Friday, May 15, 2020

If Horses Could Talk

Here are a few scenarios that have resulted in people coming off. These are summaries of what the rider says when the incident occurs. Take a look at these scenarios and then we will deep dive into each situation.

#1 Gypsy went to several homes and was rejected because she was fast and didn't respond to a bit very well. She wanted to trot everywhere, and had a very uncomfortable trot to top it off. She was a little pushy on the ground and wouldn't load in a trailer.

#2 The Green Rider: Chief was cantering around a round pen and lowered his head. This pulled the reins and caused the rider to come forward and unbalanced and she fell off. The rider claimed that she was bucked off.

#3 The Unpredictable Horse: Smokey is very spooky on the ground, when under saddle 95% of the time he is excellent, but the other 5% of he time, he pulls his head up and bolts, then ends it with bucking like a bronc always resulting in his rider's unplanned dismount.

#4 The Tender Back Horse: Gypsy was running through the field bareback with me on her back. She slows down significantly and  lowers her head and throws a small buck. I somersaulted off landing in the grass. She stopped and waited for me to get up. 

#5 The Anxious Horse: Smokey was on a trail ride where we kept stopping and turning around and going back then going forward on several occasions. He was forced to stand still and be patient, but finally as we were riding back home up very steep hills, he became explosive. He would bolt up the hills, finally at the top of one of the hills, he started bucking furiously until I came off, resulting in a broken clavicle, and hitting my head very hard on a large rock (luckily I was wearing a brand new helmet).

What do you think of these scenarios? 
Are these bad horses, or are they just situations that occur because we have trained wild animals to be our pets and mode of transportation as well as our teammates and athletes? 
Are these actual problems?

Well the first thing is to address each of the issues and look for underlying causes/root cause. Why is the horse behaving this way? What else was happening? 
What was the rider doing that could have stopped the situation before it happened?
Did the rider cause the incident?
How could it have been handled differently?

#1 In the first situation, Gypsy appeared to be a "bad horse" to the untrained eye. She was very green and   it seems that people want to adopt cheap horses because they don't want to invest a lot of money into something that their kid or spouse just decides on a whim to "want". We all know kids want something and then moments later, they are bored with it. How does that impact the horse industry? Well, the small investment leads to an untrained or injured horse, that likely ends up either being a lawn ornament or at the auction then meat market because it injured  or scared an unexperienced rider. The parents then freak out and say "get rid of that damn horse" and it goes to the next family who is looking for a cheap toy. Eventually, it ends up with a $300 price tag which is just right for a kill buyer. 

Now, with that said, my point is, that Gypsy could have very easily ended up in a situation like that if she were in the wrong hands. To me, she was a green horse that needed work, not a horse my child could climb on and be trusted to ride around on their own. 

#2 Chief was being sold by a horse trader who purchased him at auction. He appeared to be a great horse, but what the rider did not know, or was too green to know, was that he had a very sensitive mouth and very sensitive sides. Whoever broke Chief did a great job, because he was extremely responsive to little movements, he would have been a great dressage horse. So when the rider pulled tight against Chief's soft mouth, he protested by pulling his head forward and down in hopes to release the harsh pressure. The rider likely had a nice tight grip on those reins, and was thrown slightly forward and off balance when this happened, resulting in her tumbling off of the horse. The rider may have felt a forward motion, assuming that the horse bucked, but without actually knowing that he only pulled his head forward and lowered it. 

#3 Now this is a tricky situation that I have yet to master. I work on his spookiness often with sensitivity training. However, every once in awhile, under saddle, this guy will just grab the bit and go for it. This means that he pulls his head out of frame by lifting it up and moving it forward like a racehorse/giraffe. This takes all control away from the rider if they can't catch it before or while it is happening. Then he will start bucking to get the rider off. The only solution I have for this problem is to really maintain vigilance when riding this guy. He is unpredictable at times, which is a very scary attribute. He is not a bad horse, he is A HORSE. Horses are animals that we have domesticated by capturing, then throwing a saddle on their backs (which predators use as the main method to attack horses because they can't see behind them very well) and asking them to listen to us simply because we apply pressure and release pressure.  I don't have a solution to this, I can only offer an understanding of the horse's mindset and respect him and know his limitations. 

#4 This again was my own fault. What I learned shortly after this, was that the way my butt bones hit Gypsy when cantering bareback or even with a bareback pad, is painful to her. This is the only situation where she has attempted to remove a person from her back. I also learned that it is ME. Other's have ridden her at a canter bareback and she is completely comfortable. However, something on me, hits her in a way that is painful and as a result, her response is a head drop and a small crow hop. She cannot talk to me and tell me that it hurts, this is her only way to communicate with me, unfortunately.

#5 In this situation, Smokey was on trail and he is a horse on a mission, like many other horses on trail. They rarely want to stop and go backwards, and wait around, and stop, then go, then stop. They want you to point them in a direction and they want to take you that way until they get to go home. Stopping and going is very frustrating to them, like sitting in stop and go traffic is to us. So for him to act out, could be expected, but it certainly isn't desirable. This will get better with practice, but who wants to practice with a horse that might be a grenade with the pin pulled? I will say, that I recognized what was happening before it happened, but I did not make the decision to get off and walk him up the hills like I should have. 

I hope that this helps someone to see that often times when we think the horse is bad, there are always other circumstances that don't get brought to light and can unfairly blame a horse. Please be open and subjective when you hear about "a bad horse". Think of the horse's story and consider what may have caused the horse to react the way it did. 

Monday, April 30, 2018

On the Trail Alone

Today I had an amazing ride on my Arabian, Scout. It wasn't amazing because we accomplished tasks that we had previously strived to accomplish, or because we went farther or faster than we had gone before. It was an amazing ride, because I now value the time on the trail, with just my horse, dog and I, in a way that I didn't before.

When I am on the trail with just my four legged team,  I am not a mother, or the laundry servant. I am not the household chef, or the cleaning crew. I am not an employee of the Department of Defense, and I am not a student worried about getting good grades.

When I am on the trail, I am simply myself. I get to remove everyday life, stress and worries from my mind and focus on the present. I get to focus on the horse, what he is saying, and what he is doing.

When I am on the trail, I am the 13 year old girl who would just go ride to ride, the girl who camped out at the barn just to see if she could catch a glimpse of her horse sleeping. I get to go back to simpler times

Today I went for a ride,
Just me, my horse, and my dog at my side
We didn't do anything unique,
We didn't work too hard or face a challenging feat.
But the ride today was invaluable to me,
as the time on the trail, let me be free.

I wasn't a mother,
or the house cleaning crew,
I wasn't worried about tasks for my job
or checking my list of "things to do"
I wasn't a daughter, granddaughter or sister.
I wasn't a wife cleaning up after the mister.

I was an equestrian, just me and my horse.
I was present in the moment, like I hadn't been before.
My thoughts and worries dissipated as we trotted down the trail,
I left it all behind, in the dust and the shale

I focused on my horse.
I listened to his hooves to see when they fell
and watched his head and ears .

I could feel his worries, and see into his mind.
My horse and I rode together as a team.
He trusted me to guide him, and I took the lead.
We moved forward through the trees,
Cantered past a whitetail deer and felt the breeze.
The clouds rolled in and threatened to break,
his breath got louder with every step he'd take.

The thunder rolled and the lightning struck,
I expected a spook, or even a buck.
But he remained calm, only reacting to me
As his hooves pounded the path, and we ran free. ➼

stride, tide, abide, confide,

Thursday, April 26, 2018

5 Tips when Buying or Selling a Horse

When you are considering transferring ownership of a horse, whether you are buying or selling, there are few rules that every horseman (or horsewoman) should follow to make sure that everybody knows what they are getting into.

1. Be honest!

First and foremost, be honest about what you are looking for, or what you are selling. There is nothing worse than getting that “certified bomb-proof kids horse” home only to watch it lose its mind when a tractor drives by, or that horse that has no problem loading, battle you to the end because it can’t back out of a trailer. Be sure to disclose any issues that you know of with the horse if you are on the selling end. And if you are on the buying end, remember that you are taking home a horse that was part of someone’s family. They want to know what and how the horse will be used and the lifestyle it will live.

2. Know which questions to ask/answer.
Not all horse people are made the same. Sometimes you might be selling to a first time horse owner that really does not know what to ask.

3. Unsaddle the horse. Always look at the confirmation of a horse. If you are a seller, let the buyer saddle the horse. If you are a buyer, be sure to see what the horse’s confirmation looks like without a saddle. Is he swayback or maybe has kissing spine? These are not deal breakers for many, but you don’t want to be surprised after you have already reached an agreement.

4. To ride or not to ride?
If you are buying a horse, ask the seller to ride the horse, or have someone else ride the horse. This is a good habit because it does two things: First, it potentially can save you from injury if that horse is not at all what they say it is. Second, it allows the seller to demonstrate the horses abilities. If you decide to ride the horse, ask that the owne give you a short lesson on the horse so that you can give proper cues for more advanced maneuvers, without confusing the horse. Of course, if you are the seller, be prepared to give a demo of what the horse can do.

There are situations in which the horse is not rideable, or the owner can’t ride the horse, then it is completely at your own risk when you buy or hop on that horse.

5. Some tests that you can do on the ground to help you determine if the horse is a good fit for you:

1. Ask the horse to lunge on a lead rope
2. Have the horse pick up his feet- focus on his behavior with his hind legs.
3. Rub the horses belly, does he/she pin his ears in discomfort at all? This could indicate ulcers, or identify a behavior issue
4. Mess with his ears. Does he allow you to touch his ears?  A lot of horses are head shy and this makes it difficult to halter/bridle them.
5. Check his teeth. Does he let you stick your fingers in his mouth?
6. Respond to pressure. Does he respond to pressure when applied between the ears (on the poll)? Does he move away from you when you apply pressure to his chest to ask him to back, or his shoulder and hip?
7. Swing a lead rope in circles to see how he responds. Is he extremely jumpy? What if you gently toss the lead rope at his feet? Does that bother him?
8. Flex his head. Does he allow you to bring his head around to each side and not struggle when you get it there?

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Filling a Void in my Heart

After I lost Zaida, my Endurance Arabian, I had a hole in my heart, an empty stall in the barn, and blank space in the pasture. I didn't want to replace her, but I needed to do some good in the horse world.
Zaida (WMA Godspeed)
Zaida and I at an Endurance ride
In addition to my emptiness, I could also see that Gypsy longed for  a companion. Within a few weeks of Zaida's passing, a friend who is a horse trader contacted me about two horses he was going to send to auction because he didn't have a trainer to get them going, and he had too many horses. My friend had rescued one - a paint - from the kill pen, and the other, a pure black horse but with one white pastern- came from a ranch.

I went and looked at the horses, and gathered as much information as possible on the two horses. The guy didn't know if the paint was broke, and the black horse was broke and up for sale, but a girl fell off of him, so he couldn't continue to advertise him for sale, in order to protect his business. Both horses appeared to be in good shape, and he was only asking for what he paid, which was $300 for the paint and $600 for the black one. So I went back the following day and picked them up. 

(Apache above) the day I brought him home
Chief and Apache below

I brought the two home and kept them separate in quarantine, which is common for horses that come from an unknown source, such as a kill pen. Luckily I did, because Apache exhibited symptoms of strangles. It took a few weeks to erupt, and sadly, little Abbie above, was also exposed to strangles. Fortunately, everybody survived the nasty ordeal, and they were all back on the road to health. I soon learned that Chief was a great horse for English and he loved jumping and was good at it. He was broke, but needed riding on a regular basis, he had a lot of energy. 

As for Apache, his level of training was unknown. So I did what I do best, I tested him out. I had my vet come check him out and make sure he was sound for riding, and we began from the beginning. First thing was tot see if he was accepting of a saddle. Which he was. He could walk and trot, and even happily rode bareback. Apache was a very in your pocket kind of horse. He was gentle and curious about what people were doing. It was likely that he had never been physically harmed, but may have suffered neglect, which you can see in some of the photos where his ribs are showing. He was quite a bit underweight, but that was reparable. Chief, on the other hand, likely came from a ranch or somewhere the he was rode hard and put away wet. Meaning, he wasn't extremely affectionate like Apache, but he had no reason to trust or distrust people. He was quite neutral in his personality. 

Disclaimer: My goal is not to buy and sell horses, my goal is to take in horses - even if they cost me money- that need help becoming a better horse, so they can find a suitable home. Of course if I found the perfect horses for me, it would have a forever home with me, but personally, I do not want more than two or three horses of my own. It is too much to maintain riding and food-wise . I am also fully aware that it takes about one year of working with a horse, to break its old habits and get them to connect with me. I don't expect to see change right away, but I do expect to see subtle differences around the six month mark.

I knew after assessing both horses, that I would be able to re-home Apache relatively quickly because of his willing personality, but Chief needed additional work. So I spent about three months working with Apache to remind him what he was supposed to do, and rewarding his efforts. I helped him become more polite on the ground, become less buddy sour, and reminded him of what it was like to be ridden. Mostly we worked on building muscle and rounding out his back so he could be a strong horse again, and be able to maintain balance while carrying a rider. In the meantime, I searched for his forever home. I loved him but needed to make space for the next horses that needed help.

A woman named Dorothy from Blanco, Texas answered the advertisement. She had previously owned a horse, but after a divorce, could no longer keep him. Dorothy and her friend who owns home makeover company both came out to assess Apache. Dorothy came back a few days later to take him for a test ride. One thing I learned about re-homing horses, is that 90% of the time, an experienced buyer, will ask the seller to ride the horse first. The reason behind this is that if the seller is scared of the horse, they won't ride it. There is more on that in my post on buying and re-homing horses. So before she said anything, I offered to ride Apache to show her what he knew, what he didn't know, and his flaws. Apache was a head tosser. He hated the bit, so I bought him a hackamore. He was much happier with the hackamore, but it is a little nerve racking to ride in an open field with a group of riders at a fast pace and your only barking power is a hackamore. Anyways, I explained all of this to her, and mentioned she should work on getting him used to a bit, but for now, he needed a hackamore, as his past probably included a heavy handed rider, or a major accident involving a bit, which was visible by scar tissue around his mouth. 

Once I rode Apache, Dorothy and I went on a trail ride where she rode him out in the open at a walk and trot. She returned a couple of more times to ride Apache before we reached an agreement for her to take him home. By this time, she had ridden him through our trails and in deep water where he enjoyed pawing at the water in hopes of laying down in it. Apache seemed content with Dorothy, and I looked forward to him going to his forever home where he would get all of he attention that he desired. 


As for Chief, he was broke well, but had developed some poor habits to intimidate his rider, and I was unwilling to sell him like that. I started him in an English saddle and we began jumping. This helped redirect his energy. He also joined me on several camping trips and carried me through hundreds of miles of trails.

As I strived to work him into a more calm horse for whoever he might end up with, I tried other riders on him and found that he really needed an experienced rider who he could not intimidate. his new owner would need a very soft hand and calm attitude. I was sure that it would take a very skilled person to help him reach his full potential. The alternative was to find him a home where he would have a nice slow easy life. He would walk and trot and not be asked for too much, as that is where he would begin arguing with his rider. I am very concerned about selling an "up" horse for the same reasons that I mentioned in my other post on Smokey.

I continued working with Chief for about a year, while I searched for his forever home. Late one evening, a woman on the southside of San Antonio contacted me about trading Chief for her horse who, at the time was named Skylar. She was a rider who only desired to walk and trot around her longhorn farm, and her horse was ok with this, but he was a very big boy, and he often bucked if he did not want to be ridden. She was concerned about coming off of him at such a great height, so she was looking for a horse that was a bit smaller, but that would be happy to have a nice slow pace through his life. She had a large pasture for Chief to graze and put on some weight, a donkey who would be his companion, and she was willing to work with him in the round pen before he was ridden, to help him burn off some energy. I agreed to bring Chief to her house so we could meet the horses. I took Skylar for a test ride. The lady informed me that he "crow hopped" when asked to lope. So naturally, I did what I did best, I asked him to walk, trot and lope. And he did what he did best, he bucked me off.

I said "I'll take him," as blood dripped down my arm from landing in the briar patch.

Add caption

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Soothing Horses

How Smokey's Wisp Made Me a Better Person

Smokey came to me by no accident. I am certain that he needed me as much as needed him. I got a call one day from a friend who told me of a barrel racing horse that bucked off his 13 year old rider and how he was being given away free and they were about to put him on Craig's List.

Here is the thing about giving away a solid specialty trained horse on Craig's List. If you give a horse away, for free, somebody will either take him who has no business owning a horse and put their child on them, then their child, who does not know how to ride, will do something terribly incorrect, resulting in said child falling off of the horse. Subsequently, the parents will be pissed and re-give the horse away, this will continue to happen until either someone knowledgable gets the horse and figures out that he is an amazing well trained horse, or, the more common scenario, the horse ends up in the slaughter. If the horse is lucky, a horse person will ride the horse and realize that he is worth much more than his weight in meat and put him on a site to earn bail money to get him out of "jail" slaughter. If the horse is not lucky, he will end up being hauled across a border and used for human consumption. Yep, you heard that right, people eat horse meat in Canada and Mexico.

Anyways, I contacted the father and learned that they had just purchased him 5 months prior as a barrel horse from a lady named Madison, who also barrel raced him. His 13 year old daughter was taking to barrel racing lessons, and during a lesson as the girl walked through the barrel pattern, Smokey erupted and bucked the girl off. The father said no more riding that horse, he is going up for sale. But in good faith, the father had a vet come out to do a lameness exam, Smokey had an elevated hate blood cell count which indicates inflammation or infection. So they treated him and listed him for sale. Another young rider, about 13 as well, came out to test ride him. She rode him in the arena at a walk, trot, and lope with no problems. They brought the barrels out and as she trotted him around the barrel pattern, he once again, erupted and bucked her off. As a result, the owner of thee barn became concerned about liability and informed the father that nobody was authorized to ride this horse on her property. Which put the father in a situation where he felt obligated to give the horse away, which he had paid a large chunk for. (I later located a YouTube Video of him for sale for $8,000) Smokey if sully registered, gorgeous and really about as well trained and polite on the ground as a horse can be. I went to retrieve Smokey that Thursday. As soon as I handled him, I could tell he and I would get along just fine. I asked the father if they wanted updates, and he said "not really".

I brought him home and got him settled in the second pasture. Jeremy and I were going camping in Bandera, Texas the next day, and we really wanted to take him,, Ordinarily, we would let a horse get accommodated, but he seemed to have a level head, so we decided that he was going to spend the weekend on the trails with us.

Jeremy was adamant that he ride him first, of course I was concerned that Smokey would erupt and Jeremy would get injured, but he is a tough guy and can make his own choices.

Jeremy Saddled him up and we were off. He rode him the entire weekend without one problem. In fact, Jeremy trusted that horse enough to gallop him across that open field right behind him in the above photo, after only 30 minutes of riding him. 

After our camping trip, I rode him several times, in the arena, on the trail, at the Tejas Rodeo. I played around barrel racing him and with no issue. I could tell that once he hit the second barrel, he was ready to bolt. By bolt, I mean go full speed to the third barrel and fly home. He had no desire to be held back. He seemed to chomp down on the bit and not care what his rider was asking of him. Other than that, this horse is hands down, the best horse I have ever sat on. One day I was out playing in the arena with him,  I was taking him around the barrels and I could sense he was getting agitated. 

Sidenote: It is interested how as a rider, you can tell what kind of rider had him before by the way he behaves and responds to various situations. I could tell that his previous rider (Madison, not the girl because she didn't have him long enough) was probably high-strung, like any 20 something year old barrel racer, she rode him in a very antsy and impatient manner, just like most barrel racers do. The tend to do a lot of yanking on their mouths/heads. 

Smokey was very uptight and nervous. He spooked easily, but never badly.  What I mean is, if I did something fast and unexpected, he would jump, but he would not take off running and try to get as far away as possible. The white in his eyes would show and it was clear that he was a nervous horse. As for being in his mouth, Smokey was constantly tossing his head, trying to find relief from the pressure of the bit. These things can all be easily fixed with the right mentality, and the right rider. 

I could sense his agitation and tried to rein him in, but instead, he bolted, He ran to the rail of the arena, leaped over a trot poll and began bucking with all four in the air. I naturally sustained my grip for two or three bucks, but I knew I was coming off. I landed on my knees, which was pretty darn painful, but better than broken bones. I calmly approached him after I dusted my face off, and got right back on. I rode him around the arena at all gaits for the next hour. I had to understand why he did this and he needed to understand that his actions were not acceptable. 

We have had him for about 3 months now, and I can tell when he is trying to "get away" from me. When he does this, it is normally at a lope, so I bring him in a small 10-15 meter circle at a lope and make him get back in frame. Since this incident, he has been grounded from barrels, he is only allowed to do arena work, drill team work, figure eight patterns around the barrels and trial rides. We want to reset his thinking on the barrels. Basically, he is on vacation. We are also very calm around him, always extremely patient, but this does not mean he gets away with things, it just means that we are not antsy, nervous, or in hurry to make him understand something. We also removed the twisted wire snaffle/rawhide noseband combo and put a hackamore on him. He is much happier, and equally responsive in the arena. He gets a dog-bone snaffle on the trail when there are several horses and we need more of a stop on him, otherwise he gets to be comfortable. 

Since the day that Smokey bucked me off, and I realized how I could have prevented it by recognizing signs in his behavior, I have implemented some changes. As a result, I have seen tremendous changes in his behavior, and in mine! Everyday that I work with Smokey, if I go in there with too much on my mind, and don't focus on the the now, and being there with him, in the moment, he tells me with a nervous look or a swift side step- where he appears scared or uneasy. I am then reminded to clear my mind of the days worries, pay attention to what I am doing right that second and enjoy that time. This now applies to my interactions with my other horses, I move slower and just enjoy the time I am there with them, such amazing creatures. I pay more attention to their movements, and behaviors, and less attention to outside distraction. I now practice leaving all of my troubles and worries at the pasture entrance. I need a sign that says something like that on the gate! But even now, I see my interactions with people have changed, because of what Smokey has taught. me. I a calmer and more patient. I have more tolerance in traffic or long lines, and din't get irritated or disgruntled easily. I also try to focus on the good things that are working for me, and leave the negative somewhere else, preferably never to be found again :-)

Merry Christmas From Gypsy Farms

Merry Christmas from Gypsy Farms (Abbie - Left, Gypsy - Right)

What People Think, When I Say Horse Camping

Gypsy after a long work week.

Horse Camping at Hill Country State Natural Area, Cows were loose and Gypsy hid

Friday, December 16, 2016

A Promise to a Horse

I promise to always remember this about Gypsy and any other horse I encounter:

She feels your energy,
She senses your nature,
She sees who you are.
She is a reflection of you.
She does not trust, until you have proven yourself.
Kindness will forever bond you, and she will forever be a part of you.
She will trust you with her life, give you every ounce she has, even if it kills her.
She would run off a cliff if you desired.You are her herd. She is your solitude.

If she is nervous, it is because you are nervous.
If she over reacts, it is because you overreact.
If she doesn't understand, it is because you did not teach her.
If she is upset, you lack effective communication.
She is a reflection of you. She is Gypsy!