Saturday, December 27, 2014

What is a "Horseman" or Why I'm not a "Cowboy"

What, you may ask, is the difference between a cowboy and a horseman? Don't they both ride wild bucking horses and punch cows? Well, I'm here to tell you that I've never even been ANGRY with a cow, let alone punch one. Some folks just assume that anyone in a ten gallon hat and fancy boots is a "Cowboy". This is simply just not true. In the purest sense of the word, a cowboy is one who tends cattle or horses; usually a mounted cattle-ranch hand. Then we have the other incarnation of the "cowboy". We have folks who ride animals who are forced to buck for the entertainment pleasure of the masses. I will not say that it doesn't take skill to stay on top of an 1000+lb animal trying to turn inside out, but, again, not my speed. The real unsung heroes of the equine world are those of us, like myself that take colts and turn them into loving, willing partners for every day, ordinary folks to be able to ride and enjoy. I am a horseman. This simply means that I am a student of the horse. I approach him on equal terms, with the idea in mind that he has as much to teach me as I to teach him. I pride myself in (most days) never letting a horse know that he CAN buck. We don't live in line shacks, we don't ride the range making little dogies get along. We spend hours in the round pen and on the trail perfecting their stride so YOU can have a better ride. We don't have shoot outs at high noon, and in most cases we don't save ranchers daughters from evil thugs trying to steal her aged father's spread. We take horses who won't stand to mount, or have been taught bad habits, or are spoiled and help them to understand the joys that a working partnership with a human can be. We do not (again in most cases) hold up stage coaches or banks or shoot up the town on a saturday night after having a few belts at the local honky tonk. We are entirely too busy helping Susan, or Joe understand why they can't get mad at "Fluffy" because he doesn't understand what they are miscommunicating to him. We are helping Katie learn to sit up straight and not clutch the saddle horn for dear life just because her horse moved from a walk to a trot. A horseman(person) is just that, a person who tries to think as the horse does. So, in closing, no, I'm no cowboy. I only play one on T.V.

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Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Horseback Riding in the Snow?

   A lot of us would never think to be horseback riding when it's cold and blustery.  Most of us wouldn't.  Unless you are a die hard lover of winter or a trainer, you'd be sitting at home next to a warm fire.   Yes, you CAN ride in the winter, especially when there is snow on the ground.   As long as you take precaution in the safety of your horse or mule, you should have little issue when you set out to make your own path for a leisurely ride in the woods or wherever you choose.
   Horseback riding can be done if there isn't ice or deep crusted over snow.  Your horse is very capable in the snow already, but not when he has to break through ice to get through into it.  This puts not only you, but the horse in danger of a fall.
   For those intrepid enough to brave the weather, your horse would benefit from being either barefoot (no shoes), or have special snow shoes with pads.  The pads prevent snow from "balling" inside the hoof, as the hoof is cupped.  This is often called "snow-balling", and can make the horse unsteady.
  If a horse does go through deep snow, keep in mind how much exertion he will have to do in order to carry you.  Even a fit horse will end up sweating after a ride in the snow.  Take extra care in making sure your horse is warm until he is dry.  It is best to limit physical activity for your horse as they cannot take extra layers off as you are able when you get warm.
  As for the rider, the best clothing to wear in the winter can be a challenge.  Don't wear chunky boots or clothing that would make you slide off the horse if he moves wrong.  The chunky boots can possibly get your feet stuck in the stirrups and you will end up being seriously injured.  Dress in layers, but if necessary, wear a second pair of warm socks to keep those toes warm inside a pair of the boots you would normally wear when riding.  You do not want to impede your movement with too much heavy clothing.
  Horses are not able to handle ice well.  Occasionally you may come across an icy patch, and your horse may have a time crossing it safely.  If at all possible, avoid ice as your horse can easily break a leg if a fall does occur.
  Take the time to assess the weather in your area before you make a decision whether to ride or err on the side of caution.  You can make your horseback ride in the snow as enjoyable as long as you and your horse are safe in the process.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Giving Horses Treats: The Difference Between Hand Feeding and Rewarding

  Happiness is a warm piece of apple pie with whipped cream.  Now that your interest has been piqued, our pets, as well as horses love to share in that same happiness once in a while.  Giving a treat to a horse is not always an easy decision. There are many pros and cons to giving a horse a treat.
   We must understand when it is appropriate, and decide if the treat is just being nice to the horse, or if it should be a reward for reinforcing good behavior and training purposes.
   If one is not careful in determining the difference, things can get out of hand in a hurry. What happens is you will have a one thousand pound animal pushing its way into your space, getting you hurt in a heartbeat.   This can be detrimental in your relationship with your horse.
   As a trainer, I have often been asked by horse owners whether it is a good idea to give out treats. Horse trainers most likely will say it is not advisable, as it not a natural habit for them to be hand fed.  If your horse does not respect your space, introducing food into the equation will only add fuel to the fire.  It is best that you have the knowledge of how to teach your horse to stay out of your personal space unless invited.   Once they understand you are the boss and in control of the situation, you have to remember your personal safety is most important.
   Talk with your trainer if you have questions on how you can teach your horse to stay out of your space.  You must have a good relationship with your horse trainer. The knowledge they have will be very important information to you, saving you a trip to the hospital.
   You must understand the difference between "treat" and "reward".  A treat is something you give your horse because you feel like being nice.  A reward is something you give your horse because he did something nice.   A treat can be given as a reward, but a reward cannot be given as a treat. To understand this, you must recognize the play on the words.  The horse always thinks it is being rewarded for something.  For instance, "I was just standing in my stall with my head over the door, and in comes my owner handing me food."  The next time the horse sees you coming in, it will put its head over the stall door, waiting for you to give it the food-and you give it to him.  Soon enough,
your horse will nicker at you the moment you step foot in the barn, in anticipation of the food/reward.
    Or in this instance, if you have a carrot or apple in your pocket, and your horse knows you carry those in your pockets, it will be nosing around your pockets in search of the treat.  When you give it to him, you are reinforcing the behavior that is rewarding him sticking his nose in your pocket.
   So how does one decide when to give a treat vs. a reward?   Give the horse treats in his food bin
or bucket, never from your hand.  Give a reward any time you want, anywhere you want. The difference is the horse must have done something to earn the reward.  And yes, you may give the reward/treat from your hand at this time.  In order for this to work, you have to teach him there is a certain place he has to be in order to get the reward,  He must be standing still, and must have his head positioned in a place you want him to be.  This gives the horse an incentive to keep trying in order to get the reward.  Teaching your horse this "trick" takes time and patience, but in the end, the reward is definitely worth it.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Drinking and Riding a Horse: Is it Legal?

   We have all seen those old westerns in which there is that random cowboy riding a horse after he comes out of the saloon, usually drunk or intoxicated.  He is slumped over the saddle and his horse pretty much is left to his own devices.  Sometimes being drunk can get him in some predicaments.
   Bring this picture to present day, and we find there can be repercussions when riding while intoxicated, if you're caught.  The main issue is this:  Is it legal to drink and ride a horse?

    Several states have statutes that hold mandate that a horse is considered a vehicle. However, if the rider is intoxicated, they can be charged with public intoxication, or even drunk and disorderly (if the circumstances fit the crime).  There are some states that have a no tolerance policy, and a person can be charged with a DUI, even though they are riding a horse.  Unfortunately for horseback riders, these laws vary from state to state, and even within the local law enforcement community.
    While the idea of a DUI on a horse may sound silly, the main concern from public law enforcement is safety.  Someone riding a horse or a bicycle while intoxicated could potentially be a risk to others.  Drivers could get into an accident due to the erratic riding pattern of a rider.  In many situations the horse can also get injured or killed, putting the rider at risk for animal endangerment.
    The normal procedure for citing and punishing a DUI while on horseback is pretty much the same as a driver in a motorized vehicle.  The officer stops the offender under suspicion of being under the influence.  If a breathalyzer indicates a rider is under the influence, the officer will issue a citation.  In many states, the lawbreaker's license will be revoked, and he or she will have to go to court in order to get it back.
    A public safety announcement that appeared in Montana shows a horse picking up its rider from a bar, obeying all the laws and acting as a designated driver would. You can see this video here: Sober Friend 
    Helena Police Chief Troy McGee says he has received many calls from residents wanting to know if riding a horse while under the influence is legal.  The law says yes, however Montana law carefully defines a vehicle, and excludes those running under animal power.  But that does not mean people should ride their horses while drunk.  Please be safe, don't drink and ride.
 Should an intoxicated rider be charged with a DUI or just a pubic intoxication?
What are your thoughts?

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Does Your Horse Need a Blanket in the Winter?

   With the coming of colder temperatures during the day and freezing nights, we all hunker down with a warm blanket, a cup of cocoa, and a hot fire to keep us toasty.  Some short haired pets need a sweater when they go outside.  But those who are fortunate to have the joy of owning a horse or mule often wonder if their favorite critter really needs a blanket, or rug during the coldest, most brutal time of year.  A serious question requires some thought. Is your horse REALLY cold?
     People often  anthropomorphize (attribute human form or personality to things not human) and honestly believe if they are cold, then the horse or mule is as cold as they feel.  It is easy to take human thoughts and actions and apply them to horses.  This can be detrimental to the health of horses and mules.
     A horse begins to grow a thicker winter coat in early fall (usually around mid September), depending on the weather.  Horses in warmer climates grow their winter coats a bit later as the days progressively get cooler.  To ensure a good healthy, dense winter coat, you can supplement with a diet rich in protein and calories.  Providing a good hay will help with extra calories needed to help your horse use his own body heat to make himself warm.  You can make adjustments to increase their food portions during the winter months, as these cold blustery days and nights can really be hard on an animal if they are not getting enough food to help withstand the elements.
Once your horse or mule gets that 'fuzzy bear' look, it still can be deceiving.  Check your horse weekly around the rib area for a moderate fleshy cover.  If your horse is thin, you will know as you feel around his ribs.
     Providing shelter, whether it be in the form of boarding in a stall, or in an enclosed run in shed can help block the wind and elements.   If there is no way you can provide shelter, and the temperature is much colder than 10 degrees Fahrenheit, use a blanket as a last resort.  Keep in mind the sudden changes in temperature that would affect the body temperature of your horse.  Once the air temperature gets warmer, your horse will as well.  You do not want a sweaty horse exposed to the cold.  His winter coat with natural oils will provide a healthy thick coat on its own when you give him the proper nutrition during the winter.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Poem Therapy or How To Write Like a Lunatic

This volume was 20+ years in the making. It's about life, and love and growing up in the Ozark Mountains of Missouri. It has been a difficult journey as well. It is always difficult to "let go" and let other people read my work. This is because, what you are looking at, is not just words on a page. When you open this cover, and look at it's contents, you are looking at my soul laid bare for the world to see. Me at my best, and at my worst. Raw and bleeding, right there on the page. It is never an easy thing, to take something as private as my thoughts and emotions and turn them into something so VERY public. This whole experience of writing this book has been a healing one. I've grown and evolved into the man, and the horseman that I am today, BECAUSE of the adversity. I own it, it no longer owns me. It's amazing how writing helps heal the troubled soul. I started out as a young man, very troubled and tortured in my soul. I felt as I did not matter and I was awash in feelings of despair and self-pity. Hey, it happens to the best of us occasionally. In time, I learned that the more I put these feeling on the page, the easier they were for me to recognize and deal with. So, in a way, I suppose, poetry has been my therapist. Through the written word, I discovered that I WAS of worth, and that I DID matter, even if only to me.
This brings me to another point. It's very difficult for me to read my own poetry. I can remember, vividly the state of mind I was in when I wrote each one of them.The highs, and the lows in turn. Each poem brings with it a memory of a time and a place that is sometimes quite painful. That makes it hard for me to revisit them. They are not ALL bad memories by any means. However, even the ones with pleasant memories attached are still painful to read. I am reminded of how young, and immature I was, and of the mistakes I made. I truly am the person I am today, because I learned to write it all down. Am I a hot mess still? Likely. Do I make mistakes still? Most certainly.Do I still doubt and second guess myself? Occasionally. The difference between then and now though? Today I understand that anything you want in life is worth ALL the blood, sweat and yes, even tears put into it.
You can order your copy of "Cinch Marks: Misadventures and Tall Tales From a Self Described Curmudgeon" on our website:

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

How to C.O.P.E with your horse while working with him

Taco learning via the COPE system 
The key to successfully training an animal are all in the way in which you COPE with him. To establish a trust and a bond with your animal are imperative to your success. In order for him to trust you and vice versa you have to build this bond. It takes time, and work, and LOTS of both. Here are all the tools you need to COPE with your training:
Compassion- You must care about the animal you are working with. It does neither you, nor him any good if you cannot truly care about him. You will not be able to connect with an animal you do not care for. So, be fair to him and to you alike by LEARNING to care for him if you must.
Optimism- You must be optimistic when working with him. Have a positive outlook and you will go far. Negativity breeds lack of success! Horses are very empathic themselves. They can tell when we feel good, or when we are having an off day. When you establish a bond with a horse or mule, you will be
able to tell when he’s feeling good. So, when you approach your tasks with optimism, it will radiate from you and will be picked up by the animal, therefore ensuring a productive training session. Likewise, if you approach your tasks with a poor attitude, and are pessimistic about your success, it’s like as not to
produce a bad, if not even dangerous session.
Patience- It requires LOTS of patience to work with horses and especially a mule. You have to take the time that it takes. You cannot force a square peg into a round hole, so to speak, so come into each session prepared to take as long as needed. If you do not have time to do your tasks correctly, without
rushing, then do not start. Wait until you DO have the time. As a wise man once said: “Shortcuts make for long delays.” When you rush your training you leave holes for yourself, or for the next person to come along. If it's worth doing, it's worth doing right the FIRST time.
Empathy- The ability to understand and share the feelings of another. This simply means that you have
to try and understand where he's coming from. Put yourself it his shoes, so to speak. It will make you a better trainer, and a better horse person all the way around. I DON'T mean treat him like a 5 y/o child; he's still a horse after all. I just mean to try to imagine how your training is affecting him on the whole.
Going back to an earlier point, horses themselves are very good empaths, so should you be. Learn to tell when he’s having a good, or even an off day.

Applying these four principles to your training regimen will ensure that you have a productive, and even a fun training session. Equines should serve us because we've helped them WANT to be with us, rather than to break their spirits. It’s easy to take short cuts, but you have to think about the bigger picture. Do you really want a slave, or would you rather have a willing, enthusiastic partner willing to go above and beyond the call?

Saturday, October 4, 2014

The Long Rider

The thunder rumbles

Low and deep in the
Dark heavy clouds
As they hug the horizon.
The lightning forks
And streaks angrily
Across the stygian depths of sky.
Slowly, dreamily
The first drops begin to fall.
The large drops making craters
In the dusty earth.
The rain comes on
With all its eminent authority.
With unmitigated fury
The wall of rain
Bursts into his camp.
Sizzling, smoking and Popping,
The fire protests weakly.
Pulling his hat down
He packs the last of his gear
Onto his ol’ pony.
With the practiced ease
Lent him by many
Years astride a horse,
He throws a leg over
The weather beaten, care worn saddle.
Ducking his head,
The big gelding is turned
Into the oncoming storm.
Rain or shine,
He’s got to ride.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

"Just a Trail Horse?"

I heard in passing the other day, someone saying their horse was "Just" a trail horse. REALLY? JUST a trail horse? Would you say your Dr. is "Just" a brain surgeon? Would you say your accountant is "JUST a numbers guy"? Let's break this down to it's barest level here. Show horses, as nice and pretty as they are are ridden on a set, prescribed course in a controlled environment. Granted, there are new horses and new places to show, but the show pen is always the same. Round and round and round. Trail horses, on the contrary must learn to adapt easily, and quickly to new experiences, and environments. You cannot control nature, so there is no telling WHAT you will see when you go out. A trail horse must exhibit self control, and extreme confidence. When the going gets tough, they have to have the guts to stay put. They have to be tough, to handle the varied terrain, as well as versatile enough to adapt to different situations. He must be smart enough to learn how to think for himself, yet reliable enough to trust your judgement. Great trail horses are not born, they are made.So, to sum up, trail horses rule, all the rest drool! I'm just kidding, I firmly believe that the more jobs a horse has, the better off he will be. He will be happier,steadier, HEALTHIER,and a better ride for it. I mean really, when you think of horseback riding, do you dream of going circles in an arena all day, or do you dream of being in the wilderness, experiencing nature the way God intended, on the back of a horse(or mule)? We all dreamt of the freedom that riding in the outdoors would bring us. Right? So, the next time you hear someone say they have "just" a trail horse, make sure to remind them that they are one of the lucky ones.

Friday, September 19, 2014

My Ol' Flea Catcher

 If my ol’ Flea Catcher could talk, it’d have a few tales to tell. We’ve had a few adventures through the years, indeed we have. I for one remember the time we got swept out of the saddle by a huge old gnarly Locust tree. We were riding a good sized, stocking legged mule, looking to find a hole in it. We had already been through the brush, over, up and down the creek, and through the brambles. Thinking we were done, we’d just about decided to head back to the barn. It was at this time, I spotted a half grown Jersey calf in the brush, down an incline a little piece. “Hmmmmm...” I said. “I just wonder if this molly has ever seen a calf. Well, if she hasn’t, it’s about time she did.” So, off we went down the slope to look at the calf. Winding our way carefully through the brush, and the various thickets of thorns that invariably grow here in the Ozarks, we crept up on our quarry. My little mule, which by the way, at 16.2 hands, wasn’t so little, must not have seen the dreaded thing. Suddenly, she stopped. She had spied the only thing in the woods capable of sending fear shuddering and racking throughout her entire body. She stood stock still, unable to believe her eyes. Here, in broad daylight, was a specimen of the vicious, ravenous, mule eating Jersey calf. Trembling with fear, knowing she was a goner, she was unable to move as the horrid thing approached her.
Meanwhile, chewing his cud in a clearing in the woods, a young Jersey steer looked up to see a most curious site. What did he see, but a man on top of a HUGE funny looking cow. He’d never, in his short existence, seen such a sight. He could not help himself. His curiosity got the better of him. He just HAD to get a closer look at this crazy specimen. The human, he noticed was attached to the cow with weird lines coming from the cow’s mouth. Well, this was more than his curiosity could handle. He for sure had to check them out now. He walked slowly towards them, taking his time so as to take in this spectacle fully. When he got nose to nose with the incredible pair, he snorted. Why, you’d thought he’s set off a bomb under this strange cow’s feet. She must have jumped three feet in the air, swapping ends in the process. Well, this was more than he could handle. He took off in the opposite direction, bawling for his mom.
Miss Mule and I, at the same time were in mid acrobatics. I mean, I knew mules were nimble, agile even, but THIS molly should have tried out for the Olympics. She was jumping and spinning and turning inside out. She’d have made Bruce Jenner look like Barney Fife. We hit the ground going 183 mph, or it seemed that way at least. She took the bit in her teeth and held on for all she was worth. I meanwhile, calm and cool as a cucumber, am brushing aside the various limbs and small trees that get in her way as she tears through the woods back towards the road. In the midst of my calm and cool brushing, I failed to notice that ONE of the trees she was attempting to run over was about 20 feet around. Well, I’m here to tell you, I’ve never seen a mule climb a tree. I didn’t “see” this one either. I still too busy hanging on to my hat, my butt and other various and sundry parts these demon trees were busy trying to rip from my person. She MUST have climbed it, and then deciding it wasn’t safe up there either, JUMPED back down, decided to climb it again, changed her mind again, then took off for the road again. This was about the time that our wild ride ended. The tree, tired of all this foolishness, reached out and grabbed me by the belt buckle and with no remorse, dashed me to the ground. Now, I’m no little fella, and when I hit the ground, rare though it is, I hit with a resounding “THUMP”. This was no exception. I landed on the north end of this south bound Moose. This only served to compound the humility of the situation.  My ol’ Flea Catcher, having better sense than I, had quit his post the FIRST time Miss Mule had tried to climb the tree.
Speaking of Miss Mule, she had run about a hundred yards, jumped a six foot barbed wire fence, and then run a few more feet. It was at this time, that she realized two things. First and foremost, she had lost that demon spawned mule eating Jersey. Whew, what a relief. Now she could stop and take stock of her hurts, which, as fortune would have it, were none. Second, she noticed her human was no longer on her back. Now, where could he have gone to? Didn’t he know there were dangerous beasts lurking in these woods? Oh, well, she’d just have to go and find him. Rescue him if you will, from the dangers of the forest.
She hadn’t gone more than a few dozen steps when she noticed something rustling in the brush ahead of her. Was it another killer Jersey? No, as luck would have it, it was her human. Here he came, walking slowly, and looking like he’d tried to French kiss a bob –cat in a phone booth. Grumbling and swearing under his breath, he patted her neck and swung aboard.

     Well, one thing for sure. I’ve had rougher rides, but I’ll be danged if I can recall any at this particular point in time. Miss Mule and I made it back to the barn, in one piece even. We rode many more times too.  Thankfully though, my ol’ Flea Catcher and I haven’t had one THAT rough since. 

If you enjoyed this tale of the ne'er do well mule, check out the rest of our stories in our book "Cinch Marks" available on our website: