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Will your horse drink the water you give him?

Horse owners tend to be most concerned about water during the summer months. Some forget the importance of keeping it clean.

Colic can become a big problem in the winter if a horse does not have constant access to water. Just because there’s no concern for algae, doesn’t mean your trough, bucket or automatic systems stay inviting. Ice forms, critters can fall in and die and, of course, there’s always that pasture pet that delights in the sound of manure splashing into a water source.

We consider ways to ensure a horse will drink new water while on the road, but don’t always pay attention to ensure safe water intake at home. There are so many problems that can arise from contaminated water being ingested or, sometimes worse, not.

good horse care requires fresh water alwaysOne of the benefits of being involved in an equine community on Google+ is the scores of people sharing useful resources. +Anita Lequoia pointed to this video from the Gluck Equine Research Center in Kentucky.

It’s a bit long at 7 minutes, but Dr. Roberta Dwyer does a good job of reminding even seasoned horse handlers about things to think about when making water containers safe.

 

Do you check your horse’s water throughout the day? Do you pay attention to where you dump disinfected tubs (guilty here of not always thinking that one through)? Do you have tips that have worked well for you in keeping horse water clean? Please share in the comments below.

Are you listening to what your alpha horse is trying to tell you?

Even with alpha fillies and mares, there’s usually a good reason for an animated objection to a request. It’s rarely because they’re being belligerent. Before you jump to correct a horse for bad behavior, consider what your alpha horse is trying to tell you. If it’s a fair response, let it go and move on. Effective young horse training, assuming your goal is to develop a horse that trusts you and enjoys schooling sessions, requires you to keep the horse in the conversation.

This weekend, I was working with a couple of alpha gals.

Arab mare with an attitude

This young Arab mare was resisting the right rein a bit dramatically. This isn’t behavior I’ve seen from her before. She’s willful and opinionated, but has always been comfortable with a bit in her mouth and responsive to light hand cues. Anything else I asked of her was met with an impressive attempt to understand and deliver. There are times when it’s necessary to say no in a clear and commanding fashion. This wasn’t one of them.

There were good clues to suggest her reaction wasn’t combative. She responded willingly to all other aids. Working the left rein wasn’t an issue. Her attitude was kind, forward and eager until I put pressure on the right rein. She seemed relieved and appreciative when I went to strong leg cues for turns and left her mouth alone (ordinarily this mare would clearly communicate her annoyance to too much leg pressure). She was totally focused on me throughout the time we spent together.

The owner is going to have her teeth checked to either confirm my suspicion, or discount it. Regardless, something wasn’t right with this gal.

When working with any equine, but particularly with young alpha horses, it’s important to be able to quickly distinguish between obstinate push back and a fair objection.

Filly teachers her trainer a few things

alpha mares from Registered Irish Draughts are creativeOver the past couple of months, I’ve been working with a delightful 4 YO Irish Draught Sport Horse (IDSH) filly. She’s honest, expressive, smart and a super character that has this artful way of letting you know exactly what she’s thinking.

Recently, she showed her usual pleasure during grooming time (this always includes some good scratches in her favorite places – she still doesn’t quite understand my objections to mutual grooming). Her ears pricked up and stride animated as we headed toward the training area. As usual, she advanced through what usually would have required a week’s worth of riding time – in her mind – during the week-long training lapse.

During the week (while she wasn’t ridden) she had lengthened her stride a foot or more. Her frame was longer and lower and more relaxed. She’s always excited about the prospect of learning something new.

We started canter last week(end). She seemed to intuitively know when the request came. She took a stride or two to figure it out, but then transitioned to a lovely canter on the correct lead.

It’s a small area requiring some tight turns.

She even made the turn, responding to the left-rein half-halt and right leg pressure with ease.

That was more than she was ready for, but she was a good girl about it. No matter how long you’ve been working with horses, everyone does dumb things. I figured since she handled that so well – even commenting to the farm owner how surprised I was at this – to demand more.

You never have to guess what this filly is thinking. I closed my leg on her (she’s not super fond of leg pressure) and encouraged her to continue around what amounted to about a 20-meter circle. She let me know emphatically I was asking for too much. She was right.

She slammed on the breaks and reared. It was a fair complaint. So, instead of correcting what could have been construed as bad behavior, I simply let her finish expressing herself (it was brief) and gently asked her to take up a trot. We went back to some circles and figure eights at the walk and trot – something she was confident and comfortable with – then I asked for one last canter transition. She responded to the cue immediately, on the correct lead, willingly. After five or six canter strides – before we hit the turn – I gave a light check on the rein. It was time to give a good girl pat and call it a day.

Correcting honest expression with alpha horses can be hazardous

Things could have gone very differently with this IDSH filly. If I had gotten after her for her expression, she would have rightfully escalated things. She’d remember the conflict. It probably would have taken weeks to overcome her resistance (she is a Warmblood, after all) and resentful attitude toward training.

Horses seem to naturally appreciate and trust someone willing to include them in the conversation.

With most issues that occur with alpha horses, calm, patient insistence is a good approach. That wasn’t the right reaction here. Instead, riding out the tantrum with no reaction and asking for less was much more appropriate.

With the Arab, if this is a pain issue, it’s wrong to chance she might associate training time she’s come relishes with an unfair rash correction. She was willing, eager and focused with all else.

If your horse is acting out, consider asking why before you correct. You might discover interesting new ways to understand what they’re trying to tell you.

Have you found yourself assuming an alpha horse (or any other) was testing you but then came to realize something was wrong? I sure have. It pains me to reflect on some of the mistakes I’ve made. Or maybe you had one of those wonderful moments when your understanding caused your horse to melt? It’s your turn to enlighten me in the comments below. Look left and share, while you’re at it. Thanks!

Mean horses can surprise you in good ways

turning challenging horses into willing partners
Bred mean doesn’t mean you can’t reach them.

After more than a couple of decades in the Thoroughbred racing arena, I do believe some horses are born mean (or crazy). With no breed registry incentives for most owners (many never see or handle their horses except from the grandstands or winner’s circle) to consider the softer side of breeding, generations of speed-only focus have created some interesting results. Things like temperament (this does breed through), conformation (ignorance is big a culprit here), bloodline maladies, bone, feet and other factors beyond black type in a pedigree get forgotten in the race to produce the next superstar.

Sadly, few consider that that speed won’t produce win pictures and earnings checks if the stud produces nut cases that get banned, spindly-legged, bad-footed horses that break down or mean horses that are so singularly focused they’re unsuitable for a career. Mares that are mean, slow, crooked or heartless don’t help either (even if you got them for free).

You can turn mean horses with customized and thoughtful young horse training

That said, it’s rare for me to encounter an inborn mean horse in other breeds. Handling can certainly make a horse mean, but few are wired that way. In the last year or so, I’ve had the opportunity to work with a Morgan cross that’s just that, but so amazing in what he’s decided to do with it.

His father is vicious, according to what I uncovered after starting to work with this guy. You can tell his go-to place is violent. What’s so incredible about this gelding, though, is even with blood boiling, he wants to be a good boy. Give him an immediate acknowledgement for a try and his attitude transforms.

Of course, he’s one that needs boundaries and a swift response for those moments when his instincts overtake that alter-ego trying to come out on issues that have already been addressed and understood (which is curious – ordinarily this type of response with a mean horse will escalate things), but he’s decided he wants to learn, participate and be appreciated. You can almost see the warring factions duking it out in his brain as he tries to process what’s going on around him. Somehow, the praise seems to weaken the power of instinct with this confused fellow.

Be careful asking young horses too much, too soon

mean horses can be hard to reach but some can make you smile
If you dig deeper with your mean horse you may be able to reach him.

Recently, he was introduced to driving. This kid’s not the brightest bulb in the barn, so can only handle very small doses of input and insistence. It’s typical for young horses to be this way (he’s five), but much more so with this critter who doesn’t have a whole lot working between the ears.

Apparently, these driving lessons made him unridable. Over the phone it sounded like the young man performing the driving lessons had triggered his mean side by failing to praise and pushing too hard. On site, it became clear his trust was shattered. This gelding still wanted to connect and play with humans, but no longer had confidence in himself – and certainly not people after experiences that were too confusing for him to understand when he was doing what was being requested and when he wasn’t. It was incredible to see this boy, who is clearly constantly fighting a mean instinct, still wanting to be a good boy.

We worked through it in about an hour. The owner was smart to recognize the issue and call for help.

The joy you get from reaching a tough horse is priceless

Severe bridling issues were resolved in about ten minutes (he has a favorite rub spot between his eyes that has a huge calming effect) to the point that the owner was able to bridle him with ease – then and every time after.

Riding time was a joy after that as I joined the pair on foot through the trials. This was a horse that had previously settled best by moving to trot when concern was overwhelming, but now needed to stop, look and settle to resolve his angst. That was a thrill for his rider too, who was dreaming of quiet walk outings together through the woods.

What we discovered is this guy needed more one-on-one riding time with his owner to bond and learn before he was ready to take on new people, new demands and new approaches. While this gal is a novice, she has great instincts in responding to what this horse needs and does – knowing when he’s testing and when he’s honestly concerned. She’s still learning on the quick praise front for tries, but can see how dramatically the horse responds to this, so recognizes the importance of being there soon.

Once the pair get that deep connection under saddle (with rides being such a joy she’s now spending a lot of time trekking around to accomplish this), he’ll likely handle driving requests with ease – provided she’s there to encourage and supervise.

Instinct doesn’t always rule with horses

What makes me so fond of this guy (he’s not the overt endearing type) is his decision to fight what drives him, preferring a more engaging and fulfilling partnership approach to life. I don’t ever recall seeing a horse work so hard to stifle instinct drivers for a different reality. Watching him puff up and alter his ego in response to recognition of the little tries is an incredible experience. Seeing him quickly come back to that place after an encounter that would make most mean horses more resolved in their conviction to hate humans was inspiring. You gotta love that kind of discernment – particularly when it comes from a horse with less brain cells to rub together than most. What a special guy he is.

Have you encountered a horse that surprised you? Please share in the comments below. If you would, please also go to the left of this article and tweet, share, G+, Stumble or whatever else you’re into. Thanks!   

Horses can surprise you with how they react to moving

It’s been interesting to witness how Remi (my canine mutt) has (or hasn’t) handled a temporary move to the suburbs. While I’m not a proponent of applying dog training techniques to horses, I did find some curious reactions from her that reminded me of odd horse behavior I’ve witness.

Remi’s spent her life (from 11 weeks on) at Halcyon Acres® (the farm). She ran free with Gatsby’s keen and careful supervision and guidance. He kept her safe, taught her the property lines, showed her how to hunt – FAIL , and tried to coach her on farm duties– another FAIL. Remi was born a pet. Gatsby must have come from some serious work dog bloodlines.   

Although Remi’s usually heartless, I was shocked at how she reacted to the move. Interestingly, when I trucked the two remaining Halcyon Acres® horses to new (different) digs, they provided some big surprises as well.

Moving horses to new farms

irish draught sport horse filly
This is Leah during her first ride at her new digs – with a gal aboard she had never met. Want to see more (video)? Go to http://halcyonacres.com/horses/irish-draught-sport-horses/leah-idsh/%5B/caption%5D

I figured the old-steady, Dixie, a former impressive racehorse with a prior history of shipping to many different locations annually, would handle the move with ease. She walked on the trailer like the seasoned champ and kind accommodator she’d always been. All hell broke loose between when I dropped her off and returned an hour later.

Leah, the 4 YO Irish Draught Sport Horse, who had never been off the farm, was my big concern. I thought loading might be tough (it wasn’t) as I had only been able to get her standing on the ramp in schooling time alone. She was uncomfortable being first on, so we simply switched it up so she could follow Dixie. After our first stop (Dixie’s new temporary home) we simply took both off and easily loaded Leah back on alone. Now that she had ridden in this contraption, she seemed to understand the request and realize it was easy. Special thanks to Faith Stiles for providing such a safe and comfortable ride.

The filly shows us how to shine

Faith and I had each scheduled about 3 hours for Leah (we laughed together as we realized how wrong we each were with our private thoughts on the anticipated ordeal). As it turned out, it took about five minutes to load and another ten for us to unload, turn her out, see she was fine and then add her two new pasture mates.  

Faith had smartly brought ‘the girls’ into the barn so Leah could explore and accept her turn-out digs first, then get acquainted with her roomies. No angst, no issues, no big deal. Leah’s old-soul mentality was a factor, but we were still both amazed at how easy it all went. As expected (this wasn’t a surprise), Leah adopted the new routine in less than 24 hours and was a helper once she knew the drill – and continues entertaining the caregivers with her cleverness. 

Challenges with the seasoned mare

[caption id="attachment_3116" align="alignright" width="300"]pretty mare head shot Sweet, beautiful Dixie had a tough a time moving off the farm.

Meanwhile, Dixie, in a panic about being indoors alone in a new locale, busted through the rope/chain strung across the barn door where she was confined. We spent almost two hours trying to separate her from a tight herd of six with a gelding lead horse intent on savaging her. Ultimately, she did settle in, but the first week or so was dicey. How dumb was I to assume this mare would easily transition to a location away from the only place she’d known as permanent?

Fear can look like ferociousness

The things you think wouldn’t be a big deal seem to bother Remi the most (I’ve found this to be the case with horses too).

She has no problem with monster trucks, indoor living (being a couch potato is her new favorite thing), vehicle traffic or leash courtesy.

She’s terrified of cyclists, pedestrians and especially street hockey.

Remi’s always been a very attentive dog. Still, I was surprised to discover how adept she was at recognizing subtle cues from a leash without any prior training. If she’s not on my heels (her choice at the farm), she’s gentle at my side or in front. Animals who put primary focus on you generally strive hard to do what they think you want.  

This (spayed) female dog now lifts a leg and then throws dirt on her spot with considerable zeal. Gatsby never felt a need to mark his turf (he knew he was top dog).

Remi thinks everything is going to kill her so puffs up and sounds vicious with new sights and sounds. Gatsby assumed everything was safe until proved otherwise, rarely barked and felt no need to intimidate. He approached life with an amiable, fun-loving fascination. Of course having a jaw that could crush marrow bones and lightning-fast reflexes made his bite meaningful.

Horses can fool you in a similar fashion. Almost every hostile horse I’ve met is scared. True herd leaders are rarely combative, but instead, gain a following because of their calm and quiet confidence.

Helping horses handle new circumstances

It’s always interesting to watch horses adjust to new situations. Leah’s always been pretty fearless (her mom breeds this through) but has also had a life that’s given her no reason to be afraid. It’s easy to expect a young and inexperienced filly to be reactive. I guess Leah figured I’d never put her in harm’s way before, so there was no need to worry. Plus, she hasn’t been one to form strong peer attachments. She likes company, but doesn’t seem to care much who it is.

Dixie’s never been fearful, but she doesn’t have Leah’s confidence. She develops extremely strong peer bonds. Apparently, the farm provided a continuity she never had previously. Ripping her from that predictable comfort created a lot of angst. In hindsight, it would have been better to either introduce Dixie to one of her new pasture mates at Halcyon Acres® or figured out a way to keep her with Leah.  

Horses will surprise you. Sometimes retrospect provides great vision on equine reactions, but even when you’re keen about paying attention, you don’t see it coming. It’s curious that Dixie’s behavior was described as bad and Leah’s good. Dixie is a kinder horse. Leah’s had an easier life.

Of course, that doesn’t explain the dogs. Remi’s lived the Life of Riley. Gatsby’s suffered abuse and scavenged loose on city streets so long his skin to have grown over the collar on his neck. Genetics can be a wild card with mutts (and unregistered horses).

Still, knowing how to interpret what your horse is trying to tell you – and not making assumptions based solely on behavior, can help both you and your horse understand and adjust. Before you blame a horse for causing trouble, ask yourself what they might be thinking.        

 

   

 

Sometimes young horses and mature riders are a good fit

Special young horse teaches trainer a new lesson

It stands to reason that putting a young horse with a green rider – or a more mature tentative rider who harbours deep fears from prior injuries – is a recipe for disaster.  This year, I was again reminded that there are no absolutes.

Once in a while, you find a very special horse that goes against all the norms and, in so doing, speaks to you (sometimes it takes shouting – he’d been telling me what he wanted for a good number of weeks – probably more like years – before I actually heard him). Buster is such a horse.

Buster’s Born

I bred Buster. He was born very correct, cute and unflappable. I wasn’t overly impressed with him at first because he was so nonchalant about everything. Everyone who met him fell in love. At first, I thought they were silly to be so charmed. Later, I realized I was the fool. For so many years, I’ve been focused on spotting high level performance prospects. Such equines usually show their proclivity due to what that kind of heart brings into mix in early handling lessons in ways that make them challenging, but delightful when you know what will happen if such energy and precociousness is channelled.

Once I started Buster under saddle, though, I knew I was working with a very special horse. He was old in his wisdom while careful in his youth as he willingly tackled new experiences. With far less than thirty days under saddle (I’ve never had a youngster I would have trusted with this one), he was carrying my young nephews around and figuring out their confused cues for steering, stopping and going (they had never been on a horse before sans a single pony ride).

Young horse has to scream to be heard

Last month, a trainer friend stopped by Halcyon Acres to look at a few horses here for a client, including Buster. She brought some friends. One gal had broken her neck in a horse wreck and wasn’t even looking for a horse, but had decided if she was ever in the market, it would be an old, seasoned mount. I turned Buster lose fully tacked after I hopped off him (he usually follows me around like a loyal dog in such situations) and he spent the trip to the gate with his nose glued to her back. The next week, I received a call asking for some time with Buster that resulted in an immediate offer (it was a shock). This was not the home or career I had envisioned for this horse.

I had a lot of interest in Buster, from Colorado, to Virginia, to Pennsylvania – places where he would have had a much more visible and esteemed career, and the purchase price would have been significantly higher.

Buster chooses a home – probably for life

Sometimes destiny plays a role in life, and with horses. A horse communicator friend of mine called me to let me know Buster had chosen this mature rider and pushed me to consider his wishes. I spoke to the trainer who brought the friend and learned more about the buyer and the home he would go to.

Yesterday, Buster trucked out of here to a new home where he calmly walked off the trailer, surveyed his surroundings with an easy and quiet comfort, gave a heavy sigh and dropped his head to graze. He’s three.

This little kid wanted to do this. He chose a job that gave him more satisfaction than glory (and I don’t care who may argue horses don’t think this deep – in my experience, some do). Buster will take care of this mature rider in ways that might not be possible with an older and more experienced mount, because he’ll quickly strive to understand her wants and cues and remake his reactions to reflect her needs. This old-brained soul has never spooked in his life and is as sure footed as they come – important considerations in this situation. His new project guide is a seasoned and patient equestrian, so he’ll thrive with her attention and give her the confidence to get back into the riding game.

Horses teach you new things every day

I’ve spent decades cautioning against putting green horses with riders who are not seasoned and/or confident. It’s tough to return to riding as a mature adult, and usually, a young horse would be the wrong choice for an older rider looking for pure pleasure. In this case, I was proven wrong. It’s a first, and may be a last, but I hope not. I hope to have the opportunity to breed another horse like Buster with a more cognizant ear on his or her wishes. As hard as it was to say goodbye, I’m thrilled to have played a role (thanks for the help, Buster) in putting these two together. The idea of producing a horse that loudly chooses to be a safeguard and partner with a rider who needs him is more rewarding than I would have imagined. It will be so fun hearing about and learning from the experiences the two have together.  I hope she’ll choose to share her updates and experiences publicly through this blog.

Horse business profits can come from strange places

Because Halcyon Acres® (which doubles as a horse farm – makes for great fertilizer) includes a small produce business, I’m aware of the value of good quality compost. In recent years, the demand for aged manure has escalated with a growing number of people starting small gardens at their homes. We plant and tend about an acre and a half of vegetables, herbs and some fruits and roots by hand with a chemical-free approach. We’re focusing more on heirloom varieties or harvesting our own seeds as it’s getting harder to determine what’s been genetically engineered. So, knowing what’s going into the soil is important here.

We found using our own compost really improves the taste of the food. It’s also reassuring to have complete control over the purity of the compost.

Since there’s also a lot of land here, it’s easy to build and store a compost pile. Consequently, we can age this to a ‘black gold’ state and accumulate more than we need. You may not have that luxury at your location to pile it in a field, but there are a lot of creative ways you can store and/or market a waste product that’s been expensive to dispose of in the past to the growing numbers of home gardeners and cottage industry plant producers.

Make money with your horse manure

All you need is a spot to put what you take out of the stalls and time to let it age a bit. Some will even buy fresh and age it at their site. While common convictions state two years is necessary, we’ve found three months in a pile generating sufficient heat is equally effective for amazing plant growth once mixed with soil. It helps that we use sawdust (vs. straw, which takes a lot more time to decompose), carefully pick the stalls (so there’s not a lot of bedding that needs to break down) and deal with fairly large quantities (more volume and height means more heat for faster compost results), but it’s not necessary. Home gardeners pay a lot of money for commercial products claiming to enrich the soil. Your manure can do it better, cheaper.

If you want word to spread quickly, the key is to generate high quality compost before you start selling.

Many home gardeners belong to some kind of group or network loosely among themselves in other ways. Around here, we have ‘Master Gardeners’ who are certified by Cornell Cooperative Extension after something like 150 hours of community service. It’s amazing how many of them there are. We also have a lot of events ranging from GardenScape (a precursor to spring) and CSA trade shows to farmer’s markets and educations seminars. Attend just one of these gatherings and you’ll be amazed at how quickly you can find a couple of people who are well respected and connected who get buyers lining up to pay you for something that’s been expensive to dispose of in the past. With a few hours of research and half a day attending the right event, you can move a former farm operating expense over to the black side of the ledger. For a lot of facilities, this cost of thousands a year turned profit is a welcome relief.

Pricing and marketing horse compost

If you’re paying for weekly removal, don’t despair. So long as you have an area where you can pile manure (you’re doing this if you’re renting a bin anyway) you can at least find takers on give-away offers. They’ll load it into their pickup truck or shovel into containers (used grain bags are great for this – two birds). You can also build a bin relatively inexpensively. Often material you have lying around the farm can provide the three retaining walls you need.  You’ll need to verify anything permanent you erect complies with town code. It’s easier to construct a ‘temporary’ structure if this is an issue.

In cases where you help load the manure (with a bucket, your brawn or a spreader) you can charge for this without protest. Offer both options and you might be amazed at how many people are happy to pay for your help.

Local events, trade shows, farmer’s markets, seminars, cooperative extensions, chambers in some areas and Craig’s List are good ways to find takers.

Aged, quality horse manure compost is sought-after in almost all areas of the US. Spring is the best time to market this product, but you might be surprised at how many hobbyists and part-time resellers you find who delight in finding ways to enhance their green thumb year-round. Again, find the right few people to spread the word (a free sample to them is OK) and you might be surprised at how quickly your manure pile disappears while adding to your income.

Halcyon Acres® is in a rural location (town population 1830, county 25,000 – probably more cows than people residents in the area), yet we still have people thrilled to remove our manure for us – and pay for it. If you’re closer to suburban populations, the demand will probably be higher. Even so, we reach to Rochester (50 miles away) for demand. We’ve decided to price our aged compost at $10 a bag (you bring the bag – any size – of course the fill level gets lower once people realize how heavy this stuff is) for self-service. We also offer a pickup truck rate.

Interestingly, we found it was a lot easier to sell this stuff than give it away. Frankly, we have use for all we produce these days, but there was a time when we didn’t. It’s curious that now that we don’t need a disposal solution, demand for purchased product has increased significantly. It’s nice to have the extra income stream.

Get to the right community circles with good quality compost and you’ll likely be shocked at how quickly word spreads to people happy to give you cash to get your pile gone.

Use Horse Sense in your message

It’s critical to be honest about what you have. Word will spread as quickly if you misrepresent your product as it will for your well-kept secret stash of grower’s delight. If you’re forthright, though, people will share their find with their friends. Fresh manure’s OK for many who have a place to age it. Don’t try to sell this to someone, though, who believes they’re getting seasoned compost and then burns their plants.

The biggest paying markets for good compost are home gardeners and small producers of resale plants (mostly rare landscaping gems). In spreading the word, consider crafting a message appeals to these audiences. Whether it’s Craig’s List, Facebook, Twitter, Linked In, a classified ad in a Penny Saver or flyers you post around town, understand the passions of your most likely buyers in what you write and you’ll be smiling as you put callers on the waiting list.

 

Do you have jitters about that first ride off the property ride with your horse?

Act fast (before June 4th) to grab our e-booklet Preparing you and your horse for the first off-the-property ride for free

preparing you and your horse for the first off-the-property rideNovices and professionals alike get butterflies (and sleepless nights) thinking about how that first ride away from home might go. Of course, for experienced riders this usually involves a first for the horse, where with novices (hopefully) they’re on a more seasoned mount. In both cases, the angst you feel is magnified as you express it to your horse. Fortunately, there are things you can do at home to help keep both the horse and the human calm, knowing your horse is ready to trust you to keep him safe.

Of course, that adrenalin will always flow with the excitement of new adventures (for both you and your horse), but if you’re both ready to team up to tackle challenges, it will be a rush instead of a panic. Knowing you’ve built that bond makes your first public appearance a lot easier.

We’ve recently released a new title through Horse Sense and Cents®, Preparing you and your horse for the first off-the-property ride. You can find it here as a Kindle Edition and soon, as an audio title. If you grab it now (May 31th through June 4th) you can get it for free. Please consider returning the courtesy of this complimentary offering (we love our readers) by leaving an Amazon review or at least doing a two-second click (this book will appear on your Amazon page after you download it – just click the cover and you’ll be given an option to rate the book) to give a (five 😉) star recommendation.    

Here’s an excerpt from the e-booklet:

Homework for travel success

After you’ve established a good partnership on the ground, it’s time to carry the confidence you’ve built with each other over to under saddle work. Keep the home lessons short with big rewards. From your ground work, you should have been able to find some way besides treats to let your horse know you appreciate his effort. It depends on the horse, but some respond well to a ‘good girl’, others have a favorite spot they like rubbed or scratched, maybe it’s letting them jump a fence, eat some grass, nuzzle with a buddy – you figure out what really gives your particular horse great pleasure and use this to thank him for a job well done.

Obviously, what you do to show appreciation for efforts along the way will be different than the grand thank you at the end of a session. Of course, it’s always important to reward the horse for the try, so be quick about acknowledging his effort any time he does something you ask under saddle with a quick ‘atta boy’ that he recognizes as a sign that’s what you’re looking for with a reward he appreciates.

If you want to keep your horse comfortable and confident as you ask him to perform off the property, make sure you don’t over-face him or put him in harm’s way at home (or the stable where he is boarded). This means keeping the lessons short enough so he doesn’t get frustrated, only asking for reasonable progression day to day, being calm and encouraging with new challenges and exposing him to what he’s likely to see when you get to your destination.

We’re trying the KDP Select program for the first time with this title. We’ll decide, based on how you all respond (with action, comments, reviews, etc.) whether we’ll offer future titles as Kindle library loans and free downloads for a five day period (this is a supposed perk of this program) as they are released. Frankly, I’m not sure if this is a good idea for Horse Sense and Cents®, nor how to make it work. I’m not even clear if it’s something you all would appreciate. Are any readers using the Kindle lending library? Are you comfortable downloading free Kindle offerings (you can do this with or without a Kindle Reader, although they do make it harder without one)? WE have a large UK blog audience (and book buying populace) – do you have access to KDP Select titles and associated free download promotions? Have you seen KDP Select participants leverage this tool brilliantly? Would you be willing to share strategies you’ve seen done well with this promotional program? Any feedback, ideas, thoughts or comments you could provide to help us decide how we proceed with this in the future would be so much appreciated.

Please help me (us – it is a team making all this so) decide on what we do in the future to make what we offer most convenient, appealing and useful to you. Call, e-mail, comment or share to provide some direction on future decisions.

Thanks so much for any help you’re willing to provide here. This blog is usually focused on providing great free tips and virtually no promotion or requests, but I could really use some help from all of you right now to help shape our strategy for the future. You’re awesome!

   

Livery options for your horse

I’ve been getting a lot of requests lately from people or companies seeking a guest post spot on this blog. I’m always happy to consider topics that would interest readers presented in an intelligible fashion. So, if you’d like if you have something useful to share, please don’t hesitate to contact me. Sadly, so many of these requests come in from some remote subordinate who knows nothing about the topic they’re pitching. That doesn’t bode well.

This one caught my eye though, particularly given the large percentage of UK subscribers and book purchasers. The post below is provided on behalf of Vale Stables, which manufactures and supplies equine buildings. They’re based in Warwickshire but supply throughout the UK, Channel Islands and Europe.  

Which Type of Livery Do I Need For My Horse?

 horse stablin with stallsOwning your own horse can be very rewarding but it also comes with its own set of responsibilities. These include important criteria such as stabling, feeding and exercising. Often choosing a livery isn’t as simple as finding the nearest one. Instead there are many other factors that you might need to take into consideration. Here are the different types of livery stabling available and the advantages and disadvantages of each to help you decide the best option for you.

 Full Livery

 Full livery is the equivalent of a five-star service. For a weekly or monthly fee, prices usually include all hay and bedding, mucking out, feeding, grazing, tack cleaning, box rental and exercise. Many have excellent riding country in close vicinity and some have cross country riding and hacking trails on their land. They generally have a good network of vets, dentists and farriers on hand should your horse need their services. All staff involved in the care of your horse  are generally highly qualified.

  •  Advantages – Full livery offers a hassle-free service that gives the owner peace of mind. It’s an ideal stabling solution if you don’t have much time and simply want to enjoy your horse as and when you can.
  •  Disadvantages – Because of the services on offer, this kind of five star service doesn’t come cheap. Prices can start from around £150.00 per week and are often well in excess of this, depending upon where you go.

 Part Livery

 Another alternative to a full livery service is part livery. With this option the horse enjoys all of the benefits that a full livery service brings such as food provisions, bedding, mucking out, box rental and grazing, but this doesn’t include exercise.

  •  Advantages – The main advantage of this option is the price. Often part livery can be around one third cheaper than full livery and is more hands on.
  •  Disadvantages – Clearly you have to be available to exercise your horse, so you’ll need to make sure that you have the time to do so.

 D.I.Y Livery

livery building solutions for your horseDo It Yourself, or DIY livery stabling, is often the most popular kind of stabling. A field or paddock and stabling are normally provided in the rental price, but the difference is that the owner undertakes all of the horse’s needs. Often DIY liveries will include other services as an add-on such as mucking out or hay provision, but this isn’t included in the price.

  •  Advantages – A DIY livery offers a more affordable way to look after your horse and is good for those that have the time and want to learn or undertake all aspects of horse care management.
  •  Disadvantages – Your horse will require a visit at least twice a day. This may limit the distance you want to travel and therefore your stabling options, whereas distance from your home may not be quite so influential when looking at full or even part livery.

 Grass livery

This is a form of DIY livery in which a field or paddock is provided and sometimes a field shelter, but there is no stabling. The arrangement is similar to the horse owner renting a field or paddock except they aren’t responsible for the upkeep of fencing and other facilities. Fees are also often charged per horse and not by the size of the field or paddock.

  •  Advantages – In terms of cost it’s a much cheaper option and for those who have the time it can be a good arrangement.
  •  Disadvantages – This is often only a viable option during the grass growing season and when the weather is milder. At other times the horses will need to be stabled elsewhere.

 Working Livery

 Another option you may want to consider is a working livery. This form of stabling is particularly common around riding schools and means that the horse owner pays the riding school a discounted livery fee in return for the use of the horse for riding lessons.

  •  Advantages – You receive all the benefits of a full livery service but at a reduced cost. It’s the ideal solution if you don’t have the time to fully look after your horse yourself
  •  Disadvantages – If you’re particular about others riding your horse, then clearly this isn’t a good option. You may have to travel some distance to find a riding school that suits your needs.

 Finding the right livery for your needs and requirements isn’t always easy but by doing your homework and checking out your options, you’re likely to come to an arrangement that suits all parties.

 Vale Stables specializes in luxury stables and shelters in various sizes and designs. Find out more information online at http://www.valestables.com.

Finding buyers for horses in a depressed economy

halcyon acres
This is the cute Sears Catalog house (yes that Sears – came in on the train in 1926) that served as the primary residence on the farm.

For almost a couple of decades, I thought my dream life included retiring and spending my golden years (curious terminology for growing old and decrepit) at the farm.

About five years ago, I broke my leg in a very bad way with a bed rest layup that lasted close to three months. Getting back into shape and into gear took a whole lot longer.

I literally turned five trucks around headed to the farm with winter client horses coming in for starting under saddle training. By the first week, I was shelling out thousands in vet bills for a mare that had managed to pound a four-inch nail almost all the way into her hoof (poor girl). This went unnoticed by the emergency help hired until she was in so much pain and distress, she couldn’t get up. We did manage to save her, but it wasn’t easy. I felt helpless and powerless as I blacked-out struggling to get to the barn to diagnose and treat.     

halcyon acres truss barn
This old truss barn is incredible to experience from inside. At first, I was put off by the cow barn look, but that thick foundation and bank construction made the barn comfortable for all seasons. It iss amazing how well the earth moderates temperatures.

That was the beginning of a realization I wasn’t indestructible. I always believed my bones were too big and too hard to break (sans fingers, of course).  

Selling the horse farm

After the long and hard rehab required to get me sound enough to resume horse training activities (albeit at a lesser level), I realized I needed consistent and permanent help. My goal was to staff the farm with horse care and training support. The first was a delightful young gal who misrepresented her horse experience, but relished instruction and quickly absorbed new lessons learned. I donated a lot of time (while paying her to learn) with the expectation she would stay. She left after eight months to ‘find herself’. The last was a mature woman that quit via e-mail as horses stood tacked in the barn for her scheduled arrival time (two hours earlier). I figured wrong that maturity would bring responsibility.

halcyon acres truss barn loft
It’s impossible to get a true sense for the magnificence of the construction on this barn from a photo. This loft was 100-feet long and about three stories high (with a 7000 square foot roof).

Gatsby’s death last year (and our combined inability to school Remi as a suitable replacement) served as the final proverbial nail in the coffin. He was the best assistant horse trainer anyone could ever hope for. With him gone, I felt vulnerable schooling these young horses on the 117-acres of Halcyon Acres®.  

I was perfectly capable of hanging on and holding on, but it begged the question – why? Horses had been my lifeblood for most of my living years. Sadly, I realized that unparalleled joy wasn’t there anymore. I was burnt out by too much of a good thing. Farm horse demands, client projects and galloping had me often riding 20 horses or more a day. Injuries were starting to catch up. I was tired.

So, I made the hard decision to leave the next 20 – or 50 years – to another as caretaker of this beautiful place. This was just recently finalized (and it took every waking minute I had that wasn’t already committed elsewhere to orchestrate the move).     

Seven tips for finding horse buyers in a bad economy

There’s virtually no market for horses in this area of New York State. Many are choosing to euthanize – the irresponsible are simply abandoning (news stories are rife with tales of breeders walking away from a herd they created, leaving them to fend for themselves – very sad).

My first plan was to take care of re-homing horses before listing. Eventually, I decided to do both at the same time. I was shocked when offers started coming in immediately on the farm (I figured I’d have a couple of years).

It was time to get creative fast to ensure these horses found great and appropriate new (mostly lifetime) homes. The quality confirmation, bloodlines and temperament helped along with my reputation. What hurt was these horses were mostly young (the oldest Irish Draught Sport Horse was six) and hadn’t been campaigned. Here’s how I did it:

  1. The search for horse buyers went national (the kids trucked to buyers as far south as Oklahoma and west to Minnesota – with peer pairs sold together when possible).
  2. Horses were priced low enough to not only justify additional trucking expenses, but also permit serious vetting from me to ensure each match was the best possible fit for horse and human (multiple interested buyers for each horse) with housing accommodations, buyer personality and equine career intent.
  3. I encouraged people to check me out with equine professionals in their state – and talk to recent buyers of other horses from the farm. Amazingly, most were bought sight-unseen.
  4. HorseClicks proved to be the most effective venue (I had never heard of this site prior to this year – but found almost all inquiries from here were from serious buyers – and there were a lot of them).
  5. I offered some buyers a second horse (those that might have been hard to place) with the purchase of their primary desire. Of course, a great home, good fit and herd member buddy placement were big considerations here.
  6. Full disclosure always – conversations included discussions about any quirks or issues that might arise if/when the horse came to them. This ensured every buyer was a good fit (at least the ones that were honest – only one wasn’t and while I’m sickened to have ignored my gut on this one, the horses had already shipped out of state when I realized that pang was trying to tell me something I wasn’t hearing).
  7. Some horses were sold to a better home for less than what other buyers were eager to pay. These decisions were not only good for the soul, but netted extremely appreciative and vocal buyers whose word-of-mouth has been priceless.         
horses in halcyon acres pasture
Of course, the beauty of this property is all about the land. The horses enjoyed having a small part of it as their 30-acre pasture.

It’s been wonderful to hear how easily and happily the horses are settling into their new lives and homes. I’ve become friends with most of the buyers and relish the updates, pictures and opportunity to live vicariously through their stories and joy. I’ve been lucky to find such perfect new lifetime homes for most. All are enjoying being pampered by a human that’s theirs alone and are stepping up to exceed expectations in appreciation.    

What’s next with Horse Sense and Cents®?

Don’t worry – you’ll still be getting a lot of valuable horse training content, care tips, resources and creative ideas along with help with your equine challenges through this blog, our products and services. In fact, I’ll likely be able to gain some great new insight from perspectives and experiences gleaned from a remote approach to training that will likely require including the horse owner every step of the way. This will be a great learning opportunity for me and a way to give in more meaningful ways as I move forward with an aim to keep both the horse and the human in the conversation.    

We’re launching some exciting new initiatives (some are already out there) that I’ll update you on in a later post.

Stick around to have some laughs, find new ways to reach your horse and Enjoy the Ride!

Seven tips to help your horse weather a brutal winter

horse barn with melting snow
Enough of winter already! The snow even wants to hang on to the barn roof.

It’s snowing again – pelting and stinging missiles brought forth from another day (actually night at this point) of 30 mph winds. The horses here are suffering from this extended brutal winter, as am I. Last year, I was busy harvesting some of the vegetable produce from the garden by now, with (very unusual) temperatures in the 80s beginning March 15th. The horses were grazing on lush grass, dappled, completely shed out, robust and happy. This year, those remaining at Halcyon Acres® (the ones who have trucked out to anywhere else in the country had hair coming out in clouds almost immediately) are hanging onto their winter coats with zeal. It’s probably a good thing.

In the twenty years I’ve been at this Upstate New York farm, I can’t recall a more punishing winter. I can take the snow – and often relish it. We didn’t have much of that this year, but the frigid temperatures, non-stop whipping wind and high humidity (something new, yet seemingly all-season lately in this corner of the word) has made this the most challenging winter I’ve ever had in my more than 40 years of owning horses. Add last year’s horrid hay season (major drought conditions) and the transport of most quality forage out-of-state to the mix and it’s no wonder the horses here are struggling to maintain their weight. I’ve never seen anything like it (other horse owners in the area are expressing similar challenges).

horse barn at halcyon arcres with ice sliding off roof
It’s hard to capture the intensity and wonder of this sight in a photo, but this is the back side of that snow hanging on to the roof of the tack room at Halcyon Acres pictured from another angle above.

Perhaps locking a horse in stall for the season could mitigate some of these effects, but there’s a price to be paid for such an approach (well beyond monetary). Even with 24/7 hay, the horses are already shunning shelter to try to graze the 30 acres they’re confined to. Those coming in at night for manufactured feed and special hay (most of the time they might saunter over, but aren’t particularly interested) are galloping to the gate when called. I’m so ready for spring. These poor horses need it more than I do.

It’s probably going to be another year without a spring (my favorite season). Even so, I’ll welcome summer if it means and end to this punishing winter.

Seven tips for helping your horses weather a brutal winter

  1. Even if you’re against blanketing, when weather is severe, some need help. Older horses, those with sensitive or compromised systems and others who are struggling getting through a harsher or longer season than normal might need some help with warmth. While constant access to hay can help here, some need more. Just make sure you check every day by removing blankets to ensure no sores, rubbing or issues with bad fit. Take them off when the weather warms or you may risk pneumonia cases due to sweating.
  2. Rain sheets are a relatively inexpensive way (about $60) to give extra protection or help when precipitation is heavy, winds are brutal or for horses with heat loss signs. The issue is usually deeper when you see snow melting on a horse’s coat (it’s normal to see this in close to freezing temperatures or after a good frolic in the field), but at least you can offer some short-term relief by offering to help keep coats dry.
  3. Ensure water is always and easily available. Dehydration in winter is a common cause for colic.
  4. Provide shelter always. Your horse may not use it but at least offer the option.
  5. Give constant access to hay to help your horse generate body heat.
  6. Check your horse daily for injuries, issues and comfort. If she’s shivering, she’s burning off a lot more calories to stay warm and might require more help from you than usual. Run your hand across his back, shoulder, hips and barrel to ensure you don’t feel bone. Winter coats (and blankets) can hide weight loss before you see it.
  7. Pray, hope, dance or do whatever it is you do to call for spring.

P.S. I wrote this post yesterday. Today was a beautiful day (forgot what it felt like to be out in the sun) and it looks like we’re on easy street for the next week or so with lows forecast in the 20s and 30s. We’ll see if it lasts.