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Welcome to my web site!

At our farm, ‘natural horsemanship’ goes far beyond the rope halter and the carrot stick…I include all aspects of ‘natural’  into keeping my horses as natural as possible in a barn/paddock and field situation.  From diet to barefoot trimming…..I treat horses that come in for training as if they are my own.  Each horse is an individual and no two training programs are alike.  What makes me different is that I am looking at the WHOLE horse and not just his training because my own horses have taught me that good learning starts IN the barn by watching what they do and who they are, not just what happens out in the arena.  Respect and giving the horse an opinion in how they learn best and by letting them teach me are the cornerstones to a successful relationship. 

Trainer of horses: off the ground, carriage driving or under saddle and their humans

Photographer of all things beautiful

We are different for a reason.  Please feel free to look around my web site

 

Contact me: 

Deb Harper

34968 Sim Road, Abbotsford, BC  V3G 1N6 

Phone: 604-820-2684

Email: debharper1019@gmail.com


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Of Minis and Muzzles

Arrowleaf's Astaldo Maximus

 

Of  Minis and Muzzles…..

The latest farm saga… my Houdini horse

"Max"

 

DETERMINATION is the best word I can think of to describe Maximus (aka Max) .  With the grass and the weird spring, I’ve had some trials with my metabolically challenged horses and the best solution was to limit their grass by the use of grazing muzzles.  I hated to do it.  Seemed kind of mean, but happy, healthy horses were more important and this seemed like the only solution.  They hated being confined to barracks with only hay. 

Grazing muzzles are web strap ‘buckets’ that go over their muzzles with a hole in the base that allows the grass to poke through.  Coupled with the web/weave design sides, it enables the horse to continue to graze, but in a real limited fashion….It forces them to savor the grass and nip off small quantities of tiny stalks that nudge through with each step and re-placement.  I discovered 2 main designs…ones that fastened with a series of straps onto the halter (which I hate…I don’t like turning horses out with halters on) or ones that make their own halter, using an over-the-head breakaway strap and a throat latch that snaps close similar to the halters design.  Knowing my horses like I do…the breakaway was the safest way.  I ordered 4 muzzles for the 4 problem children.  So armed with my new purchases, I promised the 4 children that instead of being cooped up in a dry paddock with boring hay all day, that they could go out for the final two hours of each day to graze; eat REAL grass…but with their buckets on.  In theory, it should have worked great….trouble is….no one told Max he had to KEEP the bucket on his head…  And so the battle of wits begins:

I should have known better..Max has always been a garment-get’er-out’er.   At 6 months of age I discovered his adversion to clothes,  Bought him a  winter blanket to keep my cute fuzzy baby dry and warm.  It was one of those cool designs with the double Velcro front that expands as the foal grows.  Big mistake.  

6 mo. old Max removing his blanket...

It soon became apparent that Max wanted to be naked.  The blanket would be on the ground.  How the heck is he getting this off….?  Mystery solved….

I should mention I have the same problem with fly masks on this horse.  Each morning, rather than put it on his head, I might as well just walk the flymask over to his field and chuck it over the fence  onto the ground,  because guaranteed within the hour that’s where it was going to end up anyhow.  Sigh

As Max got older, he improved.  He can wear a rain sheet and keep it on for the most part (not by choice mind you… his record stands at 20 minutes and that was with a brand new one)  Now that’s he’s matured,  I could  bet on his blanket staying put..not so much the flymasks ever, but it was a start.  It’s a joke on our farm….  Ooohh!  Max kept his flymask on for 2 hours today!  Mark on the wall!

Fast forward to this summer and the saga of the grazing muzzle.  Bottom line:  Horse needs restricted grass.  Owner feels guilty that the horse has to stay in dry paddock..spends hard earned money on grazing muzzles.  Max throws down the gauntlet and accepts the challenge.  “Thou shall not prevent me from eating…Watch me!”  (insert diabolical laughter here) says Max. 

What it should look like

Okay.  I have to admit it worked for several days.  He accepted that he had to learn a new way of grazing for optimal quantities each evening….Go to patches of grass longer than 2 inches and shorter than 4…Lift muzzle up squarely and plunk down directly over top of said grass…use slight sideways motion to insure the biggest possible tuft of grass protrudes up through the bottom hole.  Bite off.  Chew… Savor….

Begin to plot a better mousetrap….hmmmm.  Why not just REMOVE the muzzle!  Capital idea ol’ Chap!  Brilliant!  Doesn’t matter that the other 3 horses are seemingly more accepting of the inconvenience of grazing in this fashion…. Stupid horses…. If they’d only just think….

At 4 PM…the other 3 horses are lined up at the gate.  They are nickering for me to hurry.    They KNOW they get to go out and are practically thrusting their faces in their buckets so they can spend every remaining second getting to eat their beloved grass.   All except Max.  He yawns…looks bored….and hangs back and lets the others spill out of the start gate, like thoroughbreds at the track, falling all over each other to be the first.  Max sighs a deep sigh of resignation and lets me put the muzzle on his head and do up the throat snap.  He mosies out the gate, tests it out by snatching a few bites, and then wanders over to the nearest fence post and rips the muzzle of his head and he walks off to graze.  His Thought Bubble would say “I have NO idea why she insists on putting this stupid thing on my head…it makes it hard to eat..she should just leave it in the barn on the nail and not bother….”   Arghh. 

And so it becomes a battle of wits.  There’s Deb in one corner- a right-brained extrovert (standing 5 foot 4inches, reasonable IQ and opposing thumbs ) and in the other corner: Max (standing 34 inches as a left-brained introvert..no thumbs but ‘terrier-like’ determination)  Statistics would lead you to believe that the human with the logical brain has the greater advantage…. And you would be sadly mistaken.  You’ve never met Max.  Short of a staple gun or a brad nailer….  I simply cannot keep  the muzzle on his face!  In the alloted  two hour grazing time span…it’s NOTHING to have to replace it on his head 6-7 times…

 

- I have tried 2 different muzzles..thinking one with a small basket might be harder to remove.  Nope

- I have tried adjusting it on ALL the points of adjustment….shorter on the sides, over the head, in the throat and even the connecter strap when he once got it half off and it was in his mouth…

-I have tried putting the fly mask over top of the muzzle and he just gets BOTH off.

-I have sat in a nearby lawnchair and patroled him…  shrieking “Max!  Get away from the fence!!!”

He has hooked it on the fence and ripped open the breakaway Velcro and left it hanging there.

My husband once tried an elastic leg strap off a rain blanket thinking the stretchiness would give and take but still keep it firmly on his head and he’d give up.  Not so.  My neighbor saw him with his foot through the stretchy strap….walking with his head lower to the ground grazing as per normal…he just walked over to the fence and asked her to ‘fix’ him.  You see, the thing with Max is that he rarely gets upset. His Tshirt would read “What?  Me…worry??”  The word “Panic” is not in his vocabulary.

 Surely, the human with the master mind can thwart the miniature horse??   Nope.

I will admit that some methods work for a short time until he analyzes and searches for the remedy.    So just when you are lulled into a false sense of security, he figures it out and knocks the theory out of the ball park.  And Max never gloats..he just walks away and eats grass and hopes you don’t notice.  (usually with his butt out in the open and his head hiding in the shrubs or against the fence. )

Case in point.  After multiple replacements of the muzzle 2 days ago… I tried to braid a lock of his mane under the crown piece of the muzzle  to prevent him from shedding it.  He tried to rub it off, and it didn’t work so he resigned himself to restricted grazing for the day.  I was the one gloating!  Ha!  It worked.  He gave up!

The next day, I went out there at 4 PM and smuggly braided his mane into the strap and turned him out.  It lasted 20 minutes and it was off. What the???  So I braided it again.  Same thing.  Huh?  How is he doing that?  Then I used 2 elastics.  Same thing.  Then I tried a lock of his forelock and 2 of the mane.  Off in 8 minutes.  I must have replaced and re-braided about 6 times…remember this is in a 2 hour period.  You do the math.  Each time he would march over to the fence and slip it off, so each time I would put it back on and re-braid it, I would walk him AWAY from the fence and being rather lazy I figured he would give up and start grazing..he did…but he positioned  HIMSELF around and nonchalantly grazed his way BACK to the fence and slipped it off again.  And Again…And Again.  Grrr   

So yesterday I am out shopping…I see a wide soft nylon dog collar….I had an Ah-Hah moment!  Buy the dog collar, use a snap…run the crownpiece of the muzzle through the snap and hook the other end to the leash ring of the dog collar and buckle the collar loosely around his throat.  No way he can get that off!  Ha!  Off in 10 minutes.  Are you kidding me?  So tighten the collar.  Off in 5 minutes.  Get a shorter snap.  Off in 4 minutes.  Run the throat strap through the dog collar as well so you’ve got 2 points of resistance/restriction.  Off in 7 minutes.  I sat down and laughed out loud.  He’s so smart it’s hard to be mad at him.  You have to know him to fully realize the intelligence going on here.  I catch him with it off or hanging around his neck and stride over to him…he doesn’t even lift his head…but the thought bubble says “Oh crap…here she comes again…Sigh…I wonder when she’s just gonna give up??  Doesn’t she have ANYTHING better to do than nag me? Can’t a guy just eat in peace?” 

Today I thought I would try a strap that goes from the bucket up the center of his head; a lifter strap- thinking that will keep the muzzle more upright on his face and make it harder to flip it down.  Still had to replace it multiple times and chase him away from the fence.  Once it pulled off and sort of caught his noseband in the mesh fencing.  He just stood there until I came back as he knew I was checking him every 10 minutes…..Don’t ask me HOW he did it, but I had to dismantle the WHOLE thing to free him.  Then when I finally had a system working of a DOUBLE strap up his face between his ears (now he looks like Hannibal Lector) he came into the barn and tried to wrestle the carrot bucket off the wall.   Shooed him back outside and about a half hour later I find him BACK in the barn and out in one of the empty runs just standing there.  I guess I was supposed to feel sorry for him…but guess what….the muzzle was STILL on him! 

Let me know if you have any other better ideas….

 

 

 

 

Flymask off- Muzzle on! Success...sort of!

COST OF GRAZING MUZZLE ON eBAY….    -$25

COST OF DOG COLLAR TO GO AROUND HIS NECK-  $5

ENTERTAINMENT VALUE-   $ Priceless


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Laws of Attraction – Part Three – “What does Love have to do with it?”

Laws of Attraction – Part Three – “What does love have to do with it?”

Full siblings JoJo and Sean

A dear friend suggested I carry on with this thread and talk about my observations on the different pairings between mares/mares….mares/geldings…geldings/geldings and even stallions with either of those two.  I can even go one step further and talk about siblings. 

Is there any BEST pairings out there that work the most consistently?  I tend to think not- I believe horses getting along are governed by these factors:

1)      Personality (confidence level)

2)      Safety / Comfort

3)      Need and Want

4)      Learned behavior

5)      Social Skills

6)      Environment

7)      Hormones/DNA

Bobbysox and Ajax - "Trying to see eye-to-eye"

Personality

Some horses are just plain easier to get along with than others.  On my farm currently I have both an Extrovert and an Introvert that I can turn out with any newcomer if need be.  These two horses are amiable and easy to get along with.  That’s not to say they don’t have ground rules and won’t kick out if provoked but generally other than the first few meet n’ greet moments I am pretty much guaranteed that peace will reign in very short order.  They are both geldings.  One, River, is very protective and always has been – almost maternal in nature.  I have spotted him many times herding a new horse away from my stallion (that is pastured beside them) until everyone knows each other better. 

River coming between the stallion and the newcomer....protective as always

The other gelding, Breaker, was a long time stallion that USED to have aggression issues towards other horses, and now that he doesn’t have spare parts, he is a trustworthy pasture/paddock mate.  Was his ‘aggression’ testosterone driven?  I would say probably yes.  My very first horse, Mis’tasini (aka “Mem”) was a mare, and she too had this get-along-with-anyone nature that made it easy.  She was a surrogate mother to my warmblood as a foal….she looked after him better than his own mother did.

 Unconfident horses that are easily threatened tend to either be like Lyric (the bully mentality: strike first so no one challenges you) or the complete social misfit that everyone LIKES to pick on because you don’t know the rules.  Flash is sort of that way….If you turn him out with strange horses, you might as well paint a target on his butt.  He’s getting better but I have to be careful with him (we’ll talk about that in #5- Social Skills) 

Safety and Comfort

These two issues are the deciding factor between any pairing in my opinion, because these are innately so important to our horses.  It’s the foundation of how our horses are hard-wired.  Quite simply -this makes or breaks it.  This is the reason they seek out others of their species whenever possible.  This is where you’ll find any successful companionship – whether its mare/mare…mare/gelding… or  gelding/geldings. 

 

Mem, Andy and Shalann- my first 3 horses

 

I have seen all these work in harmony because the issue of Safety and Comfort was addressed.  My first two horses were both mares and they got along famously.  Then I added a gelding.  They were for the most part, a very happy threesome.  Andy was the boss, and the mares demurred to that (or at least they let him believe it) Andy was quite introverted and Left brained.  He had the ability to ‘control’ the girls with merely “THE LOOK”.  As mentioned before, Introverts aren’t going to do anymore than necessary and as long as the girls listened to him, there was peace in the valley.  The girls felt safe with him.  Everyone knew their place and all was well. 

My warmblood gelding gets along with horses if he can be the boss because that’s what he needs to feel safe. 

Angel and Lyric

He may not be the BEST boss but the horses that don’t question him or push the envelope whether they are geldings or mares are his best pasture mates.  I have seen him more assertive with a mare when she cycles…He is sexually frustrated?  No, I don’t think so…he’s been a gelding since he was 10 months old.  I believe it’s because the MARE changes and becomes hormonal, that he is uncomfortable with HER change in demeanor and temperament so he has to chase her to prove a point, and to get back his status quo. 

 

Lyric and Silver

 

 

 

Need and Want

I mention this because I have seen horses band together because they don’t HAVE anyone else and in order to feel safe and comfortable, they bond with a horse that is less than perfect but will do under the circumstances.  Sort of like an arranged marriage, they become close and bond out of need.  Once they establish who the boss is, quite often things can settle down to be a relationship that works.  Maybe they can only be side-by-side (stallion next to a gelding for example) that wouldn’t work normally but a relationship is formed that is strong nonetheless. 

 Learned Behavior

I have seen this become an issue because often foals of dominant mothers (lead mares) become dominant leaders by proxy.  They SEE the herd scatter when Mother walks by, or that SHE gets to choose the hay pile and therefore the foal learns that he/she also is offered the same seniority by association.  Lots of times this can carry out successfully throughout the horse’s life, but all it takes is one horse to question the authority and it could get ugly.  “You aren’t the boss of me”.   I’m just sayin’

Social Skills

This is where we can help when we raise our foals and see that they spend quality time with other compatible horses to learn HOW to be horses.  Case in point:  Flash didn’t know how to mutual groom and it took a very quiet Introvert to patiently teach him the proper protocol…”I scratch you-You scratch me.” Before Robin taught him how, horses would approach Flash and he would feel threatened by the overtures of the other horse to scratch and Flash would get bitten, kicked, or chased because he didn’t respond like a normal horse would. 

Flash paying the price of inappropriate behavior

Why didn’t he learn these skill sets as a youngster…?  Who knows?  But he was a stallion (therefore isolated) for 13 years so he wasn’t turned out with others.  He wasn’t aggressive but his inappropriate responses and body language set him up for failure as a suitable pasture mate.  Like I said, he might as well have a target on his butt.  “Run Forrest- Run!”   My other example of a horse learning social skills late in life is foster child Bobbysox…a horse that spent 14 years as a stallion in a box stall with extremely limited turnout.   Almost like a person in solitary confinement, he had to LEARN how to be a horse on ALL levels.  To this day he does not cope well with change, and in the beginning formed unnatural attachments to ANY horse close enough to touch and would get frantic if they were turned out for the day first.  He’s much better now and he has a new BFF Ajax that was chosen specifically for his easy-going temperament that would temper Bobby’s more off-the-wall behavior.  That bonding took place over several weeks to insure the friendship would be successful. 

Environment

I mention this because it ties into the Need and Want.  I have seen unconfident horses bond together BECAUSE of the environment in which they share.  For example: The horse that travels in a trailer with a strange horse to a show that might scream and yell the whole time during the show because the new buddy has disappeared.  They became friends

Horses bonding at a show..gelding Valentino with stallion Lad

because of the situation that thrust them together for the duration.  This is also why horses stick together if they go through some sort of trauma together.  Will this be a lasting relationship?  Hard to say.  Probably  not.  But any port in a storm.  And don’t forget horses in a team or pair….They bond because of the job.    They  might tolerate each other nicely because they are harnessed side by side…but….

 Therefore, use this knowledge and introduce a new potential pairing or group by setting them up for success.  Introduce them over a stall wall or over the fence before turning them in together, whether its 2 horses or 10….The bigger the horses, the more room you need so they can split off into groups that please them within the herd.  I had almost 2 acres to introduce 6 strange miniatures.  The same number of full sized horses would need double that until you know for sure everyone will, for the most part, get along.

 Hormones

There has to be something said about the opposite sexes attracting and forming bonds.  I have seen very successful mare and gelding pairings that endure years of horsey marriage.  I have also witnessed a sibling bonds that go deep. 

Full siblings running as one unit. How cool is this?

I have witnessed both full siblings and half siblings seek each other out and be compatible. Do they know?  Maybe it’s like having a missing twin?  Case in point…My River has two half siblings (same dam / different sire) and he has had the opportunity to either reunite or meet his siblings. 

Reindance and Riverdance - together after 10 years

Rein had not been on my farm or seen by River for 10 years, and yet I turned the two of them out together and they were off grazing within minutes. And when he met his half sister for the first time, there was a bit of a scuffling to see who the boss was, and then they two were side by side grazing.  Did River know they were related?  You tell me. 

Moon(sister) and River (brother)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 And lastly we need to discuss the stallion thing.  I have never believed that stallions should be isolated.  It just isn’t healthy on MANY levels.   I have heard of stallions pastured with both other stallions and also with geldings.  It can be done.  Depends on the stallion. 

Best Buddies- Lad and River

 They are more of a wild card because of the territorial -hormone thing.  It either wells really well or not at all!  Not much grey area.  Having said that, I have always pastured my stallions (a Morgan and a Welsh) beside other geldings (Miniatures).  I like this arrangement.  I admit to having my Morgan stallion Lad pastured with my River mini and it WAS very successful for several weeks until a mare came into season on my property.  Hormones trumped everything and Lad felt threatened by River so it just wasn’t worth the risk.  And yet I handled them together all the time. 

 I know of  stallions pastured with weaned babies and this type of compatibility comes out of the fact that the weanlings aren’t considered threats and therefore easily accepted.  (One of my minis, Max, was pastured with his father to help in the weaning process- Pip was a wonderful babysitter)  I have known of stallions turned out with mares to pasture breed, often with foals at foot and it can work well.  I have heard very successful pasture mates that were stallions turned out with non-fertile mares and then they became like an old married couple. 

Three geldings beside Sky (Welsh stallion)

 

Canadian stallion Tango and Flash

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I guess what I am trying to say is there no guarantee.  As the horse owner, you need to know your horse and his personality.  Then you try to put together successful pairs or groupings depending on what you have found works best.  

Three-way mutual grooming...Now THAT'S teamwork!

And if you are forced to match up less than perfect horses, take your time and introduce over a period of time (Days? Weeks?)  The compatibility might grow nicely out of the familiarity (like Ajax and Bobbysox) and what you find might surprise you.  Generally even numbers in a group works better than un-even so there’s no odd man out, but I have 2 groups of three that have worked nicely.   Years ago, my neighbor wanted to get a second horse for her older Arab gelding.  She tried a couple of different mature geldings and it became obvious quite quickly that this wasn’t going to work.    Her gelding acted aggressively towards ANY male newcomer. Maybe he WANTED to be solo? Then she decided to buy a 2 year old Canadian filly.  It turned out to be exactly the right thing to do.  The new horse was a ‘baby’ AND a female.  This is still a successful pairing even though the filly grew up to be a left-brained Introvert dominant mare and the gelding turned into the ‘hen-pecked’ husband… But it works because everyone knows their place.   The mare’s dam was the lead mare and she carried on with her learned behavior and the gelding learned quickly not to question the leadership- and if Ted forgets, Moxie is quick to remind him!

Ahh.  A match made in heaven….


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Laws of Attraction – Part two “The science of the language”

Laws of Attraction – Part 2

Friends

 

 

Last blog, I told the story of how multiple strange horses sorted themselves out in little spin-off groups when I turned 6 minis out in a large safe field.

Horses are social animals.  Instinct tells them that they need to be in a herd in order to survive.  Humans tend to destroy that need.

 

I feel sorry for horses in boarding stable situations because unless you had a really self-confident horse…how would he handle a less-than-perfect neighbor when they can’t get away? Most boarding stables are an artificial environment.  Barns have solid wall stalls, with maybe a back window if they are lucky and the horses can’t see each other except if they face forward and see the guy across the aisle. And your horse becomes cranky from the solitary confinement.  These barns must feel like a prison

Three horses sharing the same hay pile

sentence.  After all, they are a herd animal.   Some of the newer barns have short runs attached to their in-and-out stalls and that’s a huge improvement to have freedom of movement, no matter how small the turnout is.  But what happens if you have a little pony Arab next to a great big mean-spirited warmblood with a neck that could snake out and bite your horse. If I was the Arab horse, I’d be terrified to step outside my bedroom!  Hopefully the people running the barn take notice of such things and move the offender….

 

I watch for compatibility between horses when I have similar temperaments in my barn. I always try to stable or paddock them side by side FIRST to watch for signs that a bond may form ‘across the fence’ before I would ever try them together in a paddock.  However…sometimes that’s no guarantee. Sometimes they only get along BECAUSE there is a fence between them…and sometimes the opposite is true.

Lyric meeting Ruby over the gate

 

Case in point:  My warmblood has been turned out with many different horses over the years.  Since he was 7 days old he’s been in the company of other horses.   I have found that he gets along best with horses that don’t challenge him. He tends to be the school-yard bully and he will ACT dominant just so they don’t test his authority. Strike first-(make an ugly face) and hope they say “Ok..you can be the boss- end of story” and everything is fine. I have seen him make the ugly face to every newcomer that occupies the stall next to his…even if the horse is a miniature that clearly is NO threat… but he still has to establish his dominance so there is never any question. This can carry on for an hour or up to a couple of days.  (Depends on the other horse’s reaction) 

Can you believe that Lyric (16 hands) could be threatened by 28 inch Big Mac?

Certainly a lot of the posturing happens at meal times if the other horse ‘looks’ at him when he’s eating. It’s kind of odd that my 16 hand 1200 lb horse thinks that a 200 lb mini is a threat.  I see my horse is a giant bunny rabbit.  Lyric is easily threatened and feels vulnerable.  His posturing is for show. When he LOOKS like he is saying “Stay away from me!  I am mean and tough!” he’s really saying “Please don’t question me or hurt me”.  He’s the uncomfortable one, yet he comes off as the total jerk.  I have seen him rush the fence when the only horse next to him was a 28 inch mini (who didn’t EVEN flinch at the 1200 lb monster making ugly snake faces at him!)

Pretty funny, but also a little sad if my horse has concerns and feels that vulnerable. 

 

Big Mac says hello to River

And then there’s the pest…the horse that will the instigator of trouble….the horse that is so confident in the company of other horses, he is in EVERYONE’S face and has a high play drive.  He needs someone that will want to play as hard as he does….

Big Mac and the ugly face of River..."Leave me alone!"

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Put that horse in with a wall-flower and it becomes a high-stress situation when the extrovert is relentless.

  Meet 28 inch Big Mac….The proverbial pest.  Young enough (2 yr old) that the older horses will cut him a little slack for being a pain in the butt. “Play with me!  Play now!”  Always on the go…and when turned out with the established minis of my farm, interesting things happened.  Introvert Breaker could NOT handle the constant badgering of Big Mac and literally pleaded to removed from the same paddock.  He was forced to react and kick out at Big Mac because Mac wouldn’t take NO for an answer.  And when Big Mac was turned out with River, who wanted to have a nap…Mac was poking at him to get him to play.  The word “relentless’ comes to mind.  If the ugly face threats didn’t work, then he resorted to ignoring him completely in hopes that Mac would get bored and walk away.  River is a protector.  If forced…he would have gotten to his feet in resignation. 

Is River amused at being poked at?

 

Oddly enough, in group situations, SOMEONE has to be the boss.  It doesn’t have to be the most confident horse (Lyric) but it’s the one that is either willing or needs to assume the position for other reasons.  Lyric got along best with Hart (a Canadian Horse gelding) Hart was an introvert and didn’t WANT the job….he didn’t want the responsibility so if Lyric needed to be the boss- have at it!  Hart could and would take over if he had to and if Lyric was willing to step up to the plate he was more than willing to be subservient.

 

Hart and Lyric

 

And just to be clear, size has nothing to do with it.  I have had minis turned out with full sized horses.  It’s the personality that counts.

Stallion "Lad" and his BFF "River"

 

 

 

 

The body language is what talks….not the size.

The first meeting Ajax and Bobby

 

 

 

 

 

 

What I know to be true:

 *The first few seconds of meeting can be crucial. 

*The first horse that moves their feet or demures to the pressure to move is subservient  

*The more dominant personalities are usually Extroverted.

*Introverted horses can’t be bothered to fight- If they do, it’s going to be BIG, Explosive (usually with kicking) and over with as quickly as it started.  They won’t do anymore than they HAVE to do to get their point across.

 

Steinway and Flash

*Horses watch for eye contact and subtle moves in body language to read the approaching horse to get a clue whether they wish to make that first meeting.  Unconfident horses will often appear bigger/tougher than they are so they DON’T get challenged (Lyric)

*True harmony is when everyone knows their place and the status quo is rarely questioned.

Three buddies in a confined place in harmony

 

 

 

* I have seen geldings pick on mares (esp. if new to the herd) when she cycles.   Wait until after the heat cycle before putting them together whenever possible.

* Stallions are often really good babysitters of young weanlings.  Foals are cut slack by mature horses, and stallions aren’t threatened by their youth and take on a babysitter personae.  One of my minis “Max” was often pastured with his father for several hours each day to kick-start the weanling process.  Pip was amazing with his son.   

Stallion "Pip" babysitting his son "Max"

 

*Even if you remove a horse for a ride, or a show, there tends to be another meet-n’-greet when the horses get back together again, even if only separated for a few hours. 

 * Horses really want to be together and if given the chance (as illustrated by Part One of this blog, will sort themselves into compatible groups.

 

 

* Make sure places where a horse could get trapped are kept to a minimum for optimum safety….no open doorways to stalls, no tiny paddocks or corners , even thick trees…anywhere a really angry dominant horse could trap another- this is where 90% of the accidents happen when horses can’t get away.  Out in an open space, the Forrest Gump horse will run only far as the dominant horse WANTS to chase him.

* Natural horsemanship teaches you to read this equine language and THIS is what helps us teach our horses.  We learn to mimic the language of the creature we are trying to talk to.  Horses want effective leaders and that doesn’t mean just being the boss….think back to the principle of mutual grooming.  You scratch- I scratch.  So in other words: You promise to do your share to keep your horse safe and comfortable and THEN you  become one of the herd….even if its only you and your horse.  But that is the concept that makes horse-human relationships work. 

I’ve given you the tools.  The rest is up to you.    

Lyric and I. His herd of two

 


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The Laws of Attraction- Part One “The dynamics of the herd”

How relationships form with horses – the Laws of Attraction

Part One

River and Max - aka The Mini Brothers...

 

 

Have you ever wondered why certain horses get along with some horses and not others? Me too!

I love to watch horses interact with one another and figure out what the factors might be that attracts or binds certain pairings, especially in a herd situation. I would imagine it’s pretty similar to us- why certain people become our friends and other people we might find pleasant but just don’t connect with on the same level.

 

I think that because for horses, knowing that SAFETY and COMFORT are uppermost in their minds, the first criteria for the horse in a new social situation would be if the new acquaintance in the field/paddock/or box stall next to him OFFERED him the chance to feel safe or comfortable in their presence…

 

Guess which one is the Extrovert ?

So what happens when horses are turned out in a herd situation? I have found that there’s almost always a meet-and-greet time when horses realize someone new has been added and they have to say hello. I’ve watched lots of posturing-strutting around…maybe squealing and sometimes some physical rearing or kicking, but it’s usually not that serious…just a way to establish themselves, figure out where they belong and lay down some ground rules. I have found that extroverted horses tend to ‘fight’ in a forward motion- with their front feet…rearing, rushing forward, biting motions etc and the introverted horses tend to ‘fight’ with the back end…kicking, bucking and pinning a horse in a corner etc. i.e. fighting backwards.

Six horses out together for the first time

 

I did an experiment last weekend and put 6 miniature geldings out together in the back 1.5 acre field. Three of the 6 have been pastured together for more than a year (2 Right brained Extroverts “River” and “Chance” and my Left Brained Introvert “Max”). The 4thhorse to be turned out is Extreme Right Brained extrovert “Flash”.  He is a bit of a problem child because he is socially backwards.  He was a stallion for 13 years and has little if no social skills…(he only learned how to mutual groom a year ago and it was another non-threatening horse that had to teach him the proper protocol) The last  two horses put into this ‘herd’, have only known each other for a week-  One of that group has been with me for 10 months (RB Introverted “Breaker”) and the other: the newcomer is RB extroverted “Tracker”. These two formed an immediate bond since day one.  Breaker is very easy going.  He gets along with anyone.  Tracker desperately needed to belong and really pushed for the bonding with Breaker out of the unconfidence that comes from being the new kid on the block.  The new horse has never met the first 3 horses. 

Picture this entire group of 6 horses.  It’s pretty much a new herd put together on neutral turf; a large completely open, flat, (safe) field of grass. Remember that I have the one oddball horse that doesn’t seem to fit in anywhere (Flash) and one horse (Tracker) that doesn’t know where he stands because he just arrived on the property a week ago. 

 

Flash hangs back to watch everyone else

 

I should mention as individual personalities go…every horse in this group is innately ‘reactive’ in nature (4 are RB Extroverts and Breaker is RB Introvert and therefore reactive but in a different way) .  The only non reactive horse in the mix is LB Introvert “Max” who’s motto in life is “What?  Me worry??  This would be interesting….How would they get along? The new pair went out first to establish themselves in a field they had seen a day before. Then I brought out the problem child – he knew Breaker and Tracker would need to greet him and it worried him. He worried about his safety. 

Tracker threatening to chase Flash away

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 He postured with his pawing front leg to say “stay away”  (If he didn’t, they would chase him…sort of like that movie when everyone picks on the slightly strange kid…Run Forrest Gump!  Run!)  Flash then distanced himself at the far end of the field as the two buddies paired off and went to grazing.

 

After 20 minutes, I fetched the last 3 horses (River, Max and Chance) that are used to being together and threw them out into the mix.  They haven’t seen this field since last year…They were excited to be in the big field!  Yay!  Grass.

 

Problem Child “Flash” stayed at far end of the field  and hoped no one would notice (to keep safe) …There’s now 5 horses to worry about.  How would he cope?  What would he do? 

 

The other 5 said their hellos. New horse “Tracker” was the most reactive…He had to posture, circle… and rush at Max.  Why Max?  I guess because it was too much trouble for Max to react and it seemed like a threat to Tracker so he targeted the only horse that WOULDN’T move.  Remember that in horse language…the one that moves first is the loser…and Max simply couldn’t be bothered to move (not threatened) “Are you kidding me?  Argue and Fight?  When there’s grass? Sheesh!”  and it frustrated Tracker.  He then had to assert himself and was dominantly herding the others away from his buddy,Breaker.  Was it for protective reasons “I need to save him!” (although Breaker was NEVER unsafe nor did he act or look afraid!) or because he really felt vulnerable in a group of strangers that he might not have control over,  and the only horse that gave him comfort was new friend Breaker so he needed to get him off alone?

 

Extroverted "Tracker" circling around Introvert "Max" - establishing ground rules

Breaker couldn’t care less…Breaker is amiable (a lover not a fighter) and would rather do his own thing He never reacts unless he’s pushed and then its more of an explosion – “Would you STOP pushing me around?  Leave me alone.  You will force me to protest and kick at you to tell you to BACK OFF and let me eat….”

 

My 3 established guys moseyed off together in their own little clique because they are used to doing this everyday.. there was the safety and comfort in what they knew to be true.  The field was huge- there was plenty of room to form groups. There was no place for anyone to get trapped.

 

 

The Problem Child stood off alone.  He didn’t belong anywhere per se, but after a half hour of watching, He wanted to segueway himself into the group, to find out if he would be accepted….Somehow he knew that his best chance would be to wait until everyone settled into grazing and all the histrionics were over….He carefully eased in closer…in what would appear to be a nonchalant way but he was being careful NOT to draw attention to himself.  A lone horse out in the wild would be doomed.  He NEEDS the companionship in order to survive…so I watched….where would he go to get his safety and comfort?   Flash has been comfortable with Breaker over the fence, but with new horse Tracker’s jealous body language to the other horses, he knew Breaker was off limits-Tracker would chase him off.   He bypassed “Chance” who ignored him…Chance is also the type to chase him.  He had eye contact with and then sniffed noses with the introvert “Max” …no reaction except a friendly “Get out of my face…I don’t have time for ANYTHING but eating” so then Flash wandered over to approach Extrovert “River” who tends to be very maternal in his reactions and was standing near the back fence line. A little tentative hello and then I watched as Problem Child made the moves to say “I know how to mutual groom…will you accept me if I groom you?” and River agreed that this was a fine arrangement and the two of them spent the next 15 minutes grooming each other.

Max being polite to Flash

 So you had Tracker and a semi-reluctant Breaker that were paired off in one section, doing their own thing because Tracker NEEDED it to be that way…Then you had Max as a complete individual that didn’t want to be bothered by anything, and Chance also off eating alone and lastly, the 2 groomers, River and Flash off by themselves.  I found this to be so interesting.  They broke off into their own groups.   Two horses didn’t care where they were or with whom.  Tracker had to be in charge of Breaker for his own selfish needs of comfort (And Breaker was fine with that)  And lastly, the very sensitive Flash sought out the one horse in the group that offered him the best chance of acceptance.  Did he know that River is non-judgmental and patient?  Did that make him feel safe and comfortable and therefore was even willing to step

Mutual grooming Flash and River

outside his comfort zone to offer mutual grooming to make himself even more acceptable to River?  I found this all so amazing because mutual grooming is very intimate between horses- there is a line drawn in the sand that says “I scratch you and you scratch me” and it has to be pretty 50/50 or it can escalate into something ugly pretty fast.  And remember this was a new skill set for Flash- he’s not really good at this!  River was willing to overlook the rookie and welcome him into his ‘fold’.  I scratch you- you scratch me. I sat in awe, watching the dynamics play out, just sitting and watching strange horses of varying temperament and react-ability act out an age-old instinctive dance.   All was quiet in this huge field with everyone knowing their place of acceptance.  They sought out friends they felt offered them the best safety and comfort. 

 It was quite peaceful and took just over a half hour to settle down to this harmonious energy. 

Safety and Comfort for Flash

 I was witness to the whole event.   Pretty cool

 

Stayed tuned for Part 2- more on the Laws of Attraction


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Bobbysox – a special time and place

All is right with the world

 

Sometimes we get these wonderful moments when animals let us in….really in.  I never cease to be amazed when this happens because those moments are so powerful that unless you’ve ever been appreciated or loved by an animal you might miss the window of opportunity to bare your soul and receive the love back.  And then all is right in the world.  Just look at this photo….Does this not say Peace and Love?

Bobbysox is a Foster mini from Pipsqueak Paddocks.  (http://www.pipsqueakpaddocks.com/aboutus.cfm)  I have been asked on a couple of occasions to take in foster minis for them.  This a great non-profit group that re-homes miniature horses when the owners can not care for their little horses.  Some are surrendered because people move; some are seized from unpleasant situations through no fault of their own.  Bobby was a troubled little horse that came from a life of isolation as a 14 yr old stallion in a box stall.  The lack of turnout meant he stood around and worried.  While he might have had good food and water, he lacks social skills and behavior problems cropped up from his ability to cope with change…any change.   When his elderly owner had to be hospitalized his world was turned upside down.  And so he came to me.  A troubled little horse with lots of displaced and stereotypical behavior from his life of confinement.  Was it genetic?  Was it environment?  Probably some of both.   Stereotypies are a frequent, often mechanical repetition of the same posture, or movement.  Zoo animals in captivity with unnatural or environments that are not enriched develop this.  Temple Grandin, in her book Animals Make us Human has a theory that these behaviors mean either 3 things:  the animal is suffering right now, or the animal suffered in the past and it’s a habit it can’t break, or the animal is using the stereotypy as a coping mechanism to soothe or stimulate itself. 

Head flinging stereotypie

In Bobby’s case it was an erratic need to be constantly on the go, in a fence trotting movement, back and forth, over and over, with a frequent need to throw his head in a circular motion several times a minute….or to roll on the ground (it relieves adrenaline…. Bobby rolled 21 times in the first hour after his arrival) It was an attempt to soothe himself…..or he would stand and dig holes.   It was the only way he could cope with all the changes in his life. 

Repetitive rolling - trying to get rid of the adrenaline that his anxiousness produced

Bobby is an extrovert so that means, even when he is physically standing still, he is still moving emotionally.  But this was over the top.  There were days I wished I could take his batteries out and put him on the shelf to rest because he didn’t seem to be able to find comfort anywhere.   Over time, and with patient work and learning to figure out the puzzles that the natural horsemanship methods provided him here, I COULD get his brain to quiet down and he began to think instead of react. It came as a relief to him.   Even after many months with me, he still has his moments when he goes almost catatonic in his reactions to change, but generally he rarely feels the need to go to ‘the dark side’ anymore.  He has an “off” switch now. …He can be quiet and serene and it’s in those moments I cherish just how far he has come.   Natural horsemanship was the ONLY answer for this troubled little horse because it sets the horse up for success….  And Bobby is a changed horse

Bobby has wonderful new adoptive owners and they have left him here for a few more months, to learn with him, to shoehorn themselves into his life in a gradual transition and to discover natural horsemanship as a way to reach Bobby and help him grow even more.  They’ve even adopted a second mini as a friend/companion for Bobby and Ajax is here on my farm currently to develop the bond and attachment that Bobby needs in order to feel safe when he leaves here.  Bobby now can be turned out in a herd of horses…all ex-stallions that needed to learn how to be horses….. and that’s a beautful thing!

Breaker, Bobby, Ajax and Flash....4 ex-stallions in harmony together

 


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Horse Play in the Winter

 

 

While we might be faced with extra chores during the winter, something about the snow and the cold brings out the goofiness in our horses that is a joy to watch.  Dogs too…My Kerry Blue had a blast leaping into the snow and the Shih Tzu was all gung ho until he sank out of sight with the first drift he tried to follow the other dog into! 

For all the beauty of a fresh snowfall it seems like the humans have more work to do.  It may be beautiful but there’s little time to admire it because we are out there packing warm water and breaking ice in the water buckets… We have extra

messy stalls if the horses can’t go out, the barn tends to smell like a cheap hotel….and I go through more hay each day to keep them a bit busier when they can’t go out and pick around.  Not to mention needing to be careful of the slippery conditions as we go about our normal routine.  In our area of the province we are quite temperate so the snow surprises us when it lasts. 

Sky and Flash

Our particular area is prone to drifting, so it’s nothing to have bare fields, but a 4 foot drift in the gateway.  My riding arena had a drift up to the second railing!  But thankfully we get back to our normal rain fairly soon and we are inconvenienced for days and not weeks.  With this last storm, I missed a couple of days of work…the roads were impossible even WITH a 4 wheel drive….It was 2 days before we saw a snowplow, and chances are, the wind blew snow over the roads within hours of his trip by and roads were impassable again.  In the grand scheme of things, we are pretty lucky…..

The funniest horse has to be my big warmblood, Lyric….

He was beside himself and spent the first few moments of turnout either leaping into the air or bucking and rolling…And once he discovered the drifts in his field, he plowed through them all multiple times, some up to his belly (he’s 16 hands) and walked up on one drift in the corner and looked over the hedge to the neighbors!   

The miniature horses love the snow too.  Flash spent his turnout time trying to race Sky the Welsh stallion.  And Bobby and Breaker had a ball in the orchard, burrowing in the snow with their faces hoping to score an apple or two.  (Good luck, fellas!?)  And speaking of treats, we had to put the carrots in the barn fridge to keep them from freezing! 

However, nothing beats the sound of contented horses munching their hay or gobbling their hot dinner, knowing I can retreat back to the house to curl up with a good book or movie.  There’s a certain peace to a snow fall and a certain beauty that goes with it so I hate to complain….Just pile on the layers of clothes, suffer through wet gloves, gum boots with holes and dogs that leave little snowballs wherever they sleep and enjoy the season as best I can!

 

Breaker and Bobbysox

 

Ruby and Flash

 

 


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Horses with senses of humor….what does it mean?

 

A few days ago I was turning the horses out for the day and I was taking the three minis down the aisle way together…all at once, 3 abreast, to save time….. (and you can envision what a gong show that can be with 3 individual little characters…on a good day!…one of them might be in a hurry to get out…one might want poke around and eat hay sprinkles on the ground and one might want to visit with another horse as we walk by a stall) 

Chance with Truman and Deb

 I had left a white bucket on the floor – It’s the one we use to clean out the leftovers in the feed tubs each day….I had moved it with my foot off to the far left, at the entrance of Ron’s shop, kicked it off to the side, so it wasn’t in the way as I made my way down the narrow aisle trying to keep the 3 little munchkins under control…River was dawdling, Chance was in the middle of the pack and Max was out front. Behind me I heard the bucket slide along the ground (I thought) and said to my myself…”Oh crap, Chance is kicking the bucket…I thought I had it far enough out of the way…?” and by the time our motley group has passed the next  stall…the order has changed….River is now in the middle, Chance is lagging behind (which is odd because he usually HAS to be first….and Max is still dragging me out front for a change, but the sound of the bucket-on-the-concrete-floor still accompanies us… Weird…Why is Chance still kicking the bucket…good thing he’s quiet or like some horses he would be upset at the bucket being in his way and making all that racket…I am now at the doorway on the cement pad leading outside…Chance is still at the back of the pack (obviously I thought because he’s having to kick the bucket out of his way with each and every step?)  And I wiggle the rope to slow Max down and get him under control so I can turn around and look….. And you would have died laughing….

 Here is Mike’s horse, with the bucket IN HIS TEETH….He is carrying the bucket down the aisle way WITH HIM…. “Gonna have it as a snack?!” 

I burst out laughing…..!  Smart horse!  Pretty left-brained there for sure!!  It’s impossible to be angry when the horse was clearly showing how inventive he was…..He was going outside for the day and he was packing his own lunch…literally….!

 Every day I am witness to wonderful displays of intelligence and reasoning like this from my horses.  I so enjoy this. 

 A few weeks ago, my large warmblood was standing with both feet on the edge of his manger looking over top of his wall….!  Even as a foal, he loved to stand inside his box manger on the ground, but now at 16 hands and 1200 pounds, it was a little surprising to come into the barn to see my horse with his head up in the rafters of the roof! 

Lad and his favorite toy...a childs plastic wading pool

Lyric’s father Lad was infamous for his toys and his love of play.  People used to park on the side of the road and watch him play.  His favorite was a big plastic child’s swimming pool…

 Another example… Ruby is a large horse in the end stall and across from her is Bobbysox, a foster mini….Bobby is quite intense and in the beginning, Ruby was a little worried about his sometimes frantic energy.  One morning as I was leading Bobby past her door, she reached over with her teeth and tried to swing his door back onto him, to goose him as he walked by!  That’s a sense of humor.  She knew what she was doing…a little pay-back time. 

 20 years ago before I moved here, my 3 original horses were Mem, Shalann and Andy.  Andy was always the boss- more like a dictator actually and one night Shalann who was always a Houdini, opened up her stall AND Mem’s next door and the two girls left to go out into the field leaving Andy locked inside.  He was pretty ticked that they forgot him.  I think it was deliberate! (Girls’ Night Out)

 Or there was the time I had put the old gelding Ginger into the stall and paddock that belongs to the mini brothers for the afternoon just so he could have a change of venue.  Once he’d looked around, explored all the corners, and was bored…he cleverly realized that the door was shorter enabling him to reach over and upset a bunch of buckets that held brushes and apples…He looked quite proud of his handy work too!  Old fart!  What a delight! 

 

Ginger admiring his handywork

And sometimes in the morning I might be in Flash’s paddock and I am directing him to stand at liberty on one of his pedestals for a treat and I turn around and find Breaker in the paddock next door standing on HIS pedestal in hopes that I notice him!  You tell me that wasn’t pretty clever thinking?!

 

And the list can go on but my point is that horses have senses of humor and that they like to play once the other main attributes to well-being are addressed.  For horses, the most important thing is safety….then comfort….and then food (believe it or not…) and lastly play….so whenever I have horses here that ‘get’ into trouble by being bratty, I rejoice….That means that the other ducks: Safety, Comfort and Food are being dealt with and this horse in my barn is content and confident enough to play.  Yay!  And that means I am doing my job looking after them.

 


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The World lost a special little horse

Robin Hood

It’s with a heavy heart I write to say that the world lost a special little horse on Thursday.  Robin Hood was a foster miniature horse that came to my farm for diet rehab.   He was surrendered to Pipsqueak Paddocks, a very special place that accepts minis that need to be re-homed….sometimes because of abuse, or neglect…sometimes it’s because of financial issues and in Robin’s case, his owner was ill and couldn’t take care of his special needs.  She had tried for months and months…vet bills totaling over $4000, for a problem that was misdiagnosed as an inflammation issue when in fact it turned out to be metabolic in nature, made worse (much worse) by the multiple wrong drugs prescribed.  And because I was on the ARK Nutrition program with my farm, it made sense that Robin come directly to me. 

Robin did well here.  He was anorexic when he arrived and thanks to Amanda’s program and my diligence he began to gain weight and eat again. He received regular chiropractic adjustments to help with his immune system.   He was with me for 6 months and had gained 50 lbs…and that’s a lot of weight, when you figure a normal mini of his size weighs about 230 lbs to begin with…that’s how very sick Robin was when he arrived on Boxing Day in December.  He looked like he had given up on trying…now he WANTED to live again and had purpose once more…

You see….Robin was adopted by a super family to be a companion for their 9 yr old little girl that had suffered a fall from her bike and had a serious brain injury.  She came to the farm to be around smaller horses and I paired the two of them together because of Robin’s amazingly patient personality.  It turned out that Robin was well suited to be a therapy mini for Elizabeth and after they adopted him and took him home in July, together they spent many months playing and enjoying the healing that each one provided.

However, his time on earth was limited.  The attending pathologist told the family that they were angels themselves to have helped and supported him to live so long; other horses with this problem live for far less time.  And it was his special diet that supported him for that extra year, of that I have no doubt, that and his sense of need to help Elizabeth..a little girl that needed him as much as he needed her.

The autopsy report said: This horse died as a result of chronic, severe, right dorsal colitis
(inflammation and tissue death in the colon) – a lesion that is most commonly associated with Bute overdose in horses. The colitis appears to have been going on for some time and therefore fits with the
history of Bute administration in the past. The colitis resulted in two unfortunate sequelae: 1) colonic stricture and 2) perforation of the colonic wall resulting in septic peritonitis, which was ultimately the cause of death.

Robin should never have been put on Bute for his metabolic problem to start with- it was diet related not inflammation.  I am still fighting back tears of sadness and anger that another veterinarian failed to recognize symptoms of acidosis.  I will get off my soap box now and suffice to say that the world lost a little horsey angel on December 15th.   Rest in Peace, Robin- you enriched my life while you were here and you certainly provided an inner strength to Elizabeth to help her recover from her injury

 


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Dancer- the new kid on the block

This is Dancer, a four year old miniature stallion that is with me for the winter.  He is settling in fine and is safely stabled between Ruby and my warmblood Lyric…. Ron lowered the stall door so Dancer could look out  and he looks rather small in this 12×12 stall!


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Madrona Sealect Lad – the horse of a Lifetime

 

Lad and I - the horse of a Lifetime

Madrona Sealect Lad  1992-2008

Horses and people come into your life for a reason and this phenomenal Lippitt Morgan stallion was my best teacher.  Lad was the horse of a lifetime. A once-in-a-lifetime special horse.   I still feel his loss to this day, and I find it difficult to write about him and yet I could write a whole book on how much this horse meant to me and how much he taught me in Life and in Death.  Little did I know when I met him as  young five year old stallion at a clinic that I was teaching that he would not only be my horse someday soon  but that he would change my perception of how horses should be trained.  He taught me to think on my feet, to allow a horse to have an opinion in his own training and he showed me how to reach deep into myself to bring out the intuitive knowledge I had, in order to reach him and bring out the best in him.  And he reached into my soul and loved me hard back.  

He died in my arms on Jan 14, 2008.  And I still cry when I think of him. 

 
In the jumping chute at his American Sport Pony Inspection – he received perfect marks for his form

Yet another Carriage Driving Championship

A horse with a sense of humor…he LOVED his toys
 

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Stallions- Love them or leave them

A Word about Stallions.  I love them

The Best horse EVER. Madrona Sealect Lad

Throughout my horse career I have often heard the old wives tale about how women shouldn’t handle/own/rides stallions.  Like having testicles made the horse evil or something.  I have trouble not cracking a tooth whenever I hear a comment such as that…. Sometimes I believe that a good horse-woman is EXACTLY who should handle a stallion. 

I have owned two and I have ridden/driven/trained/handled/ shown several animals with the extra body parts.  Arabs, Morgans, Haflingers, Clydesdale, Miniatures etc.  My once-in-a-lifetime horse, my best teacher was a stallion and part of me died when he did.  My current stallion Sky is also another brilliantly talented teacher. 

Take a look at the show jumping world or the dressage world….Many of the finest stallions are ridden by women.  Where did the theory arise that stallions had to be man-handled and therefore handled only by men?  And why did lead shank automatically grow a chain on the end to go over the nose or through the mouth and become a ‘stallion shank’…that’s another pet peeve of mine….testicle equals chain?  I don’t think so.  Whenever I have had stallions in for training, I tell the owner to take the chain home…it has no place here.   And they get turned out in a field or paddock every day…not locked in high walled stalls cut off from the world.  My personal stallions were stabled or pastured beside miniature horses because I believe strongly that they need to feel like they belong.

Sky- Sec A Welsh stallion giving a hug

Stallions aren’t for everyone, and a lot of the stallions out there shouldn’t be breeding animals – but that’s another blog subject.  I just don’t think that stallions need force to be kept in hand and that’s what the old wives tale means….that women aren’t strong or forceful enough to keep a stallion under control.   Good horsemanship isn’t about domination- its about partnership.  And maybe if people worked harder on their communication skills and learned how to read their horses they’d realize that force isn’t required. 

What I like about stallions:

1)      The “look-at-me” attitude to life (the presence)

2)      The ability to bond with their handlers on a different level because they live a more isolated life

3)      The intelligence and the need to please

4)      They are cleaner in their stalls and paddocks    

Lad having his feet soaked with BK on his back

5)      They have an amazing look in their eyes

 

What I dislike about stallions:

1)      The yucky stuff down the front of the hind legs

2)      The fifth leg that sometimes appears

3)      The fact that they ogle every horse in case it might be a mare

4)      You have think ahead when you are in a horse show line-up or crowd

5)      You don’t let your guard down…nature can trump manners

Ashly (Haflinger) competing in Combined Driving

 

My Morgan stallion had a miniature horse buddy “Riverdance” that went with us the shows.  I used to ride Lad and lead River from the saddle.  My stallion used to play with toys and people used to stop on the side of the road and watch him.  He had his own set of groupies that used to visit him.  My five year old niece used to have lunge line riding lessons on him. (As she got older, she learned how to clean a sheath on Lad for her stable management project for a course she was taking….)   I have a picture of my cat sitting on his back while I was soaking his hooves in a tub. 

I remember one time while at a breed demonstration with 2 Haflinger stallions, after the day was finished, I saddled up the older stallion and ponied the younger stallion off his back, to give them both a bit of exercise after being cooped up in stalls all day, and the next thing I knew I had stirred up a small crowd of on-lookers because I had two stallions together.  I know of people that drove a pair of stallions, or a stallion with a mare.  I myself drove a Clydesdale stallion with another gelding in a Lady-to-Drive class. 

Driving Blue (gelding) and Spook (stallion) in Lady to Drive class

I think its all about attitude and expectation.  I expect not to have problems because I have worked hard to have a rapport with my horses, any horse….with or without testicles.   I once was showing Lad at the big Provincial All- Morgan show and I had River along for company.  During the lunch break (He went Grand Champion Stallion at this show and was later named Carriage Driving Champion too)  I was walking them both around the show grounds…stallion in one hand, miniature horse in the other.  Someone had heard that I was showing Lad at this show and ventured up from the States to look us up. (I think they owned a relative) and they walked into the horse show office to ask where I was…the secretary said “Oh…You just passed her…she was out there walking a big horse and a little horse together”…and the people caught up to me at my trailer, sputtering that they walked right past me but didn’t think it was Lad because he was a stallion and couldn’t be the horse walking with a mini.  Yep.  He was. 

 When  author Cynthia D’Errico came to BC for a book signing, I invited her out to the farm for some natural horsemanship playing.  After Sky (my Welsh stallion) and I gave a liberty performance, I handed the rope to Cynthia…”Here…have my stallion”.   She was initially dumb founded….She was used to seeing stallions with chains over their noses and being yanked around ”People just don’t hand over stallions to strangers”.  Well I do. 

What I love about stallions is their need to belong and what you give out to them is returned 10-fold in dedication. 

5 year old Talia having a lesson on Lad

 

Tango (Canadian Stallion) grazing beside Teddy (Half Arab gelding)

 

 

River, Lad and I

 

 

 

 
 

 

 

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Confessions of an Extrovert

 

Flash and I

I am an extrovert.  A high energy, fast paced person and talker by nature, but I have learned to shut up and watch when I am working horses….

I do tend to talk more when I am working a horse in front of someone….. for the owner or a student…. just so they can be directed to what I am saying, doing, watching, thinking…because sometimes its just so darned subtle that it can be easily missed.  And that’s the really cool part.  A lot of horses are reactive JUST because of the people that handle them.  I’ve been around people that would make ME crazy!

All around me I see people that miss the little clues because they aren’t in the moment.  Horses react to the energy around them.  If I want a horse to relax the first thing I am going to do is sigh out loud and exhale.   That trained ME in the beginning to get rid of my adrenaline.   So anyone that comes to watch their horse will hear me talk more than I would normally just so they can pick up on what the horse is telling me and why I am doing what I do but when I am alone with the horse, its pretty quiet out there in the arena or in the yard.   Like that famous rock song…” I don’t want to miss a thing..”

Moon and I..waiting for her to give permission for the halter to be put on

Sean and I

 I’ve learned over the years to slow down (and it isn’t just age!) Sometimes its the little things that make a difference in the beginning….like putting a halter on a horse….I wait those 5 seconds with the halter poised, waiting for the horse to drop his nose to give me permission to put it on, and not just drag it on….That’s being respectful of the horse, and enpowers him to have that tiny little bit of opinion to say OK..I’m ready for the halter now.  I don’t have to be in such a hurry anymore.  And its hard for an extrovert.

Natural horsemanhip (of anyone’s) teaches you to make it about the relationship and not about the goal. That’s a hard concept for humans to grasp. My big warmblood Lyric taught me in a good way to slow down and be in the moment with him and I am thankful I had him for my teacher. And the cool thing is that it translates into working with people! I am a better people-person because of what horses teach me.

Bella and I down by the Fraser River


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