Coeur d’Alene’s first Christmas

Lena doesn’t know what all the hype of Christmas is about. She thinks it stinks so far. Okay so she got a cookie with breakfast but after that it was hard work!
I forgot to bring my GoPro out so I only had my phone camera.

Today was a day of firsts.
-Although I have picked up Lena’s feet and cleaned them out over the summer, she has never had them trimmed. First pedicure. Front feet only as I don’t want to make it overwhelming. She is still quite young.


Checking out some of my tools.

Whenever I have picked up or cleaned her feet I have done it at liberty. Today it was time to start learning to tie. Not in a knot, of course, just wrapped around the trailer tie three times. Enough to not let her walk away but not enough to keep her there if something happened and she panicked. Since we have been working on leading, standing, backing, and all the other things on a lead rope over the summer, she understood not to walk away.

Baby’s first trimmings.

-Both front feet cleaned, trimmed, and filed.
She knows that “good girl” means she did good. We worked on that this summer. Scratching the best spots and giving treats while telling her “good girl.” That helped as I was working on her I could verbally let her know what she was doing was the right thing. I would also give actual scratches while giving her a break as a bigger reward. She did great.

In the fall I had taken Lena to the north side of the farm to see her sister, Juno. At the gate entrance to the north side there is a wooden bridge over the big wash. Lena stepped on it and decided it was not at good thing to walk on and proceeded to leap over the rest of the bridge to the other side! Today we started on the desensitization of walking on wood planks. After all, Shoshone did it for me in the spring when moving to the south side to the maternity pen. All I had to do was ask her and she walked right over. Time for baby to learn that she can trust me when I say it is okay.

An introduction to the bridge before starting.

I lead her up to the small (5 foot), partially covered, bridge over the small wash into my backyard. Of course she didn’t want to touch it. I had a bucket of hay by me to help with the big reward when she did come up. Each time I would encourage her to move forward a little further. She was not allowed to go backwards. If she did I would pull the lead rope with little tugs until the exact moment she made a forward motion. Forward motion doesn’t have to be an actual step at first. A forward motion can be as small as a shift of the body forward or a lifting of the foot with the intention of going forward. Always reward the absolute smallest of things at first so they get the idea then build on it. I wanted to reward not only for trying but for thinking about trying and concentrating on the task at hand.

Below are the videos I took with my phone. I did the best I could with one hand. Each time I stopped the video I gave her a break. We walked around the yard as I gave her scratches etc. to give her a mental break and reward. I didn’t want it to be overwhelming.

Video 1– I encouraged her to explore the bridge by looking, sniffing, and yes…licking. She is Licky Lena, after all. We had only been working less than a minute before I thought of getting my phone out to record.

Video 2– Lena takes one step onto the step in front of the bridge.

Video 3 – Getting a little stuck and attention going elsewhere but she stepped both front feet on the step and then a foot on the bridge! That gets a big bite of hay reward.

Video 4 – Another successful step onto the bridge. Getting a little more okay with it.

Video 5 – She is getting a little fidgety and nibbling the lead rope (she was getting a little mentally overwhelmed so she was looking for something else to do) so it was important she step on the bridge again so she can get another big bite of hay as a reward or I would have to give her a break from it. Getting her to step would reinforce the stepping on the bridge and getting hay idea. She did it!

Video 6 – She is getting comfortable with it. A little encouragement and she steps right up with both front feet and gets a big reward.

Video 7 – Much easier and quicker now. She steps right up and gets rewarded.

Video 8 – The last one for the day. Right up on the bridge. We will work on the back feet up on the bridge a different day. This was a lot for her today and she did so well!

This is really the same principles I use for introducing probably most, if not all new things.
-Keep the focus but don’t let it become so challenging that you loose them mentally.
-Reward for the littlest of things at the beginning and build on it.
-Always let them know when they are doing the right thing.
-Give them breaks so they can mentally reset. After they did the right thing is a perfect time. They can process what just happened.


Myths, misconceptions, and just plain wrong information

This post is dedicated to a friend after she was advised to withhold her horses breakfast before transporting them to move to a new facility. It would have been about 15 hours after feeding dinner before they loaded.
After years of research (creditable places) and talking to vets etc. I have learned a lot. It surprises me still when I hear people who care for horses with wrong or bad information. Here are some of the things that people swear by or “have always done it this way” that is either not true or there is no data to back it up.

  1. Diatomaceous earth (food grade) is a great natural horse de-wormer– As fantastic as a natural non-chemical de-wormer sounds, there isn’t any that has proven to be effective although I read all over the internet to use it as a de-wormer.  I have heard people say they feed it to their horses and it works. Really? Have you done a fecal egg count? Because that is the only way to tell. Diatomaceous earth (DE) is a naturally occurring soft, talc-like powder consisting of the fossilized remains of diatoms, single-celled phytoplankton with hard cell walls made of silica. According to the National Pesticide Information Center “Diatomaceous earth causes insects to dry out and die by absorbing the oils and fats from the cuticle of the insect’s exoskeleton. Its sharp edges are abrasive, speeding up the process. It remains effective as long as it is kept dry and undisturbed”.  Hmm, kept dry and undisturbed.
    A- It is neither dry or undisturbed when ingested and traveling through the G.I. tract.
    B– Some worms such as large and small strongyles go into the intestinal wall, liver, etc. so DE traveling through the G.I tract wouldn’t even make contact with them.
    C– I have asked several vets and one replied “I have no studies to offer, just my own observations. I’ve challenged owners that use DE to the “fecal egg count challenge” We run a fecal test on your DE treated horse. If it comes back negative, I pay for the fecal and will give using DE some thought. If it comes back positive, you buy the appropriate dewormer from me. So far, I’ve never paid for a fecal.” Others have said they have never seen a low count on a horse treated with DE.
  2. Over de-worming– I knew a trainer who gave all her horses a tube of Ivermectin every month no matter what! Wow, can you say chemical resistant super worms! I still hear people de-worming every two months. Period. This is a subject where more is NOT better. De-worming should ideally be done based on fecal egg counts of each horse and targeted that way. At the very least it should be based on geographic location, weather, density of horses, age of horses, exposure of those horses to outside untreated horses (for example, performance horses on the road), management practices (pasture rotation, manure removal, etc.) There have been no new classes of de-wormer since the early 1980’s. There are only 3 classes of de-wormers that are available for horses:
    a. Benzimidazoles – Fenbendazole (Panacur) and Oxybendazole
    b. Macrocyclic lactones – Ivermectin and Moxidectin (Quest)
    c. Pyrimidines – Pyrantel (Strongid)
    If fecal egg count tests are done, then you can determine which horses need which class of anthelmintic. Then two weeks after de-worming check again to see if it is effective.
  3. Sand colic is not a real thing– I spent a whole night at my vets facility in the private waiting room with a t.v. monitor showing what is going on in the operating room. I had never heard sand in my BLM gelding until a few weeks before he almost died from sand impaction. $7,950 later my horse was sand free and I have kept him sand free since. All my horses get the recommended dose of psyllium 7 consecutive days a month. If I do hear sand in anyone they get at least 30 days of a double dose or until I don’t hear sand anymore. Living in the desert it is easy for them to ingest sand. It is all over. Some people do a test by putting a few pieces of fresh manure in a plastic bag with water and breaking it up, letting it settle and looking for sand in the bottom of the bag. That only tells you if sand is being ingested and coming out. A horse can ingest sand and not have it come out at all or only a little bit come out. That test is not effective in telling you if there is sand in their gut. You have to listen with a stethoscope. Some horses ingest sand simply by eating off the ground. Another way that horses ingest sand is by eating something off the ground that sand has stuck to such as manure or half eaten pellets. It could even be mixed in their hay. I have seen bales of hay have huge dirt clods in them as well as ones that just seem to have dirt mixed in with them. If a horse eats them I don’t think it matters if they live in a stall lined with stall mats and never come in contact with dirt. I have also witnessed horses outright licking the dirt which is natural but not good in places with sand. A BLM mare that just came onto our farm is full of sand. Her previous owner said she doesn’t have any issues with sand at her place. Hmmm.
  4. Warm bran mash is a great laxative, clears out sand, prevents colic, and keeps a horse warm– A warm bran mash might make humans feel warm and good giving it to our horse but it does not warm a horse up. The digestion of forage does. It may seem like it is a laxative because it can make the stools a little loose but that is not because it is working as a laxative. Any time we change a horses diet suddenly the bacteria in the hindgut are affected. That’s why we introduce new foods gradually, over a period of weeks. Cornell University has done studies on this. There have been no studies or tests that show it to be effective in clearing sand either.
  5. Hauling or working horses on an empty stomach
    Unlike humans who produce stomach acids when we eat, equines produce stomach acid all the time, 24 hours a day, continuously, always! I doesn’t stop. The horses stomach has tissue that helps protect it against the stomach acid. However, there is not so much of this glandular tissue at the top of the stomach. That means there is acid built up from not eating, say from overnight. Then when a horse is worked their movement and movement of their internal organs push the acid up into the nonbuffered area which can result in an ulcer. A stressed horse is also more prone to ulcers. Hauling, disrupting social dynamics, changing the environment, working, and many, many other things cause stress in equines.
  6. Horses should have shoes– A controversial issue debated over and over!
    About 20 years ago I was walking one of my horses and a lady scolded me because “she” didn’t have any shoes on! The lady said she was appalled that I didn’t care enough to put shoes on my poor little baby horse. She claimed I didn’t care about her. Although none of my horses have shoes I was walking my 6 year old mini gelding that day. Geez. There has been so much research about the shod vs barefoot horse. Horses are better off without shoes. There may be medical reasons or exceptions…maybe, but over all barefoot is much more healthy. It is amazing how many moving parts there are in a hoof. The hoof flexes and does all sorts of things that help blood flow. Shoes do not allow for that. For horses that need something to keep them from wearing their hoof down too fast there are hoof boots.
    OneShodThermograph400This thermograph shows (in a real-life horse) what happens to circulation when a metal shoe is nailed on. This horse is wearing one metal shoe, on his front right. The other three hooves are barefoot. The thermograph is set to show blood circulation (or lack of it). He was walked around in a big circle and then the thermograph was taken.
    As a farrier to my own horses, and a few others in the past, I could go on and on about this but I will leave it at the above image. All it takes to go barefoot is a proper barefoot trim and a proper diet.

It’s a small price to pay for the life you lead.

Wild horses are a majestic sight to see out in the wilderness. They conjure up emotional feelings like power, strength, grace, beauty, and most of all…freedom.

 When these magnificent beauties leave the wild and enter our lives there is a trade off. I am NOT discussing whether they should remain wild or not nor am I talking about the round-ups. That happens before they enter my life. I am talking about their new life. With me.

In my life on my farm they give up their freedom to roam around as they please. Yes, I would love to see them standing upon a grassy hillside with the wind blowing through their mane and tail but the fact is I live in the desert on a fenced in farm. The fence that keeps my mustangs in also keeps predators out.

They give up being able to do whatever they want when they want. Of course most of the time they are not told what to do other than to stay within the fence but there are times when they need to do something even if they don’t want to. It is a necessity for them to be halter trained, stand tied, let me pick up feet, and let me touch them all over while behaving. This is non-negotiable because I need to be able to lead them places in an emergency, stand at the hitching post if I need to doctor them, pick up their feet so they can be trimmed, and touch them all over also in case they need to be doctored.

Is it necessary for them to do more? When I rescue or adopt I do so with the intention of caring for them their entire lives no matter how long or short that may be. Being that I am human and not immortal I have to think of giving them the best chance in life even if I am no longer there. If I knew for a fact that I would be there for their entire lives then the answer would be no but since I am mortal, my opinion is yes. Yes because in order to give them the best chance in life I need to have them used to things horses encounter in their domestic life other than abuse, neglect, etc. What a great way for my horses and I to bond as well. Doing things together! Most people have horses to ride them. A horse that has never been under saddle may not be as appealing as one who has. Get the idea? It doesn’t have to be limited to riding.  There is driving, horsemanship, trick training, etc. Most of all, an all around well mannered horse is very attractive. If you are not interested in actually riding, driving, or anything else then there are many things you can do to create a well mannered horse. Why not tack up with a saddle or harness or do some desensitization? Doing this in a positive way at the horses pace is not just a fun way to spend time and bond with your horse. It is a great way to set them up for success even if you can no longer be a part of their life.

They may have lost their freedom, family, friends, and home but in trade I give a safe place to call home, food, water, shelter, medical attention, new friends, and new positive life experiences.


The Five Basics

The five basic moves that take you from passenger to driver.
Great things for your horse to know even if you never ride or drive them!

Growing up taking English riding/jumping lessons I found it frustrating that the way my friends rode was so simple and my lessons seemed so complicated. They mounted their horses and took off. Kick to go, pull to stop, and pull on one side of the reins to turn in that direction. Why did I have to do so much work?
Collection, connection, on the bit, lateral, cadence, engagement, blah, blah, blah. And what about the eluded half-halt! My friends never talked like that!

Eventually I grew up and started riding and training my own horses. There are five basic moves I like to teach my horses on the ground that transfer into the saddle. They are the basics of almost everything I do in the saddle and can be taught to horses no matter how young. Foundation building blocks, I would say. They are not something new that I invented or even thought of on my own. They were taught to me years ago.

I still do these on the ground and/or in saddle before every ride (after warming horse up) to check his responsiveness and attitude.

  1. Flexion of the nose/face
  2. Turning on haunches
  3. Turning forehand
  4. Reverse
  5. Stepping latteral

Flexion of nose/face
Goal – When I “ask for his face” he will give softly, willingly, and completely.
I use it to ask for bend and stretch and to be soft and supple.
I started by standing my horses side at the shoulder or neck area. For the first few times at least, I had my lead rope attached to the side of the halter at the nose band area and not in the middle. Holding the lead rope about 1 foot away I applied a light intermittent pull until he turns his face, even ever so slightly, then I immediately STOP as the reward. I praise him for a bit and repeat. If he doesn’t do anything or turns the other way, I make the pulls a little faster and firmer until he does. As he learns what the correct response is he starts turning his head easier and I can ask that he turn it more and work my way to him turning and touching his nose to girth area with a very very light “ask”. I do this on both sides equally making sure to switch the lead rope to the side I am working on!

Turning on haunches- (yielding forehand)
Goal – My horse will step his front outside leg in front of and across his front inside leg while pivoting on the inside rear leg .
Used to gain control of my horses front end (shoulder and leg).
I start by standing at my horses shoulder holding the lead rope. I ask him to move away from me using my hands (raising them) and a click. My horses know that click sounds mean to move. 1 click = walk, 2 clicks = trot, and repetitive clicks mean canter. In the beginning I may need to poke a little with my finger on his shoulder or wave the rope at his shoulder in the air or making contact, for him to move away from my pressure. As soon as he does, I stop and praise before repeating. He doesn’t have to step correctly while learning the appropriate response. He just needs to move his front end away even just a step. After he learns to move away from my pressure I increase the number of steps as well as making sure he is stepping over and across his front inside leg with his front outside leg. If he is crossing behind the inside leg he is moving in a backward direction and I encourage him in a forward direction. If he walks more forward than over I step closer to his face to block off too much forward motion. Eventually he will cross over and over while pivoting on the inside hind leg in a complete circle.

Turning on forehand- (yielding haunches)
Goal – He will step his back outside leg in front of and across his back inside leg while pivoting on the inside front leg .
Used to gain control of your horses back end (hip, leg, and motor-
more on the motor if anyone needs).
I start by standing at my horses hip holding the lead rope. I ask him to move away from me using my hands (raising them) and a click.  In the beginning I may need to poke a little with my finger on his hip area or wave the rope at his hip in the air or making contact, for him to move away from my pressure. As soon as he does, I stop and praise before repeating. He doesn’t have to step correctly while learning the appropriate response. He just needs to move his back end away even just a step. After he learns to move away from my pressure I increase the number of steps as well as making sure he is stepping over and across his back inside leg with his back outside leg. If he is crossing behind the inside leg he is moving in a backward direction and I encourage him in a forward direction. If he walks more forward than over I take the slack out of the lead rope and bring my hand toward his withers to shut down his inside shoulder and forward motion. Eventually he will cross over and over while pivoting on the inside front leg in a complete circle.
Sound familiar? It’s the opposite of the turning on haunches.

Reverse or back up
One of the most important pieces for any horse to learn whether riding or not!
Goal – He will backup when I very slightly move or lift the lead rope or step toward him.
I start with a long lead rope or decent weight lunge line and stand in front of him. Slightly and slowly I move my hand and lead rope back and forth in a horizontal movement. I want to see very small waves in the rope. I increase the size and speed until he takes a step back or at least shifts his weight in a back motion. I stop and praise any attempt at the right response no matter how small. I work my way up to as many steps as I want with as little amount of asking as possible. If he tries stepping off to one side or the other I take the slack out of the rope to stop the movement sideways.

Stepping lateral (I only teach this AFTER they know all the other moves at goal level! It will confuse them if they don’t know the other moves)
Goal – My horse will step completely sideways (not forward or back) crossing both front and back legs.
I start facing my horse at his barrel with him standing at a fence facing it in order to prevent any forward motion. I raise my hand closest to his shoulder to ask to move over like I am asking for one step of turning on the haunches. I only want one step. Then I do the same with the hand by his rump. Again only wanting one step. Continue this alternating shoulder to hip and he will be stepping completely lateral.

Did you see the theme with each of the exercises? I am doing something that encourages the reaction I am looking for and as soon as I get it that something (some kind of little annoyance of a poke, rope swing, etc.) stops immediately. Timing is extremely important!

Right or wrong, this is what was taught to me and what I do with my horses. Every horse is different and it has to be broken down for some more than others or find a slightly different way to communicate to each one. It is my job to communicate with my horse in a way he understands and set him up for success! Just like children, if they don’t understand what you are saying, break it down into smaller pieces or say it in a different way until they understand.
Coeur ‘Alene had already learned back up and turn on forehand at only two months old. Now at four months I can ask for either without a halter and rope and back up usually with just verbally. When it cools off we will work on more.


Finding your seat

Finding your seat in the saddle by riding without stirups.

With any saddle work you will need to make sure you have a correctly fitting saddle and that it is placed correctly on your horses back. One of the reasons I like the dressage saddle is it keeps my horses shoulders free which is most important for my Missouri Foxtrotter but also important for all my horses as well. The seat of the saddle should be level horizontally from a side view.
Have someone help you by taking photos or a video to see if you are in the proper position with your ear, shoulder, hip, and ankle in a straight line. It is important you do not have a “chair seat” where from the side view it looks like you could be sitting in a chair. Picture that if you removed the horse from under you whether you would still be able to stand on the ground without falling. If you are sitting in a chair and the chair was removed then you would fall. Stand on the ground with your feet slightly wider than shoulder width apart and pointing forward. Squat down a little and open your knees a bit. Your pelvis will be tipped slightly back. Open your chest with your shoulders softly back and down. Head looking forward and not up or down. That is a nice dressage position. When on a horse your arms should be soft and supple. From shoulder to elbow will be relaxed at your sides and there should be a straight line from your elbow, down the reins, and connecting to the bit. If your hands are too high or low the straight line and connection are broken.