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.
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