canadian Olympic rider who competed in two Summer Olympics. Through Horseaddict, Anne allows her readers to get a glimpse behind the dressage scenes, including lots of informative video clips of her riding. I enjoy following Horse Addict and am happy to have Anne as a reader of The Backyard Horse Blog.
Have you read the book by Foster Huntington, Off Grid Life: Your Ideal Home in the Middle of Nowhere? Published in 2020, the book describes in words and pictures a number of “small structure” options for living. If you have ever been curious about living in something like a cabin, yurt or tiny house, you will find this book of interest.
I am charmed when I read a “non-equestrian” book and manage to locate even a passing reference to horses. Imagine my delight when I realized Off Grid Life‘s final chapter includes a section about living out of a truck and horse trailer!
For that final book chapter, the author interviews Aniela Gottwald who is a documentary film maker, founder of the nonprofit Riding Wild and a long-distance rider. Long distance as in traveling from Mexico to Canada on horseback.
Nobody lives that adventure without help along the way. For Aniela, it is her mother who lives in the truck and horse trailer while Aniela is out riding. Her mother meets up with Aniela at designated points along the way.
I also remember reading about horse trainer and clinician, Stacy Westfall, who went on the road with her family and horses. They crossed the country over a year or so before settling back to live once again in the Midwest. I picture it much like RV living with the addition of horses-in-tow.
While I personally don’t foresee living this way beyond more than a weekend camping trip, I think the idea of living nomadically with horses will always spark my imagination. And who knows. Stranger things have happened. After all, as long as I had my horses with me where ever I went, I could still subscribe to a favorite adage. “Home is Where My Horses Are.”
Ride the horse underneath you. Have you ever heard this phrase before? It seems kind of obvious and silly upon first glance.
When you think about it though, haven’t you ever had an expectation of how you think your ride is going to go? But then had a strong emotional reaction when actual events start to unfold differently?
Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for holding positive expectations and visualizations. We riders know that horses respond to both our physical aids as well as our mental intentions. Confident mental pictures of what we want our horses to do(as opposed to disaster scenarios encompassing all our fears)can contribute to a successful ride.
But sometimes, no matter how positive the original mental picture, the ride starts going differently than what we imagined. It is in those moments that we may need to start riding the horse that is presenting to us. Not the version of the horse we thought we’d be riding that day.
As an example, I’ll use the first few Spring rides with my horse, Shiloh. After ending last year on a really nice note, I felt excited to start riding him this year.
We made good progress in his strength and way of going in 2020. He had mostly quite pacing at both the walk and his gait. He seemed to be getting the hang of stretching forward and down to carry himself in a healthier manner. He was accepting of rein contact. His foxtrot gait was more consistent. We played around with canter transitions. I felt super pleased.
I was SO excited this year to leave our Winter bareback rides behind, put the saddle on and get back to working on more formal riding. But then reality hit.
Seems reasonable that after three months off, Shiloh would be out of shape and rusty, right? But for some reason, I was initially surprised and disappointed at what I discovered. Our first couple of rides, Shiloh walked through my aids, fussed with rein contact and went around with his head up in the air. It felt terrible to me (and I imagine to him too). He was clearly struggling. I was feeling frustrated.
After some thought, I decided the problem was my trying to ride Shiloh like he was the same horse I was riding at the end of last year. This was causing some kind of disconnect between us.
It occurred to me I needed to start over again to some degree. I went back through my written notes to see what were the things we initially worked on last year BEFORE he stopped pacing, head tossing, etc . . .
My notes told me we mostly just concentrated on establishing as even of a 1-2-3-4 walk rhythm as we could in our little round pen while asking him to gently bend correctly in our direction of travel, mixing in some crossing ground poles. We did this all on a very loose rein without really worrying about anything else.
Not being a professional, I can’t say if this is the “right way” to work with horses in general, but it seemed to work for Shiloh and me last year.
I’ve done a handful of short rides now, just working on these absolute basics with Shiloh. And you know what? I am slowly feeling him move with more looseness and consistency. More willingness to stretch forward into some contact. And that is pretty exciting.
I still hold in my mind’s eye what I want Shiloh to feel like and what I’d like him to look like. But I am also trying to ride the horse that presents to me that day.
I try to stay right there in the moment. I ask myself what I need to do from stride to stride in order to help whatever version of himself my horse presents.
I am seeing this type of effort produces more good fruit than spending my rides mourning the fact that we have clearly lost ground during the Winter months.
Seems to me that the phrase “ride the horse underneath you” is not so silly after all.
This weekend I completed my final Winter lesson-horse-only show of the season. I had expected to participate in this particular annual show last year, but it was cancelled just as the first COVID-19 shut downs began.
While these lesson-horse-only shows are largely designed for children, they are a good opportunity for riders of any age to practice show-ring skills in a supportive environment. They take place under the auspices of what is known within the Saddleseat world as Academy Shows.
At Academy shows (or open shows with Academy classes), multiple lesson-barns convene at one show location so participants get the flavor of open showing but without the stiffer class requirements, expense or pressure of bigger shows. Any horse ridden at an Academy show must be a regular part of a lesson program.
For this Winter’s show series, I rode in the walk-trot Huntseat classes, not the Saddleseat ones, but the horse I rode was a Saddlebred (most Academy horses are of the Saddlebred/ Morgan/Arabian variety). The Academy hunt seat classes were open, not divided by age or experience level. Most Academy Saddleseat classes, though, are in fact divided by age and experience level so you are hopefully competing against your same-age peers with similar skills.
I am surprised that more discliplines don’t do a version of Academy. What fun it would be for several reining barns or dressage barns or barrel racing barns or any discipline-specific barns to get together for a series of lesson-horse-only shows.
Interesting that this show idea hasn’t caught on in the wider horse world. Sure, there are barns that host their own shows and allow other folks to bring their horses to show, too, but not with lesson-horses-only. Anybody ever heard of something like this outside of the Saddleseat world?
It really is a great way to be introduced to showing. Also a great way for someone like me who has shown off and on before but unfortunately still struggles to improve both their basic general riding as well as show-ring specific skills.
And if you happen to win a class at the final show of this series, you get to take a victory lap with your ribbon in front of the show photographer. I don’t ever remember getting to do that before. I picked a good show to win a blue!
In addition participating in this recent Winter show series, I also took a handful of dressage lessons this Winter from a USDF “r” judge (United States Dressage Federation). After participating in my online western-dressage show last year with my horse, Shiloh, I wanted some help in clarifying some basic dressage concepts. I should be finishing off those lessons this week and will talk more about that experience in a future post.
I would love to be able to ride my own horses at home year-around. That said, I certainly appreciate each Winter where I get to ride a horse, even if not my own AND have the benefit of instruction AND chances to show. Win or lose or learn. I am grateful for each and every ride. Thank you to the Academy, the horses and to all the folks whose hard work make these classes possible.
I love the double meaning of the word “wonder” in the above quote from How Two Minds Meet: The Mental Dynamics of Dressage by Beth Baumert. Beth is also the author of When Two Spines Align: Dressage Dynamics.
Even if not a dressage enthusiast, any rider can glean tidbits of useful information from her books. Much of what she writes is applicable to all riding styles.
Beth Baumert describes wonder as a sense of curiosity about your horse and riding. It is part of her way of cultivating a healthy mindset in the rider. It is designed to move the rider away from a state of apprehension or fear about riding into a more productive mental framework.
“Curiosity is a questioning state of mind- the ability to reach out and say, I wonder. Riding horses is all about wonder. I wonder. I wonder how you feel today? I wonder if you can step under my seat? I wonder if you can go promptly? Can you stop without me using my hands?”
From How Two Minds Meet: The Mental Dynamics of Dressage
I know riding my now retired horse, Bear, was definitely all about wonder. Including wondering whether or not I would survive some of our more hair-raising rides.
There were many times I struggled with fear of riding such a forward and sensitive horse as Bear. While I got better at meeting his needs the longer we were together, we definitely had our share of struggles. I think I could have readily applied many of Beth Baumert’s suggestions to my interactions with Bear and come out the better for it.
This week marks 16 years that Bear and I have been together. The photo above was taken while we were riding in Colorado in 2015, the day before our ten year anniversary.
There was and is so much wonder for me in sharing my life with Bear. There was definitely wonder while riding his smooth and speedy saddle gait. There was magic in his sensitivity under saddle. There is STILL wonder when he nickers at me in anticipation of a special treat like a banana. Or when, even as a senior horse with health challenges, he takes off galloping in the field and kicks up his heels. How I love to watch him run.
There was also a lot to wonder about with Bear. I wondered if I would survive his occasional panic attacks when we were on the trail. I wondered if I would fall off when he spooked and spun during the obstacle clinic when we rode through firecrackers and smoke bombs. I wondered if he would ever stop rearing when asked to load in my little trailer (he eventually did).
I still wonder how in twelve years of riding, I only fell off of Bear once. He collapsed into an unmarked crater as we strolled along after cows while traveling through tall grass one day. Neither of us saw the hole. I bailed so I wouldn’t be wedged in the crater with him. He fortunately caught the edge of solid ground with one front hoof and was able to pull himself up without my weight on his back. We were both a bit shaken but were able to finish the ride with no more drama. It is a wonder that neither of us were hurt.
I spent so many years wondering about Bear undersaddle. Now that he is retired from riding and we are both growing old(er)? Frankly, with a lump in my throat, I wonder how much time we have left together.
As Beth Baumert states, “Riding horses is all about wonder.” But really, so is sharing your life in any capacity with such a magnificent creatures as the horse. Life with them is definitely wonder-full.
*** If you would like to purchase either of Beth Baumert’s books, How Two Minds Meet: The Mental Dynamics of Dressage or When Two Spines Align: Dressage Dynamics they are available through Trafalgar Square Publishing’s horseandriderbooks.com website. If you click on their affiliate “Horse Books and Videos” photo-link shown on The Backyard Horse Blog, the blog will receive a much appreciated portion of your purchases.***
I have not yet attended an Equine Affaire, but I plan to this year. Virtually, that is.
For those of you unfamiliar, the Equine Affaire is essentially a horse festival. Large, expo-center venues are filled with multi-discipline presentations, competitions, vendors and, of course, horses. It takes place twice a year in the USA, during early Spring in Ohio and during late Fall in Massachusetts, over the span of a long weekend.
The 2021 Spring Equine Affaire is now scheduled as a virtual event. Normally, the costs to attend Equine Affaire are considerable when you add up the price of tickets, travel, food and lodging. This 2021 Spring event is FREE. Anyone with internet access can participate from anywhere in the world.
“COVID-19 pandemic continues to affect each and every one of us, our surroundings, and our businesses . . . Equine Affaire in Ohio on April 8-11, 2021, will not take place as an “in-person” event. The Ohio Expo Center is currently being utilized by Columbus Health and will continue to serve as a COVID-19 testing site . . . It is also slated to be a location for the administration of COVID-19 vaccines . . .”
“The virtual Equine Affaire will occur online on April 8-11, 2020, complete with education, shopping, competition and more! Stay tuned to our web site, equineaffaire.com, and social media platforms as we connect attendees with exhibitors and other virtual content, plus exciting updates about upcoming events and special features.”
From the Equine Affair website
In viewing the Equine Affaire website, I noticed that it still displays a “purchase tickets” button. I found this confusing as normally “free” means there is no need to purchase. When I clicked on “purchase tickets,” I was taken to a web page that confirms the 2021 Spring Equine Affaire will be free with no ticket purchasing required. Instructions prompted me to click on a “virtual event website” link. I then saw the following information.
“THE VIRTUAL EVENT LINK AND CONTENT WILL BECOME ACTIVE ON APRIL 8, 2021, AT 9:00AM. YOU WILL CLICK ON THE “VIRTUAL EVENT” LINK, ENTER YOUR REGISTRATION DETAILS AND RECEIVE ACCESS TO ALL PROGRAMMING, GUIDES AND VIRTUAL EVENT CONTENT ON-DEMAND. The virtual Equine Affaire will be FREE for all viewers and will be presented as a digital event program –your traditional event guide for everything at Equine Affaire, including all that you’re accustomed to finding in the print format plus much, much more! From shopping guides and enhanced advertising to on-demand educational presentations, interviews with clinicians and performers, fun competition and other interactive event highlights you won’t want to miss the virtual Equine Affaire this spring!”
Shiloh can straddle a ground pole with his front two hooves pretty well. But he is not as keen on placing the back two hooves on either side of the pole. He, ninety-nine percent of the time, prefers to keep both hind hooves on the same side of the pole.
I’ve gotten Shiloh to straddle the pole with all four hooves a grand total of exactly once, with his legs splayed out awkwardly to each side. He looked like he was trying to make an A with each pair of legs.
As we negotiate the exercise, it is fascinating to watch Shiloh think about where he might be able to put his four legs. Shiloh knows the ground pole is there, but he can’t keep it in his view very well. His movements are exaggerated with lots of picking up his legs rather high off the ground. He then slowly places them down as he feels for the ground around the pole. I can see the wheels turning in his horse brain as he tries to figure out the puzzle.
Even if we don’t perform quite like the example video referenced above, just the act of thinking through the exercise is really good practice for Shiloh. Asking him for brief bits of intense concentration while he moves very precisely seems good for a horse who mostly just prefers to stroll along.
It is also good practice for me to attempt to convey my intent of the exercise as helpfully as possible to Shiloh while also maintaining an air of relaxation and playfulness so he doesn’t get worried. There’s an interesting aspect of both physical balance and mental balance that seems inherent in negotiating the pole at this angle.
I definitely have respect for the exercise itself and for any horse-handler combo that can make it look easy.
Here is the link to The Backyard Horse Blog’s disclosures page. The link to the page is now placed on The Backyard Horse Blog website in the header section along with other basic blog information. I don’t think there are any earth-shattering revelations contained as the information shared is pretty standard. But as the blog grows, it is important to state its parameters for all readers and subscribers in the interest of, you guessed it, full disclosure. If you have any questions about the disclosures page, feel free to email firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you for reading The Backyard Horse Blog!
Are you a fan of to-do lists? I sure am. I love the control (or the illusion of control) provided by staying organized.
For those of you who are also moving from Winter to Spring this month, I want to share a link to a guest-blog post. I wrote it last Spring for the Savvy Horsewoman website. The post can help you get set up for a successful Spring season with your horse(s). Read “The Backyard Horse Keeper’s Spring To Do List” at
If you’d like to check out similar posts, go to The Backyard Horse Blog Pinterest board under “Spring Horse Care” to click on links to glean more ideas for the season:
How do YOU prepare your horses and your barn for Spring?
*** On a related note, I am doing some Spring cleaning for the blog’s website. In keeping with the blog’s continued growth, I am adding a disclosures page to the site. The disclosures page lists items like disclaimer, privacy, cookie, affiliate ad and other information as it relates to the blog. If you are a blog follower via email, you should receive this disclosure as a separate email today. If you do not receive this disclosure or if you have questions, please email me at email@example.com.
As Winter slowly gives way to Spring in my neck of the woods, I get busy. I increase my activity as I spend more time outdoors. I try to catch up on all the things I was not able to do over Winter. I also get tired trying to chase it all down. If you are anything like me, maybe you do too?
Luckily for us equestrians, horses have a way of inspiring balance in our lives. Sleep and relaxation included. I previously published my essay “A Reminder to Rest” on another site. The essay contains some insight gleaned from spending time with my equine friends.
A Reminder To Rest
I keep horses in my backyard on a few acres of rural property. Eighteen years filled with feeding, mucking out, and other types of equine caretaking. That’s 6,570 days of observing and interacting with my horses.
Experiencing the intimacy of their daily care is very fulfilling. As my horses’ only caretaker, I am responsible for all aspects of their health and welfare. Through this daily oversight, I witness the full rhythm of their lives. This includes their sleep patterns which are very different from human ones.
Horses and most grazing animals sleep an average of two and a half hours every 24 hours, if conditions are ideal and the environment is secure. Most of this sleep is amassed by “nickel and diming,” meaning horses can snooze for short periods—about 15 minutes at a time.
–From Stacey Oke, DVM, MSc in “Equine Sleep Patterns from A to Zzzzzzzzz”:
Another interesting fact is that horses mostly sleep standing up. In fact, horses, zebras, mules, and donkeys are some of the few animals known to sleep upright. They are able to do this due to mechanisms in their legs that essentially lock them in place while they rest. As prey animals, equids value their ability to leave the scene quickly in case of a suspected threat. Sleeping standing up buys them valuable time in fleeing predators.
In order to enter REM sleep, though, a horse must lie down. Typically, a horse will spend a total of one hour in REM sleep every 24 hours. If horses do not experience sufficient REM sleep, they can experience sleep deprivation.
Because horses spend most of their time moving, it almost seems unthinkable that they must rest. For this reason, horses laying down in a deep state of rest have long intrigued me.
There is something about the juxtaposition between a standing horse and a recumbent horse that I find fascinating. Equines are dynamic and strong. Their power is in their size and their movement. Yet when they are lying on the ground, they look so comparatively small. So vulnerable. So quiet. It is an odd thought to perceive such a large creature in that light.
Through my experience in backyard horse-keeping, I see that many horses when at rest are not comfortable with people being near them. Often horses will get up when approached. I have thought it a privilege when a horse feels safe enough to lie down in my presence or to stay down if I encounter him or her during a nap.
Out of respect, I usually steer clear of a resting horse and instead watch from afar. But if I get the sense that the horse is accepting of my presence while he or she snoozes, I might crouch down to give a brief wither scratch.
I occasionally find a safe spot sitting out of their reach in order to simply enjoy their quiet company. I listen to the rhythm of their breath. In and out. Their breathing sounds more slow, more deep than when they are standing. Frequently I hear them snore. I observe their nostrils flaring and trembling a bit with each inhale and exhale.
Sometimes a horse stays lying down with his legs tucked up to his chest and belly. His nose gently resting on the ground but with face upright and eyes open. Sometimes a horse lies flat out on her sides with her legs bent or straight. Occasionally, I witness legs and ears twitching as though the horses were traveling somewhere while engulfed in a dream state. It is all glorious to watch.
The atmosphere in these moments is tranquil and meditative. In the horses’ presence, I bask in the sunlight. I feel the ground beneath me and see the sky above me. I pray. I give thanks for this moment of peace in a turbulent world. Perhaps the horses are also doing some of those same things in their own way.
There is a special allure of communing with horses while they are resting. In most daily activities, I want my horses to match my chosen agenda. I ask them to do something for me like cooperate in going for a ride.
My choosing to rest when the horses are sleeping is one way I can turn the tables. I let them set the tone for a change. I choose to align myself with them and their preferences in that moment. The horses remind me to value and appreciate rest.
Many of us have heard about bonding activities for humans and their pets. Have you ever wondered if your horse might respond to them too?
A few years ago, I read the book “Total Cat Mojo: The Ultimate Guide to Life with Your Cat.” The author is Jackson Galaxy of Animal Planet’s My Cat From Hell TV fame. One of the methods he suggests for bonding with a cat is the slow blinking technique. Basically you wait for the cat to make eye contact with you and then you make a series of very slow blinks. Often the cat will reciprocate.
I’ve had the opportunity to try the technique with my own cats, barn cats and multiple foster cats. It’s a quiet, relaxing way to share space with a cat. No talking or touching needed. It feels very rewarding when the cat blink back at you.
More recently, there appeared a feature titled “Bond with a Slow Blink” in the March/April 2021 issue of Catster magazine that linked research to this technique.
“Researchers at the University of Sussex in Brighton in the United Kingdom demonstrated that humans can positively engage with cats by participating in slow blink sequences (a series of half-blinks followed by prolonged eye narrowing or eye closure). . . According to the researchers, the act of narrowing the eyes seems to be a form of positive emotional communications.”
In my daily interactions with my horses, I often notice them noticing me. Yes, their watching me is often food related. I can almost hear them say “When IS she bringing us that next load of hay??” But there are other times when they are already eating that I see their gaze follow me as I do barn chores.
I also notice that their eyes sometimes follow me when I’m grooming them. This especially occurs when I offer them a brush or a scratch while they are just milling around their paddock, unconstrained by halter or lead.
I wondered if I could catch a horse’s gaze and do an equine version of the slow blinking technique? I was pretty sure I could stand there and blink at a horse, but would the horse blink back?
One warm day before the start of Winter, Shiloh came up to me while I was doing chores. He acted as though he were interested in a little mini-massage session. So I put aside the pick and muck bucket to give him a series of rubs and scratches in his favorite spots.
Shiloh became quite relaxed but was still following me with his eyes and ears as I moved around him. At one point, I stopped touching him and stood back from him at a bit of an angle to his shoulder. I’ve read about how equine vision is quite different from ours. I wanted to stand where I thought I would be within his clear field of vision.
I began making soft eye contact with him and doing a series of long, slow blinks. To my delight, he began gently blinking back! We went back and forth like that for maybe a minute or so.
Now it could have been that he was just relaxing into the quiet moment we were sharing together. Maybe he would have been blinking anyways, even if he didn’t see me blink? But due to the rhythm of the exchange, I did have the distinct sense that Shiloh was mimicking my blinks. He eventually stopped responding when his eyes got semi-hooded. His gaze sort of went inward like he was getting drowsy. Whatever was or wasn’t actually going on, it was a definitely a positive moment between us.
I enjoy reading about non-invasive research studies involving horses. There is some really interesting experiments conducted in the last ten years or so involving horses being able to recognize human emotions just from photographs. Another study showed horses learning a method to communicate their blanketing preferences to humans. You can bet I am keeping my eye out for some equine slow blink research.
Almost all studies with horses have small sample sizes so I often wonder about the veracity of the results. And yet the study outcomes clearly hint at a level of horse intelligence that is not widely recognized by the horse industry. It definitely leaves me intrigued and wanting to learn more. Here’s a sampling of write ups about said research:
While I wait to read the next scientific study that comes across my desk, I’ll be doing some more of my own backyard research from time to time. If you ever meet up with me in person and see me gently winking at my horses, now you’ll know what that is all about!
Ever thought of setting up a treasure hunt for your horse? Apparently clicker horse trainer and author, Hertha James, has! I love it when folks think outside the box when it comes to horses. Sometimes we forget that there can be more to being with horses than grooming them and riding them. Check out her written description and video clips.
Hertha James is a clicker horse trainer in New Zealand and prolific author. I recently finished reading her updated 2019 book Conversations with Horses: An in-depth look at signals and cues between horses and their handlers.
Even if you don’t practice clicker training with your horses, her insights into horse-human communication can easily be applied outside formal clicker-training sessions.
Consider this idea she calls “Resetting A Task”:
“When we teach something new, we are experimenting with our signals and the horse is also experimenting to work out what it is we want him to do. It’s not unusual for things to get a bit complicated and messy.
If either you or the horse lose track of what you are doing, pretend it was perfect, relax (but no click & treat), pause. Then go back to the beginning of the task and try again, starting with your visualization of how a good effort will look and feel.
The magic about pretending it went well (when it actually turned into a mess) is that it dissolves the natural frustration we feel when our communication is not getting through.
If we can smile, breath out and relax our body before we reset, we don’t upset the horse or make him anxious. We simply start again.”
This is a gem of an idea. I can think about a dozen different ways to incorporate this into groundwork and riding. How about you?
Please note: This post was unsolicited and uncompensated by Wahl.
My long-awaited cordless trimmer finally arrived! Pandemic effects understandably resulted in reduced production at the Wahl factory. The trimmers that I ordered over Black Friday weekend in November arrived mid-February. I am pleased to report the trimmer was definitely worth the wait.
The Wahl Arco Cordless Trimmer features 5 blades in 1 with the cutting lengths #9,#10,#15,#30 and #40. There is a small lever on one side of the clipper that allows for easy changing between the lengths. The trimmer is lightweight (less than 8 ounces), quiet and comes in an understated, attractive champagne color.
I didn’t realize when I bought the trimmer that I was also getting a plastic carrying case, an extra battery, instruction booklet, corded charging base with indicator light, four snap on guard combs, cleaning brush and a small container of blade oil. A welcome bonus!
The temperatures in my area are slowly rising. But it is still Winter. I desperately wanted to clean up my horses’ bridle paths. They had become ridiculously long since the Fall. But I didn’t want to remove all the hair like I often do during the Summer. We could easily experience a March cold snap.
As a compromise, I horizontally shortened the lengths of my horses’ current bridle paths without removing all the hair. My new cordless trimmers worked seamlessly for this purpose. It is an advantage to have the 5-in-1 blades. I can take off more hair or less hair with the simple move of a lever.
Since I have only used my new Wahl Arco trimmer once on the horses, I can’t speak to the trimmer’s longevity. My corded Wahl trimmers still function after almost 20 years so I am hopeful about the life span of the new trimmer.
If you are looking for a new cordless trimmer, I definitely recommend the Wahl Arco Cordless Trimmer. Go to https://www.wahlanimal.com/product-category/equine/ to learn more about the Wahl trimmer line. The Wahl Arco Cordless Trimmer retails for about $124 USD. You can find the them for sale at many small tack shops as well as major retailers like Chewy.com, SmartPak Equine and Riding Warehouse.
This was the view from my window just a few days ago. Outside temperature was about seven degrees. On one hand, the cold and snow make for difficult horse-chores conditions. On the other hand, the beauty of all that powder can’t be denied.
Now that temperatures will soon rise and the Spring rainy season arrives, all that lovely snow will help the ground turn to mud. Much like Winter, the Spring weather presents challenges to my daily horse keeping.
Once mud arrives, it is difficult to control. Your best bet is to make changes to your horse-housing areas ahead of the muddy season. Over the years, I have paid for a few improvements to my property. But even those changes have not solved my problems entirely.
Currently I have are two areas constructed with a crushed limestone footing. The area around the horse-paddock shelter and my round pen had layers of ground removed. Crushed limestone (compacted and leveled) was put in its place. In the round pen, there is also a layer of geotextile fabric placed between the base layer and the compacted footing. The footing around the shed allows the horses to have a place to stand out of the mud. The round pen footing allows me a place to ride mud-free.
The area around the horses’ run-in-shed was originally installed in 2013. In 2019, it was resurfaced with additional limestone. That same year, I had the round pen footing installed. It is a definite blessing to have those areas mud-free (except for what the horses track onto the surfaces from other areas- there is maintenance involved in trying to keep them clean). Pre-installation, I used to have my boots sucked off by mud in the horse paddock. And the horses would have to huddle inside the run-in-shed if they wanted to stand out of the mud. Riding in the round pen was out of the question anytime the ground got wet.
Unfortunately, in between the paddock and the round pen is mostly open ground that is not protected. This limits how many times I can take a horse back and forth during the wet season before everything gets churned up. Maybe someday I can have a walk-way of sorts constructed. I could then move horses over that ground without creating a mess. If I really want to ride in the round pen but the ground between the paddock and the round pen is super sloppy, I lay down a series of tarps for protection. It adds a lot of work for me and is tricky to do in the wind, but sometimes a woman just has to ride!
If you have been thinking about doing something similar to your own place, I gathered a few links to give you some ideas. Every property, location and budget is different. It is good to be familiar with multiple options for tackling this mud problem in your own area.
Like many of you, I watched the news coverage of the power-grid disaster during recent severe weather in the State of Texas. I also subscribe to a variety of equestrian blogs. Many of the blog authors happen to reside in Texas. My email inbox was eerily empty this past week. I assume that all of those bloggers were affected by this event.
Each disaster is different. I can’t pretend to know what this event in Texas has been like for the horse owners there. Or what the continuing fall out is and will be. I do know that I have experienced extended power outages during ice-storms in the Midwest where I was stuck at home with no heat or water. I had a pipe burst during a power outage causing extensive home damage. I also evacuated ahead of a hurricane when I lived in the South.
I did receive one post this weekend from the Straight From The Horse’s Heart blog. The creator, RT Fitch, is an author and wild horse advocate. I follow his blog to keep up to date with various happenings in the movement to protect wild horses, something of deep interest to me. You can read his most recent blog post at https://rtfitchauthor.com/2021/02/20/thawing-out-in-texas-sort-of/.
As the immediate crisis abates, we will hear news from those horse folks who live in Texas or other affected areas. As the news cycle loses interest in the Texan crisis and moves on to other events, remember that the effects of these events can linger.
If you don’t know anyone in Texas to directly assist, please consider donating to the Fleet of Angels hay relief fund. Fleet of Angels provides assistance to horse owners during natural disasters and other emergency situations. If you know of someone struggling to feed their horses, you can urge them to apply for assistance. If you are in a position to help, you can donate money to the hay fund. Go to their website at
Are you aware of other resources for Texan horse owners? If so, please note them in the comments section below. You never know when someone needing assistance (or someone with resources to share) will stumble upon the information you provide at just the right time.
Our two winners were the contest’s two entrants. Two entrants in a two-prize contest make for really good odds! As someone who likes to enter contests, I know that is about as good as it gets. Please, someone out there host an equestrian contest with similar odds that I can enter!
If you didn’t enter this Winter 2021 contest, watch The Backyard Horse Blog for other chances to win horse-related prizes. I can’t guarantee future contest odds will be as promising, but the only way to find out is to stay tuned.
Thank you to each individual who chooses to read, like, and share The Backyard Horse Blog posts! Your participation in the blog is meaningful to me. I am privileged to have you along for the ride.
It has probably happened to every backyard-horse keeper at least once. You obtain a load of hay, only to have your horses turn up their noses at it. Or maybe they were eating the load just fine at the start of Winter but now that it is almost Spring, your horses seem less interested.
When this happens in my backyard, I first ask myself some questions. Why is this happening? Why now? Before I encourage the horses to eat their hay, I want to determine if I have a sick horse(s) or if the hay itself is bad.
Tooth problems. Colic. Moldy hay. Thorny hay full of weeds. Foreign objects mixed in. I want to try to rule out those types of possibilities.
If I think a horse is not eating due to illness, I call the vet.
If I determine the hay bale I just starting feeding is bad, I ideally already have some different hay available to feed or can quickly obtain some new bales. Horses need a steady supply of forage to keep their digestive systems running smoothly. Health problems can easily occur due to lack of forage.
In the real world, though, I may not have access to more hay. When the snow storm hits. When my usual supplier runs out. When it is a bad year for growing any kind of hay. There are certain situations where I may be stuck feeding hay that is safe to eat but not particularly palatable.
Side note here- If you determine your hay is actually unsafe, like when your remaining bales have all gone moldy, I suggest talking to your veterinarian about forage alternatives. You might be able to turn your horse out on grass, switch to a pelleted/cubed hay or transfer to a complete feed. Remember, feed changes can sometimes prove problematic for horse’s sensitive digestive systems. That is why I suggest consulting your veterinarian for guidance on how to make the switch.
In the case of “safe yet unpalatable hay,” I use a little trick that seems to perk up my horses’ appetite. I add a light layer of the Standlee Premium Western Forage compressed-bale alfalfa to the top of a regular hay flake. I might wrap it up inside my hay carrier or sprinkle some inside one of my horse’s pre-filled hay bags. It especially works well if I “marinate” their usual portion of hay overnight with the Standlee sprinkles to let the aroma linger over the less palatable hay.
I purchase a Standlee bale or two at my local Tractor Supply at the start of Winter so I always have one on hand just in case. Standlee’s line of compressed hays come in many varieties, but their alfalfa has the best aroma.
The compressed bales are small but heavy and need to be opened to give them time to expand a little bit. The compressed bales are expensive (around $18 USD) so I look for store sales and discount coupons to help offset the cost (the Standlee company periodically offers coupons on their website).
I keep the bales covered and up off the ground. Usually my horses’ not eating their hay is only limited to a hay bale here or there. I only use a little bit of the compressed hay at a time so one or two Standlee bales will last me all Winter.
If I end up with left-over compressed hay at the start of Spring, I usually find that the hay is still quite fragrant. I use it inside my horse trailer by putting regular hay flakes in the horses’ traveling hay bags along with a top dressing of the Standlee compressed hay. If I put the hay bags in the trailer the night before we travel, the trailer will smell like the delicious hay. I like to think it sets up a more pleasant trailer-loading experience for the horse.
If you are not already familiar with the Standlee line of products, check them out at https://standleeforage.com/. On their website, you can sign up for their email newsletter to receive those all important coupons too.
Hopefully my horses will happily eat their hay all Winter long, but if not, I like knowing I have a back up plan at the ready.
Please note this post is unsolicited and uncompensated by Standlee.
February is shaping up to be a cold and snowy month in my neck of the woods. Long stretches of below freezing day time temperatures. Sub-zero wind chills at night. It all makes for very limited riding at home.
My horses live in my backyard, but I miss them all Winter. Most other seasons, I love riding and doing groundwork. I also enjoy just hanging out with my horses while they eat or graze. But during Winter? I find it painful to be outside for more than the necessary barn chores. Regularly hanging out with the horses pretty much goes by the wayside as does frequent riding and groundwork. I cherish the times the wind dies down, or the sun peaks out, and I can do some activities with them.
On those rare days, we might plow through the snow bareback. Maybe practice trying to make semi- recognizable patters in the snow (above you can see my attempt at making a ridden question mark with Shiloh- walking in a straight line, halting, doing a turn on the forehand and following the same path back out). Or I might groom them and take photos. Horses look especially beautiful to me in Winter with their long, wooly coats set against the backdrop of snow.
As we brace today for yet another Midwestern snow storm, I am looking forward to better weather days in the upcoming months.
Here is a free, downloadable ebook from Trafalgar Square Publishing! Available, through their horseandriderbooks website, the free book is titled “Eco-Horse Keeping: Over 100 budget-friendly ways you and your horse can help save the planet.”
I still have not read all the way through it yet, but it looks to contain all sorts of useful hints and tips.
Click on the following link and scroll down to the book description where you will see in blue lettering “click here for your FREE DIGITAL DOWNLOAD of Eco-Horsekeeping!
Remember too that you can win a $50 gift certificate to either Trafalgar Square Publishing OR The Great British Equinery through The Backyard Horse Blog Winter 2021 contest! Hurry, contest ends February 18th.
What is a horse blogger to do when she can’t ride much during the Winter? Experiment with making Pinterest pins, of course!
For those of you not familiar with the platform, Pinterest is a social curation website where users visually bookmark information that can be shared with others. A Pinterest pin is a picture that is embedded with a link to a website, blog post, online store, etc . . . Ideally, a pin will catch the viewers’ attention and compel them to click on the pin to travel to the embedded site.
I’d much rather be riding more, but I must say that I am having a lot of fun with pin creation. I especially like working to create a certain “feel” to the pin by combining basic ingredients like photos, colors and fonts. I can’t say if my pins are particularly attractive to anyone else but me. I CAN say that I am enjoying myself by spending way too much time on the internet trying to create them.
You may have noticed that I’ve been designing pins to go with some of my more recent blog posts. I am also reviewing some older posts and creating Pinterest pins to accompany those as well.
Below is a sampling of pins that I recently designed. They all link to older blog posts. If you are new to this blog, reviewing the pins is a great way to see what content you might have missed. If you are a Pinterest user, you can save the pins to any of your own Pinterest boards.
As I learn more about blogging, I try to experiment with different media. Today, I am tossing in some video clips for the first time.
Assuming I am successful at uploading them in some viewable form, I thought it might be interesting for readers to contrast two gaited horses. Near the bottom of this post is one video of my gaited horse, Bear. The other is a video of my gaited horse, Shiloh.
Both horses are registered as gaited horses, but they are different breeds. Bear is a registered Racking Horse. Shiloh is a registered Missouri Fox Trotter.
Most gaited horses can and do execute a variety of gaits, but each breed often has a distinctive gait for which they are best known. For example, the Tennessee Walking Horse’s running walk, the Racking Horse’s rack or the Missouri Fox Trotter’s foxtrot.
Unfortunately, just because you have a gaited horse of a particular breed does not necessarily mean that they will perform the breed’s signature gait. Horses gait due to their genetics, but there is a lot of variability with how those genes are expressed.
I have learned to think about gaited horses by picturing a spectrum. On the left is the two-beat pace and on the right is the two-beat trot. In between the two-beat pace and the two-beat trot lies all the so called “easy” or “intermediate” four-beat gaits like the running walk, fox trot, rack, stepping pace, etc . . .
A two-beat gait tends to feel bouncy to the rider as there is a point of suspension in the two-beat pace and the two-beat trot. A four-beat gait tends to feel smoother because it lacks those moments of suspension (or at least ideally it should- most folks who ride gaited horses don’t want to bounce!).
All horses, gaited or not, display a four-beat walk. But a gaited horse can display other four-beat gaits like the rack or the fox trot. On the spectrum, a gait like the rack is closer to a pace and a gait like the fox trot is closer to a trot.
I know the entire issue of gaited horses can be confusing, even more so to folks who aren’t familiar with gaited horses. There is a lot of variability in how individual horses express their gaits.
There is differing terminology for the same gaits within different breeds (especially when you consider that gaited horses are found throughout the world). There exists a thousand contrasting ideas on what constitutes a “correct” gait. Identifying gaits from the saddle or even from the ground can be challenging.
Some gaited horses are just simply better at gaiting and are more smooth than others. Some can’t do a lick of gait even with two gaited parents. On the other hand, people forget that breeds that aren’t always thought of as gaited, such as Saddlebreds and Standardbreds, can sometimes gait. Gaited horses have been around since the dawn of time so those genes can even linger down into breeds that nowadays are almost exclusively non-gaited such as the Appaloosa.
Adding to the mystery of gaited horses is the lack of literature. There is not the same amount of literature out there about gaited horses as there is their non-gaited counterparts. I suspect a lot of gaited horse knowledge tends to get passed down from person to person within families or communities where gaited horses are popular rather than that information, for whatever reason, being put into books.
Of the few gaited horse books in existence, my personal favorite is one published in 2005 titled “Easy-Gaited Horses: Gentle, humane methods for training and riding gaited pleasure horses” by Lee Ziegler.
With all the confusion, you might wonder why I chose to keep gaited horses in my backyard? To me, riding a really well-gaited horse is a singular pleasure. You feel all this action going on underneath you, but you are sitting smooth and quiet in the saddle.
A slow gait is pleasant and relaxing. A fast gait is absolutely exhilarating. The wind is cutting the horse’s mane straight back and hitting your eyes so they water, but you aren’t being jostled around at all in the saddle. Not every gaited horse is a gaiting machine, but I find an athletic, well-gaited horse an absolute blast to ride.
I rode my first gaited horse as a child during a Summer camp and have been in love ever since. Interestingly, I find horse folks tend to have strong reactions to the topic of gaited horses.
Rather than just feeling “meh” about them, my experience is that most folks either tend to strongly favor them or to strongly dislike them. Something about a horse trotting or a horse not trotting seems to bring out strong opinions in equestrians. While I favor gaited horses, I very much enjoy riding all types of equids. I also enjoy riding with folks of all breed preferences, but I understand not everyone feels the same way.
So what about these videos of my gaited horses, Bear and Shiloh?
Bear’s video is from 2006 with him performing his saddle rack. Bear’s sire was a speed-racking show horse which I suspect accounts for Bear’s sensitive personality and quick movement. I was not able to track down photos, videos or other information about Shiloh’s parents so I don’t have any conclusions to draw there. But when you see Shiloh’s video of us practicing the fox trot, you will notice all sorts of differences between him and Bear. Their legs are moving in different time, there is a different in speed, difference in smoothness and difference how each horse is carrying himself.
Bear didn’t need much help from me to maintain his gait. I pretty much just thought “go” and he would gait. Shiloh seems to need more help from me to stay in gait, and I struggle to maintain his rhythm when I ask for more speed (so most of our work is done at a slow pace in the hopes we can perhaps build up to a more dynamic tempo some day) .
Please note that I don’t offer these videos as an example of how a gaited horse “should” go or “should” be ridden. As an average rider at best, I don’t have the skills to demonstrate that.
Instead, what I do think the videos show is a good example of some of the potential differences in gaited horses, even when ridden by the same rider. I hope the contrasting videos can help folks think of gaited horses as a broad category rather than one particular type of horse.
What about you? Have you ever ridden a gaited horse?
I’ll get to the specific topic of this post in a minute, but first, I’ve got something for you folks who like to win free horse-prizes. Greenguard Muzzle is hosting a contest. The prize is a free grazing muzzle valued at about $99 along with a few other related items. Contest ends March 30th, 2021. Read below for entry info.
“Our 2020 face mask and grazing muzzle contest was a massive success. Even with vaccines for Covid-19 currently rolling out, being careful in public spaces is more important than ever, so we’re doing another round of our Mask and Muzzle photo contest.
There will be at least 6 random drawings: prizes include two new GreenGuard Grazing Muzzles, two new GG Equine Premium Breakaway Halters, and two sets of replacement muzzle straps.
Post a photo of yourself in a face mask and your equine friend in their grazing muzzle (any brand of muzzle is fine), tag GG Equine, and you’re entered to win a new GreenGuard Grazing Muzzle!
Follow and tag GG Equine on your favorite platform:
Instagram Facebook Twitter No social media? No problem! Email your photo entry to firstname.lastname@example.org with “Mask and Muzzle” in the subject line!”
Contest officially runs from 1 February – 31 March, 2021. Random drawings will be done to select the prize winners during the first week of April. The drawing is open only in GG Equine’s sales territory – North and South America – though anyone may submit a photo.”
Quoted from a recent Greenguard email blast
I am personally familiar with the GreenGuard brand. I used to work in a barn where the GreenGuard muzzles were popular among the boarders. You can learn more about the muzzles at https://www.gg-equine.com/.
I also tried a GreenGuard once on my horse, Bear, after using a Tough 1 Easy Breath muzzle for a couple of years. I got the sense he felt more comfortable in the Tough 1 than in the GreenGuard. The Tough 1 Easy Breath muzzles are also easier on my budget. For now, I stay with the Tough 1 brand. That said, I will certainly keep the GreenGuards in mind as an alternative option if my future muzzle needs change. You can check out the Tough 1 Easy Breath grazing muzzle through this link here
The email blast that I received about the Greenguard contest included links to a couple of interesting articles about grazing muzzles. The articles discuss the reason that some owners might choose to muzzle their horses year round when on grass. You can read them at
My twenty-five year old horse, Bear, has Equine pituitary pars intermedia dysfunction (PPID) and equine metabolic syndrome (EMS) with a history of laminitis. My seventeen-year-old, Shiloh, does not. But Shiloh is a very easy keeper so I consider him at risk. Both my horses typically wear grazing muzzles when turned out onto the grass that is outside of their semi-dry lot paddock, but they usually get a couple of muzzle-free months during Winter. Depending upon my horse(s) condition in a particular year and the grass conditions of my pastures, I usually do not put their muzzles on during January and February.
The entire issue of whether to let a horse with PPID or EMS out on grass can be difficult to navigate. Without a way to test a horse’s glucose/insulin levels daily and without a way to test the fructose in the grass at different times throughout the day (because it is something that constantly changes), it is in fact impossible to know for sure “when your horse is safe to eat what grass and for how long.” It is a constant judgment call as to what circumstances/conditions will prove safe.
It is one reason that you will see some vets recommend that horses at risk for laminitis (such as horses with PPID and EMS) never be turned out on grass. If your horse is in the initial stages of these diseases, or especially when experiencing a laminitic episode, keeping them completely off the grass seems to be essential to getting those glucose/insulin levels down enough to stop the acute disease process and prevent even further damage.
Once past that acute phase, some owners consider it worth the risk to turn a horse out on limited grass due to the physical, mental and social aspects of allowing the horse to graze. That’s something every owner needs to discuss with their own veterinarian for each of their horse’s individual situation, circumstances and history. A grazing muzzle can be one way to potentially allow your horse some grass access, although it is not a guarantee of good health.
I imagine that someday a non-invasive device will be invented that gives an immediate reading on a horse’s glucose and insulin. If I could pass a wand over my horse and get instant results, I would have a better chance at keeping him sound and healthy by adjusting my management practices based on that information.
Same thing with the grass. If I could wave a wand over the grass and track its changing fructose levels in real time, I could chose the optimal turnout time with more accuracy than just going by general rules of thumb about when fructan levels are thought to be at their lowest.
What about your horse? If he or she wears a grazing muzzle during Spring through Fall, does he or she also wear one during Winter?