Monthly Archives: May 2015

Shifting Sands, Changing Tides, Shifting Weight

Strange title, good insight.

When Hurricane Sandy hit the New Jersey coast, Staten Island, and Long Island,  (New York doesn’t have any beaches except Brooklyn) it caused major changes to the landscape.  Since I was born in Brooklyn, grew up in Staten Island, and New Jersey, the pictures and stories really hit home.  I love Florida, I live here, and will be buried across the street from my farm here, but when they attacked the World Trade Center, I took it personal.  I used to work a couple of blocks from there.

Hurricane Sandy shifted the sands and made inlets that were never there before.  Other storms have closed inlets to form solid land.  Simply a little bit of intense water, with wind, and the whole topography of the land is forever changed.

Extreme tides can do the same thing.  We think of a simple tide coming in, covering a little more beach, and when it goes out we look for sea shells, and sharks teeth.  But look at the tsunami a while back.  It took people, animals, and buildings, forever changing lives, and a country.

As uncomplicated as these things are, they can have devastating effects on people, and properties.  So can horses.

What brought all this to mind?  Actually I was wrapping Friday’s leg.  Being a typical horse she wacked it somewhere.  No lameness, no cut, just a lump.  As I was putting the wrap back on, she shifted her weight.  Red Flag Alert!!!!  Yes it can be just a simple shift of weight to make her more comfortable, but what if it wasn’t.  Here I am squatting down by her back leg.  I don’t move as quickly as I used to, so I pay more attention to when I may need to move out-of-the-way.  She could have been just taking a step forward, she could have been placing her foot on more level ground, or she could have been readying herself to kick at a fly on her belly, or at me who may have been annoying her.

That’s just my point.  You don’t really know at first, what the intention might be.

Being a thinking, and hopefully, reacting horseman/woman, you should always be alert for a shift in weight.  It may not be anything, or it may create a new inlet in your forehead.  It is so important to be aware, at all times, of your horses body language, and muscle movements.

Today I was shaving the Clydesdale’s legs, and as I was poised under her belly I thought of the same consequences.  Clydes do have better brains and slower motions, but they also have bigger feet.

The first week you break a baby they are usually well-behaved.  At that point they are trying to figure out what is going on.  Once they get the balance thing going with a rider on board, they start testing you.  Usually you feel them tense their muscles and get ready to buck, bolt, rear, and you prepare to ride it out.  Zoey was different.  She’d be all on the muscle, and you’d think, ready to rumble.  I’d be ready for anything she could throw at me.  Nothing.  Then comes the Zoey logic.  Mostly when a horse has been poised and ready to do whatever, and they don’t, they will take a big breath and let it out and relax.  You in turn do the same.  That’s a Zoey got-you moment.  I learned a long time ago with babies to always be on the alert.  We were walking, I got that deep relaxing breath from Zoey and Bam! she took off.  To this day, twelve years later, when you think she’s ready to blow, she doesn’t.  When she relaxes and exhales, all hell can break loose.  Got to love her.  Hasn’t pulled it with me in years, but if I put someone else on her she does.  She still keeps me wide awake and on my toes.  I like that in a horse.  She, and the others I have owned, make me the rider that I am.

So my thought for today is:  Whether it’s a shifting of weight, or muscle movement – always be ready for the unexpected, it may not just be shifting sands.  It may be the tidal wave from hell.

Round And Round We Go

I was watching TV again on Sunday and an ad came on for a Round Pen, and I thought back to how many babies I broke without one.

Now a days they really try to make you think you absolutely have to have a Round Pen, or training as we know it, cannot happen.  When I was young, no one owned a round pen.  I don’t even know if they existed.  Back in the old days, when we used to walk 5 miles, through the snow, up hill, bare foot, to get to school (only kidding), we used a lunge line and a lunge whip, and I have many calcium deposited on my fingers to prove it.

Not everyone has the room for one, or the money to purchase the materials needed to put one up.

There are pipe round pens, plank round pens, solid round pens, solid walled round pens where the walls are on an angle.  Each one has good points, and questionable points.

Free lunging is close to impossible without a round pen.  I have chased loose horses, trying to get them back while they were dragging their lunge lines behind without a round pen.  But what doesn’t kill us, makes us stronger, and we don’t make the same mistake twice.

When we purchased this farm it already had a round pen.  Open planks, even planks on the gate.  Do I use it?  Yes.  Would I build one if I didn’t have one?  No.  I like the open planks because it allows air to flow through, and in Florida you need all the air you can get.  Many people don’t like the open plank, or the pipe round pens, because they want solid walls so the horse has to stay focused on the trainer.  Personally I think the horse has to learn to focus on the trainer with or without other distractions all around them. Eventually the walls will not be there and you start from scratch.

I understand the free lunging, but when I’m working with a horse I want him to also have the feel of me on the other end of the lunge line.  From lunging I go to ground driving so it’s one step of progress at a time.  I’m not in there to chase and play with my horse, as much as to teach them the touch communication of my hand through the line to his body.  Yes I teach voice commands too.  It makes it so much easier to get them to relate verbal to touch.

It’s so rewarding to get on the colt or filly you’ve been working with, and have him understand everything you ask the first time he’s ridden.  And it’s so less abusive to your body.  I disappointed my husband many times by not giving him a rodeo to watch, as my youngster and I just rode off into the sunset together.

So do you need a round pen?  It’s up to you and your pocket book.  Can you do it without one.  Oh yes you can.

Let The Punishment Fit The Crime

I’m sure I’ve written about this before, but here goes again.

I was channel surfing on Sunday and I ran across a repeat of one of Clinton Anderson’s shows.  I recognized it as something I had partially watched before, but there was nothing else on, so I watched it for a little bit again.  Just like with the Dog Whisper, I sometimes pick up on something I didn’t really hear the last time.

He was working with a very aggressive horse.  It actually would chase it’s owner around, going after her with its teeth.  Most aggressive horses are not born that way (if any).  We have a habit of making them that way.  He was trying to point that out to the owner.

You personally know that there are days where you, yourself start out just fine, but people keep annoying you until you totally lose it.  You know the old saying “That was the straw that broke the camels back.”  Most horses won’t reach that point and become aggressive, but some sure will.  Most horses will just shut down on you, and not move, but there are some that will take matters into their own hands/hoofs/teeth.  This particular horse did just that.

I have watched horses being drilled on the same thing over and over again until they lose the life in their eyes, or their willingness to even do it at all.  It’s funny, but horse people usually don’t mind doing things over and over again in a barn, (like stalls or sweeping the aisle way) but mopping that kitchen floor over and over again can bring you to the breaking point.  How many times have I just finished washing the floor and my husband will come in (for just a second) with dirty sneakers and I freak.  Or maybe let the dogs in after they’ve been digging in the mud.

Yes this woman apparently pushed this horse to the limit (I didn’t really see the beginning of the program, but this is what I picked up on from Clinton’s comments), but the horses response of attacking, was not acceptable behavior.

My point is that you should always let the extent of the punishment fit the cause.  If the horse just steps on your toe, by mistake, I certainly wouldn’t chase him around with a whip and beat the tar out of him (as Clinton puts it).  Usually your energy changes as you stand there trying to push him off, yelling ouch, ouch, ouch, will make him aware that he made a unknowing mistake.  Except for my husbands first horse Rosie who did this on purpose.  She’d throw her foot sideways onto my husbands foot then look the other way putting all her weight on his toe.  She was very good at that, and did it often.  He was whining about it one day after hunting, and I told him to get over it, it had happened to me a million times.  Just clean up your horse and go in the house.  Well it got to him, he sat down on the hay loft steps, and when he pulled off his hunt boot his sock and boot were filled with blood.  She really did rip the big toe nail off.  Oops, I’m bad.  Oh well as my mother used to say, “It’s a long way from your heart.”

Clinton made the comment that some tree huggers aren’t going to like the fact that he beat this horse in the butt with a whip.  He also made the comment that if this horse actually ran this woman over, hurt, or killed her, that there would be no remorse on the horses part.  He was totally justified in his way of thinking.  Now I love trees, and I love all animals, but I’ve never seen a sapling beat a woman to death.  But a thousand pound, angry horse sure can.

Yes the crime should fit the punishment.  But we must always remember not to overreact with our discipline.  Always think – Did the horse knowingly do this, or just not realize what he was doing?  How serious was his offence?  Even if it was life threatening, whose fault was it?  Don’t ever punish your horse for your mistakes.  Just go back and correct the issue.  If you are going to react, do it immediately.  If you don’t, he won’t have any idea of what he is getting corrected for.  He’s just going to look at you as if you’ve lost your mind.

There can be a fine line between correction, and abuse.  Temper you reaction to the severity of the problem.  If he’s trying to eat you alive, don’t just smack him in the nose and say no, no, bad boy.  But if he pushed you because he was trying to get a fly off his nose, don’t let all hell break loose.

Be a thinking horseman/woman, but don’t let a bad day cause you to overreact either.

Let the degree of the punishment fit the degree of the crime.

Enough said.


Who Was That Masked Man?

If you were around in the 50’s you’d well remember “The Lone Ranger” and Tonto.  I haven’t seen the new version so I can’t comment on that.  At the end of every episode, as they were galloping out-of-town, someone would always ask “Who was that masked man?”

When I put fly masks on my horses, in the morning, I always say that to Zoey.  She looks at me weird, since that is not part of her vocabulary, but she thinks I’m a little strange anyway.

To mask or not to mask, that is the question.  I don’t think that’s really what Shakespeare was thinking about when he wrote those famous words.  Anyway.  Some people never put a mask on.  Some horses never need them.  But some do.

Living here in Florida there are days (depending on the wind directions) that my horses are looking for a mask first thing in the morning.  And then there are times that they really don’t want them on at all.  Those annoying little bugs like to drink from the fountain of youth (tear duct) of the horses eyes.  However, there are more reasons than that to put a mask on.

The two Mustangs that came in from Tennessee reacted to the different allergens here in Florida.  Eyes got puffy and teary, which in turn attracted flies.  The mask helped keep the pollen out, and the flies away.

On a windy day there is so much “stuff” blowing in the wind (I don’t think that Peter, Paul, and Mary had that in mind when they sang that song either) that a mask is also a good idea.  Eye infections are a lot of work to cure, some more than others.

The UV rays can, over time, create sight problems.  Masks are a good way to cut down on the rays.  They’re easier to keep on than sun glasses.

Then I have Miss Savannah who has a pink nose that gets sun burned.  A fly mask that comes down and covers her nose is just perfect for her.

Before we had fly masks we used Desitin, baby tush ointment.  we made a circle around their eyes.  They all looked like Indian Ponies back then.  That is before we ever heard of Swat.  Then everyone had pink circles around their eyes.  I just always worried that they would rub it into their eyes.  They never did.

I have never seen as many eye problems as I have in Florida.  I don’t know it’s “just a Florida thing” I guess.   I asked the vet why, and that’s what she told me.  There are a lot of “just a Florida things”, but eye problems are something I could live without.  It must have something to do with hot humid weather that fungus and bacteria thrive in.  I don’t know, but it only takes me a couple of seconds to put a mask on, and take it off in the evening.  So why not.

So the next time you put on your sun glasses stop and think – Hey, maybe my horse would like a mask?  They have them now in designer patterns.  My girlfriend got one with sun glasses printed on it.

Even if you don’t live in Florida, and don’t have flies, saving your horses sight is “A Good Thing.”  According to Martha Stewart.  Well I don’t really know if she thinks that, but everything she creates she says is a good thing, so I’ll just borrow that from her too.  Why not.  Shakespeare, Peter, Paul, Mary, and Martha have all contributed to this post.

It’s a cheap insurance, to saving their eyes.