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Horse Care

Planning for horse care before you can’t be there

When you own a farm or are the primary care taker at a horse facility, one of the toughest things to do is to leave. I’m not talking selling the place, I’m talking a vacation or even a celebration day or two with family. Unless you have reliable staff that’s supporting day-to-day operations, finding someone you can trust to show up, do what you ask, and not create a problem is challenging. This is particularly difficult when you live in a remote area.   

Finding good horse help

I spent 20 years running a horse farm at my residence. During that time, I’d be on pins and needles any time I took a trek out of state for holidays or business. It seemed whenever I returned, something was amiss. This included everything from water left on that flooded the barn – not easy to do as this was a BIG barn – to hired help that simply decided not to show up. It boggles the mind.

Things happen when you don’t expect it, so it pays to be ready with qualified help when you need it.

My biggest eye-opener was when I broke my leg. It was a bad break that had me hopping for three months. Less than a week into my recovery, the hired help came knocking on the door. One of my mares was being stubborn, she said. I hobbled out to the barn to find a nail lodged three inches into her hoof. It had been there for days. Apparently, a head bob to the floor didn’t cue her in something was off. It took the horse refusing to move to get her attention.

The mare survived. I figured out how to get down to the barn twice daily to and treat and wrap the wound. That incident, though, made me determined to never put me or my horses in that situation again.

So many of us who care for horses skip vacations, shun travel and assume we’ll always be there to manage the herd. Sometimes, life throws us things we don’t expect and can’t predict. It took almost losing a horse for me to realize I needed a better plan.

So how do you prepare for the unexpected? Better yet, can you create a situation that lets you enjoy holidays and other events without spending every moment away worried? Yes and no. You can never be certain things won’t go wrong while you’re gone. You’ll probably always wonder if your horses are ok in your absence. What you can do, though, is try to set things up ahead of time to reduce issues and stress.

Test drive horse help

The worst time to audition horse care support staff is when you’re not there or are incapacitated. Wondering what you’ll come back to makes any time away filled with angst. You can’t predict everything they may face, but you sure can get a read on whether your intended coverage has any horse sense. You can also get clear on what responsible means to them. This interpretation varies widely, especially with younger adults. It’s almost never what you’d expect.  

Instead, consider paying someone at least weekly to first shadow you for training then do chores independently. There’s no guarantee here either, but at least they’ll know the horses, and visa versa, learned how you like to do things and demonstrated they can show up for more than one day in a row.

It can be really difficult to find help when you’re a distance from populated areas. Although my farm was only a ½ drive from a dense horse area, people seemed to feel 10 minutes was a haul. That made it tough to attract knowledgeable equestrians, no matter how much I was willing to pay. I eventually realized if I wanted reliable and happy help, I’d have to train them. Sometimes that’s better. It takes more time.

Mares with foals can be a a bigger challenge when you need to find the right kind of horse help
Babies come with their own set of concerns when seeking the right kind of horse help.

Consider the benefits of giving yourself a day off a week. Right, that never happens, but if your goal is to pay someone to handle most of the horse chores even just one day a week, you’ll be a lot better off when you need emergency coverage. The time and money you spend training them and keeping them loyal will be worth it. You’ll have more hours to handle neglected farm activities and reduced stress when you must leave the property.   

Watch how they handle things when they think you’re not looking. That will tell you a lot about how they’ll perform when you’re away. If they have a good work ethic, some common sense, and a desire to do the right thing by the horse, this bodes well.

I had a window in my office where all the paddocks and pastures were visible to me but others couldn’t see inside. It was the second story of a garage. This helped a lot in assessing problem-solving skills and an employee’s nature. If you have a spot you can watch from that’s not visible to your help, you’ll be amazed at what you learn.  

Listen to your horses

Horses are great at telling you when something doesn’t feel right. It’s funny, I used to walk into barns at the racetrack and could assess a trainer’s style immediately. That was a good thing because I was getting tossed onto a lot of horses I didn’t know. You could tell which barns pumped up the horses with hormones, which trainers were nervous and afraid of their equines, which shedrows had violent grooms and where the horse was included in the exercise decisions.

You have the advantage of knowing what’s normal for the horses at your barn. If they get anxious, aggressive or agitated when someone walks into the barn, listen. That’s not a good sign. Reconsider if the person you’ve chosen for help is a good fit for your stable care needs.

Guide with flexibility

No one’s ever going to be able to do things exactly the way you do. Sometimes, that’s an opportunity for you to learn too. People with experience have ideas and processes that may offer better approaches you hadn’t considered. Of course, people with experience also like to do things their way.

Training help with little or no horse experience gives you the opportunity to mold someone to do things the way you like them done. It takes a lot more time to work with a novice, but often the results are better.

Either way, it’s unlikely your barn and horses will look the same as when you do the work. That’s OK if horses are comfortable, happy and safe. If you get too focused on everyone doing things just like you, you’ll lose a lot of help and sleep. Realize people need some freedom to do a job the best way they see it.

Try to focus on and encourage the strengths of the staff you engage. You can comment on the items that frustrate you, but if you put heavy focus on this, you’ll discourage your help. Let them have some freedom to come up with solutions that work for them. You might be surprised at how impressive their effort becomes.

Finding help in remote areas

I’ve engaged everyone from neighbors to my vet in horse care coverage. Some worked out better than others.  

I was very fortune to have an equine vet buy a property nearby after years of challenges with the local “go-to” vet for every kind of animal – jack of all trades, master or none – or needing to truck horses to facilities where knowledgeable professionals worked. That’s a rare stroke of luck, I realize, but sometimes there are opportunities to engage the very best available for affordable horse care. I was on the ready to help with her farm emergencies or care needs too.

You might be surprised, though, who is willing to be available if you only ask. Vets, blacksmiths, chiropractors and all sorts of other horse professionals you pay to help you keep your horses healthy and happy might be open to giving you coverage. If they’re horse lovers and owners, chances are they’ve had the same challenges finding someone they trust to jump in when they need help. That kind of quid pro quo can be priceless.

If your tact is to depend on neighbors, make sure you spend a good deal of time “educating” them before you call on their help for solo coverage. That mare with the nail in her hoof – that was missed by a neighbor who had owned horses and claimed to be an experienced caretaker.      

Enjoy some time off  

Finding the right help to give you comfort and ease while you’re away is invaluable. If you spend some time paying and preparing help to properly care for your while you’re away, you’ll find it’s worth it.  

You really do need that occasional relief from farm chores. Whether that’s someone covering morning feeding and turnout or a week while you take that vacation you’ve been putting off for a decade or more, coming back refreshed will serve both you and your horses better.

Consider taking the time now to get someone in place that’s ready, willing and able to give you coverage before you need it. Whether it’s an emergency, family vacation, holiday retreat or just a day a week where you have an extra few hours to devote to things you’ve been neglecting, you’ll appreciate the break.

It takes some planning to be able to do this without angst. Done right, though, even if you’re in a remote area, it’s possible. Think about how much easier your life could be with someone on the ready you trust when you need horse coverage. Get ready before you need the help. Believe me, I’ve learned the hard way what happens when it’s done frantically. You don’t want to do that.

Horse happenings at Halcyon Acres®

It’s been a crazy month at Halcyon Acres®. We spent much of it struggling to get temporary water to the house, trucking it in to the farm and figuring out a fix. Last week we were finally able to get an available backhoe in here to dig a new water line. Might sound like a simple task, but wasn’t.

Diagnosing the problem took a while. First, we suspected the well was dry (we’ve been dealing with horrible drought conditions here). Seemed odd given the super producing underground stream, but I can’t recall a time when we’ve had so little rain fall coupled with high heat.

It wasn’t the well. Good news on the biggest problem front, but not so much on the ‘when will water flow’ question. Ultimately, we determined it the line.

By the end of the week a temporary fix was rigged. The problem was, we were asking a pump that was already working pretty hard to draw a longer distance and up an extra five feet of height. Holding the prime became a challenge. It was enough water to brush teeth, flush toilets, wash dishes and take rapid showers – all spaced throughout the day to put as little stress on the pump as possible – but we’ve been trucking water in for everything else.

The backhoe was a bigger challenge. The narrow, steep terrain, shale (and a foundation, as it turned out) and mud (getting to the well required digging through this productive underground stream) required a gutsy yet agile machine.

Seventy-five percent of the organic produce crop is gone. We had to resort to some insecticide treatment in the end.

The rain dances have paid off and water is flowing again at the farm.

Funny, I never realized how much I depended on water for most waking moments of my life. Now I do. It’s wonderful to find a new appreciation for something most of us take for granted.

Young horse training help found

Good kids horse for sale
Sweet Dixie charmed her rider who was aboard her for the first time.

This past month marked the hire of an assistant trainer. It took a while to find someone qualified. Many applicants had been riding a long time, but didn’t know how to do much more than be a passenger. Ultimately, we settled on a gal who was kind with the crew, had enough experience to be able to work with some of the greener horses and could operate independently. She set the compensation rate and her hours. She loved the horses, was awed by the beauty of the property and enjoyed the job. She pulled a no-show after a week’s time and later quit via an e-mail message claiming time constraints.

My wonderful vet stepped up and offered to lend a hand. This week we videotaped some of the kid-friendly stock under saddle and captured a bunch of conformation shots of others. Advertising will commence in the coming weeks.

I was also put back in touch with a lovely young rider/trainer in South Carolina. Some of the horses will be shipping down there for polishing and rehoming.

Remi’s stepped up and is trying to lend a bit of a hand with the horses in Gatsby’s absence. None of the horses have taken on Redford’s role.

Horse life on the farm

Crooked (she’s not any more – probably should come up with a new nickname) continues to grow and show how clever she is. She’s probably close to 15.3hh at only a year old and has a lot more growing to do. Her new game is to eat grass only on the outside of the fence. We’ve been doing a lot of work around here so the fence has been off. She knows it.

fun kids horse for sale
Cute little Midge is so much fun. You can see how intense she is in this shot.

Einstein has a different approach. He’s a jumper. Of course, he can’t seem to figure out he can get back in the same way he left. At least once a week I hear thundering hoofs and screaming through my office window. Fortunately, he knows where the primary entry spot is so it’s a merely matter of calling him and swinging open the gate, then watching him whoosh down the hill, corner the ninety degree turn at 35 mph and gallop full speed to the herd hollering all the way.

Midge hasn’t lost her spark. She’s loving being back in training. Riding her again is bringing back the old memories on what attracted me so much to this delightful mare. It’s so funny to witness her energy, enthusiasm and stamina. She’s game for anything, handy as can be and always ready to go, go, go. You can feel her smiling through every request and especially the new challenges.

Dixie is a gem. She was one of our video-taping projects. My vet couldn’t get over how sweet she was. This is another gal that was put back into training after a long hiatus. I forgot she’d never been ridden at the farm. She handled mounting with a stirrup and the trails like an old pro.

On the young horse training front, Judie’s old-soul mentality makes her one of the steadiest and easier horses on the trails. She seems to enjoy quiet rides alone. She comes running when she’s called and relishes her individual attention. As one that’s relatively low in the herd ranks, she appreciates a new routine that has her in the barn during the day. Clover and Leah are back in training too – both sharp little gals who pretty much started back right where we left off last year.

The herd’s starting to segregate. They were running as a band together until recently. It’s interesting to watch the dynamics. Sometimes you can learn more about a horse by watching how they interact with other equines than you can through direct contact.

Hope you all are enjoying the seasons and the horses that make them so interesting.

Introducing a new horse to the herd

It’s always interesting to witness herd dynamics. Just when you think you have the players and likely responses figured out, horses surprise you.

Heard hanging close together as usual

Grania has been here a couple of years (since her second arrival at Halcyon Acres®) and even though she’s now a farm-owned horse for all practical purposes (her owner died and the surviving husband has put decisions regarding her care in our hands), she hasn’t joined the herd – until now.

For a long time she was a client horse here to be transitioned as a future stroke recovery therapy horse. Sometimes there’s a good reason to add a transient to the mix, but usually it’s not worth the angst for the herd – nor me – to introduce a temporary resident to the home gang.

Judie, the client, a friend, New Mexico resident and determined survivor was getting mobility back from the stroke when she succumbed to cancer. One of her last wishes was that we ensure Grania was provided with a happy home for life. As an aside, we know ultimately it’s not here (Grania loves to train and there’s just not time to give her the kind of attention she relishes).

Finding company for Grania

Grania tried some initial posturing when introduced to the herd. She's the one with the wide blaze in the background snaking her head.

Recently, company became important to this previously independent loner. In the past, we found companions (victims) to put her with, but she usually responded with unwarranted aggression until they retreated to an area far away from her space and path. Putting such a mare with the curious and social farm herd crew could be dangerous.

Interestingly, Grania took a liking a to a docile TB mare that came in here for starting under saddle lessons, and later, winter conditioning training. For the first time since she’s been here, Grania allowed a horse to graze alongside her and even nickered when she left and returned from riding time. Grania’s buddy trucked out this month. Suddenly, Grania developed a desire to be near the other horses on the property. After she jumped a fence then thundered toward the big pastures (I stepped out of the way as it became clear she had one thing on her mind and halting at my feet wasn’t it), it was clear her loner tendencies had changed and so must an approach to keep her happy.

Over the years I’ve met some horses (they’re rare) that don’t like other horses. You may recall Lulu from prior blog posts. She’s home now and happily segregated into her own private pasture. We tried all sorts of company arrangements and tactics to help this filly learn to appreciate equine companionship. It just wasn’t in her wiring, nor a case of prior trauma. She simply doesn’t like other horses. Porky, my best ever farm hand, was another. She’d get along fine with everyone, but preferred human companionship to horse company. The more horses that came to the property, the less she liked it. In fact, she was happiest when she was the only horse here. Grania, though, is the first I’ve ever seen go from happy loner to herd attached.

Considering a new turnout arrangement

Crooked is the photo bomber in the foreground. She was facinated with the new introduction to the herd and the only one besides Leah and Judie who demonstrated a fearless desire to be friends.

Part of the reason we delayed culling a companion from the farm herd is because it looked like Grania would be changing homes to take care of a kid through the Pony Club ranks. She liked this gal and was an ideal fit with her joy of jumping, some exquisite foundation dressage training and an ability to handily adjust to the level of the rider aboard. That fell through and it was time to make a decision about how to handle her new desire to be social.

Since we’re getting ready to start rotational grazing, it didn’t make a lot of sense to allocate an entire pasture to a single horse or pair. In fact, it would have required two (six acres) to make water delivery easy and shelter readily available with the current configuration. So we decided to take a shot at introducing her to the herd.

Preparing for a safe herd acclimation

Judie and Grania are in the background - far away from the rest of the closely gathered herd. Redford's resting place is in the foreground. Still not sure what to do with the spot.

We picked Cowboy for Grania’s initial single companion. The two shared a couple of pastures adjacent to the herd with access to the other horses over the entire fence length.  This 8 YO TB gelding is one of the most amiable in the herd, big (16.2hh) and unflappable enough not to be bothered by her possible aggressive behavior. He also didn’t seem to have any strong peer attachments. Bad decision.

The first three hours were uneventful. In fact, the pair didn’t even go through any squealing or striking rituals, but instead, merely planted their heads in the grass next to each other and grazed without much notice of each other. Of course, everyone in the herd ran over to the fence line to investigate the new scene and gathered like soldiers in formation (wish I had a picture of this one), but ultimately went back to routine.

I was working in the vegetable garden when the sound of pounding hoofs caught my attention from more than a half mile away. The sight was horrifying. Cowboy, neck out-stretched, teeth bared and hoofs chasing at 30 mph went into an attack-mode frenzy (I’ve never seen this kind of behavior from him – and he was born on the farm) aiming for the jugular. I’m not entirely clear what set him off (didn’t see the engagement moment), but suspect he was reacting to a separation from Leah. She was running the fence line with the pair. I bolted out to the pastures, opened the gate, Leah entered and Cowboy exited.

That actually worked out better than I had envisioned because Leah was my second choice. She gained alpha status in the herd (we have several with this designation) because she refused to move when the most aggressive mare in the herd (she’s so not an alpha) tried to chase her out of the run-ins or away from water. She’s a leader that’s been appointed even though she’s never shown any aggression toward others in the herd. She’s only three.

Leah was great about being kind and accepting in her requested role as Grania’s baby sitter and short-term friend for herd introductions. I had promised Leah a single day of separation, but it wound up being two because Cowboy’s continued aggressive behavior over the fence line was a concern.

Meeting the farm herd

After the Cowboy incident, I was anxious when the time came for herd introductions, but fortunately, it was basically a non-event. Crooked (a fearless yearling filly) was most curious about this new herd sight  (she’d been with the same crew since a couple of weeks after birth) and spent time touching noses with Grania for hours. Leah helped keep her safe (what a gem this filly is) guiding her away from herd infractions likely to result in a beating. Grania did err as she tried to command one of the run in sheds as her own (she learned that lesson quickly and exited at a gallop), but didn’t make that mistake again.

Judie apparently figured the best way to show friendship intent was to introduce Grania to the only tiny mud hole available in this 26-acre pasture. It was amazing to witness Judie's willingness to offer herself as a fast friend to keep Grania safe.

Interestingly, Judie (yes, her nickname was given to honor Grania’s former owner while she was still alive – her registered IDSH name is Halcyon’s Keepsake – karma or what?) decided to be Grania’s buddy and secluded herself from the rest of the herd to provide companionship and guidance.

Maybe it was a good thing Cowboy went into stallion attack mode. It seemed to humble this mare that was previously an unrelenting aggressor. As I picked up my head from garden activity to see what all the noise was about, even at the distance, it was clear Grania felt she was running for her life. She probably was. Teeth marks (fortunately all superficial) were apparent along her jugular. She did get in some good kicks (mostly on Cowboy’s chest – all superficial but well-aimed).

Curiously (or maybe not – this is an incredible filly) Leah jumped in as the kind companion and artful leader she is with all. While she wasn’t initially thrilled about being separated from the herd, she seemed to quickly understand she had a job to do and managed to help Grania easily transition with wise and watchful counsel. She even stepped in to put herself between Grania and Cowboy when he became threatening with body language. Leah’s only 15.1hh and dwarfed by Grania’s bulk and Cowboy’s height.

I continue to be amazed at how intuitive horses are. Whether they’re picking up signals from me or jumping in to ensure a safe and peaceful living arrangement, I don’t know, but it sure is neat to witness.

Special horses can make you cry

Sweet, little Redford

This past month has been heart-wrenching. Days have been marred with a constant struggle treating symptoms without a known cause to try to help dear, sweet Redford recover. This takes its toll – on both you and the horse. The time and angst involved in playing the guessing the game without uncovering an answer can be all-consuming – and devastating.

Redford, a 14.2hh, three-year-old Thoroughbred gelding has served as my buddy, a source of inspiration and on-the-ready helper for so many different farm tasks. He began this ordeal with what is commonly called colitis, but can mean just about anything once you get past the outward signs and discover what’s really going on inside. Sadly, in many cases, this isn’t discovered until after a necropsy (or autopsy) is performed.

Redford’s always been one of these really special horses with personality, an intuitive cooperative spirit and a helpful cleverness that makes you smile. Everyone introduced to this horse wants to bring him home. He’s just always been a character with a kind, gentle approach that’s tuned in to whatever the person he encounters needs to feel comfortable.

Incredible horse helper

Redford becoming a handsome little boy

It amazed me to watch what I came to regard as ‘my little helper’ in action. We have a group of farm-owned horses at Halcyon Acres® that spend most of their time on about 26 acres of pasture spattered with run-in sheds where hay and minerals are provided as necessary. During much of the year, about half the horses get culled out daily to go into the barn for grain and/or treatment or training. We keep a routine, and that helps, but Redford somehow figured out how to jump in with influence to save me tons of time while adding a huge grin to my face.

Redford wih the herd

What struck me as so odd about all this is Redford certainly isn’t a herd leader. In fact, he ranks pretty much at the bottom of the hierarchy. Yet, I discovered if I called his name first when it was time to bring horses into the barn, he’d take notice immediately and start heading toward the gate. As I called others’ names he’d check to see if they were following. If not, he’d go round the ones indicated up one at a time as names were called and head them toward the barn. Every horse he approached would then fall in line and head down the hill as instructed. He only culled out those called.

When Ferris Hills came out for the first time (they do this annually now), we called on Redford to make the trip more fun knowing he’d stay safe. All other horses are behind a fence. Redford was a yearling colt (in-tact) at the time (he’s the one saying hello to those still on the bus).

One in the group was the lead mare and I couldn’t trust her to take the herd to the barn unfettered as she would occasionally delight in heading everyone off to the corn field. My first approach was to halter her prior to opening the gate, but this need stopped when Redford became the guide. All I’d have to do is open the gate and ask Redford to ‘take them to the barn’ if Midge decided she was going to pull one of her excursion exploits, and he’d get back on track down the hill with other horses taking notice and following. He’d go with the herd initially and naturally, but the moment I requested his assistance, he’d jump in to fill the role.

Sick but still happy

We started treatment with stall restriction but soon it became apparent he needed grass. For a week or so, he was confined to small paddocks for limited time to ensure the exposure didn’t lead to a laminitis issue. After that, he couldn’t be turned out with the farm herd because it was important to limit his exertion and this crew can get pretty vicious with a sick horse that’s been out of the mix for a time. The paddocks didn’t offer shelter or safe socialization opportunities.

So I decided to turn him loose, ultimately for about twelve hours a day (on those days when I was at the farm continuously). Redford, in true fashion, appreciated the privilege and kept me smiling with his wise and accommodating approach to this offering. He’d graze along the fence line to be close to the other horses when they were near the barn, travel down the cherry laneway, nap in the tree line or in his stall and return to the barn when he wanted shelter from the wind, bugs, rain or sun. Sometimes he’d sample hay from the stack, but never made a mess, nor did he get into the grain (besides the complete feed bag set out for him). He developed a routine that usually had him grazing all morning and late afternoon, hanging out in the barn in the early afternoon and returning to his stall in the evening just before last chores to be closed in for the night.

The one – the horse of my dreams

My plan was to interact with Redford at liberty for everything we did to prepare him for a riding career. He was going to be the first horse I started without any tack. I imagined the two of us riding out sans bridle and saddle tackling whatever challenge appeared with an understanding and connection that didn’t require restrictions, but was instead, drawn from a trusting and intuitive connection that had us both in sync in uncanny ways. We were already there on the ground so it wasn’t a stretch to see this during riding time.

Some dreams don’t happen

Something wasn’t quite right with Redford on April 15, 2012. We later learned things were very wrong.

Redford was born on my birthday three years ago. He died yesterday.

In Redford’s case, we did all the tests – blood work, fecals, belly tap, etc., etc., etc. There wasn’t anything that came back indicating an issue. When we opened him up we discovered cancer.

He spent the last month of his life spewing liquid manure, sporting a high temperature we often had trouble controlling, tolerating needles, dosing syringes, thermometers, baths to prevent scalding on his backside (he hated these but stood like a trouper when asked), losing tons of weight and demonstrating a positive and resilient attitude in the face of pain far greater than we realized. On Tuesday, he gave me ‘that look.’ I listened.

I’m going to miss this little guy so much. Every day he enriched my life. It’s sad we weren’t able to save his. I get things happen for a reason, but I haven’t yet figured out what I’m supposed to take away from all this. In fact, there are going to be a lot of tomorrows that will seem empty without him.

Maybe the lesson comes from the extreme kindness and generosity that poured forth through the horse community as we struggled to find an answer that provided a cure – or at least some relief for Redford. There were many, but I should make special note of Kay Aubrey-Chimene (in Arizona), Karen Miller (a referral from Lisa Derby Oden in New Hampshire – I didn’t know Karen prior to this challenge) and of course, my wonderful vet, Dr. Janet Wilson (in New York). It’s comforting to see time and again how genuine and truly caring the people in our industry are. Thanks to everyone for the outpouring of support through this ordeal. Each of you helped to make a very tough month a little easier for both Redford and me.

 

Horse wishes for the holidays

  1. My two front teeth back
  2. Horses that view shelter as their pristine palace and don’t hold it in then deposit with pride the moment they enter their stall or shed
  3. A sawdust pitchfork that doesn’t break on the first stall a horse care farm hand tackles (the same one that held a year prior to ‘his touch’)
  4. Time for mud to dry and be leveled before the next deep freeze
  5. Snow drifts that are satisfied with a height below chest level
  6. A winter without 30-40 mph hour gusts and 20 mph sustained winds sweeping across the pastures
  7. Fence posts that don’t wait until the ground is frozen solid to crack in two
  8. Ice-free ground for routes to pastures, barns and training areas (please repel ice from training areas as well)
  9. Hydrants that don’t crap out the moment it’s too difficult to dig through the ground for a fix
  10. A young horse training trick to teach Leah that has her cleaning out her hoof before she crashes it through the water trough
  11. Gloves you can work and ride in that actually keep your hands warm
  12. Boots that repel water and snow moisture that don’t have your feet numb after ten minutes of standing
  13. The secret to keeping warm while holding horses for the farrier
  14. Sunny days that don’t turn snow to ice
  15. A tractor that starts when it’s cold and needed to lend a hand
  16. Double-ended snaps that don’t require bare-hand warmth to function as designed
  17. Uninterrupted electricity throughout the winter to power the well
  18. More training clients who are happy to include the horse in the conversation when it comes to activities and results
  19. No more than 100 inches of snow
  20. Hoses that don’t freeze
  21. Furry coats that repel rather than absorb dirt
  22. An early, temperate and long spring

Of course, this is a greedy list for one, but bet I there are more than twenty-one people who are wishing for the same as winter attacks (sans the Leah request, of course). How about we each ask for one and suggest Santa share the gifts with all? What do you all think? Have more to add? It shouldn’t be hard to find additional supporters to spread the spirit if you want to add to the list. Yep, this is a bit of horse humor, but imagine the answers may be among readers of his blog.Please offer your deepest desire in the comments below as it relates to horses and we’ll see if we can’t build some Santa support (and will probably get some good advice from the readers with ideas to help make our wishes come true).

Many of you have been asking for this (particularly overseas, although we do have distributors in the UK and EU), and I’ve been remiss in not announcing this earlier – sorry. The Turning Challenging Horses Into Willing Partners book is available as a Kindle edition for $9.95. It’s a great Christmas gift for the horse lover in your life if you’re a last-minute shopper.

Exciting news from Horse Sense and Cents™

This might be the best resource you’ll find if your dreams include a career with horses in the mix

Wow – what a crazy six months it’s been. I’ve been working with over a dozen equine professionals to bring something together that I think most of you will find incredibly valuable and timely. Check out the Inventing Your Horse Career announcement below. Plus, we tore down the site, recoded, reloaded, incorporated a theme that should provide a much better experience for you and are working daily amending the pages to ensure you can quickly find what you want. Please let us know what you like, what you don’t and what you’d like to see more of as we continue to modify the site to make it more fun for you to explore.

Inventing Your Horse Career

One of the features we’ve added to the site is a search bar at the top. If you enter Inventing Your Horse Career, you’ll find a summary page of all that’s up to date, but we’re adding new material every day. Many of the Contributors to this CD series have also provided tons of free stuff that should get you charged about what you can do – with guidance on how to get there.

But that’s not what has us all giddy this week. After six months in this labor of love, we have a product that everyone involved is extremely excited about – and proud to be a part of. If you’ve ever dreamed of a job with horses in the mix or want to see more detail on who’s involved, go to Inventing Your Horse Career. Briefly, what we’ve done is assembled an array of some of the most interesting and accomplished equine professionals in North America with 9 CD series that highlights stories, tips, resources, lessons learned, success secrets and contact information. It’s amazing how candid and generous all are in these interviews – and how focused they are on giving back. In addition, we highlight a number of success stories in horse career opportunities you may never have considered – with people who have found creative ways to craft a rewarding and extremely lucrative horse job with imagination and grit.

If you have a special someone in your life that has always dreamed of a horse career (we also feature professionals who decided to chase their passion later in life to find fulfillment and financial security), this is a great holiday gift. Consider too, how you could change a life for a loved one (including yourself) determined to make 2012 the year of life transformation and resulting happiness.

Free horse tips newsletter

We’re also launching a new feature for visitors to the Horse Sense and Cents™ website – namely a weekly newsletter. Simply enter your name and e-mail address on the top of the right column of this post and you’ll not only get features that include a quote and tip of the week, useful resources to check out, some regular introductions to people in the equine world you should get to know and special finds, but also bonus surprises on training tips and horse care issues. Please add your name and e-mail address above to start learning and chuckling from these brief and relevant treats.

Turning Challenging Horses Into Willing Partners

Find easy ways to reach the difficult horse
Now available in Kindle too!

Through the end of December, we’ll be offering signed-by-author (you can ask for a personalized message) copies of the Turning book with free shipping and handling to the US and Canada (thanks to the large number of those to the North who have ordered this book – we’ll take a hit here but you all have been incredible with your interest and support and deserve a nod and reward). There’s a click through on the home page, or you can go here.

Equine E-coaching

We’re now offering e-coaching for horse training, horse breeding and foaling and horse care issues. For those who sign up prior to December 31st, you can tap into a one-time special offer of $399 for the year or 3-months for $199. After that it will be $699 for the year or $249 for three months. We’ll have this set up on the products page (which may change to ‘store’) in the next few days, but feel free to call (585) 554-4612 or (888) 875-3551 (in the US and Canada) if you’re too excited about this to wait.

Horsing around

Please do take a few moments to visit the changes we’ve made to the site, explore the free offerings, sign up for the newsletter and surprises and tell us what we can do to help you. This site is all about giving back and reaching out. So, we appreciate any feedback you can provide to make this a better experience and opportunity for you. Feel free to share in the comments below.  Hope you all have a very happy holiday.

Horses – and clients – are not all equal

When horses die, it can hurt so deeply you wonder if you’ll ever recover. After decades of owning horses, I experienced the first death of a horse in my care (she was my darling, my rock, my world at the time). It completely changed my ability to feel for a horse so completely again. Sad, I know, but this loss sent me off the deep end. It’s good and bad – I will never be so vulnerable in the future, but have lost the ability have that unfettered connection and engagement that comes from such a deep emotional bond with a horse.

My heart still breaks every time I hear of an unexpected equine death and what the owner might be going through (both for them and me as the memory pang rises again). Of course, I still get attached, but feel I’m in a better place with this protective shield – even though it means my experiences may not be as rich. Sometimes you need to tone down the passion to survive.

Equine professionals must detach to survive

When you’re working with client horses, you don’t always have control over their outcome. I’m fortune to be dealing with a lot of owners and trainers who really care about the horse – but that doesn’t always translate to a meeting of the minds when you get into the risky business of performance demand decisions. Some clients just aren’t worth the stress, pain and hassles that come with the income. Even with the good ones, when you hand the horse back, his welfare is often out of your hands. Discovering clients who are willing to listen, learn, involve you in future decisions and include the horse in the conversation is a thrill.

Odd equines can teach you so much – about both horses and humans

This winter we had a horse come to Halcyon Acres® who clearly wasn’t right in the head. What we realized (after we got through a learning process that included vet bills and near hospitalization) was this horse was able and willing to process information – but there was nothing normal how he did it.

Once we discovered the key to reaching him, we were delighted at how excited he became about meeting requests and tackling new challenges. The whole experience was akin to how Anne Sullivan describes the moment Helen Keller understood what was being tapped into her hand.

It was critical that the trainer this horse moved on to understood and accommodated his peculiar way of experiencing his world. Fortunately, this man was open about changing his thinking and actions to accommodate this horse. Rain Man will be running this week for the first time, and will probably win. His owner and trainer deserve a ton of credit for making this so. Without their understanding, flexibility and willingness to modify their beliefs, this horse would have been a sad statistic.

Brave, humble people are making horses happier – one at time

With the proliferation of packages and promises touting the effectiveness of formula training, it’s wonderful to see a growing number of equine professionals recognize this doesn’t work. They’re reaping the rewards as they customize programs to address a horse’s proclivities, style of learning and soundness concerns. Amazingly, fewer ‘problem horses’ come into their stables. Some of their average horses develop the heart to prove exceptional, seemingly grateful for the consideration. Horses come to relish training instead of dreading and fighting it. This kind of progressive thinking makes these people richer in so many ways.

Fortunately, novices are starting to get savvy too. They’ve tried the popular approaches that blame the student if the horse doesn’t respond as illustrated. Halcyon Acres® is getting calls in growing numbers from people who are stuck and need a guide to assess their horse and recommend a course of action.

Sometimes it means re-homing the horse. This is heartbreaking for anyone who’s fallen in love (tough not to do with a first horse), but welcome input in the long-run.

Other times it’s simply a matter of lessons for the rider because the issues stem from confusion or a lack of confidence on the horse’s part (and often the rider’s too).

Cases also arise where off-site reprogramming is called for, but the suitability of the horse for the intended use is always a strong consideration with this option.

The common thread with these novices reaching out is they are sponges when it comes to absorbing ideas and practices that are effective. Having the benefit of someone to show them in real time how their actions are affecting the horse’s behavior and how to change them for desired results is priceless. It’s incredible how easily these folks can then take this knowledge and apply it on their own. Do we get calls and e-mails when they get stuck – you bet! We encourage it (and take the time to help remotely at no charge).

It’s exhilarating to witness the mindset of these contemporary smart and humble novices. The horses in their care are lucky to have them. Once a bridge of understanding is built, the equine partners know it and show it too.

Getting horse care right

Somewhere, there’s an ideal middle-ground between loving a horse so much you get stupid, and viewing them as a commodity or tool.

Many professionals who consider the horse a critical contributor to their income give them great care, but few love them.

Novices tend to fall in love with a horse, holding on for too long to the detriment of their quality of life and the horse’s happiness. Most horses want to be engaged, guided and encouraged to do a job well. The wrong horse in the wrong job or hands languishes.

Have you found that place that lets you love in a way that still allows your brain to function? Do you have a special horse – or learning experience – that’s touched your life? Please share in the comments below.

Horses do the strangest things

It’s always amazing to witness horse herd behavior – even when it involves domesticated equines. We’ve been dealing with a sad situation at Halcyon Acres® in recent weeks, but it’s been fascinating to watch how the horses are respond to these odd circumstances.

A filly was born here in May out of one of our best Irish Draught Sport Horse (IDSH) producers, a mare that has always been a devoted, protective and superb mom. It’s been a difficult four weeks for mom, baby and me.

Herd mechanics experiment

We’ve been exploring using herd mechanics at Halcyon Acres® a bit in new and different ways (for us, anyway). After our spitfire colt of last year kept figuring out remarkable feats to get to the main herd and away from his mom at a very young age (jumping a 4-foot, 4-strand high-tinsel coated electric fence; managing to crawl through two-strands of interior electric without touching the wires; rolling under the fence; running through it; etc.), we decided (read gave up) it would be best to save the maiden mare the angst of being separated from her darling and turned the pair out with the farm-owned crew. He was a huge, independent and smart colt who managed to buddy up with everyone almost immediately, unscathed.

So this year, we made the decision to put our broodmares and babies out with an appropriately selected group of horses who weren’t towing a foal (or waiting for one) after a brief period of giving mare and foal time to bond. The older I get, the more I come to welcome the help other horses provide in schooling young horses – and realize how significant an imprint the right horses can make on a foal’s behavioral development. At about five days of age, Crooked (I need a better nickname for this foal – suggestions?) and her mom joined three other gals in the big digs.

Foal challenges – filly takes a turn for the worse

Right about the time we moved the pair into this segregated herd, health issues started escalating with the foal. Early on, we were focused on a localized infection near the umbilical cord (she came out of the mare with a huge stump and large hematoma right in front of the site – likely due to the cord breaking in the birthing canal) and noticed the crooked legs, but hoped they’d straighten over time. Then, she almost doubled in size in less than a week. The front tendons contracted first, next the back, which were worse. Now, most of her time is spent lying down to minimize the pain – she’s also recently been relegated to stall rest all but 2 hours of the day. Tried small paddock turnout, but the mare was so much more interested in the gals, she ran the foal ragged and knocked her down if she traversed into her tantrum path.

Mare’s aloof, client filly steps in

As I write this post, a three-year-old client filly is standing at the gate screaming to the foal in the barn. This big gal spent the winter in low status with her gang of ‘babies.’ They left, so we culled out a few kind horses to keep her company. When the birth mare started to ignore, leave and reject the foal (she’s still letting her nurse, but otherwise seems to wish she were gone) this young mare kept watch over the baby as she lay in the grass for hours, resting her sore and constricted legs. Mom left the filly, heading up the hill for richer grasses – or into the barn unconcerned about her whereabouts at feed time. Funny, this nurturing role seemed to boost this filly’s confidence (and rank and popularity in the herd) in ways no grouping of horse company could.

Horses will surprise you

Horses do things you never expect. This mother went ballistic for the better part of a week a few years ago as I tried to remove the second twin – born alive, unlike her sister – when she died after a struggle to save her. By the time I was able to separate the dam and the carcass, she had scraped all the hair and skin off the baby in an effort to get her up. Witnessing her now ignoring a young foal because it isn’t perfect is a shock. Similarly, this three-year-old TB filly is a classic follower. Watching her take the lead in giving this foal the comfort and protection the mom failed to provide was a joy to observe. This experience will likely serve both horses well. The baby knows where the milk is, but clings to the filly for other needs. The stand-in has blossomed into a confident and expressive equine in many aspects of her existence, which should carry over into future career requests.

It will be a very sad day when the two must part, but the weeks where they touched each other will likely last them a lifetime in terms of how they handle future challenges.

Do you have horse stories to tell?

Have you witnessed surprising behavior from horses in the herd? Please share in your comments below.

Horses can be wonderful teachers: particularly those that shatter your convictions

This winter a young gelding came into Halcyon Acres® for starting under saddle training that presented a host of challenges. He was dangerous to himself and the people around him because of the way he processed (or didn’t) information.

His reactions to imperceptible stimuli were explosive, yet he’d handle things with ease that would freak out a typical young horse.

It was obvious he was a kind horse, but that didn’t reduce the angst whe

Forevever horse homes – kind or cruel?

Sunday’s Opinion

It’s amazing how quickly people grab popular concepts associated with “saving” a horse and call them golden. Bandwagon convictions get embraced in a one-sided fashion by people who have no first-hand experience with the remedies prescribed. Unfortunately, while most of these ideals start with good intentions, few people bother to explore the downside in the clamor to influence the behavior of others. It’s the horses that often wind up suffering.

The big emotional campaign of late seems to be pushing for forever homes for horses – even better if this means a pastoral setting where they’re virtually untouched by human hands. At the same time, these prognosticators (many have never had the opportunity spend an extended period of time with any horses, let alone one) admonish those who would be so cruel to sell or place a horse with another. Is a forever home really the kindest decision for a horse’s happiness and welfare? Sometimes. Sadly, putting this mandate on horse and human partnerships doesn’t always work as planned.

Do rescues provide the best life for a horse?

Recent headlines concerning an over-zealous OTTB adoption agency have been hard to miss. Horses are starving, dying and left to languish because selected caretakers (apparently many chosen for their day rate rather than the quality of care) haven’t been paid for care costs as promised. The recues will argue the occasional shocking disgrace gets all the coverage, but that’s not an accurate assessment. Horses generally fall in the good news category when reporters seek an angle, so even questionable organizations tend to see a positive spin involving volunteer efforts and the successful placement spotlight. There are a lot of rescues doing good things for the horses and the people they place them with. Others, not so much.

Increasingly, we’re seeing situations where horses are either collected or placed in an unsuitable home with the proclamation these horses are being “saved”. Individuals claim to be rescuing horses, and some even call themselves “rescues”, yet some lack the space, time, financial resources and/or knowledge to properly care for the equine(s). Is it really saving a horse when you collect more than thirty on a small-acreage property, don’t provide shelter and feed them bread (true story)?

For the recues that guarantee a lifetime home on their dime, or require adopters to do the same, is this really the best solution for the horse?

Idyllic permanent pasture time may seem kind to a human but for a young domesticated horse that’s healthy, sound and looking for opportunities to have his brain engaged, this might be a life-sentence to boredom.

People adopting horses rarely know what they’re in for as they get swept in the emotional feel good of “saving” a horse. Many equines aren’t ready or able to do the job they’re intended for or are too much for their “savior” to handle. Often, first-time horse caretakers (most seasoned equestrians recognize the value in paying a purchase price for a suitable mount and pass on the adoption “donation” fees) are ill-equipped to handle the time and financial burden, yet get stubborn about hanging on. Even though horses are known to appreciate consistency, locking in a partnership that doesn’t work for either horse or human probably isn’t the kind of predictable scenario most horses seek. Kindness sometimes means giving the horse a different opportunity to be great. Things change, and sometimes a horse simply wants a different job challenge and living style. Contract terms that stipulate a forever home for any horse can be cruel. We’ve even had horses figured as permanent residents at Halcyon Acres® that have let us know they want a change. Being kind to the horse may mean letting go.

Does wild make a horse happy?

Last year, we heard public outcry about attempts to round up domesticated horses that had been turned loose in Florida. Anyone who’s spent a good deal of time seriously observing horses accustomed to interacting with humans realizes the “horses want to be free” rallying cry doesn’t ring true if you consider the horse in the conversation.  Yet, people reacted to the images of these horses “in the wild” (in Florida – really?) and were aghast that anyone would be so cruel as to try to help them back to a life that included human care, shelter and adequate feed.

Horses with generations of instincts and survival in the wild are wired to be free. Most equines bred by humans want to be fed, sheltered and engaged in a job. Right early handling sets the stage for wonderful and mutually enriching partnerships in the future, but even troubled horses can light up when they find a human who understands. Humans have been domesticating horses for millenniums.  Like it or not, we’ve changed their nature.

Who’s kind and who’s cruel to horses?

You really can’t assess what a horse needs from a distance (or a headline, or a rallying cry). Every horse is different. Sometimes it’s cruel to mandate a care, placement or environment solution without considering what the horse wants. That can only be gathered from direct contact with the particular equine. Often, it’s kind to give an equine a variety of opportunities for work (and horses do change with age – both in their physical abilities and psychological needs) that may mean new homes along the way. Others bond so deeply with a human or horse(s), it’s cruel to sever the partnership(s). One thing’s for sure, though, a contract, policy or mandate that’s inflexible doesn’t ensure a horse a happy life.

Know of any organizations or individuals that include the horse in the conversation as they seek out solutions for the horse’s happiness? Have ideas for encouraging others to consider individualized decisions on horse placement, care and career direction? Please share in the comments below. Let’s call out those who are making a difference with the horse’s viewpoint in mind, one horse at a time.