Monday, October 27, 2008

Update on Cloud

What with the collapse of the financial markets, I fell out of touch with the plight of wild horses. Here's the update from the Cloud foundation

Cloud's Herd Removal Postponed Again
September 22, 2008
Dear Supporters of Cloud and His Herd,

This morning Jim Sparks, BLM Billings Field Manager, called to tell us that they have postponed indefinitely the removal of Pryor Mountain Wild Horses. We are relieved to know that the horses are safe in their wild home for now. Although a bait trap has been set up since Wednesday, no horses have been removed and we will keep you updated on this situation.

Thanks to everyone who wrote in support of protecting our wild horse legacy. The outcry made it damn difficult for BLM to turn over public horse pasture to cattle ranchers. I doubt they are gone for long. Be ready to make your voice heard (pun intended, although it's a bad one).

Parelli. Brilliant or Brilliant rip off?

There seems to be a love hate thing going on with Parelli in blog land. Parelli, who I admit, has found a way to charge 100s of dollars for equipment you can buy for ten or fifteen, has become a marketing phenomenon.

But that's not a reason to hate the guy.

(you can buy that "carrot stick" in the picture, which he sells for $62, for $14 at D&D in Seguin.)

Then there's the way he's packaged "natural horsemanship" (which in every book and website of his I've read he always admits it is nothing he's invented). He has created a jargon/code (I'm sure someone has worked up a secret handshake too) that makes you either in or out. And it'll cost you $700 worth of CDs to get in.

The real reason to hate the guy, if you feel the need to, is that he's mined people's dreams. It's the dream of every little horse-aholic. The Black Stallion dream. The dream of having the connection that Alex had with Black, where the horse wouldn't even stay on an island without him, where they ran the track in mud and rain, where they melded into one being.

I keep wanting to remind people that it's a movie. But then I'd have to deny that I have the same dream. I'm a lot of things, but I'm not in denial.

(A local stable here even taps that dream with their logo and artwork.)

Parelli has nailed it by honing in on that dream. Instead of going for the cowboy, he's going for the dreamer. (Actually Fugly has a truly entertaining rant on this.)

Sure it's not always a dream that can be realized. Plenty of Parelli folks I've seen are run over by their horses. I'm not experienced enough to know what the problem is - whether they aren't doing Parelli correctly, if they misunderstand leadership, or are just out of their league with their horse (all of which may apply to me, I know). Some seem to interpret everything they are taught through a soft focus lens and end up with a hell of a lot less than a dream.

Then I see some people who CAN make it come together, without resorting to "cowboying."

Right now I'm spending some serious time trying to figure out every technique I can to deal with my horse that is going to be eaten by LIONS AT ANY MOMENT. Parelli is one, I'm also checking out this website, although their prices are not exactly a deal. $109 for an ebook? Hey, I'm a writer, but come on. It's pixels. At least Parelli has shaved in his videos.

Stacy Westfall has become the latest celebrity horse trainer after her video went viral. And she's got training DVDs for sale too.

One thing I know for sure. This is going to be a long journey and I'll probably end up with a mash up of techniques until I find the one that works for both me and my crazy, spooky, horse that just wants to SURVIVE BEFORE THE LIONS GET HIM.


But if all I wanted was a ride, I'd just get in the car.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

My Horse became a dog, part 2

When Rudy walked up to Canyon, Canyon tensed up. He snorted at Rudy's hand then took a quick side step when he tried to mount him.

"That is a one person horse," he said as Canyon trotted off.

I figured Canyon was just being difficult and now I'd have the same trouble with him. So I went over to the other end of the arena and went over to him. Canyon stood still, head relaxed and lowered. I got on and he was completely calm.

"He doesn't give his trust easily, but he's given it to you," Rudy remarked, getting on Woody (who had let me mount just fine, sane horse that he is).

I realized that it's true. Now, after 11 months, something has changed. Canyon is willing to give me some rope. Not all of it, though.

We were on a trail ride today and he bucked and was generally freaked out at the start of the ride. He did a side step so fast he almost lost me.

Thank goodness for those velcro pockets.

I rode him through it, then he had a panic run. I could feel his panic and did all I could in the saddle to reassure him. I let him run a bit, gradually slowing him down. I had to remain dead calm and this time, I managed it. But he was still bratty, still testing me. At one point I had to give him a solid smack on the hindquarters when he was acting up. Then he settled down a bit.

While we got through it, its clear = there's a lot of work I need to do with this crazy horse to get him to a place where he really trusts me all the way. And I'm going to need help because I am beyond my abilities with this.

But he is coming up to me in the field, he's nodding when he sees me, he is fine until we get up to a lope and the energy and nerves rise. So maybe I'm back to day 3 in the stop the bucking lessons. Maybe I need to see about getting some lessons together with a trainer.

But I'm not selling him. He's my crazy dog and unless someone who knows a hell of a lot more than me tells me different, I'm convinced I can find a good place with this life that is in my hands.

As a result, I'm making the ultimate commitment a woman can make with a gelding. I'm buying new tack.
I'm buying a new rope halter from these folks, because if you'll recall Canyon lost his in his panic run through Guadalupe state park. At Black Pond they will custom out everything and the prices are fantastic. I'll post on the quality when I receive it.

Friday, October 24, 2008

My Horse just became a dog

(round penning, outside a round pen)

Okay, I know, I know. Horses don't become dogs. But stick with me for a minute.

All my life I've had dogs. And there is one rule with every dog - you adopt that life, it is yours for life. Through thick and thin, bad housebreaking habits, discovery of an astonishing lack of brains, propensity for chewing up valuable electronics, allergies to every substance on the planet (proving once again that some dogs are simply not from here - it does not matter. You work through it, period. As long as no blood is drawn, of course.

Dogs also believe in you. They come to trust that you will be there for them, that you will come home at the end of the day. That's why it's particularly tragic when older dogs are abandoned. They never stop believing and will forgive you in a heartbeat.

But I never really saw that with horses. I didn't see anyone with that level of connection. There were a few good horse people I'd run into, they had an appreciation for horses, no question. Still they were horse traders, looking for the next great jumper, cutter, team penning horse.

In the last few months I've met one person who seemed to connect with her horses on a different level. The kind of connection where she raises her hand casually and the horse over her shoulder drops his muzzle into it, cuddling in horse fashion. I admired that connection, but she lives with her horses, trains and teaches. Time and habit, I reasoned. Horses are not dogs. They don't get that kind of connection.

Then something happened on Sunday that made me reconsider things.

Rudy was demonstrating the absolutely gorgeous side passing of his horse, Woody. When Woody side passes, it looks like Fred Astair tossed on horse shoes. Five steps to the left, five steps to the right. Flowing tail like the tails of a tuxedo coat. Amazing.

"you have to teach me that!" I said, riding up on Canyon. I've never been able to get Canyon to side pass. It doesn't help that I don't know how to even ask for it, but even experience riders haven't been able to just get him to do it.

So Rudy tried to tell me what to do: pressure in the middle, open leg on the side you want to go to, little bit of brakes with the reins, little bit of pull off to the side.

We went in a circle. Canyon had no clue what I was doing.

That made two of us.

Very diplomatically Rudy said "Do you mind if I try?"

"Sure," I said, jumping off.

Now, I should mention that Sunday was the second day I hadn't warmed up Canyon. I spend a good 5 to 15 minutes with him in the round pen, religiously. But lately he's been coming up to me in the field, backing and responding well immediately and I've thought that maybe we didn't really need any round pen time. Just a feeling. So I just did a few things - check the brakes, a trainer told me - and got on. He was perfectly still and willing.

(by the way, here's how I was taught to check the brakes on my horse:
  • First try backing him with the least possible pressure, either just a gesture or the lightest touch on his chest. If he backs, that's a good sign.
  • Then place one finger in the halter under his chin and pull downward very, very lightly. If your horse drops his head easily then you've got great brakes.)

Something happened when I got off of him and walked over to Rudy's horse. Something I never expected.

(continued tomorrow)

Saturday, October 18, 2008


This afternoon, Spirit was put to sleep.

I've been with two dogs when we had to finally let them go. I thought that this would be easier, I guess because Spirit wasn't my horse and because horses seem to come and go so much more than dogs. People trade horses, get horses specifically for certain sports, and only a few seem to have a strong connection to their horse.

Spirit, if he had been a person, would have been one of those people with a strong independent streak. The guy you can never buy a gift for because in a way, you never can know him that well. He had the distance that dominant people tend to have, the distance that makes them a leader also keeps them apart from you. Confident and bored with less confident people, but tolerant none the less.

But in the last half hour I was with him, he welcomed my stroking on his neck, acting comforted and quiet when I stroked him, pawing the ground in discomfort when I didn't. That wasn't normal for him, he hadn't liked being "petted" much in the last year. He was top horse in the herd and petting was for less dominant, wimpier horses. Yet now, in pain and alone, he was like he had been when I first met him. Accepting of comfort and companionship.

When Rudy arrived he led him to a grassy area where Spirit half heartedly nibbled at some grass. This was not normal, usually he'd fight to keep his nose in a green patch of grass. Now he took a bite almost out of habit.

As he lay down for the last time we stroked his neck and told Dr. Ball about him. About how he was great on the trail. About how anyone could ride him. About how he was in team penning for Rudy - plenty of cow sense but not the athleticism needed for the sport. About how he led every where he went.

We listened to the last shuddering breath leave him as he leaped into the sky, free of the pain in his gut, free of the halter, racing beyond the fences and into the fields that go on forever.

Spirit, we'll miss you.

Update on Spirit

Spirit's been in the horse equivalent of the icu for four days. He's stable but not progressing. The obstruction isn't breaking up. They have to stick a tube down his nose to remove the fluids they are putting into his system because horses can't throw up.

Horses, anatomically, are a one way road. What goes in one end must come out the other end. Otherwise it builds up in the stomach until it distends and ruptures, resulting in a terrible death.

We had a bit of hope for a moment when it looked like Spirit was absorbing some fluid. Less was coming out than what was going in. But that was just a moment's repise, apparently. Instead, he's stuck in nuetral. And with the costs involved in ICU, it's time to stop. The bills are already several times what this horse is worth... in dollars. And there's no guarantee that any more will change the end result. Some folks say if you can't turn it around in 48 hours, its time to stop.

I'm going to head over there to be with him for these last few hours. I wish I could do something, anything. I wish I could reach into his body and break apart that rock. I wish colic was cured with a kiss and a prayer.

And I hope I can be a good friend, in the end.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Spirit and his battle with Colic

(Spirit, when we first met him, loved to be petted)

Tonight Spirit, the sorrel 16 year old gelding that I brought to the ranch a year and a half ago, tonight he's at the vet. He's fighting for his life with an impacted colon. They don't know if he'll make it.


Actually, they don't think he will make it. It's just tough to type that.

When I met Spirit the first time, I was following up on an ad on dream horse. "Former lesson horse, very curious horse" the ad read. When I met him, I felt that connection almost immediately. He had a calm nature and I could tell he was a little sad. I know now that it was because he was a lone backyard horse. He literally was living in this guy's back yard who had very little time to ride. He was personable, liked attention.

So Sharon bought him and he came to live on the ranch, where we half leased him. He quickly became the guest ranch horse - the one every one would ride. Every new rider, every newbie was thrown on Spirit. He could be trusted.

He hated it. He had already been burned out on the lesson routine and now I'm sure it felt like the same thing all over again. He started to bite and got cinchy and that was it for my daughter. So I let Sharon know it wasn't going to work. I realized then that this kind of leasing, where we had a horse that we just borrowed between everyone else borrowing - it wasn't going to work for us at all. We'd have to get our own horse and it was too late to repair Spirit's relationship with Sierra.

Fortunately at that time Rudy was tired of working with a young horse he'd gotten, Scout. Scout was green, a rough ride and just not what he was looking for. Rudy liked Spirit and bought him from Sharon.

It took time, but Spirit came around. He stopped biting, even allowed Sierra, my daughter, to pet him again. He didn't have to give everyone a ride anymore and was fine letting kids ride every now and then. He and Rudy became a team. Rudy loves trail riding and that was Spirit's real interest. Arena work, while it was something he'd do, was boring for him. He was bomb proof on the trail. It was a great match.

Not that he wasn't challenging. He's a dominant horse, easily bored and needs a strong leader. Rudy was that leader and pretty soon you could see a big difference. Spirit was side passing up to gates, loping in the field with that beautiful smooth lope of his. I missed him, but was elated that he had found the right owner with Rudy.

Spirit has always been on the lean side, and it is tough to keep weight on him. He never looks dangerously thin, but he doesn't have the stout look of alot of the quarters at the ranch. So he's not a looker. He is never the horse that people on the trail will comment on. But in my opinion he was the best riding horse out there - if he respected you. That was key.

On Wednesday morning Sharon called Rudy to say Spirit had colic. She gave him a shot, and it calmed him down, and Dr. Blevins came out to see him. Spirit needed to go into the clinic immediately. Once there they diagnosed an impacted colin and he was very dehydrated. Since then it's been only bad news. He hasn't passed the blockage.

Tonight he's lying on the floor of a stall at the clinic. How did he get colic? We have theories, but it can happen for so many reasons, as Rudy said, we may never know.

He's had bags of fluid, but nothing is working. Surgery is too expensive and we're just praying that somehow he'll pull through.

I'm going to see Spirit in the morning, I hope. Our vet is staying with him tonight. I'm just hoping for a little miracle for a good friend and a good horse.

(Spirit at the clinic with IV fluids)

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Living with Horses

Now that my husband is actually saying he'd rather have a HORSE instead of a HARLEY (I had to pick my jaw up off the floor after that one), I've been thinking a lot about the work involved in Living with your horse Vs. Having someone else live with your horse. (Here's one of my favorite blogs on the topic)

It strikes me as one of those changes that might sound idyllic but is actually ... not.

The biggest problem of not Living with your Horse is that it's darn expensive. Feeding Canyon is pretty cheap, maybe $100 a month. Board, though, is $370 - $400, depending on if he's in an inside stall and pooping on shavings.

Speaking of which, here's a nice article on horse expenses from First Horse.

(I just started on ACCO feeds. Canyon eats just 3 lb of grain a day. Easy keeper! No, they aren't giving me a dime. Darn shame, if you ask me.)

So adding another horse is another almost $400, not including shoes and vet care, where as at home it's another $100 a month (again, not including shoes and vet). Beyond food, the rest of our money would be going into land, an investment. One a little more stable (pun intended) than anything on Wall Street.

The other big problem is time. Our stables is a 20 minute drive from our home, so it's 40 minutes just in transit. I can't just go outside and ride, or even just bond. It's two hours just to visit, three if we're actually going to DO anything.

But it sure is a lot of work. This week I've been busy at home and haven't even been at the stables. That's fine, because there is someone there to take care of things. I don't shovel, feed, water or anything.

But what if there wasn't anyone else? What if it was just me? Could I keep up with it? It is just an hour out of a day? or is it much, much more?

I suspect we'd be working out of a run in shelter and pasture for a while, so maybe it wouldn't be too bad, no more than the lizard, three mice, two dogs and one cat we have now.

I must be insane.

But I think it might be worth it to walk outside and just sit in the pasture, just "be" with a horse.

It just might.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

To treat or not to treat

(this one wins my best named horse product award.)

I got this little Q&A from my parelli newsletter:

My mare and I have come a long, long way with Parelli's help, and I really want to take it as far as possible, eventually to at least instructor level...but I cannot move forward! The problem is that my girl was very, very cinch sour. She would tense up just at the sight of the saddle. Then would yelp, and bite the air. Then would try biting me. I have worked hard and patiently with her. I even changed to a western saddle so that she wouldn't 'recognize' the saddle/girth. I have used all the methods discussed in the DVD's (I have Level 1 & Level 2, Liberty & Horse Behavior and the Success Series) and now she is much better. I can saddle her easily now, but she does have treats while I do so. I worry that I will not pass Level 1 assessment if needing to use treats. Even though these are methods that have been advised by Parelli, will it be taken into account or will I fail? It's a shame because we are continuing through into Level 2 now and I feel a bit like I am underachieving? I want my red string!!

You are doing a great job! Stop worrying about 'rules.' The first thing is your horse's acceptance and by figuring out what to do you are doing better than most people around the world with the same problem...even at world class level! Remember that Level 1 is about safety. If you are doing it safely and you've found out how to resolve this problem, you are more than Level 1. Stop worrying and just do it. Well done!

I used to be a big treater. Now I'm a minimal treater. GNH has written a bit (pun intended, as always) about treating. Some trainers are so anti treating that they seem a bit irrational, as if a treat at the wash rack is going to turn a horse into some sort of Horseible Lector.

(seriously, you can find a picture of anything on the internet)

I've had two different experiences with treating. One horse, a more dominate one, seemed to resent getting a treat, acting as if those of us who gave him one were clearly inferior.

Canyon was won over by treats and since I've reduced them they are positive surprises, but not expected.

Natural horsemen will say "the alpha mare doesn't give out cookies."

Well, she doesn't throw a saddle on either.

We ran into this challenge with our dog, Dyno. Sierra, who is 10, is interested in agility. So we went to a training group that preps for agility. One problem.

All they do is use treats. Sierra hasn't trained her dog using treats, and frankly, she's done a darn good job training him. Instead he's ball obsessed and will do anything for a few tosses. Here's a video of how she's trained him.

So she's taught me that you don't need little bits of hot dog to train your dog. I don't think you need to have treats to train your horse either.

But I still think every animal welcomes a variety of rewards and rewards can bridge to behavior. And Canyon, who now greets only gets a treat now in the wash rack.

Missing riding, surfing horse porn. Again.

It's been crazy this week and I haven't been able to ride all week.

So instead I've been shopping. Mentally. Haven't pulled the trigger on anything, but here is my current favorite place to check out for a new horse.

and here's one horse I'd love to check out.

The reason? I sent them an email inquiring about a horse and here's the response I got.

Tanner is out on a week trail will know if she is keeping him saturday. However I would not sell tanner for a ten year old. I am going to place two real nice Paint gelding for sale this week. One is gaited the other is not both for this horse are child safe. But I have to see your child ride to really know if I have a horse that will fit there riding abulity. Some people will sell you any horse they have we dont do that we want to put you with a horse that you can use and enjoy. Rocky would have made you a great boy for your child but he sold sunday. Watch the web site for Arizona and Destiny I plan to take photos today and place them on the web site may not get them on tonight but this week

That's the kind of place I feel I'd find the right horse - even if they are in MICHIGAN. My sister lives in Chicago. Not that she could go and check him out - she's terrified of horses - but I could drop by and visit.

I've been told to find a gaited horse at a good price I need to go north and east. A quick search of Horsetopia shows that it's true. Just like we are thick with Quarters, they are thick with TWH. (CAUTION, HORSE PORN AHEAD)

Of course there is the considerable transportation cost, but with gas prices heading down, it might not be so bad. TWH locally are pretty darn expensive around here, so it seems like a good idea.

In the meantime, I've listed Canyon. I'm going to video tape him Saturday. I have no high hopes for him moving anytime soon, but you never know. There is someone out there who's just right for him, hopefully they are out there looking.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Another Horse? Hey, you don't have to tell me twice.

Canyon, wondering what the heck that is on his butt.

We need another horse. And it’s all Woody’s fault.

This weekend we went for the longest trail ride I’ve ever been on. We were invited by Rudy, my fellow horse geek, to an annual trail ride in South Texas. And when I say South Texas I mean the absolute middle of nowhere South Texas. The “wow, how many farm to market roads can you go on in four hours” middle of nowhere.

It’s here I discovered something about myself. I’m not exactly the person who “works” a party, meeting people. However, that perfectly normal level of shyness disappears if you put me around people on a saddle. I can talk to anyone on a horse. By the end of the trail ride, Rudy asked me if I knew all these people.

“Well I do now,” I said personably.

Our whole family, Sierra, 10, Mireya, 6, and Adam descended on Rudy’s hunting cabin at midnight on Friday, unloaded horses and prepared for the next day, when we’d be on a 12 mile trail ride finishing off with a parade.

A parade! Yes, I’m still about six years old. I love parades and there’s nothing better than being in one. Being the waver instead of the wavee is definitely the way to go.

So needless to say, I was pumped. We woke up early headed down another series of farm to market roads to the start of the trail ride. Dozens of horses were being unloaded from trailers, horses that looked like they would have been more comfortable chasing down cows instead of following the porta potty trailer. The trail ride was part of a celebration of the ranch community in South Texas - which is bigger than I ever realized. Hey, they even have a web page.

I’ve never registered for a trail ride before, and I was a little taken back my how the horses were shown as official entrants – a very large orange x was drawn on every butt.

“Are they marking them for slaughter?” part of our horse crew asked. One person decided to take advantage of the availability of the marker and added “for sale” on his horse's hind end.

This event is an annual ride from Realitos to Concepcion and there were well over 100 horses there, all in various stages of training. Our daughters, who watched a man trying to ride a mare that broke a lead when they tried to bit her and bucked him off when he got in the saddle, decided to ride later in the day when things had calmed down. All kinds of riders were out too – some were riding for the FIRST TIME.

Okay, maybe I’m crazy, but IMHO the first time you get on a horse should not be on a 12 mile trail ride. Heck, most of these HORSES hadn’t had the experience of riding next to a road for 2 miles, let alone 12. So they all spend some time early on with spooking at bags, other horses, trailers, and in the case of Canyon, doors that slam on the port-a-potty trailer when you are walking by it. It’s a place where it’s good if you’ve got a halfway decent seat.

And boy, are you are going to be in it for a long time (which is why I’m very grateful to the old cowboy that taught me to ride side saddle for a bit to save the buns). Can you imagine what it’s going to feel like to walk the next day if you’ve never done anything on a horse? Could you even move?

Fortunately the entire way there was a long line of support vehicles to provide water and adult beverages, trailers to pick up sagging horses and riders, a small dog that rode on top of a golf cart as a surreal mascot, and loud ranchera music floating out under beautiful blue skies, white puffy clouds drifting by on a light breeze. We even stopped after six miles for carne guisada and water for the horses.

I am so hooked. And so is Adam, who rode Woody for half the ride and had to be pried out of the saddle. “I want my own horse,” he said. “I love this horse. You’re going to have to buy me a horse.”

So now I wonder – do I get another horse sooner rather than later? And therefore do I keep Canyon? AHHHHHHH! I’m going to drive myself insane. Of course we probably have to wait to get our own place because board on two horses is waay too much for us. But that hasn't stopped me from looking. I'd like to find a tennessee walker or other gaited horse because he has a really bad back...

Canyon did well, kept going on a fast walk like the forward-aholic that he is, but behaved perfect the entire time, spooked just once in place. Sierra rode him for a mile or so, then rode double with Rudy’s daughter, Victoria, who is a new rider and somewhat skeptical about horses in general. It’s fun to ride double when you’re a kid, light and thin. Canyon’s Arabian heritage was shining through, he wasn’t breathing hard, plenty of sweat but no foam (Woody did great too, that horse is so athletic, I think he could have done the whole thing three more times).

In fact, the biggest challenge with Canyon was on Sunday when we were loading for home and suddenly the fly mask he wore for the trip down was the single most terrifying thing he had seen in his life.

(This is not what his fly mask looks like because I'd probably never be able to get it on him without laughing myself into a pile of manure. There are some pretty scary people in horse product development.)

What was THAT about? I knew he was concerned about leaving his buddies so we could load up, even though they were loading too. But the new place seemed to give all new dimension to “buddy sour.” I lunged him for five minutes, patted him all over with the deadly fly mask and eventually got his focus back on me enough to get the fly mask on. Suggestions are welcome on what I should have/could have done.

Also, I learned that Canyon likes to travel backward in the trailer. I don’t tie him because of something I read in a John Lyons book, so he can turn around, stand at a slant, basically make himself at home for the ride. Apparently he likes to feel the wind in his tail.

Me too.