“When horses meet, they gently blow into each other’s nostrils. That is how they come to recognize individuals- by their breath. To me, there’s something wonderfully gentle, honest, and accepting about that behavior- breathing in another’s essence, getting to know them from the inside out.”
From “Living with HorsePower!: Personally Empowering Life Lessons Learned From The Horse” By Rebekah Ferran Witter
Equine Illustrated Inspiration is a periodic feature on The Backyard Horse Blog. I pair photos of my backyard horses with quotes that I hope will fire the reader’s spirit and imagination. Thanks to my horse, Bear, on the right and to my former foster-horse, Bitkana, on the left for the photo featured in this edition.
In a previous post, Best Laid Plans, I wrote about taking my horses over to a friend’s property to ride with the hopes of eventually getting out onto her trail system. I also wrote about a day when my other horse, Bear, refused to load on the day of a planned follow-up field trip. I thought I’d give an update here on what we’ve been doing since in regard to working on trail loading and resuming our away-from-home trips.
For inquiring minds who want to know, I DID eventually get Bear to load later that same morning after I canceled the follow-up trip to my friend’s property. As for Shiloh, he was willing that first morning to load but only if I led him in. So besides practicing with Bear, I also practiced self-loading with Shiloh.
In light of the earlier-in-the-day snaffu, though, I decided to leave the trailer hooked up and practiced loading the next morning and the next afternoon without actually taking the horses anywhere. By the second day, both horses were self-loading smoothly.
I had to wait another week to plan a second trip to my friend’s place. On the day of that trip, the previous week’s loading practice seemed to help. Both horses self-loaded well.
While I did ride Shiloh once there, we unfortunately did not get out on the trails that trip either. Both my horses were quite nervous about separating.
I rode Shiloh while Bear stayed in a stall like last time with another horse in the barn. Shiloh seemed especially undone by Bear’s anxious energy in a way that he wasn’t during the previous trip.
In doing groundwork with Shiloh prior to the ride, he wasn’t leaping through the air, but he wasn’t paying attention to me that well either. He was looking around a lot and calling out to Bear.
I felt comfortable enough riding Shiloh in my friend’s arena, but I like a horse to be pretty “with me” before we go on a trail system where their attention and obedience to aids is arguably more critical than when riding in an arena.
So long story short, there was no trail riding for us on that day either. Here we are looking out towards the trails where we have yet to go together. The next photo is us riding with my ever-patient friend in her arena instead of the woods.
The following week, I brought my horses over for a ride at the training/boarding/lesson barn that is closest to my property.
The horses hadn’t been back there since April. I absolutely love riding on their outdoor track system. Great place to practice Shiloh’s gaiting.
Unfortunately, the horses’ distress at being separated, even when they could see each other, was obvious.
The barn owner noted that both horses acted quite differently than when they were there in April. Bear was much more “pumped.” Shiloh would periodically call out to Bear, especially when Bear was later taken from the round pen to the indoor arena while I stayed outside with Shiloh.
Photo here of Bear in roundpen. Instead of taking the opportunity for some unmuzzled grazing, he is looking out anxiously. One red arrow points to Bear in the roundpen while the other red arrow points to the indoor arena.
Shiloh all the while was rideable for me, but his attention flipped between what we are working on and anxiety about “where in the world did Bear go” as he periodically looked around and called out.
Here Shiloh is back at the trailer after our ride while Bear is still in the barn. Shiloh is sufficiently tired at this point to not care quite as much about where is Bear. Fun fact- All that hay was not there when we pulled in. It’s not my hay, of course, but I still think it’s a beautiful sight to see all that horse food.
Then last week, I took the horses back over to the nearby barn. For that visit, both horses were much more calm and quiet. I think I heard Bear call out only once. Shiloh never responded. Shiloh and I had a nice ride around the outdoor track, enjoying a day of unseasonably cool weather.
Fortunately at home so far, my separating the horses is not a problem. I can take Shiloh out into my round pen or down into my south pasture without him getting upset. I am grateful for that.
But clearly, something has definitely changed in their insecurity regarding being separated when we are off the property. I am guessing the horses may continue to cycle between feeling okay about being apart and feeling quite insecure. This makes me think I am not getting out on any trails anytime soon. No riding Shiloh off into a sunset on the trails just yet.
I’ve known that keeping just two horses together long enough runs the risk of developing buddy sour problems. And I have been looking for a third horse since last year (that’s not guaranteed to solve the problem but it would allow me to leave Bear at home with companionship so I’d only take one horse with me on my field trips, whether Shiloh or the new horse).
Considering it took me about two years to find Shiloh, I am doubting a new horse will appear anytime soon. Stranger things have happened, but it has gotten weirdly difficult for me to find the type of horse I want, in a location close to me, in a price range I can afford.
In the mean time, this issue of separation anxiety gives me the opportunity to expand my horsemanship skills. I know a better horseman would do a better job at keeping Shiloh so focused that he wouldn’t even think about Bear.
But . . . I seriously struggle in that area. I always have. Probably always will. Doesn’t mean there’s no hope for improvement. But it’s a definite challenge for me.
It is an ongoing area of work that I am willing to tackle so long as the horses and I can remain safe while doing so. I may have to cry uncle at some point if their anxiety causes their behavior to get completely beyond my skill set, but we are not there just yet. So I want to keep trying, at least up to the point where the risk to me or the horses seems unreasonable.
One of my favorite horse professionals, Anna Blake, wrote a recent post “Calming Signals: Planning For Stress” on her blog Relaxed and Forward. I thought her words were particularly applicable to this situation of mine.
I will end this post with a quote from Anna’s post, in case any other readers who might struggle with certain aspects of horsemanship might also take fortitude from Anna’s words.
“Horses and humans both feel stress as a natural response, but humans have more choice about our response . . . The world will always be chaotic. We will always face the things we never saw before, and we cannot desensitize our horses or ourselves to life. We can learn to lay down our natural leaning toward dread and train ourselves to say yes. To become the sort of human a horse can rely on. They say horses make us better people, but the work is ours to do.”
From Anna Blake’s “Calming Signals: Planning For Stress” post on 6/18/21 from her blog “Relaxed and Forward” at http://www.annablake.com
Have you ever seen a saying on a t-shirt that felt like it was made just for you?
There are a lot of beautifully designed graphics on T shirts nowadays. Plenty of horse related ones too.
Sometimes I see t-shirts where the graphics really appeal but the sayings don’t quite fit me.
I am thinking of something like the phrase “born to ride.” I like the concept, but it doesn’t describe me. I absolutely love to ride, but considering how hard I have to work to be passably okay in the saddle, “born to ride” doesn’t seem applicable in my case.
Or take the phrase “ride like the wind.” Again, I appreciate the sentiment. It is just not me. Now, I do ride IN the wind, but ride LIKE the wind is something different. I can count on one hand the times I’ve been galloping on a horse. All but one was by accident. “Slow gait like a gentle breeze” might be more descriptive of my general riding speed.
But THIS t-shirt? If there ever was a t-shirt that described me, this right here is it!
I found this shirt via a Pinterest pin. The pin linked to an Etsy store, ChristineFRStore, at
For those of you unfamiliar, dapples are clusters of round circles or spots on a horse’s hair coat. Even those not acquainted with horses may have heard the term “dapple gray.” Gray horses don’t have a complete monopoly on dapples though. For example, my bay and white horse named Bear sports a few dapples every year too.
Dapples are a repeating pattern of slightly darker and lighter hair in small circles. Dappling is most common on grey horses but may occur with any color. Dappling is not permanent but may vary in any particular individual with season, nutritional status, or physical condition. For this reason, dapples are not generally recorded for identification.
When I was growing up, I read that seeing dapples on horses was a sign of equine good health. The idea I absorbed was that the horses sporting dapples were especially well cared for.
That was all well and good, I suppose. But it did beg some questions. What about all those horses out there that didn’t have dapples on their coat? Were those horses managed poorly or horses whose health was compromised? Back then, I never found a good answer.
This memory popped into my head as I was observing my present-day horses, Bear and Shiloh, in their paddock earlier this month. Now that both horses have shed out their Winter coats, they are slick and glossy. I can see Bear’s shiny coat sporting dapples across both sides of his bum. Dapples that I can’t see on his Winter coat. But on Shiloh? There is not a dapple to be found on him at any time during the year.
Based on the information I had about dapples growing up, it would seem odd that Bear has dapples while Shiloh does not. Bear is 26 years old and several years into a diagnosis of cushings disease. Not a horse I would consider in the peak of good health. Shiloh is six years younger with no chronic health diagnosis. Shouldn’t Shiloh be the one showing dapples?
Fast-forward a few decades since I first learned about dapples. Scientists now believe that dapples in horses have a genetic component. Some horses have the genetics to dapple while other’s don’t. While management can help bring out dapples in a horse genetically inclined to dapple, no type of feed/grooming/conditioning will bring out dapples in a horse that doesn’t have those genes. It would seem that Bear has the genetics to dapple while Shiloh probably does not.
Interestingly, even in a horse with the genetics to dapple, those horses may not dapple without the right combination of adequate diet and grooming. And even those horses may only dapple seasonally. So while dapples CAN be a sign of good health, the absence of dapples does not equal poor health. That is good news for Shiloh.
Bear is the bay and white gelding shown in the photo above. Bear’s dapples on his rump have proven hard difficult for me to photograph, but hopefully you can see them enough to distinguish him from Shiloh (shown below) without the dapples.
What do I do that might help bring out Bear’s genetic tendency towards dapples? I’m not exactly sure.
Bear is retired from riding, so he receives no formal exercise, but he is turned out 24/7 and moves around quite a bit. I groom him almost daily from Spring though Fall. He is fed grass hay with a touch of separate alfalfa hay mixed in, a ration balancer and a variety of treats (mostly low carb/low sugar). He also gets some daily access to pasture, mostly with a grazing muzzle. He is dewormed according to the results of yearly/bi-yearly fecal egg counts. He is vetted every Spring, including teeth floating when needed.
Really, Bear receives pretty standard care. Would he dapple even if I managed his care differently? Is there a way I could bring out even more dapples? Hard to say.
Apparently, I am not the only one that still has questions left unanswered about dappling. Scientists are still learning more about dapples and don’t seem to have all the answers yet either. Questions remain about how/where/when they are expressed in individual horses.
A few interesting resources I found that discuss dapples are an article from Thehorse.com website, another article from Horse Illustrated at and an “Ask The Vet” YouTube video sponsored by Smartpak. All reputable resources that helped me shed some light on this topic. Here are the links
While I know from past experience that Bear’s dapples will fade as the Summer continues, I enjoy watching them appear each year. And I still think Shiloh looks very attractive even without a bloom of dapples on his coat. Really, there is not much more beautiful in nature than a glossy horse. Dapples or no dapples. I love to watch them all shine.
Sometimes it is fun to do something a little different with my horses.
I used to enjoy occasionally experimenting with riding my horse, Bear, with just a neck rope. The photo above was taken of Bear and me in 2007.
It is an interesting test of the rider’s balance and aids in communicating with the horse. Even when done in a small space like my roundpen and limited to riding only at the walk. I realize things about my riding that don’t show up in the same way when I am on a fully tacked horse.
I get to see how my horse responds to my seat, leg and weight aids in a pure way. I can’t use to the reins to reinforce my other aids or make up for the fact that I gave an ineffective seat aid, for example.
It’s also an interesting experiment in staying with my horse when my control over the horse’s body is greatly reduced.
Sometimes things go a little wonky during a ride without tack, even a quiet ride at the walk. When in full tack, my habitual response is to brace against the horse to try to wrestle back control. But with no tack, I can’t do that. Not even with the neck rope.
Instead, I have to go with whatever the horse is presenting. I can’t block it. I have to relax mentally and physically in that moment, flow with the horse’s movement while trying to maintain my balance. Take a deep breath. Get back on track with the rest of my plan for the ride. Probably how I should be riding even with tack too.
I’d been wanting to try riding my other horse, Shiloh, without bridle and saddle for awhile now. Last week I decided we were finally ready. Each time, I rode first in full tack as a way to check in with him and make sure we were on the same page, relaxed and listening to each other. Then I took off the tack, put on a neck rope and we were ready to give it a go.
First off, we positioned carefully at the mounting block.
Then I swung a leg over.
And we’re off!
We practiced staying on the rail.
We practiced turning off the rail.
We practiced crossing the ground poles.
In both directions.
Here we end on whoa.
While I rarely ride without tack, it is a challenging exercise I enjoy. I also think both Bear and Shiloh found it interesting. All that said, please note that I am aware that bareback and brideless riding poses safety risks beyond those normally associated with riding horses.
If you have ever thought about riding bareback and bridleless, I strongly recommend extensive thought, planning and preparation. Carefully consider:
Your own skill level (be really comfortable riding bareback WITH reins before you go without)
The environment in which you plan to ride (the arena, the weather, the surrounding atmosphere)
Your horse’s temperament
How well your horse stands still for mounting (keep in mind you might need a mounting block)
Your horse’s level of training (see the reading recommended reading-material below for details)
Wearing your choice of safety equipment like a helmet or air vest
The availability of a reliable grounds person to supervise
I also recommend reading material written on the subject by respected and experienced horse professionals. Here are a few resources to give you food for thought if you are interested in learning more.
While reading the Summer 2021 issue of Equus magazine, I found an article titled “Horsekeeping Without A Barn” by Hope Ellis-Ashburn.
My first reaction was, “hey, that’s me!” I have some open-air outbuildings but no structures with stalls. I have kept horses for almost twenty years at home without a traditional horse barn or most other equestrian amenities.
Horse barns certainly provide a lot of human convinience in the area of horse keeping. Having multiple horses all in one place, close by and contained-at-the-ready has advantages for their hands-on care and easy accessibility for riding.
The larger and busier the barn, the more typical it is to have horses in barns with stalls. Think show barns, lesson barns, breeding barns, racing barns, Summer horse camps and many boarding facilities.
But what about when you have horses in your backyard? This article makes the argument that barns are optional.
“We all have romanticized visions of the barn we would love to own one day. But sometimes a dream barn- or perhaps any barn- is out of reach. That doesn’t mean, however, that you have to give up the dream of horse ownership or that you’ll have to keep horses in a way that compromises their health or happiness.. . You might even find that the barn wasn’t really the dream after all, and that a barnless lifesyle holds benefits you never even imagined.”
Unless I win a contest with a really big money prize, I am guessing that my own backyard will remain sans horse-barn. It was fun to read an article by an author whose horse-keeping experience closely mimics mine.
The writer gives lots of great hints and tips for living the barnless lifesytle including about horse shelter, feed/tack storage, manure management and horse containment/control. The article makes the case that with some planning and creativity, no barn does not necessarily mean no horses.
Do you know that The Backyard Horse Blog website features an affiliate link to Trafalgar Square Books?
You can find the affiliate link (Horse Books and Videos titled square with the photo of the lady looking at a book next to a horse) on either the right hand side of your screen or at the bottom of your screen, assuming you are actually on The Backyard Horse Blog website at the moment.
What does “affiliate link” mean? If you click on the affiliate link (Horse Books and Videos titled square with the photo of the lady looking at a book next to a horse) featured on The Backyard Horse Blog website, you will be taken to Trafalgar Square Book’s website.
If you purchase any of their materials during your visit after clicking on my affiliate link, The Backyard Horse Blog will receive a percentage of your sales.
I mention all this as a self-serving reminder about how readers can help support this blog. Also to let readers know that now through June 20th, 2021, Trafalgar Square Books is having a $10 blow out sale on many of its horse books and DVD’s!
This is exciting news for horse-loving readers! Yah! Click on the affiliate link to go to the Trafalgar Square Publishing website and once there, click on the “On Sale” tab! Remember, the $10 horse-book blow out sale ends this Sunday, June 20th, 2021!
From the Trafalgar Square Books website:
50 titles priced at only $10 Training • English & Western Riding • Dressage • Hunter/Jumper • Memoir • Health Care • Horse Fitness • Rider Fitness • Children’s • DVDs Free shipping in the USA
No, not my ground pole! I need every ground pole that I have.
The kind of poll that I offer up for the taking is my ten question opinion poll below, “Why do I read horse blogs?”
I’m super curious! Inquiring minds (or at least my mind) want to know.
I started writing The Backyard Horse Blog in January 2020, but I was an avid horse-blog reader long before that. I still am.
I can’t exactly remember the first blog I ran across. It might have been the Horse and Man blog. Or it might have been a blog that is no longer in production. Understandably, there are a lot of those.
Blogs, like most things, usually have a shelf-life. They are time intensive for the writers. Only a small portion of bloggers actually make sizeable money from their work. Blogs wax and wane in content and popularity. Readers come and go. Life happens for both blog creators and consumers. And yet, horse blogs have not gone the way of the dinosaur.
There are a handful of equestrian blogs that have been in production for a decade or longer like the previously mentioned Horse and Man blog. New blogs continue to pop up frequently too.
Even with the proliferation of social media sites oriented to photo/video and the rising popularity of audio podcasts, people keep reading blogs.
Horse blogs have not been around long enough yet, but someday, someone out there will have started to blog when they were a horse-loving child. And then continue blogging until they are a senior equestrian. How interesting it would be to see someone’s horse-life played out across the decades that way.
But all musings aside, I would like you to think about all the equestrian blogs that you have read as you go through the “Why do I read horse blogs?” poll. Check all the answers that apply.
And if you have a reason for reading horse blogs that is not listed below? Please let me know what they are in the comments section. If enough readers choose to take the poll, I will share the poll results in an upcoming post in case anyone else is as curious as I am.
If you grew up riding in an English saddle, you may be familiar with peacock safety stirrups. These are metal stirrups with a thick rubber band on the outside of the stirrup that can pop off when pressure is applied. In event of an unscheduled dismount from the horse, the rider’s foot will not be trapped.
Since the advent of peacock stirrups, other styles of English stirrups that allow for the release of the foot have appeared. For whatever reason, the western industry has seemingly not shown the same level of interest in safety stirrups.
True, there are tapaderos and endurance stirrups with cages. These are stirrups with coverings on the front that prevent a foot from getting hung up in the stirrups. But neither style seems to have taken hold in the industry across western discipllines.
For almost ten year now, I have ridden in a combined leather and cordura Fabtron western saddle with plastic stirrups. While I can’t say that the plastic stirrups were the height of safety, fashion or comfort, I managed to have many good rides with them. Still, I considered swapping out the plastic stirrups for something different on many occasions. I finally took the plunge this Winter.
Back in the day, I did experiment with taking off western fenders and replacing them with english leathers and peacock stirrups so I could ride with a set of safety stirrups in place. This photo shows my horse, Bear, and me back in 2009 with this western saddle/english leather/peacock stirrups get up. While this worked fine for me while riding at home, trail rides, clinics and fun shows, it did look a little odd. It wouldn’t have worked well for anything more than casual showing. It was also very difficult to remove and replace those western fenders.
The stirrups I now have are the Tough 1 EZ Out Safety Stirrups. Here is the manufactures description as taken from the JT International website:
“High quality aluminum stirrups with rubber grip tread and spring loaded outside release for safety. When pressure is applied to outside of stirrup like in a fall the side of the stirrup will open all the way up allowing the foot to be released. No way to get hung up in these stirrups. Available in adult and youth sizes for any age rider. The easy way out of a bad situation! Medium size (5” x 5” inside measurement, 7” outside height, 3 1/2” x 1 1/4” tread, .9 lbs.)”
Since their purchase, I estimate I have had about twenty rides with my new Tough 1 Easy Out Stirrups. I am so far quite pleased with them. They have an attractive look that closely mimics a traditional western stirrup. I especially like the way the stirrups hang on the saddle fender. They also sport a comfortable yet solid instep that feel good beneath my feet.
Arrows near the bottom of the stirrup tell you which way the stirrup should face out from the horse in order to facilitate the hinge mechanism releasing in even of a fall. But will they really work in event of an accident?
I still don’t know. I have not fallen off with the stirrups and would like to keep it that way. I have no interest in doing that kind of research, even if it would make for a more comprehensive review. I WAS able to pull the hinge apart with my hands with a quick, firm pull as a way to test how the hinge might work.
I have also read online reviews where the writers claimed that the stirrup did release during their unscheduled dismount. I do not have a way to verify if those reviews are factual though.
I was concerned that the hinge mechanism might be activated accidently somehow during mounting. So far I have not experienced that, but I do think about weighting my left foot more to the inside of the stirrup while mounting now. I could see how that might cause a wreck if the stirrup released as the rider was trying to swing up into the saddle.
The weight of the stirrups is the one feature that is a mixed bag for me. The website notes that each stirrup is about a pound, but my home scale showed their weight as a combined total of 3.8 pounds. That’s closer to two pounds each.
That weight helps provide a nice feel to the stirrups under my foot, but it makes my saddle noticeably heavier. Four pounds doesn’t sound like a lot, but I immediately noticed the difference when I went to pick up my saddle for the first time after attaching the new stirrups. I felt it in my back everytime I picked up the saddle until my body got used to the difference.
My horse, Shiloh, noticed the difference in the feel of the stirrups too. He shot forward a bit the first time I gave him a light squeeze to move away from the mounting block. It occured to me later that lunging him first with the stirrups might have been a good idea.
On that note, I like how the heaviness of the stirrups make the fenders hang more solidly for lunging. My plastic stirrups would sometimes flap around easily because they were so light weight.
I purchased my set of stirrups from an online retailer for about $100. While I wouldn’t consider them inexpensive at that price point, they are the most attractive, quality western safety stirrups I have found for the price. I have the “adult size” stirrups that I think they refer to as “medium sized”, but they do make a smaller-sized youth safety-stirrup that looks the same, just with different size dimensions.
Overall, I like the stirrups and am so far happy with how they look, feel and function. On the minus side, I do wish they were a bit lighter just to keep the overall weight of the saddle down both for my horse and me.
If you would like to read more about the stirrups directly from the manufacturer, go to http://www.jtidist.com/ez-out-safety-stirrup.html. You can purchase the stirrups through that link, but I have found most other online retailers advertise a lower price.
*** Please note that this review is unsolicited and uncompensated.***
I have long considered my choice of postage stamp as a form of personal expression. No slapping any old stamp on a card or bill for me!
My stamps are carefully selected to reflect something about my own interests. Or in the case of something like a birthday card, those of the recipient.
Maybe a historical event or figure that is of special appeal. Maybe a current cause or issue I am interested in promoting. Maybe a pretty photograph or other piece of art that is visually attractive.
If a stamp has a horse on it? So much the better! I remember back in the eighties when the USPS issued a set of horse breeds stamps that I coveted. With no internet ordering available back then, those stamps were hard to come by. I remember feeling sad when I used my last one.
Now in the age of the internet, I have not yet found a set of stamps that exclusively showcase horses. But I have found horses currently encompassed in various stamp books- Christmas Carols Forever Stamps (a sleigh horse in harness representing the “Jingle Bells” song), Winter Scenes Forever Stamps (two draft horses pulling) and Heritage Breeds Forever Stamps (featuring American Cream Draft horse AND American Mammoth Jackstock).
While I sometimes have trouble finding the exact stamp I want at my local post office, the United States Postal Service website allows users to have stamps mailed to their doorstep, including all the fun horse stamps noted above.
Of course, horses displayed proudly on postage stamps is a world wide phenomenon, not limited to the USA. For those of you who live in a different part of the world than me, what horse stamps have you seen your own country issue? Any favorites?
And if the USPS is reading, please bring back those horse breed stamps!
As I am starting to try to get out a bit more with my horses this year, I play around with “what to put where” in my new horse trailer.
My old trailer is a two-horse bumper pull with mangers on top and a tack storage area underneath the mangers. The new trailer is a two-horse bumper pull without mangers and without a separate tack area. Instead there is a saddle rack and bridle hooks along the nose of the trailer.
With this arrangement, the only thing that separates the horses from the saddle racks and bridle hooks are the chest bars and a few feet of space. While this set-up keeps the overall cost of the trailer down, it could present safety issues if any of that tack should shift. And I definitely don’t want tack and grooming items to go sliding back underneath the horses during travel.
As part of the trailer purchase agreement, I had some D rings installed around the nose of the trailer. I use a mesh netting and carabiner clips to cover all the items in a way that will hopefully secure everything. So far this set up has worked well for multiple short trips in a flat-land area.
Below you can see the nose of the trailer from the left side door of the trailer.
Here you can see the view of the nose taken from the right side of the trailer. I am standing behind the right side chest bar and facing forward. This is the view that a horse placed on the right side would have of the trailer nose. On the left side of the photo, you can also see a hint of the hay bag hung from the head divider that separates the horses.
I am also very accustomed to dividing storage between my trailer and my truck. The tack storage area under the old trailer is small enough that I can’t fit larger equipment like broom, muck bucket or an extra hay bale in there. So I am already in the habit of securing those items in the bed of my truck. I am continuing to do so with the new trailer.
There are so many different options when it comes to horse-trailer design. All come with pluses and minuses regarding cost, safety, size, humane convenience, horse comfort, etc . . . As with most products, selecting a trailer is a series of trade offs for many of us. I can’t afford the exact type of trailer I would otherwise purchase.
I realize not all horse people have horse trailers. Any kind of horse trailer at all. I have definitely spent years at a time when I didn’t have either a truck or a trailer. Sometimes the purchase price and cost of maintenance has been prohibitive depending upon our financial situation at the time. If you are in that same situation now, I understand how frustrating and limiting that can be.
I started off as a new horse owner without a hauling vehicle or trailer. Then purchased both. Then sold both and spent several years without either before the next purchase. And who knows. I may have to do go through that cycle again someday. Experience shows me that having a truck and trailer is not something to be taken for granted. I know the importance of trying to take advantage of what I have while I still have it.
All that brings me to a question. For those of you out there currently with a horse trailer, what do you like about your trailer’s set up? Alternatively, if you could change one feature of the trailer, what would it be? It’s always interesting for me to hear what works for someone’s individual situation and why.
I had hoped to write a post today about finally getting Shiloh out on an actual trail for a ride. But that’s not going to happen because it didn’t happen. Follow me? If not, let me explain.
So far this year, I’ve trailered the horses four times. Each time to a different place. Each time my horses, Bear and Shiloh, loaded and unloaded pretty smoothly. They both have a history with me of refusing to load so I was quite happy with having no major problems for four trips in a row.
For our most recent outing about a week ago, we visited a friend’s property where I used to trail ride Bear and my other pony, Pumpkin Spice. She has an amazing private trail system through woods, hills and a winding creek. It is interesting and beautiful, making for a great ride with equally great company.
After arrival, Bear (shown above) stayed in a stall with another horse in the barn for companionship while my friend and I rode. We warmed up in her outdoor arena and then rode a bit around her pasture. It was a short ride, but both her horse and Shiloh did well despite not riding together before.
Even with another horse in the barn for company, Bear still called out for Shiloh. Shiloh answered Bear’s calls a few times, but otherwise was very well behaved.
Since that ride went so well, I had high hopes of returning this past weekend to actually get out on my friend’s trail system and see how Shiloh does in the woods. I suspect trail riding is where Shiloh really shines, but in the almost three years since I’ve had him, we have yet to hit the trails.
Unfortunately, Bear decided he wasn’t going to trailer load yesterday. I called my understanding friend and sadly cancelled our plans. I spent the rest of the morning practicing trailer loading and then taking a ride on Shiloh at home. I was eventually able to load both horses several times, but it look quite awhile.
So my plans for a trail ride didn’t work out, but I did have a good ride at home. Since Shiloh’s lameness incident that I wrote about in a previous post, I have been riding him in my pasture with the thickest grass cover, keeping him out of the round pen with the more solid footing. But for yesterday’s ride, I took Shiloh to the round pen to see if he would still ride sound.
Fortunately, Shiloh seemed very sound on the firmer footing while walking and foxtrotting and doing small circles so that was great to feel. He didn’t take one bad step. I noticed when I dismounted though how hard the ground felt to my own feet. And that got the wheels in my head turning.
I think the footing has firmed up quite a bit since I had it installed. It is time to explore adding a layer of something to provide more cushion. So I have some research to do on what I can afford to install AND what will do the job I want it to do AND be easy to maintain considering I have no arena drag.
So I had a horse-filled weekend, but not exactly the kind that I had planned. Even when my efforts don’t work out the way I hope, I try to make the best of whatever happens. Life is too short to not try to do something with the hand I am dealt, even if it is a disappointing one.
The full title of this blog is “The Backyard Horse Blog: Living the dream and the reality of keeping horses at home”. This weekend I experienced more the reality side. Here’s hoping Shiloh and I live long enough to report more on the dream side which translates at the moment to eventually getting Shiloh out onto those trails.
If you live in a part of the world that is soon entering the Summer season, you may start to think about how to help your horses stay cool. To this effort, most equestrians I know employ some combination of shade, fans and baths as well as providing plenty of cool, clean water to drink. Maybe body clipping too, especially for those equines who tend to keep a long/thick hair coat even during Summer.
On the subject of cooling horses, I came across a current contest hosted by Equus Magazine. Four winners will receive products from Cool Aid Animal Cooling and Recovery. I had never heard of Cool Aid before but am now intrigued by their products.
They offer various blankets and wraps that you can wet and then place on your horse to keep them cooler during hot weather, after exercise or during trailering. I wonder how well these products work? Read about Weaver Leather’s Cool Aid products, go to https://www.ridethebrand.com/exclusives/coolaid.
The Backyard Horse Blog now has its own street sign. How fun is that!
No, the blog didn’t get a public street named after it. Instead, for one year, the street sign will mark a lane of the sensory trail at Reins of Grace Therapeutic Riding Center. On the sign, you can see the center’s logo displayed to the left of the blog’s name.
All this came about after I ran across one of the therapeutic riding center’s online fundraisers. Anyone could bid to have their business or organization name displayed on one of three street signs along their sensory trail. The signs are to remain in place for one year at the center. At the end of the year, the signs will be given to the donors.
I thought this was such a clever way to raise organizational funds that I just had to participate. As a formerly-certified therapeutic riding instructor, I know how meaningful center services can be to their clients. What a fun way to advertise the blog while also supporting the work of therapeutic riding.
For those of you not familiar with the sensory trail concept, here is a basic definition:
“A sensory trail is an interactive environment that can be ridden through on horseback or walked through, designed to stimulate the senses . . . A sensory trail has a series of experiences along a route that are designed to engage the different senses and collectively to immerse people in a multi-sensory journey …. (with a focus on) movement.”
If you want to explore the sensory trail idea more indepth, I recommend this link at
Today in the USA we mark Memorial Day, an annual day of remembrance for all who died while serving in the U.S. military.
The day reminds me of my Grandfather’s funeral and the military horses who played a part in it. A Colonel in the US Army and veteran of two wars, my Grandfather is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.
During my Grandfather’s funeral, his casket was drawn to his grave site by a team of horses, The Caisson Horses of The Old Guard. The photograph above is of the flag that drapped his casket. The flag was folded and officially presented to us, his family, at the graveside before burial. The flag is now displayed prominently in my home. I remember watching the riderless horse being led as part of his funeral procession. Beautiful tall boots placed backwards in the stirrups, symbolizing a fallen warrior who will fight no more.
Horses still are an integral part of the Military funerals at Arlington National Cemetery. If you ever have the opportunity to visit The Washington DC area, you might find it interesting and meaningful to visit Fort Myers in Arlington where the Caisson horses live.
The Caisson Platoon is steeped in a rich history and tradition. I’ve included a few links to information about the platoon and their horses. Makes for relevant and informative horse-related reading on this Memorial Day 2021. On the Oldguard website, you can even read about the possibility of adopting a Caisson horse upon the horse’s retirement. What an honor that would be.
Ever seen a horse who “cooks” his food? I have met other horses who display this behavior, but Shiloh is the first horse in my backyard to do so.
Most commonly known as “hay dunking”, it is a deliberate behavior. Shiloh gathers a big chunk of hay in his mouth. Then he places it carefully and directly into his water trough.
I must say that Shiloh looks so happy when he is cooking and eating his hay this way. He drinks, chews and slurps with abandon.
But it does create a mess in and around the water bins, making the water dirty and reducing the amount of water available. And while hay dunking is a great way for Shiloh to stay well-hydrated, it could leave my other horse Bear in a lurch.
Of course, Bear has his own way of personalizing the water bins. He likes to cool himself off in the summer by standing in them and splashing himself with water. If he leaves behind any water at all, it is muddy and dirty from his hooves. Sometimes oily from the fly spray coming off his legs. Ick.
Shiloh only dunks hay when provided with loose hay flakes close to a water source. I have not seem him hay dunk using bites of hay from a hay bag. He also doesn’t seem interested in picking up hay and carrying it more than maybe 20 feet or so. These facts allow me to somewhat control the behavior, but he enjoys dunking his hay so much that I don’t really mind it.
It takes extra effort to try to accommodate everyone’s preferences and still keep clean water available 24-7. Through the warmer months, I routinely put out two water bins (15/20 gallon size).
This all begs the question of why. What causes horses to do this? What benefit do they derive from it?
Shiloh’s veterinarian suggested that there are lots of hypothesis, but no one really knows. I asked about the potential relationship between Shiloh’s hay dunking and the injuries sustained to his jaw and teeth as a foal. His veterinarian noted that horses without any identifiable injury/pain also hay dunk so it might be related to the injury history but not necessarily.
In combing the internet, the link to my favorite article on the subject can be found below. It is from the well-respected website thehorse.com. It reflects my veterinarian’s thoughts as well as my experience with having a hay dunker in my backyard.
The week before last, Shiloh came up lame during a ride.
I noticed his rhythm change when we moved from sections of softer to harder ground between our round pen and the barn area. It wasn’t anything dramatic, but it definitely caught my attention.
When I got off to lunge him, Shiloh looked sound to the right but he showed a head bob at the trot to the left. My own physical exam provided no answers. You know, no nail in the hoof or obvious leg swelling. He seemed otherwise to look and act normal. Seemed comfortable moving freely around his paddock.
This issue came up just a few days before our annual Spring vet appointment that I wrote about in my previous post. I opted not to ride Shiloh until then. I requested a basic lameness exam during the appointment.
Long story short, the hoof testers revealed some mild tenderness near a front toe but nothing else of concern. Of all the further diagnostics offered, I chose the “let em rest and wait and see” approach.
I didn’t ride Shiloh again until exactly a week from the ride when he appeared lame. For that ride, I took him out into my largest pasture with the thickest grass cover. It was lovely. I kept him mostly to a meandering walk, but picked a few of the smoothest sections to open him up to gait and trot. He felt sound to me and seemed comfortable with what I was asking him to do.
A second short ride two days later in the same pasture also went well. Hopefully the lameness that presented was just something temporary.
I want my horses to be as pain free as possible of course for their own benefit. Have you ever noticed that equestrians have a funny way of making our horses’ problems all about us? This was one of those times for me.
I admit the lameness bothered me more than I was prepared for. I might have felt a bit distracted and tired and grumpy all week because of it. I’ve retired enough horses at this point to know how disappointing it can be to realize you’ve taken your last ride with this particular partner. It is something that I personally find very sad. I still mourn not being able to ride Bear.
Seeing Shiloh lame understandably brought up all those feelings right to the surface. Front and center. Then I ran away with them. I spent a little too much time thinking up plenty of upsetting what-if scenarios.
I know I am not alone in this type of situation. Both in person and on the internet, I know horse folks who have experienced something similar. I even recently came across this essay published on Horse Nation called ” On Horses and Hope” at https://www.horsenation.com/2021/05/14/best-of-jn-on-horses-and-hope/. It’s an equestrian’s call to her fellow riders to cling to hope, even when you face disappointment and heartbreak in your horse life.
Shiloh is 18 now. A chronic issue could certainly be brewing beneath the surface. He could need more support to maintain his same level of activity as he gets older. I know that as I am aging I need more lotions, potions and supportive gear than I used to in order to keep me moving. Older horses don’t seem much different in that regard. I’ll be keeping an eye on him. I’ll be making adjustments as needed and/or pursuing more diagnostics if the issue presents again.
And of course, there is still the hard reality. One day, I will experience my final ride on Shiloh. No matter how much I do not want it to be so. In the mean time, we’ll see if I can put some more distance between today and that eventual date.
All the more reason to appreciate, to relish each and every ride.
Last week, my horses had their annual Spring vet appointment. Like last year, we trailered over to the clinic. Unlike last year, I was able to actually enter the clinic barn with them.
In 2020, COVID restrictions required that I hand my horses off to the clinic staff and wait outside alone while the horses underwent their various exams and procedures. While the restrictions were understandable, I find the entire exam process very interesting. I was glad to be able to be an observer once again.
Here are Bear and Shiloh awaiting the start of their exams.
Bear was the first to go on the scale, weighing in at 932 pounds.
Then Shiloh was up. He weighed in at 1076 pounds.
Next we have a photo of Bear while he stands in the stocks to have his teeth floated. At 26 years old, he is starting to have a few dental issues I will need to keep an eye on, but overall his teeth seem to be in good shape for a senior horse.
Then it was on to address the area of skin cancer under his tail that had returned since being removed about four years ago. I opted to have the area treated with cryotherapy, basically a concentrated spray of very cold air to hopefully kill the cancer cells. The metal can used containing that air reminds me of the Tin Man’s oil can in the Wizard of Oz.
Caution graphic added for a touch of privacy. In all seriousness though, if you have a horse with pink skin, it’s not a bad idea to keep an eye out for skin changes around their nether regions.
Bear’s squamous cell carcinoma seems to present on his bottom, under his tail as a red, raised mole-looking spot that never heals over. Apparently horses with pink skin are more susceptible to this type of cancer than their darker skin counterparts. If you’d like to read more about this subject, here is a link to an article written by two veterinarians that appeared in Practical Horseman magazine https://practicalhorsemanmag.com/health-archive/equine_squamous_cell_carcinoma_020910-11482.
By the time Bear was returned to his stall to wake up from his sedation, he had a visitor in the stall next to him named Apollo. Bear trail rode with this horse back in the day. It so happened that some horse friends of mine had scheduled their horses’ exams for right after mine. We got to chat and catch up for a minute between exams.
So the horses are all inspected, vaccinated and have updated negative coggins results. I am awaiting the results of Bear’s ACTH/Insulin/Glucose levels. The numbers will determine if Bear could benefit from an adjustment in his PPID medication dosage or his diet.
While we are on the subject, I would like to give a shout out to the veterinarians and vet techs who help care for horses from birth to death. And let’s not forget the administrative employees who keep clinics organized and running smoothly.
All their interactions with clients run the gamut from the horse owner’s happiest moments to their most stressful and gut-wrenching. I imagine lots of highs and lows. All on the same day. Every day. Surely it is rewarding work. Yet it can’t be easy.
Having a positive, productive, long-term relationship with a local veterinarian and supporting staff is a real boon to the horse owner. One that is much appreciated by this equestrian. Though I sometimes forget to say it, many thanks to all those equine health professionals who work diligently to help the horses in their communities.
Sacred Spaces: Communing with the horse through science and spirit by Susan D. Fay, PhD has got to be the most fascinating book I have read in a long while. You can tell I really find a book valuable when you see a photo of it with thirty stick-note tabs.
The author, a Morgan breeder/trainer for twenty years, holds a Master’s in Environmental Science and a PhD in Psychology. In her book, Dr. Fay combines her horse skills with her scientific background to allow the reader to understand concepts that are not typically applied to horsemanship.
While the book’s title may lead the reader to think this is a book about animal communication, Sacred Spaces is something different. At its core, the book’s information is about using your internal qualities to guide and inform your external horsemanship techniques.
Dr. Fay notes that while someone who communes at a high level with horses makes everything look magical, what they do is actually rooted in scientific principles. These same principles can also be used to explain difficulties in horse-human communication.
“It is vital to remember that horses pick up images we make in our minds, and the changes in our physiology that go along with them. If you’re thinking “I don’t want him to bolt out the gate- he always tries to do that,” be aware that the picture you just made in your mind looks like your horse bolting out of the gate. And you probably attached a negative emotion like fear or anger to the picture. And your muscles got tense and your breathing changed. The horse interpreted your physiology and pictures as, “She wants me to try to bold out that gate . . .”
Throughout the book, the author discusses how our thoughts, attitudes, presence and energy affect our horses. She gives specific instructions about how we can become aware of and then mold these things to create positive outcomes. We can create, in essence, a “sacred space” around us that encourages our horse to want to become our partners.
As the book titles hints, it is not full of only scientific explanations. The author writes about how not all of what happens between people and horses is easily quantified. She readily admits that there is a spiritual quality to interacting with animals that falls outside of science, hence her inclusion of the words “science and spirit” in the book title. I think this book strikes a nice balance in combining what both concepts can bring to the table to help us connect with our horses.
As someone with a diverse equestrian background, I also appreciate that the author’s ideas apply to any equestrian, no matter the breed or saddle style of choice. As she notes, “Don’t worry- you won’t have to throw out any of your current horse training methods or change your riding style. The concepts in this book are about making a shift in you.”
Although the theories and stories presented make for an interesting read in and of themselves, Sacred Spaces is chock full of practical ideas and exercises for the reader to employ. The author walks the equestrian through how to communicate with horses in a clear, positive, non-emotional manner. Although many of us would like to think this is what we already do, sometimes our horse’s behavior shows us differently.
“We all connect to and communicate with the entire energy field, whether we are aware of it or not. The goal is to become fully aware, and to learn to direct the energy and create a response that you consciously prefer, instead of by unconscious default. . . After all, according to the first law of thermodynamics (i.e., the law of conservation of energy), energy can neither be created nor destroyed. It can only change form.”
The author explains how to better manage the stress, worry and negative emotion that many of us carry around when we ride and interact with our horses. One of my favorite phrases from the book is “Ride with intension not tension.” She also explains the importance of learning to recognize and receive feedback from the horse. After all, communing involves give and take.
On the whole, the book is an interesting, thoughtful read. Equestrians need to learn physical techniques, but the way those techniques are presented and delivered to the horse can be corrupted or enhanced by the internal qualities of the messenger. This book shows the reader how. In this sense, Sacred Spaces is every bit as important as your more typical horsemanship manual. It is going on my equestrian shelf right beside them.
Last week, after experiencing a blustery ride, I compiled quotes about horses and wind for my “Riding in the Wind” post.
That got me to thinking about riding during other types of eventful weather. So we arrive at the next topic. Riding in the rain.
It is actually something I usually avoid on purpose. But sometimes, like most equestrians, I have found myself finishing a ride in the rain. Both on the trail and at home. Including the pouring rain. Sometimes the heavens just open up unexpectedly.
I’ll pause my train of thought here to declare a word to the wise; leather reins get VERY slippery when wet. This might make riding a freaked out bay and white gelding named Bear a little challenging on the trail while rain is coming down in buckets. If you suspect inclement weather, take a page out of the endurance-rider playbook and use biothane reins. Just saying.
That above-referenced ride on Bear certainly stands out in my mind. But I actually have photos to share here of another memorable rainy day ride. In 2014 I met my friend Vicki for a final trail ride before I made a temporary move to Colorado. My mount for that ride was my now deceased and still-very-much-missed pony, Pumpkin Spice. Vicki rode her experienced Appaloosa trail mount named Warsong. Gotta love those spots!
We knew the forecast called for rain, but we were hoping for a light mist. Instead, we ended up in a downpour. Fortunately, the entire trail was like six miles in a flat loop. Not super challenging terrain. Still, it was definitely more of an experience than I bargained for. But Vicki, the horses and I stayed safe, had fun and have an interesting experience under our belts. I recall that the car overpass that crosses a small section on the trail looked like a waterfall as the rain cascaded down its sides and onto the trail below. Talk about a cowboy curtain!
While I was doing my internet research to find related quotes, I came across two information-type articles about horses and rain. I found them both interesting so I am sharing their links. One is specifically about rain riding and the other is about horse/farm management during storms.
And now we come to the topical quotes section. Read my favorite selections below. If you have any of your own rainy riding quotes or a rainy ride memory to share, let me know in the comments section.
“I think i better ride before it rains Think i better saddle up my fastest pony Somethin’ about these winds of change Is tellin’ me i best get goin’ I can feel a storm movin’ this way Yeah i think i better ride before it rains” ~Templeton Thompson song “Ride Before It Rains”
“Where is the horse and the rider? Where is the horn that was blowing? They have passed like rain on the mountains, like wind in the meadow. The days have gone down in the West, behind the hills… into Shadow.” ~The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers(2002)
“Thunder is the sound of hoofbeats in heaven.”~ Author Unknown
“To see the wind’s power, the rain’s cleansing and the sun’s radiant life, one need only to look at the horse.” ~ Author Unknown
“Let us write of olden, golden days and hunters of the Holy Grail and men called “knights” riding horses in the rain, in the cold frozen rain for ladies they loved . . . Let us nudge the steam radiator with our wool slippers and write poems of Launcelot, the hero, and Roland, the hero, and all the olden golden men who rode horses in the rain.” ~Carl Sandburg from Horses and Men in Rain
“What’s the best thing you’ve learned about storms?” “That they end,” said the horse.” ~The Boy, The Mole, The Fox, and The Horse, by Charlie Mackesy
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.