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Equine Industry Issues

What’s all this horse talk about “respecting my space”?

The Halycon Acres herd naturally safely shares space with human visitors

Friday’s Opinion

It’s troubling to see so much being put out there offering formula approaches to reach every horse. The latest mantra seems to be “respect my space” and is often used as an excuse to dominate a horse into submission. This is especially prevalent among novices, who spout the term with conviction, nod in agreement to the need, yet fail to really understand what they are doing to the horse. Sadly, they’re getting this belief from some self-proclaimed professionals. Novices are sponges when it comes to learning, and I think we need to get a better message out there to ensure future happiness – and safety – for horses and their human handlers.

Do you really want to teach a horse to learn through fear, exhaustion or pain to surrender to you? Wouldn’t it be better for both horse and human if space was shared and respect was mutual?

Sure, there’s a time and a place to send a horse off, curtail rude behavior or demand compliance, but for the truly happy partnerships, this is rare.

Smart horses with heart make the greatest competitors if allowed to chip in to the team effort (although they’re certainly not the best mounts for novice riders). Given the opportunity to contribute to the conversation and goal, these horses will outperform more able equines on heart alone. They’ll also turn into eager pleasers once introduced to a human they can respect on their terms. Sadly, the respect conviction some hold, practice and promote that encourages an “alpha” persona (another misunderstood concept) can rob these horses of their spirit as they are demanded to conform to a process that doesn’t consider their input.

Additionally, young horses in particular (now often in novice’s hands) need to be heard, understood and considered individually in training regimens. Putting rote boundaries in place to teach the horse to avoid you until called doesn’t give him a lot of confidence (in himself or you) during the learning process. Some horses are timid, frightened or leery.  Such horses usually thrive when offered a kind, helpful and patient approach “in your space.” Using formula programs that discipline him for having the courage to approach you is counterproductive if the aim is a well-adjusted horse.

Those of you who follow this blog know we had a group from an assisted living facility visiting the herd at Halcyon Acres this month. None of these horses have been programmed to “respect” an invisible perimeter around people. It’s a good thing too, because the experience for these residents would have been far less rewarding – and probably more dangerous.

Instead, these horses are all asked to follow a few simple rules (get along or you’re out of the herd; go into your proper stall without a lead when you’re brought into the barn; no biting, kicking or aggression toward humans; I decide who’s coming in first – and last; and a few other basic requests to help keep all safe and farm operations running smoothly). They’re allowed to be friendly and sociable with humans, and relish the opportunity to approach known and unknown people for a pet and a visit. Of course, each gets customized training in ground work and under saddle training and because they are offered a say in the process, they are eager to have a job to do and choose to watch for and respect requests. Consequently, they can be trusted to be smart, safe and responsive when any human comes into the mix. It’s not about dictating compliance – it’s a mutual trust and understanding that develops from two-way communications.

I have to say, I don’t get this “my space, your space” approach. Of course, there’s a lot to body language with horses and with this arsenal, you can usually put a horse just about anywhere you want. So, it’s hard for me to see why training a horse to avoid you makes any sense at all. I certainly haven’t encountered a horse (at least not yet) that shines when respect is a one-way street. For me, I’d rather encourage horses (both client and farm-owned) to join the conversation and tell me how to make the experience fun, exciting and engaging for them. If that means the herd expresses their excitement at training time and jockeys for position to be first in line, I’m OK with that. In fact, it’s rewarding to have horses that not only enjoy training, but also anticipate the joy to the point they’re competing for the attention. If all were forced to succumb to a formula approach and were “trained” to “respect my space,” I don’t imagine they’d be so eager to saddle up.  Different strokes, I guess.

Therapeutic horses can merely be happy ones

Two weeks ago, there was an interesting call left in Halcyon Acres voice mail. It was from a driver for Ferris Hills, an assisted care living facility. He was looking for an outing in the New York Finger Lakes area with horses for residents to pet and see (or feel – at least one was blind). This was a first for the facility and a bit of a surprise request. Of course (sad as it is) liability issues were a quick consideration, but after reflecting on the herd and the opportunity for all in such an experience, we scheduled a date.

Yesterday, almost a full bus load (far more than initially anticipated) landed at the farm to mingle with the animals. Gatsby (our resident assistant trainer who’s also a 90-pound mutt rescued from the Rochester City Pound thirteen years ago) greeted the visitors before they got off the bus – eagerly climbing the stairs as the door was opened to ask for directions. He was showered with lavish attention as he rested his head on laps and responded with his usual and obvious glee.

Gatsby loving the love
Gatsby loving the love

We had two weeks to think about how to orchestrate the event (weather could have been an issue, but fortunately, the rain held off so mud wasn’t a concern). Upon reflection, it seemed the best opportunity for residents would be if the bus drove through the 26-acre perimeter fence (too high and too solid a barrier for some residents to gain access to the horses) to a pasture that housed the largest herd group where a temporary fence line could be placed. It was a simple, but effective approach that allowed residents with a variety of impairments to reach and interact with this particular herd of eight horses. Four gate handles and two very long strands of Bay Guard® electric plastic/wire product proved to be a marvellous approach. Of course, we unplugged the fencer prior to the arrival of our guests.

The happy herd welcoming Ferris Hill residents
The happy herd welcoming Ferris Hills residents

Fortunately, we also had a yearling on the premises that was kind, quiet, unflappable and friendly enough to trust with the group. So we turned Redford (a Thoroughbred, surprisingly) loose in the area where the bus would be parked adjacent to the selected herd paddock prior their arrival. As it turned out, he was so calm and friendly, one of the residents thought he was a dog.

Redford ready to board the bus back to Ferris Hills
Redford ready to board the bus back to Ferris Hills

The whole event turned out to be a huge hit for all involved. The horses came running when called and kindly, happily and easily made themselves accessible to the visitors. All the residents were able to interact with the horses without concern or accessibility challenges. Redford thought about getting on the bus, but settled for being on the quiet ready for any who wanted to approach him with a walker, cane or outstretched hand. The staff had a ball too, and insisted on a portrait with Redford. Of course, Gatsby was almost hijacked, with his consent, but he left the bus with urging prior to the final departure.

Staff members Victoria and Ron getting their requested portrait with Redford
Staff members Victoria and Ron getting their requested portrait with Redford

Horses are amazing creatures. Certainly, handling plays a role, but it is amazing how often their keen insight dictates behavior with humans who may be challenged, impaired or frail. This whole event was therapeutic for both the horses and humans involved. The farm-owned horses relish any opportunity to have a job. This was a new experience for them that they approached with delight. The Ferris Hills’ residents will probably remember this outing for the rest of their lives – with the added treat of being able to tease those that weren’t on the bus. The staff will be held as examples of creative and responsive contributors. Gatsby’s still smiling.

This spark of an idea (Ron – kudos to you for idea and effort to make this so) may become a future ritual. Sometimes it’s the simple things that mean so much (for both horses and humans).

Who’s to blame when boarding situations go bad?

Friday’s Opinion

Twenty three years ago, I lived in a city without the land to house my horse, let alone those of clients. I found an affordable and pleasant place that was a fifteen minute drive, well-equipped and owned by a kind, older couple. They weren’t riders, or horse owners, but had invested in the land and business to provide additional income and a retirement nest egg. The stable owners were willing to rent stalls at a reasonable rate while I provided full care for the horses (where I split up morning and evening feeding duties with another in the barn with a similar arrangement). Fortunately, I was there on a daily basis.

Founder fears

One morning when I arrived, a client horse was starting to founder. This was puzzling as the culprit was a young horse being started under saddle, feed and turn-out was supplied and controlled by me and this gal had never exhibited any signs of health issues or discomfort. As I’m panicked trying to get this horse to stand in a tub of ice, waiting too long for the vet’s arrival and worrying about how I’m going to explain this to the owner, the wife was ever-present declaring she was ‘in flounder.’ Bit my tongue on sniping at her with a correction in the frenzy. Turns out, she had been secretly sneaking huge quantities of alfalfa hay to this gal without my knowledge. There was no malice involved, but a good deal of stupidity in the mix. Fortunately, the horse was treated quickly enough to recover fully.

Who takes care of your riding horse?

It’s always puzzling for me to hear self-proclaimed horse lovers produce a myriad of excuses as to why they haven’t seen their horse in days, weeks and sometimes even months. Even if you assume the boarding facility is providing excellent care (which isn’t always a given), domesticated horses need attention and engagement. That’s something most stables don’t have the time or the budget (unless you’re paying them for this too) to do. Sure, most expect the barn to see and address health issues immediately, but it’s better to be informed and present to help address concerns they may miss because sometimes, they just don’t know.

I hear a lot of complaints online about what a boarding stable isn’t doing, followed by a bevy responses condemning the facility and absolving the horse owner. Of course, my first reaction is – why do you stay there? Usually it’s about money. My second is, what are you doing to fix this? Most shudder at the idea of picking up a pitchfork when they visit if the stall isn’t clean enough. Others claim their horse must have been mistreated in their absence because he’s weary of an owner he sees only on sunny weekends when the kids don’t have a soccer game. Still more cite that their horse has picked up bad habits and it must be the staff that created this problem, never considering that a horse locked in a stall with no attention for weeks might be a bit frustrated and bored and prone to pick up behaviors to help him deal.

Shipping out-of-state

Sometimes you simply can’t see your horse daily because he’s hundreds or thousands of miles away at a breeding, training or sales facility.

I’m still learning. Last year I sent a beautiful mare to points south for a live breed. I did it all wrong. I was too busy to make the long drive to visit the facility prior to shipping. Those recommending the breeder to me had never actually sent one of their horses there (which I discovered later). It didn’t occur to me to stipulate I expected e-mails and phone calls to be returned and/or to be contacted in the event of injury to the horse. From the condition of the horse’s feet on her return, I realized I also should have asked if they remove manure and urine from the stalls and run-in sheds.

When an e-mail arrived indicating the mare had been dead lame for a week, but they had finally determined it was an abscess, I was scared. The next e-mail, lambasting me for offering ideas on how to doctor her, put me in a panic. I spent hours on the phone and dug deep into my pocket for the emergency shipping request, but managed to get her back here within 48 hours.

It wasn’t an abscess, it was a puncture wound that had gone untreated for at least a week. She’s still not sound. All four frogs were practically gone. What was left was peeling off like an onion skin. She had lost weight and the sheen to her coat. Her eyes were empty and it took me a good four months to begin to get her spirit back. She brought lice (something we’ve never had here) back to the barn. Mostly, though, I’m sick about what I put this mare through. It served as a wake-up call that sadly had horrible resulting affects on this poor mare, but it’s a mistake I will not make again. This wasn’t a malicious breeder, just an arrogant, dumb one. Rarely will you find a situation that hurts your horse where it is intentional.

There’s a lot you can do to lessen the likelihood of an issue. Visit the stables (preferably without a lot of notice) prior to sending your horse. Talk to others to gain from their experience. Do a Google search on the farm. Opt for chilled semen instead of live cover (not possible with TBs yet, but give it time). Get a signed contract in advance and be clear on emergency procedures and associated fees, how often and easily they will communicate with you and stabling and other standard care issues.

Own your horse’s well-being

If you truly value your horse as a partner and friend, don’t relegate care and handling to another, even if you pay for board. When shipping is necessary, do your homework. When things go wrong because you’ve abdicated responsibility for your horse (and they will eventually), it’s you and your horse that suffer the most.

Today’s horses need our attentiveness, attention and contact to ensure a happy, healthy, safe and appreciated life. Weekends only doesn’t work well with most equines. They have been domesticated for too many years to enjoy unfettered freedom that feels like neglect and carry too many of the old instincts to be comfortable enclosed by four walls with no outlet or stimulation for energy and mind. A pretty place or slick talker doesn’t ensure your horse is getting the right care. Sometimes, seeing a horse you know so well in the early stages of a problem can mean the difference between quick and appropriate care and euthanasia. Plus, your horse will likely be a much more willing, eager and impressive performer for you if you show you care by being there – or ensuring someone else can and will if you are absent or must send him away.

Please share your ideas for best practices – or horror stories – in the comments below.

Whisper, shout or click – is your system hearing the horse?

Friday’s Opinion

“A gun gives you the body, not the bird.” -Henry David Thoreau, naturalist and author (1817-1862)

Getting a horse to do what you want is usually a pretty easy task. Most horses succumb to treats, threats, routine or demands if they understand your message. Still, there’s a difference between compliance and engagement. Today, there are a lot of training systems being touted as universal. Sadly, when template solutions are applied without regard to the particular horse’s needs, they tend to diminish the equine soul. Do you want a horse that responds to your demands, or a partner that is ready, eager and able to jump in and protect you when you face trouble or err? If your goal is building a partnership, consider how you can make your horse feel a part of the team.

Is it really a good thing to have a horse licking and chewing prior to turning on the training juice?

Kudos must go to those who have spent time with wild herds and offered to share their observations and experiences. They’ve given us valuable information to apply as we interact with our horses.

Domesticated equines, however, seem to have a different dynamic than those born free – at least when it comes to rapport building with humans and horses. Certainly, it’s valuable and useful to look at what others have learned from integrating with wild herds, but what seems to be missing from these teachings and lessons is the realization that each horse is different in how he learns and responds to human interaction. Sure, you can model training around creating a submissive horse that will respond to you demands, but is that the best way to develop outstanding team-players and performers?

The most respected domesticated alpha mare seems to earn a following with an understanding, protective and fair approach through a calm confidence that earns vs. demands respect.
It’s a rare moment when she asserts her prowess – usually done only to intervene if another is being victimized or to respond definitively when being attacked – as kindness and wisdom is her norm. Those that rule by violence and or intimidation and achieve submission get their way when it comes to first dibs on feed and water, but they’re avoided, usually feared and rarely followed.

This begs the question – what kind of horse do you want to develop? Sure, you can gain compliance with techniques designed to present you as an inflexible, hostile, demanding alpha – but do you really want to train your horse to drearily accept your demands? Wouldn’t it be better to foster a relationship that responds to the horse’s indicated needs and learning preferences? It might take a little more time, but the associated mutual respect you build will last for the lifetime of your equine partnership.

I see young foals licking and chewing when they approach some of the older horses in the herd (certainly not all – it’s the aggressive ones they feel a need to placate), but don’t see this from horses after they reach a year or two of maturity. Of course, one of my rules for permanent tenants here is that they get with the program – and part of that includes getting along with the gang. So, if a new member decides to be unnecessarily violent and the herd isn’t able to force a behaviorial correction, this critter is the last to be brought in from the paddock and the last to go out. If that doesn’t send the message and they continue to harass unnecessarily, they’re provided walking papers. It’s a rare equine that doesn’t get the message and come around quickly between the herd help and the human ‘alpha’ component.

Dominating trainers will sometimes prevail

Granted, some seem to go too far in the horse consciousness mantra, but those who continue to see violence, pain and domination as a good way to create willing and effective equine performers hit the other extreme. There’s a big difference between standing your ground and getting a horse to comply through fear, pain or immobilization.

Sadly, some who see horses as an animal to be conquered and beaten into submission are successful equine professionals. Some horses will succumb to mean handling and go on to be standout performers. Of course, this begs the question, how special could they have been if handled with kindness and understanding?

Do you click to deliver equine treats?

Few horses wag their tails in anticipation of a food reward. Most will, however, learn to do your bidding once conditioned to expect a treat for a trick. Sure, this provides a quick and easy way to ‘train’ your horse to ‘perform,’ but at what cost?

Domesticated dogs seem to relish the idea of begging for food, but horses tend to prefer to choose to bond with a human that offers some understanding and allows the horse to decide they’ve earned respect. Personally, I’ve found there’s few greater rewards than those that come from allowing a horse to be heard and understood in a way that makes them part of the conversation and associated training decisions. I’m not suggesting letting the horse walk all over you (far from it – few horses respect a push-over, let alone one who defers the decision making to the horse due to fear), but, instead, an approach where the human is steadfast, yet observant enough to respond to what the horse is trying to tell him. Sometimes, with the more challenging cases, the message may be ‘I’ve been taught to hate humans and want to hurt you,’ but even with those extreme scenarios, treats and clicks may gain compliance, but they won’t create a partnership that’s reciprocal. You need to decide if you want to ‘break’ a horse or ‘find’ him.

Do you want to really hear your horse?

There are a lot of books, DVDs, television programs and clinics that boast a method that will work for all horses and all people – if you do it right (experience a failure and it’s your onus).  What I’ve found in working with various horses over the years (and sure, I’ve logged a lot of mistakes along the way), is that the best training approach for every equine is customized. Some horses are timid. Others are scared, confused, frustrated, bored – whatever. It seems the majority that come to Halcyon Acres deemed dangerous are merely alphas that have either been permitted to rule by intimidation and/or misunderstood. In each case, spending time on the ground getting to know the horse and building a rapport pays huge dividends once you hop in the saddle. It’s important to try to recognize the issues your horse may be carrying as baggage from prior experiences along with developing a keen eye for concerns and issues he may be facing. Be a firm, kind, confident and responsive leader and you’ll find your horse may surprise you with how talented he can be once appreciated as an individual and given the opportunity to express his penchants.

The next time you feel the need to preach to another (or your horse) a proven method that is universal, consider hearing what your horse may be trying to tell you. Listen a little bit and you may find a gem you never imagined.

You can possess the horse fully – but do you want just a body with an empty heart? Some like trophies that allow them to boast dominating accomplishments. Those who strive for horsemanship, however, understand the greatness that can come from encouraging and engaging the personality of the particular horse with approaches that let him live fully and individually with a human partner that listens and understands.

Rescuing Off-The-Track Thoroughbreds (OTTBs)

Friday’s Opinion

Rescues and associated off-the-track Thoroughbreds (OTTBs) seem to be in the news a lot lately. Headlines abound professing the need to save the discarded, mistreated, abandoned race horses – usually with a call-to-action to send money. It’s interesting how often things that turn political turn south.

Years ago, there were people in the mix who made a buck or two (certainly not a fortune – most were in it for the rewards gained from experiencing the horse’s transformation and the new owner’s glee) helping these horses transition to a new career. Sure, they’d try to cull out the best prospects, but would then spend a good deal of time working to make these horses comfortable and able to handle new requests. As with any industry, you took your chances, but the talented had good instincts about both the horse and potential buyers. Compensation for professional training was part of the mix in finding new homes for these horses, but it made the experience positive for the horse, the trainer and the buyer.

Today, TB owners can’t give away a horse that’s no longer running competitively, rescues are over-flowing and adopters may get the warm fuzzies initially, but most are ill-prepared to transition a horse that comes with no training to help them understand the requests presented for their new career. Are the horses really better off now being dumped into a holding stall or pasture environment that provides no preparation for future demands or little stimulation during their stay? I don’t think so.

Do you think you’re helping these horses?

It’s an ironic turn that most of those screaming the loudest about the plight and need for salvation of the former race horse have little or no exposure to the breed or racing industry, and in fact, have actually fostered the demise of a system that worked. Who’s helping these horses discover, enjoy and excel at a new job now? Forget about ensuring a suitable home with someone who has the equine skills to help the horse continue on this path.

We’ve been domesticating horses for millenniums. Consequently, we’ve created a species that seems to seek jobs that are human driven (although it does take some skill to understand the needs of the horse in training and career choices). Robbing these horses of this opportunity isn’t a happy ending for most horses I’ve met.

Is the cure really causing no harm?

It troubles me to see some rescues so focused on the revenues and/or the opening stalls resulting from adoptions, they fail to pay heed to good skill and temperament matches. Most fresh OTTBs do not belong with kids or novice riders, but I’ve seen the push to convince a bleeding heart to “save” a horse. This cure presents tremendous stress on the horse and unnecessary danger to the human.  It’s sad for both the adopter and the horse.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not railing all TB adoption agencies, but would like to see a training component implemented as part of the mix – for the humans purporting to be saviours too. Few people seem to recognize that merely homing a horse doesn’t necessarily improve his quality of life.

Trainers and breeders are equally culpable. With rescues in the mix, those who are playing the numbers game without regard for the horse can now dispose of an equine easily and with a clear conscience by “donating” him to a facility designed to place the horse in “a good home.” Sadly, despite the poster children, this doesn’t happen as often as most would like to claim.

To their credit, although not TB specific, some seem to get the importance of schooling horse and rider where rescues are concerned (or sought to be avoided). According to http://www.thehorse.com, The Grace Foundation of Northern California is offering $10,000 in prize money through the Rescue Me Trainer’s Challenge and The Honoring Equines for Life Project (HELP) to train rescue horses. The Back In the Saddle Project (BITS) in California partners with riding instructors to offer clinics with the aim of reducing the number of horses in rescues. In Northwest Oregon and Southwest Washington State, Sound Equine Options works with rescues, vets and farriers to identify and encourage experienced horse owners to provide foster homes for horses with a voucher system as an incentive. It would be wonderful to see the Northeast follow the lead of these Western facilities in adopting programs that put training back into the TB racehorse transition process.

Careful which bandwagon you join

So what’s the outcry to save our racehorses doing to the horse today? Opinions certainly differ, but I’ll share mine. The lack of re-schooling at most rescues leaves the horse to languish during his stay. The perception created by the promotional messages and rallying cry of the uninitiated concerning the plight of the racehorse has led to a fire sale price expectation for all OTTBs. Consequently, racehorse owners and trainers who used to spend considerable time seeking an appropriate home for a good horse and/or a professional to transition him can no longer afford to do so. Trainers who used to have the expertise, patience and network to transition these horses for ideal career changes and associated homes have quit buying OTTTBs or gotten out of the business entirely. The costs and hassles associated with placing a horse in many rescues makes it prudent to directly place any horse that has a future elsewhere, so the ones that tend to end up in the rescues have major issues that are not addressed at the rescues and/or cannot be handled by the adopters.

Sure, there are stories of horses being saved and placed that are true successes for both horse and human. This is great news for all involved and may be worth it for the rest who suffer. Frankly, though, I wonder how much thought goes into the horse’s needs as more rescues surface, resulting in fewer OTTBs gaining the skills and finding homes for a new career that makes them happy.

Is there a better answer?

I’m stuck a bit on a solution, but I think a great step in the right direction would be for The Jockey Club to start tracking not only TB race statistics and bloodlines, but also TB sport horse achievements with the same fastidiousness they apply to horses in the racing industry. They already have the infrastructure to do this and a great staff at the ready. I know I’d certainly be willing to pay more to register foals if the benefit included better outreach and services to those interested in TBs for a career beyond racing. I imagine they’d find a new revenue stream with breeders and buyers of TB sport horses as well if papering such horses carried benefits for these industries. Most importantly, it would help the horses find a new life with people able, ready and eager to help them transition careers.

Former TB racehorses could also benefit from promotional activities akin to NTRA initiatives to expose the public to the versatility and athleticism of this breed. Of course, a good resource bank of advice and tips on selecting and transitioning the right steed for an intended new career should be a key component of this effort.

Apparently, there’s an organization that’s been formed to help support the TB sport horse, namely the North American Thoroughbred Society (http://www.hellohorse.com/). I know little about this group, as I just found them, but will spend some time watching what they are doing.

It’s sad that good intentions have been so bad for the retired TB racehorse. Broadcasting a message that these horses are worthless has paved the road to ruin for successful re-homing. It boggles the mind that most perpetuating this downward spiral don’t see what they’re doing to hurt the horse.  Until a new mantra – and a means to identify great prospects for casual and competitive riders alike – is developed to combat the sob stories fostered by a symbiotic relationship that helps all involved, except the horse, these former racehorses will continue to suffer.

Can a little voice go a long way?

Personally, I’ve always tried to find a way to be part of the solution vs. adding to the problem. Consequently, in the next few weeks, we’ll be posting a wonderful compilation by Monique Matson to the Horse Sense and Cents and Halcyon Acres websites on TB sport horse bloodlines. The content is subjective, but useful. This is the best resource I’ve found encompassing TB sport horse progeny experiences including career skills, temperament issues, country of origin, bloodline tips, etc. She painstakingly gathered comments from a thread she started on the Chronicle of the Horse website and added some great features to make this an easy list to scan and enjoy. Monique is a gem who all should thank for her kindness and generosity in putting it together and offering it to others. We’ll be looking to you to keep this resource updated and useful.

Are you willing to challenge the popular buzz that recently retired TB racehorses are garbage? Most of these horses already have the athleticism, heart, talent and a good foundation under them to start a new career with zeal. Support rescues that include a professional training component. Call out those that are encouraging those ill-equipped to handle the care and schooling challenges of OTTBs to adopt for pity sake. Together, we can save these horses by creating a happy new reality for both the humans and equines involved in the mix.

Equine sites worth viewing

Today, we feature three horse-related sites that focus on training and equine issues. All are professionally designed, include photos and/or video and offer timely information. Two are free blogs and one is a fee-baseed membership site, but it offers enough sample video and article fodder to visitors to make the trip worth the time. These are three very different approaches to the adressing issues in the horse world, but I hope you’ll find each equally interesting and engaging.

http://www.katelynkent.net

Through the Eyes of Equus is Katelyn Kent’s blog and website featuring training tips and ideas from riding through liberty work. She’s in the process of revamping the site and has culled down the blog to now include only training related posts, but has committed to new posts twice a week. Past posts included a lot interesting and sometimes controversial perspectives, and hopefully, as she refocuses this content, the former candid style will emerge again. This Colorado-based clinician has a fairly vast equine understanding to draw from with a focus on solutions guided by her concern to consider the horse’s perspective.  Photos and/or videos are included to help illustrate each blog post.

http://www.DressageTrainingOnline.com

Reisa Bonetti has developed an equine member-based site that provides primarily video tutorials related to dressage techniques, judging, training and riding. Visitors can view sample films (that are primarily snipets of what is provided to paid members), learn a bit about some of the standout players she’s indentified in the industry (world-wide) and gain access to the articles in the Community Connection. This isn’t a blog per-se, but some of the sample videos are useful tutorials.

http://www.theequinereader.com

This is a pretty good summary of equine news of note with a good deal of opinion included by Corinne Mehas. Posts are generally brief, pointed and timely. In addition to calling out issues regarding horse politics and initiatives, Corinne also sports some excellent links on the blog sidebar for useful horse blogs and equine industry organizations.

Horse blogs worth checking out

Looking for blogs worth a read? Here are our picks for today:

Horse wellness blog

http://sreinhold.wordpress.com

Stephanie Reinhold provides a tremendous amount of detail in terms that even a layman can understand on the anatomy of the horse, how what we do impacts the horse’s movement and health, techniques for relieving tightness, stress or discomfort and just about anything you may not have considered in how you may be hurting your horse. She provides tips for ensuring tack fits properly (her recent post on how blankets can hurt horses was an eye-opener) and a ton of useful information on the mechanics of the equine and how we may unknowingly be compromising his free-flowing movement. If you truly want to learn, this is a blog you should visit often.

What horses can teach you about leadership

http://www.thealphamare.wordpress.com

This blog is the antithesis of Reinhold’s, offering a chatty personal experience log of time spent watching the horse herd with some applications to human hierarchies, but Laura Hunter does it in an engaging way that provides some useful applications. If you’re looking for a quick and sometimes relevant connection to what you may be facing in your human interactions as it applies to horses, she provides some insight you may appreciate.

General how-to on working with horses

http://prettyponypastures.wordpress.com

I hesitate to even mention this blog because it hasn’t been updated recently (the latest post was October 2009), but there’s some good information presented in a fun and applicable manner. Hosted by a therapeutic riding center, there’s good information here for anyone who enjoys horses.  Linda Watson provides good pictures that demonstrate activities along with brief, relevant and interesting posts.

Good example of some creative blog strategies

http://www.lessordinaryliving.com/

This blog has nothing to do with horses, but provides quick (he even indicates at the top of the blog the read time – usually under three minutes), introspective and positive messages that do resonate with the wiring of many horse lovers minds. Mostly focused on self awareness, development and inspirational ideas, Phil Bolton offers a good example of a smart blog strategy for any industry. If you own a horse business, this blog is worth checking out because it offers some great creative presentation strategies that could appeal to your market.

Is the cause bandwagon really helping horses?

With the proliferation of social media and instant global networking, it seems every day there’s another opinion-driven outcry concerning what others shouldn’t be doing with horses. Unfortunately, most who support a pitch crafted to incite rarely take the time to understand the issues. This tends to be the case with any politically motivated activity (and regrettably, often those also designated to serve and appointed or elected to decide the fate of others), but it’s grabbing hold of the equine industry with a vengeance and should be cause for pause. Sadly, many fixated on the rallying cry don’t even have contact with horses, or in many cases, the equine industry.

There are usually at least three sides to a story – the opposing arguments (count that as two) and the truth.

Look before you leap

Any time a niche industry invites government regulation or assistance (read uneducated interference), there are negative ramifications that most don’t envision. Costs escalate. Who considers compliance demands, added operational difficulties, deep pocket influencers with their own agenda and the huge hit to efficiency in supporting client desires when they scream for intervention? Certainly not the masses who have no horse in the race, so to speak.

Over time, the rules put in place are completely counter-productive to the aim of the action. Just take a look at what’s going on with farming in US as an example of subsidies gone very wrong. Purported to help sustain the family farmer, federal and state policies are literally levelling generational, privately-owned farms (and our agricultural heritage and resources), while supporting corporate facilities and/or the city slicker with a savvy CPA.

It is always amazing to see a politician call a press conference to boast about how generous he’s been in securing money for us. It’s our money he’s spending so liberally – without our consent!

The horse industry and horse lovers have specific interests and issues that cannot be effectively addressed by legislation governed by a body of people who may only know a horse “as seen on TV.”

What cause did you join today?

Did you ask the government to take action concerning the BML mustangs? How’s that going for you?

Are you screaming to have the government intervene to keep the band of horses running free in Florida? Have you considered what happens to these horses when they are injured or sick? How about the fact that these are domesticated animals that may have actually enjoyed the job they were doing?

What about the multitude of Human Society hysterics over the cruel practice of hunting, carriage driving in NYC, leaving horses free (so they can starve to death) and, now it seems, allowing horses to be domesticated (they already are – we’re no longer dealing with an animal that is equipped or genetically programmed to return to an unfettered life and most seem to want to work with kind humans).

Are you lobbying the government to divert funds to maintain horse access to public land? Careful what you wish for here as it may come back to bite you.

Are you scrutinizing and reporting your neighbor’s apparent abuse while you toss your horse over to a boarding barn that “takes care of him” while you’re too busy to engage him in an interesting activity and/or give him attention? Have you considered how that behavior may be hurting your horse?

Have you bothered to take the time to learn about the cause you are supporting by seeking out contrary opinions and making a decision based on knowledge vs. hype?

Bring the heart strings home

Before you leap into the fray demanding that others consider the horse, try listening to yours. If you pay attention, they’ll tell you what they want, and it’s rarely what you suspect. Most horses, when given a chance to be understood, will jump at the chance to get engaged in a job they enjoy. If you’ve picked the wrong career for him or are not effective at striving for communications both ways, care for him enough to let him shine with a better match and go get a made horse already prepared and willing to do what you want (or an instructor, or trainer who can help you reach your mount).

Have you really looked at your horse lately? Is he bored? Overweight? Underweight? Frustrated? Difficult? Dull-coated? Cranky? Ill? Consider allocating some of the time you spend pushing causes that other’s propose closer to home by getting to know your horse better and listening to what he’s trying to tell you.

If you’re still intent on spending majority time arguing other people’s causes, at least get educated. Before you trumpet a message to the masses to get their equine house in order, take the time to research contrary opinions and the possible outcomes of your call for mandates.

It’s troubling that so much time and effort is devoted toward bandwagon efforts to control  the horse industry when so many horses are being neglected or misunderstood at the homes of those who are quick to condemn but slow to see.  Go hug your horse tonight and maybe you’ll learn more from that simple act about what horses really need from you than you ever imagined.

Consider the horse

There’s been a recent barrage of messages lately through blogs, online forums, DVDs and other platforms that lambaste those who use tactics that ignore the horse’s needs. Of course, most of these directives are worded in a techie fashion that excludes the neediest novices from the conversation. It’s also interesting that some of the more vocal horse advocates are rude to the people who chime in with limited understanding and questions in an effort to learn. It kind of makes you wonder how they really handle a confused or green horse when no one is looking (and sometimes, even when they have an audience). When it comes to horses, though, anyone who professes a single right answer to a challenge may benefit from some basic observation and the associated horse sense it generates – provided they’re open to learning.

What’s a horse novice to do?


That’s the beauty of the uninitiated equine enthusiast – and the danger. They’re sponges for knowledge and easily influenced by messages that seem to offer easy answers, but may be designed with a profit motive in mind that doesn’t serve either the horse or handler. It’s sad that some who may have the knowledge and the willingness to share what they’ve learned over decades of kind approaches to horse interaction make their words so esoteric, the most eager learners flee feeling too ignorant to grasp the ideas being offered or fearful of being judged  if they join the conversation. Those who really want to help the horse should consider how their buzz words and platforms designed to impress their peers alienate those they claim to want to help.

Let horses teach you


Horses are great at communicating – if you know how to listen. It’s hard for anyone who hasn’t had a good deal of experience with a variety of horses to be able to read what a horse is trying to tell you. Often, it’s equally hard for someone who’s learned to reach horses in a subliminal fashion to express to others how they do it. Sometimes, it seems those who hide behind words and concepts too abstract for the most basic learners to understand do so intentionally to hide their failings.

Draw from the experience of those willing to speak your language


So, how can the novice begin to learn how to structure a plan to consider the horse? Spend time watching your horse and seeing how he reacts to what you do. Mix it up and carefully observe what he responds to with eager enthusiasm. Try to find people you trust who speak to you in terms that are clear with an approach that is flexible and responsive to your horse’s learning and performance preferences. Seek out those who are able to express ideas in simple terms, and willing to demonstrate, graphically, how certain actions influence the horse’s behavior. Ask people who are getting good results and building great relationships with their horses how they did it – and see if you can observe them in action. Use your head on what seems right and fair and where tactics designed to create a compliant horse may not make a happy horse.

The truly successful are humble


Some of the most successful human leaders in the world are humble, accessible and able to speak to anyone of any status or education as a respected and appreciated peer in a language that is easy for them to process and implement. The same holds true for those working with horses in a stand-out fashion. Those who use communications to dominate, impress, posture, separate and/or put others in a place below their status are suspect – both when it comes to human and horse communications. Learning should be fun for all involved and those who can make it easy for both the horse and human to understand, implement and embrace are special.  Sometimes they lurk in the most unexpected places. Finding someone with truly selfless motives where both you and your horse are concerned (and some of these people may charge for their knowledge – but it’s clear early on that it’s not about profit, but satisfaction in improving the experience for both you and your horse) is a joy. If you haven’t discovered such a resource yet, keep looking. They’re out there.

More horse blogs worth checking out

It can be tough to find good horse blogs. These are some we recommend you take a look at if you’re interesting in finding news of note. We’ve taken the time to review the sites and provide summaries below.  Hope you enjoy these finds as much as we did.

http://www.equinevip.com

This is a website home page, but it reads like a blog. It includes videos and focuses on people who have attained status in our society and enjoy horses.  Interviews and coverage ranges from mounted police, horse riders and trainers, non-equine celebrities and others who have a connection with equine companions. The site has a registration and log-in feature, but the videos are available to anyone who goes to the website along with blog-like written content without a log-in requirement. Posts are not in chronological order, but they are fairly frequent.

http://irishvillageatweg2010.blogspot.com/

This blog is a lot of fun with videos showing the versatility of the Irish Draught and Irish Draught Sport Horse as a teaser to demonstrations planned for WEG at Kentucky Horse Park in 2010. Short copy makes this an enjoyable and easy read with the support of mostly YouTube Links to Irish Draught progeny (a very different breed than the American version of drafts) that will be featured in showcase events. Sarah McMullen has created a reference for those interested in updates from WEG with a special focus on the Irish Draught and a dynamic and timely resource to keep you alerted to new happenings regarding this landmark event.

http://thealphamare.wordpress.com/

This is a new blog with only three posts to date, but worth checking out. The author discusses some horse and training techniques along with leadership issues as they pertain to horses and people.