Friday, July 31, 2009

FIRE! Handling Emergency Evacuations

With the impending arrival of our Indian Summer typical of Autumn in Southern California we have an added concern -- wildfires. Though usually we don’t see the severe firestorms until later in the year due to Santa Ana conditions blowing across our dry, crisp brushland, it’s never too early to learn how to be alert, be aware and know what to do when disaster strikes.

Since I can remember, fire is one of the things I am most frightened of. Magnify that with the potential for having to get my horses to safety when threatened by a nearby fire and you have a recipe for pure terror. So, to ease my mind, I want to be sure I have a plan in place long before it’s needed, with the hope that it won’t be needed at all.

I’m one of those people who can detect and sense smoke long before I see flames. Thankfully, we also live in an area where a major fire that destroys homes by the dozen is highly unlikely. If I do spot an area burning in the distance, my first action is going to be pinpointing it’s exact location in proximity to where we are. Once I’ve talked to the Fire Captain at our local fire station and have gauged the direction of the burn versus how quickly it could spread our way, we’ll start making plans to move horses to a safe zone some miles away.

Let me stop here and preach for a moment. If your horse is not well trained when it comes to getting in the trailer, especially under the most stressful of situations, that is where you MUST begin. No excuses, it is vital to be sure your horse can be loaded quickly and without hassle, because otherwise he may be left behind when it’s time to evacuate. This is a life and death situation! I have written about this topic before, however I'll be digging it out of my archives for a reposting here in the future.

Be sure you have chosen your evacuation location well in advance of any situation you may need to evacuate for, and definitely thoroughly discuss all your options. There are generally two choices you’ll have -- a public facility or a private one. If you know of a boarding facility that has room for your horses in the event of a fire, or you’ve got a friend who has the facilities where you can take your horse(s), make contact as soon as possible -- or better yet, have a standing agreement -- so you can make arrangements, to let them know you’re on your way so they can prepare a stall with a fresh water supply.

Never, EVER wait to load up and leave until the last minute when mandatory evacuation orders are coming in from the authorities. By then, you’ll be lucky to have enough time to be sure you can get yourself, your family and a few valuables out of harm’s way. Over and over we have seen this. Start early, don’t get trapped...if in doubt, take them out. DON’T WAIT!

Don’t worry about feed or any extras in the beginning, just hook up the trailer, halter your horse and load him. If you must travel through an area of active fire in order to get to safety, DO NOT have any hay or shavings in the trailer (they can catch fire from the smallest sparks or embers) and hose the horse down before loading.

It’s also a good idea to have identification on your horse during the evacuation process in case somehow, for some reason, there is a need to evacuate the place you’ve evacuated him to. I like the cattle ear tags you can find at most feed stores, and they can be attached to the halter with a zip tie. Using a permanent marker, put the horse’s name, your name, all your phone numbers (including emergency contacts), along with any feed or other allergies your horse has on them, you can also have your address written down. Then leave the halter on the horse snugly (this will always depend on if the location your horse is in is safe to do so, otherwise buckle the halter to the gate but include identifying information about the horse on the tag, such as color, markings or any brands).

After your horse is safe, and you’ve gotten yourself, your family and your important belongings safely moved somewhere not in danger, then worry about bringing feed for the horse. You also want to make certain there is someone present at all times who knows horses and can be reached in case you need to.

Here are a few additional (some repetitive) tips to help make evacuations go smoothly and how you can assist others in evacuating their horses:

What you may find, and suggestions as to what to do. Horses locked in - Bolt cutters, wire cutters, hammers, gloves. Horses not trained to load - Do what you know. Bring ropes, whips, flags, extra people. Do not tranquilize unless you are qualified. If you can’t get them in a reasonable length of time, leave them. It has to be like triage. Get the ones you can. Send stock trailers if possible for horses not trained to load, then load through a gate from a pen, stall, panels, or in a corner. Horses already gone - Make a note of time, place, anything else pertinent and keep moving.

People being indecisive about going - Hugs, reassurance, leave your phone number and get the horses out. Keep up the mantra “better safe than sorry”. Discuss danger/consequences of road closures, trees across roads. No halters/leads, no extra ropes - Bring as many as you can, different sizes. Crowded roads - Don’t go to haul horses unless you know exactly where you are going. TAKE MAPS. Tell looky loos to go home. Drive slowly and carefully no matter what is going on. Safety considerations - Don’t go alone. Take flashlights, sharp knife, twitch, animal first aid supplies, animal marking crayons, polaroid or disposable camera, notebook and pens, and again MAPS. Identification, record keeping - There may be animals that end up in big groups, or to places with many, even hundreds of animals. Don’t think you’ll recognize them for sure. They should be marked with livestock crayon, like they use for endurance rides, available at many feed stores.  You can attach tags to halters, or braid tags into forelocks, top part of mane, or top part of tail. Spray paint can be used in an emergency, maybe a phone number. Keep a notebook with where the animal came from, a thorough description including any brands (look under lips and manes for tattoos and freeze marks), any notations about injuries, or special care needs, and where the animals went. Take digital or disposable camera pictures from the front and both sides if possible.

In the aftermath - People housing animals may need stall cleaning help, supplies, buckets, feed, etc. Try to examine and temp anything that looks sick, isolate if possible. There may be many helpful groups of volunteers -- be sure they are supervised properly to prevent accidents and escapes. As early as possible, make things clear between owners and people housing animals. Unfortunately there sometimes can be big board bills presented by some barn owners to evacuees after it is all over. Make sure expectations are clear and upfront.

For people: Cell phones, land lines overloaded - Try to stay off phones. Get all info in first call. Write everything down. People away from phones - Make a whole plan, share all contact info when you first talk to them. Road closures - Take maps even if you know the area (this cannot be stressed enough). It’s going to look very different, and usual routes may not be available. DON’T go in if you aren’t sure you can get out. Fire engines won’t even do that. Smoke - It’s probably worse than you think. Take particle masks, inhalers if you’ve ever used one, and just don’t go if you asthma or any other breathing problems. Human needs - Take LOTS of water, snacks, toilet paper, first aid supplies, flashlights, good boots and gloves, extra glasses, fully gassed vehicles. You may need to be out there a lot longer than anticipated. Emergency mode makes us ignore our own needs, but this could go on for many days. We need to take care of ourselves to be able to be of service!

These tips are tried and true, what we have used in evacuation efforts for years, though no two fire events are the same. Every year we hope there will be no need for evacuations and that it will be a quiet one fire-wise. But you never know, and that's why being vigilant as well as having a plan in place is so vitally important.

Keep yourself, your family and your horses (all animals) safe! Fire season is upon us.


Thursday, July 30, 2009

Just When You Thought It Was Safe...

...I'm going to make a post about horse rescue! :) Errr, make that about rescue horses, and there's a big difference in my book. Some years back I decided to get out of the rescue world, and stick with doing rescue one horse at a time, as I found they needed help, because of the people I consistently encountered in the rescue world. My opinion has not changed in recent years and months. In fact, I think people in horse rescue have overall gotten worse in the last ten years, especially over the internet. While there are good, intelligent people with huge hearts immersed in rescue (Jill Curtis of Shiloh Horse Rescue in Nevada comes to mind, as does Jo Deibel of Angels Acres Horse Haven Rescue of Pennsylvania), the vast majority of those involved either know nothing about horses and therefore have no idea how to care for them; they are scam artists wanting someone to pay their bills for them; or they are simply nasty, evil hearted people that live to cause trouble.

My adventures in the realm of rescue began way back when I was but a child, and I learned what became of old, unwanted horses. We had a neighbor who sold their POA gelding to a local woman who wanted a smaller horse because she was so petite. "Cricket" was my best friend's pony, and had carried her to many blue ribbons during their time together. After he changed hands, he became the woman's trail horse. But when he finally got to the point of being too old, he would stumble and fall when she tried to canter him along the trails ~ it turns out that years before he had been nerved in both front feet ~ that he was deemed a danger to be ridden, instead of doing the loving, humane thing and putting him to sleep peacefully, Cricket was shipped off to slaughter in Arizona. He had been sold because my friend outgrew him. They never imagined that he would have anything other than a humane, quiet death and that people would sooner get a last few dollars out of a horse by sending them to the horror of slaughter as opposed to spending a little bit to make sure he felt loved in his last moments. That experience forever changed my outlook.

During the years shortly following my getting married, I had befriended a number of folks involved in the horse rescue world, and was working to give back to the horses who had given me so much by volunteering and assisting wherever and whenever I could with local rescues. But my life again changed forever one Sunday afternoon in March of 1994 while attending the Kavanagh Arabian Auction in Pomona, California. It was there I saw a breathtakingly beautiful mare, and something in my heart just screamed out for her. "Angel" was purchased by one of our local killer buyers for the sum of $400. I distinctly remember walking back through the barns after the sale and stopping by the mare's stall, watching her frantically pace, whinny and kick at the closed Dutch doors, while awaiting the dealer's trailer to take her away.

Early the next morning, I received a call from a dear friend and rescuer that they desperately needed to find a home for one pretty bay mare in order to save her from the terror of being rented to the charros for use in their horrible horse tripping events before being shipped to slaughter and winding up on some foreigner's dinner plate. It turned out the mare in question was the one who had stolen my heart the day before during the sale. I knew I would do just about anything to have her, and I set out to bring her home.

In the 15 years since her rescue, my incredible friend, my Angel, has become a Champion in the show ring and proven to be a phenomenal trail mount. She's won in Country English Pleasure, English Show Hack, Arabian Mounted Native Costume and carried a 7 year old child to her first Arabian Youth Nationals qualification in Saddleseat Equitation as a last minute substitute for another horse.

Had it not been for my last minute intervention, Angel would have been on a truck bound for a Texas slaughterhouse after having been maimed and tortured in a Mexican rodeo first. I will never forget the hundreds of thousands of horses who died because of the legality of horse slaughter before Angel's rescue, the hundreds of thousands of horses who have died in the slaughter trade since her rescue and those who will die in the future before we finally ban the slaughter of our beloved horses for human consumption.

Godspeed, all of you. I am so incredibly sorry so many did not have the fate of my beloved Angel, finding homes that will love and care for you until the end of your days.


Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Some Commentary About Judging

This is a combination of two separate articles in regard to judging, and most of it focuses on the Arabian horse, as of course they are my specialty and my first love.

Judging: The Mechanics of Doing It Properly~

How many times have you shown your horse in your favorite class, thought you put in a stellar ride...and still gotten the gate? If that seems to be the story of your life, listen up!

Various disciplines and breeds have various standards and rules which judges must follow. Some of them are scored numerically using a specific system, others seem mainly to be personal preference on just what is acceptable and what’s not. If you spend any length of time at horse shows, spend a little of that time just watching, observing and letting things sink in. You might be amazed at what you can learn if you take the time to educate yourself.

We’ll start with Halter. Not merely a beauty contest for horses, the in-hand divisions are supposed to be used for three purposes -- evaluating breeding stock, evaluating performance potential or suitability and judging conformation of the horse. A handler may bring a stunningly beautiful mare who exudes class and presence into the ring, but if she has crooked legs or a weak hip, she should be placed lower than a plainer but more correct counterpart.

Pleasure horse classes are generally adjudicated on certain basic principles. Your first criteria will usually be manners. If a horse exhibits lovely gaits and maintains the proper frame but has outbursts of insolence, it’s highly likely that you’ll gain unwanted attention from spectators and judges alike. Often the suitability of horse to rider is paramount, and the suitability of the horse to the division he’s competing in should always come into play.

In many breeds, for example, high-headed, round movement is counted against Western pleasure mounts. Stock breed judges are looking for slow-legged, flat-kneed movers while Morgan and Saddlebred Western horses are expected to be fancier. In some breeds, the slower the better and the lower a headset you can get, you’ll stand a better chance of placing, while in others cadence is far more important than speed.

When evaluating working western horses, such as cutters or reiners, specific maneuvers are required and there are specific penalties for certain disobediences. In the trail class, horses are scored on how well they negotiate obstacles, with points subtracted for various faults -- no matter how the horse carries himself. As long as he follows the class specifications and completes each task properly, he will stand a chance of placing even though he may never be a World Champion Western pleasure mount.

The differences between Open Hunter/Jumper circuit horses and Arabian Hunter pleasure horses, for instance, is night and day. There is a distinct advantage for a flat-kneed “daisy cutter” Thoroughbred Hunter on the flat at a rated H/J event, while their Arabian counterparts are generally rounder, higher trotting movers. With flat saddle entries, Morgan and Arabian English horses are far more likely to exhibit what we call “tightness” in the bridle, a most desired trait, though American Saddlebreds frequently compete with their noses out and forward, though the frame is generally similar.

On the Dressage court, horses are scored on individual movements within what’s called a “test”, and a rider’s individual score is given as a percentage. At each level the scoring is tougher and the movements are more difficult. Larger, rounder, scopier movers do better than shorter strided animals; while in the Hunter/Jumper world you basically have two different worlds in one. Hunters Over Fences are judged on how they jump -- their form, steadiness of frame and even, well regulated speed are what is sought by judges, in addition to correct conformation. Jumpers, on the other hand, don’t need to look good in order to excel, they simply need to get over the fences without knocking rails down (or refusing) and do it FAST.

If you wish to succeed in the show ring, there are a variety of steps you can take before that big leap of actually competing. First, you should be attending shows to spectate with individuals knowledgeable about how things do work, who you can ask such things as what gaits or maneuvers are being asked for and why a horse may either get a lower score or a lower placing than another similar horse. Talk to as any people involved in that scene as you can, exhibitors, trainers, judges and show officials. These are the people who have the background and education and who can guide you in the right direction.

Something you will inevitably hear, universally in all breeds and disciplines, is the hot button word “politics”, and to be sure, they DO exist. During your show ring career, you will surely see horses which either do not conform to class specifications yet win, horses that are arguably (or visibly) lame who win and horses exhibited in a manner contrary to the rules in some other way and still win, among other scenarios. The facts are, it’s all part of the game and you either need to learn to live with it or work to change it. Once you know and understand what judges should be looking for, and you see a glaring example of political (or otherwise poor) judging, be sure to take thorough notes and explain exactly how and why you object if you wish to protest or make a difference in some way in regard to such behavior. Too many people refuse to take a stand against abuses in and surrounding our show rings, or just don’t want to get involved. Kudos to those who feel otherwise.

A few more unrelated words of caution regarding the show ring: In some circles, on some upper levels of showing, there will also invariably be questions regarding some certain practices which you may find objectionable that are considered normal and routine by those more experienced, such as drugging, various shoeing gimmickery, equipment which doesn’t meet standards of acceptability and more. Some little tricks of the trade and tips are fine. Those which violate the rules (or the law) are most certainly not. A trainer’s job is to know and understand all the rules of the association[s] under which they show, and to abide by them for the benefit of the horses, their clients and the sport itself. If you are going it alone without a trainer on the show circuit, it’s also YOUR job to know those rules just as well. Should you not have a copy of the requisite rule book[s], get one. Read it from cover to cover so you know and fully understand what those rules are, what is expected and what the penalties are for violating the rules. Remember: Even if your horse is with a trainer, YOU will be held liable for any violations incurred while your horse is under the trainer’s care.

Best of luck...and be sure to have fun, because that’s what it’s really all about!

What Is That Judge Looking For?

Let’s get one thing straight at the outset of this installment -- there IS a difference between a judge who does his or her job right and one who doesn’t know any better. Let me rephrase that a little bit, though -- the difference is between judges who do a good job and those who are more concerned with advancing their own agenda. Frequently this can be attributed to nothing more than the age-old adage “You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours”. Very rarely is it due to a real lack of education. For some reason, in recent years I’ve felt compelled to argue placings far more often than earlier in my career, probably because I’ve had enough experience these days to know the difference between good and bad judging.

What if you want to get involved in judging, but you don’t know where to start? Not only am I going to cover how to be a good judge (and that’s a tough assignment!), but I’ll begin with how you go about starting out with such a career. Honestly, the only real way to tell if a judge is worthwhile is to see them in action, so these “judging schools” and the like are a little bit of a deception. You can get a good deal of background while attending -- they’re mandatory in many breeds or disciplines, and you will probably go through rigorous training to test how much you know the rules, but if you don’t follow them, any education you receive will be worthless.

My judging career began in Youth Judging Contests, and that was a far better education than any school environment I’ve encountered to date. While my area of choice and specialty was the Arabian breed, these contests and programs are offered in many breeds and through various civic organizations, such as FFA (Future Farmers of America) and 4-H. That education started out by us collectively attending local horse shows and listening intently as our accredited coaches painstakingly explained what we SHOULD be looking for in each class, pointing out correct and incorrect examples of participants in many different events.

It was also expected that we would memorize the AHSA (American Horse Shows Association, now called the USEF -- United States Equestrian Federation) rule book as well, in which all of the show ring rules appear in the Arabian breed. Other breeds, such as AQHA, PtHA, APHA and more, have their own rule books with their own special rules.

We were also given photographs out of magazines and asked to “judge” groups of four horses against each other based only on what we could see in the pictures and after having been given the parameters of the “class” by our coaches, such as if the horses were aged mares or three year old colts for the Halter classes. From there we were expected to be able to go back to the shows themselves and “judge” the different classes presented. Sometimes you would agree 100% with the official show judges and your coaches, sometimes you would not. If you didn’t agree, as long as you had a good argument for your own placings, you didn’t receive point deductions.

One of the most valuable parts of this early education was called “giving reasons”. At the contests, you had to judge a total of eight to ten classes, usually either four Halter and four or six performance, or four performance and four or six Halter. Two each of the Halter and performance classes were reasons classes, where your notes had better be thorough. Giving oral reasons was where you made your justification for placing the classes as you had placed them, regardless of whether or not your placings agreed with the officials. Classes always had four horses in them, and you split your classes into a top pair (1st and 2nd), a middle pair (2nd and 3rd) and a bottom pair (3rd and 4th). It was necessary to explain why you placed a certain horse first, then you had to grant something back to your second place horse, or the lower horse in a given pair, but then give your final basis for why you placed each pair as you did. If you were good at reasons, you might be forgiven your placings. Did I mention you had to MEMORIZE your placings in the reasons classes and MEMORIZE your reasons themselves? Reasons were given with you, the youth contestant, standing with your hands clasped behind your back in front of an official sitting there looking you over almost expecting you to stumble over your words. Talk about tough!

You may be asking, how will this help me today, as an exhibitor, in learning the ropes of judging properly? Simple. Seek out a similar education and you’ll be well on your way to gaining a better understanding of what is expected of a judge. Sounds intriguing? In the Arabian breed these days there is actually an Adult Judging Contest where you can test your knowledge of vitally important points like how well you understand form-to-function and if you know the rules well enough to notice someone who’s in violation. There is nothing more valuable than just going to shows and watching what’s going on, but don’t forget your rule book. As a judge (and for us trainers, too), that’s your ‘bible’.

The first criteria of a good judge is someone not afraid to adhere strictly to the rules, regardless of the political consequences. As I’ve mentioned before, there are politics in horse showing, so don’t fool yourself. The difference between a good judge and a political one, regardless of the education level or how well they may know horseflesh, is that a good judge looks for excellent specimens in Halter classes and good horses that turn in solid performances under saddle -- a good judge is one who sticks with horses which most exemplify what’s written verbatim in the rule book without regard to who’s in the saddle or on the end of the lead shank.

With Halter classes, it’s fairly easy to spot the faux pas, although too often even real faults are overlooked there for one reason or another. Showing techniques for exhibiting Arabian Halter horses are designed with one purpose in mind, and that’s to deceive. In other breeds there will naturally be less of the posing and posturing to hide faults, but many of them have much looser rules on alterations and falsifying the horses, thus giving you an un-natural appearance to begin with. Just look at the false tails and all that comes with it.

Let me give you another couple of perfect examples, this time in the performance arena, which are personal pet peeves of mine...and yes, these pertain to the Arabian show ring: To start, Country English Pleasure. Our AHA (Arabian Horse Association) handbook states all Arabian show ring rules are contained in the USEF rule book, and those rules must be followed for each class or event. Within that rule book, the Arabian Division rules state for the Country English division as follows -- only specific sections pulled out, those not pertinent are not included here, and sections highlighted in bold, italic text then underlined are of particular interest:

Article 1625. Qualifying Gaits.

It is imperative that the horse give the distinct appearance of being a pleasure to ride. A quiet, responsive mouth is paramount. All gaits must be performed with willingness and obvious ease, cadence, balance and smoothness.

1. Walk, a four-beat gait: To be true, flat-footed and ground covering.

2. Normal Trot, a two-beat gait: To be an overall balanced, relaxed, easy-going trot with elasticity and freedom of movement. High action MUST be penalized. Posting is required.

3. Strong Trot, a two-beat gait: To be faster with lengthened stride, maintaining balance, ease and freedom of movement. High action MUST be penalized. Posting is required.

4. Canter, a three-beat gait: To be smooth, unhurried, straight and correct on both leads.

5. Hand Gallop: To be a faster gait, lengthened stride and controlled, straight and correct on both leads. Extreme speed MUST be penalized.

Article 1626. Arabian Country English Pleasure Class Specifications.

1. OPEN, MAIDEN, NOVICE, LIMIT, STALLIONS, MARES, GELDINGS. To be shown at a walk, normal trot, strong trot, canter and hand gallop. It is mandatory that horses be asked to halt on the rail, stand quietly, back, and walk off on a loose rein at least one direction of the ring. To be judged on attitude, manners, performance, quality and conformation, in that order. It is imperative that the horse give the distinct appearance of being a pleasure to ride. A quiet, responsive mouth is paramount.

2. JUNIOR HORSE (five years old and under). To be shown at a walk, normal trot and canter. It is mandatory that horses be asked to halt on the rail, stand quietly, back, and walk off on a loose rein at least one direction of the ring. To be judged on attitude, manners, quality, and performance, in that order. It is imperative that the horse give the distinct appearance of being a pleasure to ride. A quiet, responsive mouth is paramount.

3. ATR, JTR, AOTR, AAOTR, JOTR, LIMITED, LADIES, GENTLEMEN. To be shown at a walk, normal trot and canter. It is mandatory that horses be asked to halt on the rail, stand quietly, back, and walk off on a loose rein at least one direction of the ring. To be judged on attitude, manners, performance, quality, conformation and suitability of horse to rider. It is imperative that the horse give the distinct appearance of being a pleasure to ride. A quiet, responsive mouth is paramount.

There are several things which should stand out to anyone reading the above rule, and they include the MANDATORY PENALTY for high knee action in this division, that horses are supposed to be able to halt, stand quietly, back readily then walk off on a LOOSE REIN and they must give the distinct appearance of being a PLEASURE TO RIDE. In today’s Arabian show ring, the vast majority of the horses competing in Country English Pleasure classes are too fancy, with far higher knee action than the class was designed to reward, most of them cannot walk off on a loose rein as they are required to do and they certainly do not look like they’re pleasurable to ride. This is a clear cut case of judges pinning incorrect horses because they either don’t understand the rules, or more likely they don’t care.

Oftentimes a judge will forgive violations of rule book specifications simply because they like the individual horse, or worse, they like the rider of the horse. The most glaring examples of political, BAD judging are those who pin horses that do not follow class specs, but the rider or handler will be judging them at an upcoming show, alluding to that back scratching I mentioned above.

It’s also been said by others as well as myself that many of today’s judges who are also show ring trainers have created a whole different horse than we started with, so they can monopolize that show ring with extremes. The concept of how and why is easy to understand -- Owners want their horses to win, so they place them in training with a trainer who has a reputation for winning. Trainers need the clients to stay in business and make a living, so they do whatever it takes to win for those owners. They know, many of them anyways, if the horses don’t win every time out, they’ll lose horses out of their training barn. When trends and standards are set, it’s by trainers for trainers in a small little circle of those who judge each other. It’s a devilish catch-22, and for those who either refuse to play the game or who don’t have the clout to play the game, it can be devastating.

In my opinion, those who jump into the frying pan of politics simply to win (and the horses be damned) have compromised their standards, and I simply WON’T go there. That said...

Another sore spot for me in my beloved Arabian breed is the English Show Hack division. Our AHA and USEF Arabian Division rules state the following -- again, non pertinent sections removed and the most important parts highlighted:

Article 1633. Qualifying Gaits.

A Show Hack horse is not necessarily a Dressage horse, nor an English Pleasure horse of the Arabian Division. Elevation and high knee action are not to be emphasized. The Show Hack is a suitable section for the well trained animal. Show Hacks must be balanced and show vitality, animation, presence, clean fine limbs and supreme quality. Soundness is required. The collected and extended gaits must be called for; i.e., collected walk, extended walk, normal walk; collected trot, extended trot, normal trot; collected canter, extended canter, normal canter and hand gallop. At the discretion of the judge, horses while on the rail may be asked to halt and rein-back. A Show Hack shall be able to perform all of these gaits with a noticeable transition between the normal, collected, and extended gaits. The horse must be under complete control and easily ridden. Obedience to the rider is of prime importance. If the horse exhibits clear transitions in a balanced and level manner, appearing to be giving a comfortable and pleasurable ride, he is performing correctly for this class.

1. Walk, a four-beat gait: Straight, true and flat-footed.

a) Normal Walk: Regular and unconstrained, moving energetically and calmly forward.

b) Collected Walk: Strides are shorter and higher than at the normal walk. The head approaches the vertical, but should never move behind it. Pacing is a serious fault.

c) Extended Walk: The horse is allowed to lengthen frame and stride while rider maintains light rein contact. The horse should cover as much ground as possible without rushing.

2. Trot, a two-beat gait: Free-moving, straight, rider maintaining light contact with horse’s mouth at all times.

a) Normal Trot: Light, crisp, balanced and cadenced, with rider posting.

b) Collected Trot: The horse’s stride is shorter and lighter, maintaining balance and impulsion. The neck is more raised and arched than at the normal trot as head approaches the vertical line, never moving behind it. Rider is sitting.

c) Extended Trot: Maintaining the same cadence and performing at medium speed, the horse lengthens its stride as a result of greater impulsion from the hindquarters. Horse should remain light in rider’s hand as it lengthens its frame. Rider is posting.

3. Canter, a three-beat gait: Straight on both leads, smooth.

a) Normal Canter: Light even strides, should be moved into without hesitation.

b) Collected Canter: Marked by the lightness of the forehand and the engagement of the hindquarters, the collected canter is characterized by supple, free shoulders. Neck is more raised and arched than in normal canter as the head approaches the vertical line, never moving behind it.

c) Extended Canter: Maintaining the same cadence, the horse lengthens its stride as a result of greater impulsion from the hindquarters. Horse should remain light in rider’s hand as it lengthens its frame.

4. Hand Gallop: The hand gallop is performed with a long, free, ground covering stride. The amount of ground covered may vary between horses due to difference in natural length of stride. The distinction between hand gallop and extended canter is, the latter being the ultimate linear extension of stride within the hand of the rider; the hand gallop being a looser, more free elongation of stride and frame of the horse. A decided lengthening of stride should be shown while the horse remains controlled, mannerly, correct and straight on both leads. Extreme speed to be penalized.

Article 1634. Arabian English Show Hack Class Specifications.

1. OPEN, MAIDEN, NOVICE, LIMIT, STALLIONS, MARES, GELDINGS, JUNIOR HORSE, ATR, JTR, AOTR, AAOTR, JOTR, LADIES, GENTLEMEN. To be shown at a walk, trot, canter, and hand gallop; collected and extended and normal gaits to be called for, to stand quietly and back readily. To be judged on manners, performance, quality and conformation.

That description mentions, many times over, key words like lengthen and shorten stride and frame. Years ago I characterized this class as being a “pleasure class based on the principles of Dressage”, because of the extended and collected gaits called for. Therein this division provides a dilemma, because we don’t otherwise have extended and collected gaits (other than the strong trot in our open Country and English classes as well as the hand gallop in open CEP, EP, Western Pleasure and all Hunter Pleasure classes), yet Dressage isn’t ridden on the rail. Some Dressage purists can’t stand the class. It’s mostly beloved by rail class aficionados.

The problem with Show Hack also lies in the lack of adherence to the rules. Once again, many judges are not pinning horses who show real COLLECTION and EXTENSION of stride and frame, preferring to simply choose animals that speed up and slow down. Moreso than with Country pleasure, an awful lot of Arabian judges don’t know what to look for in a Show Hack horse. Likewise for Hunter pleasure, but that’s another story altogether. Too many Arabian judges are so used to specializing in either Western or Saddleseat English horses they have neglected to understand what’s required in other disciplines. That wouldn’t be so bad if they actually cared, but I’m not going to hold my breath just yet. Okay, off that well worn soapbox for now!

I’ve also seen too many things which raised an eyebrow in the stock breeds, so I’ll delve into that next. Some years back there was a major problem in the Quarter Horse industry’s show ring which lead to the term ‘peanut roller’ being tagged onto a majority of the winning Western pleasure horses. Ultimately, the AQHA instituted a rule which prohibited horses that carried their poll a certain distance below the withers from being pinned in pleasure classes.

Sadly, we still see too many Quarter Horses (and Paints, too) who carry themselves too low or have precious little carriage at all, among other things. Frequently I’m also confronted with seeing stock breed horses, especially in the Western pleasure classes, who look downright crippled. I don’t mean merely lame, I mean as if they can’t move out of their own tracks and may fall down if they try. Shockingly to me, these are sometimes winning mounts and ridden by youths or amateurs. The worst of all, however, is that such movement is encouraged by the trainers and judges who pin them.

Therein lies another point to remember when judging: Good movement is good movement, no matter if the horse is a Quarter horse, Arabian, Paint horse, Morgan, Appaloosa or Tennessee Walker. Following such dreadful trends -- or the others I continually see, such as four-beating at the lope or canter and traveling literally sideways down the rail rather than straight -- is nothing short of bad judging. Period. That, and in my opinion poor training. Once again, some of this is both encouraged by trainers and rewarded by judges. I can honestly say I just don’t get it. So many of us do our best to project positive images in the show ring, it gets pretty tough when you have folks, colleagues, who insist on spoiling things.

In closing, the most valuable lesson you can learn regarding how to judge correctly is to take your time and learn how horses work. Form to function and then decipher the reasons behind our show ring rules. Once you accomplish that, you’ll be set and far more prepared to show your own horses, or get your judge’s card should you decide to pursue such a goal.


Tuesday, July 28, 2009

How Do I Love Thee? Let Me Count The Ways!

Today I simply wanted to express how much I truly love all the horses that have touched my life, both my own and those owned by clients. I feel so incredibly lucky to share my life with incredible horses on a daily basis, and that I am able to have the honor of presenting to the public some of the most fabulous equines I have ever had the pleasure of meeting.

When we are happy, they always seem to revel in our happiness. When we are sad, they always seem to take the pain away. When we are angry or upset, they soothe our souls. When we are excited, they share in our anticipation. When we are nervous, they [sometimes] can calm us. When we are unsure, they steady and reassure us. When we hurt, they make it all better with nothing more than the rub of a soft, velvety nose against us.

I've got some very special stories about the horses that have graced my life, and I intend to do some blog posts in the future about them. Like Spook, the Quarter Horse mare who taught me all about what Western Pleasure was really supposed to be all about. Or Sugar, the most awesome Welsh Pony (and best friend) a child could ever ask for. Or Hadji, one of the first Arabian show horses I ever competed on who could have been one of the greatest jumpers of all time, had he not been ahead of his time. Or Southern, who gave me my first big win at an "A" rated Arabian horse show, in an English Pleasure class as a young teen against the BNT's and their six figure horses. There are so many more...

Tomorrow's post will venture into the arena (for lack of a better word at the moment) of judging in the Arabian show ring. Thursday I am going to tell a couple of very special rescue stories that are near and dear to my heart. Friday is going to be the day for a discussion of fire evacuation, because that is such a pertinent issue ~ especially in this Southern California wonderland that I happen to live in. And Saturday I'll report on how our show went, wish us good luck!

With great pleasure I would also like to announce that I have been asked to conduct an Arabian breed demonstration and a Showmanship Clinic this coming October at a local major equestrian event. This is an incredible honor and I am so flattered that I have been asked to participate!

Until tomorrow, go hug your horses. :)


Monday, July 27, 2009

Trail Smarts & Safety Tips: Hitting The Trail Safely

Now that we're well into Summer and the busiest trail riding season of the year, it's time to discuss proper preparation, safety tips and riding smarts. This time around I am going to go over the aspects of trail riding and give some of my basic tenets of good horsemanship plus my own personal guidelines.

To all you who love climbing aboard your beloved equine friends for a relaxing, refreshing trail ride without the hassles of Winter, rejoice! Summer is here! Months of dreaming about galloping across the majestic mountains minus that cold white stuff are over, but beware -- dangers which have been dormant through the colder months are awakening. Rattlesnakes, for instance. Make sure you plan your rides well in advance if they entail more than just a jaunt around the block, and whatever you do, be careful.

When you’re simply choosing to ride out of your backyard and down the local streets or trails, not much preparation is needed, but when you’re heading out into the wilderness for an equestrian adventure, you’ll want to do some basic legwork first. That’s what I am covering here. Being prepared includes a whole lot more than just knowing what to pack for your trip and, of course, what you bring depends on where you are heading and for how long. In addition to making sure that your horse is healthy and adequately fit (which is covered more in depth later on), be sure he is up to date on his deworming and all of his vaccinations. I recommend the whole enchilada: Various strains of Flu, Tetanus, Strangles, Rhino, Potomac Horse Fever, EEE/WEE/VEE and West Nile Virus -- and they should be given every six months, or as directed by your vet. Your horse also needs to have been shod within the last two weeks before you leave. Although you can trail ride on an unshod horse, I don’t recommend it, especially if the terrain is going to be rough or rocky. Another recommendation I heartily suggest is that you familiarize yourself with poisonous plants. You already know to stay away from wild animals, right?

Make sure you thoroughly check over your tow vehicle, towing equipment and trailer, including having your regular engine and transmission service done. For Summertime trips it is also a good idea to service and flush the radiator/cooling system as well as look into having your air conditioning system checked out and recharged, if necessary. Be certain to completely go over your tires and brakes (both truck and trailer), check out your trailer’s electrical system and inspect your hitch on both ends.

You should always be familiar with the area in which you plan to ride, and know exactly how to get there by mapping out a route before you leave. This helps avoid driving around looking for your turn and making your horses stand in that hot trailer for longer than they should have to. Be sure you know how to get to the staging areas and trailheads where horse trailer parking is available and easily accessible (especially if you have difficulty maneuvering your rig!). There are a number of public and private agencies which can provide you with that information. Also, always let someone know where you are going, for how long and in what general vicinity you plan to ride. That way, should you become lost or injured it will be a whole lot easier for rescuers to decide where to start looking for you, and give them a better chance of locating your party.

The supplies necessary for a day trip are somewhat fewer than for an overnight camping excursion, but not much different. A comprehensive list of most of the items you’ll need or should have is included at the end of this article, along with a brief explanation of each item’s purpose.

One of the most important things to remember -- and I cannot stress this enough -- is never, EVER ride alone when you're going further than your own neighborhood! In the event of an emergency, such as your horse spooks and you become hurt during a fall, not being alone out there can mean the difference between life and death. Having a trail companion certainly won’t ensure that you aren’t going to have any problems at all, but in certain instances it can save your life and can be reassuring in the event a problem does occur. There’s sure no reason to go looking for trouble. When you are riding somewhere you’ve never been before it can be easy to get lost, especially in the mountains and upper desert elevations where temperatures can drop quickly, and when nightfall approaches it’s nearly impossible to find your way in the dark. The best advice if you do get lost is to stay put and don’t wander around getting more lost. You can just sit it out if nothing else, and wait for daylight.

Whenever you ride, always remember to be considerate of others and don’t do things to deliberately upset or spook anyone else’s horse. Don’t let your horse gallop off ahead and don’t ride up on the tail of another rider’s horse (whether he’s got a red ribbon in his tail -- which traditionally means he’s a kicker -- or not). Something else I personally suggest, and INSIST on when I’m on the trail is DO NOT DRINK ALCOHOLIC BEVERAGES OR SMOKE. First, I have seen too many cases of abuse toward horses ridden by inebriated people “just out for a good time”. The fact is, just as when driving a motor vehicle, judgment becomes seriously impaired while drinking. If you want to have a beer or two back at camp to cool off after a hot day, fine, but that’s about all I’ll tolerate.

If you do insist on drinking while out on the trail (while it won’t be out with me!) there are a few rules of common courtesy you should try to follow. If the group you want to ride with isn’t interested in drinking, don’t spoil their fun by tipping the bottle. Likewise, if you don’t agree with the idea of being around a bunch of tipsy travelers, don’t ride with a group who want to drink. Also, smoking should be prohibited if for no other reason than the fire danger of a carelessly discarded cigarette. Smokers should abstain for the duration of the ride, and can always light up upon returning to camp where there are ashtrays readily available. Trail riding is supposed to be fun for all participants, and to spoil someone else’s enjoyment will quickly give you a bad reputation.

Not only should the experience be a pleasant one for you, the rider, but it should also be exciting and refreshing for your horse. Sometimes is can be easy to ask too much of your mount, so you should know your horse’s limits and be aware of the danger signs of a stressed or sick horse. If you aren’t aware of what they are already, or what the signals of dehydration are, ask your veterinarian to explain them. Common sense should dictate whether or not your horse is ready to resume the ride. Get to know your animal well enough in advance of loading him in the trailer, and make sure he’s fit and in excellent health.

Try to avoid taking a young or inexperienced horse on a lengthy or difficult trail the first few times out, and always try to make certain you don’t over-exert an out of condition animal by riding for too long a period of time or over terrain that is too difficult for him. Try to stick with the easier trails until you are sure of the terrain and how your horse will handle it. Just as with arena riding (if not more so), a horse should always be in shape for what he’s being asked to do. Let your conscience be your guide in determining whether or not your horse is ready for any particular trip. Remember that you might be far away from civilization if your horse should happen to become ill.

Most of the information available from the Ranger stations regarding trails in the National Forests, on BLM lands and through State or County Parks rate them as easy, moderate or difficult, and some riding clubs and other organizations also monitor the difficulty level of trails in various areas, as well as trail closures due to weather, trail damage or other hazards. Be sure to check out the area you are traveling to, making certain the trails are open and safe.

Many horsemen begin a young trail horse’s career by ponying them along with an older, wiser mount. This I would not suggest unless you are a seriously accomplished rider and have many hours of ponying experience in an arena. Even then it can be a dangerous practice. Be careful, there are many things out there that can spook horses on the trail, and if your own mount gets startled, it can get downright impossible to control the horse you are ponying.

Although some seasoned (some of us would call them old fashioned) horse campers prefer to hobble their steeds or tie them to a picket line, I do not recommend this at all. I have seen horses literally leap away from camp while their unsuspecting owners thought they were safely grounded, and I’ve also owned a couple of real “Houdini’s” who would get themselves unfastened or untied when I thought they were safely secured. Horses wandering through camp are no fun to try and catch in the middle of the night! Preferably choose a location that has corrals set up permanently for the purposes of keeping horses in them -- there are a number of such places throughout the country. Check your local resources and you should be able to find an ideal place to go. Your two other significant options are to purchase a portable corral that either attaches to your trailer or stands separately, or to let your horse stand inside the trailer (which is a perfectly acceptable option so long as you have water available to him at all times).

Remember, also, that in order to haul your horse out of state (or out of the country) you will need the necessary paperwork, including a clean bill of health. So if you plan to take a long distance trail riding trip, be sure to call the state or country you intend to travel to (and/or through) for acceptable forms of identification and any paperwork you will need to produce in order to cross the border[s] that you need to cross.

Understandably, an awful lot of people don’t want to lug around extra stuff that takes up room on the saddle, however if you should ever find yourself in a position where you need it, you’ll never be without it again! Putting together a good first aid kit for both yourself and your horse is also an excellent idea. Nothing fancy, just some basic supplies -- more on that later. Before packing and loading can begin, you should make a thorough inspection of your tack, replacing or repairing anything that is worn or broken. The last thing you want to happen is to have a bridle break or a stirrup come apart twenty miles from your trailer.

One “supply” which can come in incredibly handy when you’re out in the middle of nowhere is a cellular telephone. Pretty much everyone has one these days, the coverage areas are better than ever, and they can be a real lifesaver if an emergency occurs out on the trail. They’re definitely the fastest way to get help, instead of having one of your party ride away from you to locate someone, which can inadvertently upset an injured horse, not to mention leave an injured rider out on the trail all alone until help arrives.

Before we get to the things you should be taking with you, always compile a list of important phone numbers, such as your vet and someone to call in case something happens to you. You will need to have someone notify family members in case of any accidents, and you’ll also need somebody to haul your horse home if you become injured and cannot drive, or if your vehicle becomes disabled. It is an unpleasant topic, but one of great importance for the safety-minded and well prepared horseman.

The following supplies are my "day trip necessities", which will be followed up by a comprehensive list of multiple day/overnight camping supplies I take with me. Of foremost importance is to remember where you are: Bringing a compass to give yourself an idea of the direction in which you’re heading is a good start. You’ll need a few basics for your horse (naturally you can’t forget your saddle, pad and bridle!), including a hoof pick to remove any rocks or foreign objects that might become stuck in your horse’s feet, a strong, heavy halter and lead rope -- I do not recommend either a leather halter or a rope with brass snaps, as they can easily break if a horse pulls back when tied, and then you can lose your horse. What I suggest if you are worried about the horse hanging himself up on something while tied, is an elastic trailer tie with a quick release snap on the end AWAY from the horse’s halter. This way you still have a rope to hold onto after you have freed the horse. You will also want to bring a pair of wire cutters along (though NOT for cutting through fences!), a pocket knife and an extra pair of reins in case your horse steps on one and breaks it.

I also suggest a fleece cinch cover if your horse is sensitive and has a tendency to become rubbed in the girth area. Many horses don’t need them in the arena, but do when they’re trekking up mountains. If you want, your horse can wear leg protection on the trail, but I only use splint boots with velcro closures (and with some horses bell boots), because if you should happen to ride through heavy brush or foxtails, they are much easier to get clean. Bringing along leg wraps -- either the standing or polo type -- and quilts for wrapping an injured leg is a good idea, but I generally leave them in the trailer as opposed to using them as regular leg protection on trail rides. Another great idea is bringing along a set of Easyboots® (or a similar product), and keeping them in your saddlebags. If your horse should happen to throw one or more shoes, even though they should be newly done, they can prevent the hoof from being destroyed.

Don’t forget your shipping boots for hauling your horse (if you use them), and if you anticipate that it’s going to be cold where you plan to go, especially in the evening, you might consider taking a blanket and a cooler for him to wear before and after your ride, and you will certainly want to remember fly spray.

I usually tie the halter across the cantle of my saddle, over my saddlebags, but if you are worried about having to switch from the bridle to the halter out on the trail away from camp where you may have a problem, your easiest bet is to put the halter on under the bridle. First, though, you need to make sure your bridle fits properly this way and that it is comfortable for your horse. If your headstall uses Chicago-type screws to secure the bit in place, you also need to carry along some extra screws. This type of bridle isn’t recommended, either. Instead I suggest a headstall with snaps or buckles instead.

If you think you might need to work off a little bit of extra steam in your horse before hitting the trail in the morning, consider bringing along a longe line and longe whip, although I caution you to remember how long you may be planning to ride. Don’t wear him out unnecessarily! I also always keep a stud chain in the trailer just in case I should need one, they can be invaluable. Among other things I keep in my trailer for trail outings are -- a leather (hole) punch, electrical tape, duct tape, scissors and my tool box, loaded with everything I might need, including extra hooks and snaps, plus two pairs of pliers, regular and needle-nosed.

I also put together an equine first aid kit to go along with my own first aid supplies, one that stays in my trailer. This consists of a large roll of cotton, several rolls of Vetwrap®, a stethoscope, a thermometer, tweezers, a blue lotion spray, Betadine®, Bute paste, Azium antihistamine powder, injectable Dipyrone®, Banamine®, Acepromazine® tranquilizer (although I usually prefer a mixture of Ace and Rompun®), rubbing alcohol, several sterile needles and syringes and a humane twitch. If you cannot give an injection, you need to learn how. You never know when you may need to. Have your vet show you the proper way and the proper locations, and perhaps practice by giving your horses their regular vaccinations at home. One word of caution about shots, however -- I never, EVER, give an intravenous injection. This should only be done by a qualified veterinarian. You could kill your horse! Only give shots in the muscle areas pointed out to you by your vet.

For yourself, make sure you bring along some sort of bug off spray (especially with the recent West Nile Virus threat) to keep those pesky mosquito’s from biting you. Bactine® is also a good idea in case you should accidentally touch some poison oak, poison ivy or stinging nettles...and remember the sunscreen! I usually bring lip balm as well, as I tend to get those dry cracked lips after an hour or so. If it’s a bright, sunny day and you want to wear sunglasses, you may wish to consider getting a stretch band that wraps around your head, or at least something to attach to the sides in case they were to fall from your face while looking down, for instance. Having them get broken by your horse stepping on them is no fun either. If you can get away with only wearing a cap to shade your face, all the better. Two final personal must-haves: Band-aids® and a snake bite kit. You never know what might happen out there.

Durable leather or canvas saddlebags or a cantlebag are the best places to keep your supplies, and you can’t forget to take water. Bring along a canteen or two for your own drinking needs, as the streams along the trail you may encounter could be contaminated. If you plan on riding for more than a few hours, you should purchase a collapsible watering bucket for your horse and bring along some extra water. Always take into consideration both the temperature and the altitude where you are riding to gauge water consumption. As a general rule, mature horses will consume six to ten gallons of water a day at home, so be sure to have plenty available back at camp.

In addition to all of the above mentioned day trip supplies, there are a number of additional things you may want to bring for overnight camping trips. For your horse, be sure to bring plenty of feed. Generally even if the horse I’ll be riding gets pellets at home, I’ll bring him hay, since munching on it can have a soothing, relaxing effect and he can’t inhale it as quickly as pellets. It gives him something to do at camp. I also NEVER put pellets in the trailer -- horses can choke on them going down the road (I have seen the ugly results of this!) and you would never even know until you arrived at your destination. Feed also includes any vitamins or other supplements and grain, plus A & M (alfalfa & molasses) an/or beet pulp. Don’t forget the electrolytes, which replenish valuable minerals lost during exertion through sweating, and your salt brick from home. You’ll also need to bring a bucket or barrel from home in which to feed your horse. I also usually bring along a few extra buckets just for good measure. If you stay at a regular horse campground which has the availability of plenty of water, you’ll need to bring a hose plus a large watering trough. I don’t like my horses using the automatic waterers sometimes provided at these facilities, nor do I like the idea of them drinking from a community trough which has been used by Heaven knows what horses. If you can, try wrapping any auto waterer to make it unusable for your horse during your stay, but don’t break it! Otherwise, get yourself one of those portable corrals. That hose can also come in handy for rinsing off a sweaty horse at the end of the day, but don’t forget your scraper. Another couple of things to bring are a muck bucket and a stall cleaning fork. Keeping your horse’s area clean and manure free, and showing courtesy to those who stay after you are important things to remember. In the case that you are not staying at a horse campground, be extra sure to bring plenty of water for your horse, I also can't stress that enough!

Naturally, you’ll want to bring your grooming box with brushes to make sure your horse is both clean and looks his best, and if the fly pest population is severe or your horse has an allergy which requires one, a fly mask is probably in order. It’s always a good idea to have a number of extra’s available in the event something breaks, too -- extra halters, lead ropes, trailer ties and bridles can save your neck if you should be in a position to need them. Also, bringing along an extra saddle pad or two, plus an extra cinch or cinch cover can mean you won’t have to put those back on your horse the next day if they should happen to get wet and not dry overnight.

The additional equipment you and your human companions should have for yourselves at camp include trail maps of the area (to be sure you get to where you want to go), flashlights, a portable radio and extra batteries, plenty of clothes, jackets, gloves, a hat with a brim to shade the sun, riding boots, some tennis shoes for comfort around camp (if you feel they’re necessary), lots of towels (which can come in handy for a myriad of purposes), rubber boots and a slicker in case of unexpected rain, sleeping bags and pillows (assuming you’re not lucky enough to have a living quarters horse trailer or a camper/motorhome!), perhaps a tent (although we usually just throw the sleeping bags in the bed of the truck on our air mattress), a table and chairs, Kleenex®, paper towels, cooking dishes, pans & utensils, eating plates, cups, a can opener, a bottle opener, a dish pan for washing dirty dishes, a dish scrubber, dish soap, food and drinks, an ice chest, trash bags, a small barbeque grill (if allowed, with charcoal and lighter fluid) or a camp stove with fuel, possibly a lantern (if you don’t want to live by firelight or drain your flashlight batteries at night, or don’t have very good lights on the outside of your horse trailer), a small first aid kit including Telfa® gauze pads, medical tape, ace bandages, aspirin (or other suitable painkillers) and antihistamines for allergy problems and your own personal toiletries.

I certainly, however, don’t recommend going horse camping without any prior camping experience, or at least without having someone along with you who has been wilderness camping before. ALWAYS remember that safety should be your first priority and DO NOT DO ANYTHING TO JEOPARDIZE YOURSELF, YOUR HORSE, YOUR NEIGHBORS IN CAMP OR THE ENVIRONMENT. ALWAYS put your fires out COMPLETELY (which is why I suggest getting a self-contained portable grill or stove upon which to do your cooking) and ALWAYS pack ALL of your trash back to where there is a dumpster or suitable trash receptacle.

Most of all, have fun, be safe and I’ll see you on the trail!

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Start From The Beginning ~ Snaffle Bits, Part 2

Continuing my previous message, the best tool a horseman can use in his horse's mouth is the smooth mouthed snaffle bit with a smaller round or Dee ring. Many horses, when originally trained under saddle, are started with an inconspicuous device commonly called a “colt bit” or “training bit”, which resembles a short shanked curb, except for the broken mouthpiece (which is technically what a snaffle is). This type of bit is also otherwise referred to in Western circles as a "tom thumb" bit.

What an awful lot of people don’t realize is, curb bits and snaffle bits, by their very design, are made to work differently in a horse’s mouth. The curb, with it’s side pieces (called shanks), works by using leverage against the animal’s jawbone, assisted by the curb strap which buckles under his chin. This is often erroneously referred to as a chin strap. When you pull back on the reins, the bit rotates forward and downward in your horse’s mouth and tightens up on him, creating pressure on his jawbone which results in him dropping his head -- to relieve the pressure. Ideally, a horse should always respond by lowering his head when “bumped” by his rider with a curb bit. That’s the correct response, a well trained horse should not throw his head or show other signs of distress when ridden properly in a curb.

On the other hand, a snaffle bit is made to work on the corners of a horse’s mouth. By creating pressure on each side of the mouth, the snaffle is a much more direct way to communicate what you want from your horse. Don’t fool yourself -- there are some incredibly severe types of snaffles out there used by many trainers for a variety of purposes (some not so honorable) which, in the wrong hands, could cause serious injury to the horse. Of course, that goes for virtually ANY bit, however, there is far less danger of that happening with a regular medium-to-large diameter smooth mouthed snaffle bit.

With the “colt bit” mentioned in the first paragraph, when pressure is applied to the curb shanks via the reins, not only do you have the leverage which comes from a traditional curb, you also have the snaffle-like mouthpiece closing in on the corners of your horse’s mouth. The result is an effect we used to refer to as the “jawbreaker”. Not exactly the best first impression to make on a young horse...or any horse for that matter!

Another point to consider in fitting your horse with a suitable bit is the height of his palate. Some horses simply cannot handle a higher port in a solid mouthpiece (such as with a curb bit) or even a mild standard snaffle. In this case, a French-link type of bit can be extremely helpful. This bit, unlike traditional snaffles, has a mouthpiece divided in three parts rather than just two, and it tends to fit those horses with lower palates.

Probably the best way to judge the suitability of a certain bit to your own needs -- and those of your beloved horse -- is if he strongly objects to the thing itself. In other words, if he tosses his head, chomps on the bit constantly, gaps his mouth excessively or worse, doesn’t want to accept the bit at all, there is more than likely a good reason behind it. Try to listen to your horse rather than forcing him to accept something because you think it’s right for him or because someone told you it’s right for him. He’s probably the one with all the right answers. Trust HIS judgment!

(this is part two of a pair of articles from 1994 written for an equestrian publication, the companion piece to yesterday's post topic)


Saturday, July 25, 2009

Start From The Beginning ~ Snaffle Bits, Part 1

Many times during my career training horses, customers have asked me to explain that particular chunk of steel I’m using in their horses’ mouth. Ah, bits...they’re such a confusing matter for most horse owners. Unfortunately, the average person who purchases a horse for pleasure riding doesn’t consult a trainer before going to the tack shop with their checkbook.

Bringing a professional along will not only insure you get the proper equipment (as long as this person is trustworthy, comes highly recommended from reliable sources and knows their tack!), but you will save money and time in the long run by keeping salespeople from trying to sell you expensive goods that wouldn’t serve your purposes at all.

With most horses, there is no reason to use anything more severe than a smooth “Dee” or “O” Ring snaffle. Preferably lightweight, this type of bit is a whole lot less likely to inflict pain on the horse in situations where he might become frightened by something, and his rider inclined to take hold of his mouth. Some folks want to stick a long shanked Western curb on every animal, with the idea they’ve got more control. Nothing could be further from the truth. In reality, “control” is in the training the horse has, NOT the bit in his mouth!

As horsemen and women, we don’t want to dominate our horses, we want to become one with them. By putting something in a horse’s mouth which might inevitably hurt him, we are reinforcing his need to become and remain a rogue (in the eyes of his trainer or rider, at least!) because of his unwillingness to be tamed. Can you blame him? Underscoring the fact that all humans are inhumane, we will always be at a disadvantage.

On the other hand, if we put something gentle in his mouth, especially with a young horse who hasn’t had any bad experiences (hopefully!) yet, the chances of producing a willing, amiable partner are much greater. The single most useful training tools any trainer possesses are positive reinforcement coupled with repetition, gentle yet effective handling and an attitude of wanting to work with the horse instead of against him. The idea is not to make him submissive in a negative sense, rather to make him cooperative -- as though he’d do anything asked of him for the sheer joy of it.

With older, harder mouthed horses on the other hand, most riders will put increasingly severe bits on them in an effort we go with that word again...gain control. To risk re-injuring a horse’s mouth (since that’s usually the reason they become hard in the first place) defies logic. Any responsible horse owner should educate him or herself on the reasons behind such behavior before jumping to conclusions. By putting a solid smooth Dee ring snaffle in his mouth and the use of a simple running martingale (or, in more extreme cases draw reins or a German martingale -- always used in conjunction with a direct rein to the bit) and some slow, steady work, the toughest mouths can be softened up. All it takes is a little perseverance and some thinking on the part of the rider.


Friday, July 24, 2009

Giving a Shout Out To...Us!!

Very exciting news, in yesterday's newspaper there was a short piece done on some of my clients and students, and their horses. Thank you, you know who you are!! There is nothing more fun than the wide eyed excitement of a child when they are acknowledged and applauded for their accomplishments, and this is no exception.

A very talented young student of mine is leading the Year End High Point for both English Walk/Trot and Western Walk/Jog at one of our tough show series' in the area, and the filly I am embarking on the Great Longeline Class Adventure with is leading the Year End High Point in both of her Halter divisions at another, different show series.

So here we are, the next show is one week from tomorrow. Countdown!! :)

I admit it, I am a horse show junkie. Love the process of getting horses (and riders/handlers) ready, love the preparation, love the excitement and love the competition. Everything leading up to show day are just as fabulous to me as the big day itself.

There are things that I don't like about showing horses, most of all some of the methods used to get horses "competitive" in their respective disciplines and often the tack used on some of the poor horses, along with the treatment some of them endure. I dislike the perception that some folks give of this sport that I love.

But enough about that.

I just wanted to share the excitement of owners and students, that there is a whole lot of good going on out there in horse show land. It doesn't get better than that!


Thursday, July 23, 2009

Show Grooming and Prep Tips for You and Your Horse

Well, it's been a long day and I did not have an opportunity to finish the post I was working on for today, as life got in the way :) however, I decided to once again dig into the LTF archives and grab up another older offering, this time about show preparation. Hope you all enjoy it! Read on:

"Ever get that feeling you’re just not coming across as being polished enough in the show ring to compete with your peers? Much of that “polish” comes from paying a little attention to detail and being meticulous about your turnout. You will get far more satisfaction in knowing you did your very best to look the part, not simply throwing a few things together and running a brush across your horse before loading him up in the trailer -- going the extra mile can make a world of difference.

Let’s start with you. So you wanna be fashionable in the show ring this year, do you? For women and girls, the basics are always your show wardrobe and understated makeup. There are many suitable looks for every discipline, and likewise many manufacturers who make beautiful clothes that look good on most people. This isn’t going to be an advertisement for any one in particular.

Some people have a big closet full of show attire, with a variety of shirts, vests, jackets and accessories. They’re the lucky ones! Others aren’t so fortunate, so I’ll pay more attention to those folks. Begin with a few basic staples, such as a hat and chaps for Western, or your Hunt coat. Be certain the colors match your horse and don’t clash.

I personally prefer black with accents, and that looks good with about any horse -- but for the youth exhibitor you can be a little more daring with bolder colors and patterns. The largest array of choice has always been in the Western divisions, simply because exhibitors are able to choose more in the way of color, but beware: Many colors are not flattering to you -- or your horse!

For the men out there, you can get away with a lot less, but you don’t want to neglect things that are important to your appearance, either. First things first, SHAVE, please! Be sure your shirts are starched, pressed and well tucked in. Nothing is worse than a sloppy looking rider.

One of the most important factors in choosing what you want to wear while presenting your magnificent equine specimen is the rule book of the breed or discipline that you show in. Different rules apply to different types of horses and events, so be sure to check before you plan your outfits.

As I stated above, good old basic black is a color you can almost never go wrong with as a foundation, but unfortunately most of your competition thinks the same way. Making sure you stand out in a crowd is your number one priority. Naturally, you’ve made sure your horse is perfectly trained for what you want him to do, is in the best condition of his life and his coat glows because of all those hard working hours you put in rubbing on him, right? If not, put the darn magazine down, get out to that barn and get busy!

Remember one thing: Your competition will most likely have their horses in tip-top shape, so don’t let yours stand there in his stall just because you’re too busy putting together a wardrobe. More on that later...

When riding Hunt Seat, dark conservative colors like navy blue and hunter green are always in style, paired with beige or gray breeches. If you want to try something different, opt for a rust or deep aubergine purple for your coat. Some “traditionalists” may frown upon you for your unconventional choice, but you’ll be sure to get noticed! There are also accents you can utilize like a soft pink or pale blue ratcatcher with the navy coat, and you might opt for canary, light lavender or another subdued alternative to white.

In the saddleseat arena, a trend that has been followed since the mid-1990’s has been toward lighter (or brighter) colored “day coats” that accent your underlying dark suit, though that has been waning of late once again. While showing in informal events such as English Pleasure or Country Pleasure, navy, dark gray, dark burgundy and, of course, black all look good on most horse colors. Trends come and go, but the classics will always be in style! Riders of chestnuts can get away with a little bit more flexibility in the way of color, by choosing beiges and green tones, but make sure your color choice flatters you, too! Try to stay away from anything too overbearing, such as bright red or vivid teal, unless you’re absolutely certain your horse is always going to be a perfect lady or gentleman -- the more you stand out, the more likely you’ll catch the judge’s eye when your horse goes galloping past him sideways trying to crow-hop! Raw silk is always a stylish choice for your coat, but there are also a number of different fabrics available to choose from when purchasing your attire. Small houndstooth checks, stripes or plaids in a variety of textures are growing in popularity, as are soft paisleys and brocades.

Also, if you compete in Dressage you’re probably aware that you haven’t too much of a choice, however, navy coats and hats are steadily becoming more acceptable on top of your snowy white breeches!

One other important thing to remember -- dressing a child for the show ring is different than dressing an adult. Kids can get away with far more. However, since it’s so expensive to outfit a child (with their wardrobes sometimes costing as much as your own!), try to stay away from any look or color that might be considered a little bit too radical for another parent to buy from you when your little darling outgrows it.

Hopefully you’ve got your pen in hand and are taking down a few tips on what you like, because, most important of all, you have to please you. Keep your eyes open for what’s attractive to you in the show ring and ask the exhibitors whose clothes you like where they shop.

Now back to that horse of yours. Earlier I mentioned the training, conditioning and daily grooming you need to put into him so you can be on the same level as those you’ll be competing against, but we’re getting to the nitty gritty of prepping him for the show ring itself. There are three major things I consider mandatory before that horse is ready to set foot in a class: Bathing, clipping and hooves. Those are the rock bottom basics I want covered.

My horses are generally bathed each week to keep them basically clean, but that’s pure maintenance. A show bath is unlike a standard one because that horse has got to be spotless and shining. I’ll start by carefully combing out the mane, tail and forelock so there’s no trace of hay, shavings or similar left. When hosing the horse down, I want to be sure I cover every inch of him, so I’m going to begin at his front feet and work my way up, then back, getting the entire underpinning wet before returning to his shoulder, then up and back again. Last I will turn down the water pressure and douse his face.

The body should be scrubbed with a good rubber curry or a longer bristled large scrub brush, and I’ll use a more stiff brush for the legs, while washing his face with either a towel, sponge or a soft brush. Be sure to rinse thoroughly and make certain no soap remains in his coat! There are specially formulated shampoos for sorrel/chestnut or bay horses, black horses and greys or horses with white markings. For my own use, I just go to the local beauty supply and purchase gallons of the normal human stuff, but I do religiously use whitener products like QuicSilver® and Shimmer Lights®. Finally, after the bath I’m sure to spray the entire horse with Farnam®’s Show Sheen, paying special attention to the mane and tail, yet being extra cautious not to concentrate too much around the back area on performance horses.

When I’m ready to clip (and I like a clean horse for that job), my goal is for the horse to look as closely like he’s naturally shedded out in the manner in which he’s shaved. Here I won’t get into body clipping, which is a must for some horses, especially sometimes during the year, and something you have to be very meticulous about, but my focus is on six key areas: Ears, eyes, face, jawline, muzzle and legs. The ears are the biggest single challenge on each horse when clipping, and that’s twofold when you’re talking about those horses who are difficult to clip. It’s imperative that my horses’ ears look like a masterpiece when I’m done. They have to be perfectly shelled, then rimmed and outlined. If there are longer hairs on the outside of the ear, they need to be smoothed off but remember, make it look NATURAL and blended.

The eyes need to have all long “feelers” sheared off, top and bottom, while leaving the eyelashes. Few things look worse than a horse sans lashes, and in some circles that’s prohibited anyhow. For the face and forehead region itself, my own preference is to completely shave what we call a “diamond pattern”, from the ear to the eye on each side, then from the eye down along the cheekbone, and well blended. Some folks don’t like this look, and it all depends on how short and sleek of a coat the horse has, but many can pull it off beautifully. You want any long hairs growing along the jawline to be shaved off, being careful to blend there, too, especially for a horse with a longer coat. By the time you get to the muzzle, if you’ve shaved the face itself and along the jawbone, you’ll have only the longish whiskers to clip, but don’t forget to remove the fuzzies INSIDE his nostrils, too!

Last but definitely not least are the legs. In the ‘old days’, we used to either completely shave the leg from the fetlock down, or if the leg was white we’d take off the hair all the way up to the knee. No more -- Today I only shave the coronet band, then I blend downward on the pastern. I’ll also be sure to blend the back of the fetlock, all around the knees and the chestnuts, too. One thing I’ve got to touch on here is to remove those chestnuts and the ergots! Makes clipping so much easier. Check to make sure you’ve covered all your bases, and that there’s no stray hairs flying about. Anything that looks suspect to you, blend it away and insist on perfection.

Finally come the hooves, and I’m very picky there, too. I’d sure love to shake the hand of whoever came up with the idea of using electric sanders for horse show grooming, what a coup! Years ago, our only method of hoof preparation (once someone came up with the concept of sanding) was to do it all by hand. Many hours, and downright bloody fingers, later we now use power tools. A note of caution, your farrier probably won’t be too thrilled with the idea, but if you’ve been showing for any length of time and especially if said shoer is familiar with show ring practices, he’ll more than likely turn a blind eye.

To start, I use a coarsely ground sandpaper, and go through the grits as follows -- 80, 150, 220 and 400. Move with the grain of the hoof, back and forth across the front in a smooth motion, or from side to side. With each finer grit, you’ll feel a smoother hoof until you have the illusion of glass. Then I top it off with three varying degrees of steel wool, each finer than the last, to bring out even more lustre. My second to last step in doing show hooves is to use a coating of Kiwi® shoe wax to help seal any tiny cracks which can diminish the end result, then I use Absorbine®’s Super Shine hoof polish. Ultra®, from Schneider’s Saddlery, also has two exceptional hoof products, their long lasting shine spray (which acts like a sort of sealer) and hoof polish remover, which can be a Godsend. Another of my little “tips for the day”: Only use black polish on dark hooves, utilizing clear polish on the light ones. Although many people, particularly those who show Quarter Horses and other stock breeds, just stick black on any and every old hoof, I have one word for that. Tacky! Makes the horse look cheap and tawdry.

Now that your horse is almost ready, it’s time for the finishing touches. Using a highlighter creme or oil, I rub across the muzzle (and up inside those nostrils), around the eyes and thoroughly inside the ears. We used to use baby oil or a similar oil, but these days I prefer Alto Light® or Silverado®, as they’re thicker, heavier products which don’t dry up as quickly and don’t tend to drip into the poor horse’s ears.

For that whole body sheen, to enhance the coat, I’ll use the aerosol spray Grand Champion® (though others like Pepi® or Ultra® better). Not too much, because you don’t want your horse to look greasy, just enough for that world beating shine, and a quick soft brush over it. Then for a touch of styling gel (just like we human people use on our hair) on the top of the forelock -- or the whole forelock, depending on your horse -- and along the crest of the neck to help those flyaway hairs at the top of his mane. With that, you’re about ready to head on out into the wide world of showing, looking like the best of the best do.

A couple of things I did want to touch on -- braiding, banding, mane pulling (or trimming) and false appliances/enhancements.

For Hunter-seat English horses, including those jumping and in-hand, Arabian Show Hacks and some Dressage mounts, braiding is a necessary evil. Various ways and means exist to braid manes and tails both, and it’s a classy, elegant final accent on your presentation. Unless you’re skilled with quite some experience in it, though, I’d suggest you find a friend or acquaintance who knows how and ask them to do it for you, or you hire a professional. There are books and videos out on braiding, and some of them may be worthwhile to you.

In the Open Hunter/Jumper world of Thoroughbreds and Warmbloods, as well as with breeds like Quarter Horses and Paints, the horses’ manes are shortened. The old school way was to pull the mane using a special comb, but because that causes irritation and even pain to some more sensitive horses, some folks today simply cut or trim the hair another way. Shorter manes on English-type horses are generally used for the small knot braids you’ll see. In stock breed horses, today’s trend seems to be what’s called “banding”, where small sections of mane are made into what essentially amounts to numerous tiny “ponytails” all down the neck.

Another thing you’ll see often among the legions of Paints and Quarter Horses is the ever-popular fake tail, which is against the rules in various other organizations, including the Arabian breed shows. Some stock-type horses are also shown with dyed manes and tails, while Arabians are not only prohibited from using any product which alters the natural color of the hair or skin, but as of 2004, hoof black is illegal in Arabian Halter classes due to shenanigans caused by folks out to win at any cost, who would use Bondo® and other unique substances or methods to alter the natural shape of the hooves on some horses.

Basically, each breed has it’s own standards, trends and rules. To reiterate from above, look into those rules carefully.

Okay, it seems you’re now finally ready. No matter what, always try to have fun, since that’s supposed to be the number-one name of the game!"


Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Teaching an Old Dog New Tricks!

I must give my wonderful daughter Lisa credit for the title of today's blog post. :) She made that comment in reference to something (someone) else, however it's quite appropriate to my topic today, so here we go!

On August 1st, I'm embarking on a whole new adventure in the world of showing horses, the Longeline class. Never done it before, in truth I never thought I would. You see, in the Arabian world, we don't have Longeline. Therefore, at the smaller open shows I've not even thought about entering. However, I've got a client with a beautiful, talented yearling filly who wants us to try it. Okay, I'm game.

My first order of business was to look up the rules. After combing through rule books from APHA and PtHA, as well as AQHA and ApHC, I'm fairly certain I know what our judges will be looking for. I wanted to examine the intricacies of the class, judging criteria and what is expected during the class. Having never ventured into this realm, it's definitely different. Halter classes are *supposed* to be judged on movement and conformation, Halter horses should have expression and manners, the major difference is that Longeline is a class evaluating the horse being longed. Right?

Text in italics comes directly from the APHA Rules, which are essentially identical in scope to the others:

The purpose of showing a yearling on a longe line is to demonstrate that the horse has the movement, manners/expression/attitude, and conformation to become competitive under saddle.

Therefore, the purpose of this class is to reward:
1. Quality of movement
2. Manners/Expression/Attitude
3. Conformation suitable to future performance, and the horse should be judged with its suitability as a future performer under saddle in mind.

We're going to be fine on the movement part, this filly is an exceptional mover. Conformation, expression and attitude, got that down. Manners? We're still a bit shaky on that one... ;) I am not a big fan of longeing yearlings, so right there it all conflicts with my belief system in a way! I would rather free longe them, turn them out or pony them instead. But we will tackle this new challenge, and conquer. I hope!

This class should define what it means to be a “western pleasure prospect” or “hunter under saddle prospect.” Because these are yearlings, they are not expected to demonstrate the behavior or quality of a finished show horse, but only that performance necessary for a reasonable presentation to the judge.

My guess was that this means judges want to see how well a horse carries itself on the longeline, and how well a horse moves, moreso than being perfectly mannered. One thing that did bother me was the "quality" part. Why would there be a question of quality between a "finished show horse" and a yearling?? I have seen plenty of very high quality yearlings, so that one threw me. Performance, sure, I can buy that. No yearling on a longeline will look similar in any way to a performance horse under saddle.

Exhibitors are not to be penalized for using regular halters and plain longe lines, nor are they to be rewarded for using show halters and show longe lines. Only movement, manners/expression/way of going, and conformation are being judged.

This part I found interesting, because we will be using a standard stock-type show halter but a regular longeline instead of one of those fancy, special ones. No point in spending $$$ on something I may never use again, nor did I figure insisting my client purchase one would be a wise choice, because neither of us intend to make this a regular thing. Considering that silver on Western tack still really does count in the WP ring, at least (even though it's not supposed to) and you'd better darn well have a nice silver show halter to be competitive in Halter classes, I'm not so sure how we are going to rate with a plain, white cotton longeline. We'll see.

If the horse plays on the longe line, it shall not count against the horse. The judge will, however, penalize the horse for excessive bucking or running off, stumbling or displaying attitudes that are uncomplimentary to pleasure horses.

Well, I would figure that "playing on the longeline" would not be complimented in a pleasure class, but seeing as how these are yearlings we're talking about (and knowing the yearling I am entering this endeavor with!), I'm glad to see this provision mentioned. She can perform each gait beautifully. Lovely movement, she is a beautiful, well put together filly. But she does like to play!

What have I gotten myself into?

Wish us luck!!


Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Fitness and Conditioning...

Today I thought I would dig back in my archives from some years ago to talk about conditioning. This is an article I presented quite a long time ago and that has appeared in my monthly newsletter, "Mane Tales" called 'Conditioning & Fitting To Win'. Enjoy and please comment!

"If you’ve ever seen Halter classes at some of the top National and World Championship shows, you have witnessed the art of fitting and preparing a horse. Those horses (and their handlers) don’t get to that level by slacking off when they should be doing something productive -- they put their heart and soul into presenting the most flawless picture of horseflesh imaginable.

Sure, those horses are the cream of the crop, they compete at the highest level there is. But why should that preclude you from making sure YOUR horse looks just as good?

Next month I’ll be getting into more in depth show preparation, grooming for the show ring as well as attire and appointments, but our goal here is the prep before the prep.

Most folks know horses look better when they’re in good condition -- which includes a good feeding, veterinary and deworming program in addition to the physical aspect. Not unlike us humans, the horse will always be more attractive if he’s in shape. Fitness isn’t rocket science...more like remedial studies!

Let’s get down to the basics. Now that we’ve covered what we need to accomplish, it’s time we start discussing how to accomplish it.

We have to begin with what we feed our horses. I’ve got an entire feed program designed to optimize each horse’s health and appearance, from their healthy hooves to their perfect weight to their glossy coats. There are certain staples every horse gets in their diet, then I add in special ingredients based on each animal’s individual needs. For instance, some of the older horses are on joint supplements, the harder keepers get a high fat additive, and so on.

Our veterinary maintenance is also vitally important to our horses’ appearance, beyond just ensuring they are healthy (and unfortunately we all know what sick horses look like). Horses need to be dewormed on a regular basis, anywhere from every month to every three months; they need vaccinations on a six month schedule (except for West Nile, which is annually in the Spring) and a teeth float is in order at least once a year. Consult your vet on an optimum schedule for routine care. He (or she) is your vet because you trust his (or her) judgment, right?

Once we know our horse is getting the best of care, it’s time to start fitting him on the longe line.

If he’s completely out of shape from standing around doing nothing, you need to begin with a relatively short session every day. Ten minutes is plenty for the first few days, then I usually build from there.

An example of what I do is, Day One through Day Three, warmup at the walk (sometimes I accomplish this with five or so minutes on the hotwalker before retreating to the round pen) and then a ten minute work, as follows: Trot two minutes, canter two minutes, trot one minute, reverse and repeat. Then on the hotwalker to cool out. Day Four through Day Ten we move to a fifteen minute work, with two minutes at the trot, three minutes at the canter and two and a half minutes at the trot each direction before cooling out. Day Eleven through Day Twenty One I’ll advance to twenty minutes, with two minutes at the trot, three minutes at the canter, one minute at the trot, two minutes at the canter and two minutes at the trot both ways. For the fourth week (Days Twenty Two through Twenty Eight), the working time is half an hour, measured as three minutes at the trot, three minutes at the canter, three minutes at the trot, four minutes at the canter and two minutes at the trot before reversing.

After the first month, it gets to be rather routine, even though I’ll work the horse up to 40-45 minutes each day -- and I start throwing in a day off once per week since I’ll be seeing plenty of results by now. Am I always so meticulous about exact minutes at specific gaits? Of course not. But for me, keeping track is a simple way to be sure the horse is getting an adequate workout. I view longeing for the purposes of conditioning quite differently from actual training sessions. Those can be relatively short, as long as I’m getting correct responses to what I’m asking. But building fitness in a horse is a completely different thing.

From this type of schedule, we expect to see the body toned and muscles built up. But how do we bring out the glow instilled by good feed and this new level of fitness? Elbow grease, of course!

Paramount to transforming an out of shape backyard horse into a creature worthy of competing against National Champions are good, long daily grooming sessions. My regimen includes all sorts of anecdotes for making certain my horses are in tip top shape, from head to toe (and tail). Coming up with a routine to work from ensures you will bring out the gleam and lustre of every inch of your horse, and don’t forget to pay special attention to your horse’s face, legs and ‘unmentionable’ parts.

Now you’re ready to get out there and compete with the best of ‘em. Aren’t you glad you took the time to put all that effort in?"


Monday, July 20, 2009

Arabian Breeding & Bloodlines, Round #2

In response to direct questions one of my readers posed on Saturday, I thought I would offer up some answers. :)

What makes some more suitable for halter, and others for performance?

To be honest, I don't necessarily know that in Arabians we are quite near to what the Quarter Horses have done by breeding two entirely different types of horses, one for Halter and another for Performance, however I can see it possibly happening in the future. But one of our biggest problems in the Arabian breed is folks breeding more for type than athletic ability, and ignoring things like good structure and especially good legs and feet. This, of course, leads to a lack of good movement as well, which is also why the implementation of the Arabian Scoring System in April of last year which mandates using numerical scores for Halter horses was so important. It's not perfect, however it is a good start. Performance horses, in oder to stay sound, must have excellent legs above all, so even minor faults which we unfortunately do find prevalent in many Halter horses have an impact on longevity of their careers. For me that's one of the biggest dividing lines, so to speak.

Which ones are consistently good at crossing over?

I find that a mix between the Polish lines and Crabbet lines seem to be fairly consistent in having careers in both Halter and Performance, though the same can be said for Russian horses. Which, of course, are mainly a cross between the Polish and Egyptian with a bit of Spanish thrown in (and utilizing the same Polish lines that founded the famous "Crabbet lines"). But again, you really cannot pigeonhole any particular Arabian bloodline to be relegated into strictly a "Halter horse" or strictly a "Performance horse"! Even the offspring of some of our more famous recent National Champion Halter horses (Enzo comes to mind here) are beginning to excel in the Performance arena.

How much does the style in which the foals are raised have to do with it? For example, Rushcreek horses consistently perform well in endurance, yet looking at their website, the horses don't look such-of-a-much to me in terms of conformation. So why are they so good at endurance? Is it b/c they're ranch raised?

Honestly, I believe that it isn't the environment a foal is raised in but rather what the pedigree dictates along with how the foal looks when he/she grows up that determines whether or not a horse will excel in a specific discipline. If you look closely at the Rushcreek horses, they consistently have great legs, outstanding bone, freedom of shoulder and a deep heartgirth, all conducive to longevity on the Endurance trail but not necessarily what judges are looking for in a Halter horse. When you take a glance at the Marwan horses (such as QR Marc, Aria Impresario, Marhaabah, Marjestic WA and other sons as well as many of his daughters), for instance, you won't find many qualities that lend themselves to having Endurance careers. That's not to say there are not several sons, in particular, that have started Performance careers, because there have been ~ especially in Western Pleasure ~ however, I doubt you will find many of them as Endurance horses.

And how do bloodlines impact on conformation which impacts on performance?

Oh, bloodlines have a lot...well, do with a horse's ability to excel in Performance careers! If you want an English Pleasure horse, you would seek out horses that have well set on necks, a nicely laid back shoulder, a great hinge at the poll and a strong hindquarters with well let down hocks. For Western Pleasure horses, you want a smoothly tied in neck that has the great arch and less hinge at the poll, along with strength in the hindquarters but not necessarily the same ability to "move uphill" as an English horse would. With Sport Horses, you look for a longer, reaching stride with none of "up and down" that's become sought after for English horses and more strength through the back and loin. This is all very brief and again not detailed, however, hopefully it gives some more insight into what is necessary for each type of discipline.

A lot of people I know in the endurance world shop strictly for performance: they buy on the basis of soundness, conformation, vet exam, any past performance, etc.

Absolutely!! Because without a sound horse, you're not even going to finish an Endurance ride, let alone place. I also look for a trainable mind and a tractable temperament (which really is my preference for any performance horse!) which makes for a far easier time out on the trail. Recovery (which directly correlates to that depth of heartgirth) and soundness are paramount. Club footed horses, those with long cannon bones, those with weak loins, those with poor hocks and gaskins, those with small poorly conformed hooves and so forth are NOT going to come up sound at a vet check, period. As the saying goes, you can't ride a head. Well, you can't ride a giraffe-like neck, either.

There have been horses who have won in Halter and done well in Endurance. Take one look at Remington Steele++, who was a show ring winner in a number of performance disciplines, a US and Canadian National Top Ten Halter stallion and a well known Endurance horse ~ pictured here:

As a Halter horse...

Climbing Cougar Rock on the Tevis...

Incredible horse, any way you look at him! Rem finished the Tevis and had top tens as an Endurance horse, plus he also has show ring victories in Native Costume, Western Pleasure, Hunter Pleasure and Sport Horse In Hand. His show record also spanned well over a decade and one of his Scottsdale Top Ten's in Halter was as a 16 year old!

But if there are reliable bloodlines for these types of things, I feel like it would narrow/focus my search. I want a horse that can perform both in endurance and lower level dressage. Recommended phenotypes/genotypes for this??

Look to the Crabbet/Polish crosses as Remington Steele++ was bred, and the Sport Horse lines. Talk to as many breeders and competitors in your chosen field(s) as you can, and then you'll be sure to make an educated decision. Good luck!!