Friday, 20 December 2013

A Worried Horse

This is just a short story about the sensitivity of horses to changes the pattern of activities that affect their lives. 

Anyone who has studied the nature of horses and observed their behaviour will know that their observation of their environment and everything in it is extremely refined.  Their ability to read body language is extraordinary and it is one of their primary means of communication.   The way pattern changes affect them became very clear to me during a recent experience with my horse Kai.

For the past two years I have had a medical condition which has made it impossible for me to ride.  I spend time with Kai doing ground work exercises and just wandering around the paddock with him.  He enjoys spending time like this and is always offering to do things for me, (putting his feet on objects, bowing, or picking things up that I accidentally drop).

A few weeks ago my daughter came for a visit.  My wife, Val, and my daughter decided to go for a short trail ride.   Tracy rode Kai.  It was the first time he had been saddled in almost 2 years.  Everything went well and although Tracy is a novice rider they got along well together and he seemed to enjoy the experience. 

The following weekend my granddaughter and her boyfriend visited. Both Taryn and Ryan are novice riders.  Taryn rode Val`s horse, Bob, and Ryan rode Kai.  Taryn and Bob got along well but Kai was a bit less willing.  He didn`t want to move much and when he did he would come right back to me.

The following day when I went to the paddock Kai was acting kind of depressed. He came to gate and gave a soft knicker that sounded a lot like a whimper. When I went in to see him he came over and tucked his head under my arm. I thought he might be feeling sick. The next day he did the same thing. Then I realized that this horse had been moved a half dozen times in his lifetime. Since I hadn`t been riding him and because new people were showing up and riding him he recognized a pattern. That was the pattern that preceded being moved again. He clearly was not happy with that idea.

During the following week I spent more time with him and reassured him that we are still partners. Basically it is just reinforcing the normal pattern that he has been used to over the past few years.  The worry is starting to go away.  Horses never forget what happens to them, but it was surprising to me to see how he picked up these events and related them to experiences that were several years in his past.  It is a lesson that I will not forget and something that I will watch for in behaviours in the future. To a horse, nothing means nothing and everything means something.
When I look at this picture I see a horse with a lot of worry.  His ears and the eyes are asking me what is going to happen to me.   I thought we were partners.  We have re-established the partnership but I will need to be more careful in the future.

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Hay Feeders

Over the several years that we have had horses we have used and observed several different types of hay feeders for horses.

This article is not a recommendation for any specific type of feeder.  It is intended to provide some information and observations about how different types of feeders work, what problems we have encountered and what features work well.


Home Made Feeder:

It seemed to me that it would be pretty easy to build a feeder for my horses.  I cut a 45 gallon  Plastic barrel into two halves.  Then I built a wooden frame to hold them in place.  The picture shows this wonderful creation in use by the two horses.  It took them about 30 seconds to push all of the hay out of the feeder and onto the ground.  Because the feeder was rounded and very smooth it was super easy for them to just flip the hay out.


It wasn`t a total loss.  I now use the feeder as a planter for tomatoes.


Metal  Round Feeder:

There are many variations of this type of feeder.  It was the feeder that was used at the boarding stable where we bought our first horse (Bob).  They are primarily used with the large round bales and accommodate 4-6 horses.  As long as you have the equipment to handle these large bales , they work quite well.  I did notice however that there is quite a bit of waste as the the horses pull hay out of the feeder openings and onto the ground.  Also because of the large bales and the weight of the feeder they stay in one place for quite some time.  This can result in the area becoming very muddy and mucky.


Plastic Dome Feeder:

This was our second feeder.  It is a four sided dome shaped plastic structure that is large enough for a large round bale.  There are two openings on each of the four sides.  It is delivered in two halves.  They can be bolted together to form the dome or, each half can be used separately and mounted on the ends of a run in or a barn.  We have used them both ways.

If you are using them with large round bales you will need the equipment to handle the bales.  The feeder is supplied with a lifting loop on the top so the feeder can be picked up and then lowered over the bale.

If the halves are used separately they work with small square bales.  Used in this way one can alternate feeders and reduce the wear and tear on the grounds surrounding the feeder.  In either configuration there is very little waste of hay.

We have had this feeder for 6 years and we have noticed that the plastic is starting to break down as shown in the photos.


Bowl Feeder:

This feeder is the favourite of the horses.  Given the option they will use this feeder every time.  It is easy to move around which reduces wear and tear on one area of the paddock.  If there is water or snow in the feeder it is very easy to empty,  if you are using small bales.  Because of the shape of the bowl the horses can not easily flip the hay out and as a result there is very little waste.  We have had this feeder for 2 years and it has proven to be very durable and certainly would be our first choice in the future.


Corner Feeder:

The corner feeder is used in the run in barn.  We simply installed a 20 inch high piece of plywood across the corner at the back of the run in.  We use it during inclement weather.  It is really only usable with small bales.  We installed  two, one in each corner of the shelter.  This works well for two horses and it could be adapted to accommodate more.


Ground Feeding:

This is the simplest.  No feeder at all.  Some people use this consistently, and there is nothing wrong with it.  It allows for maximum flexibility of location.  I don`t use it because it leads to a lot of waste.  It also allows the horses to pick up undesired things and critters off the ground.








Tuesday, 3 September 2013

My 4 P's

By: Guest Author - Amanda Bears  (Amanda is 23 and has been training and teaching others for about 9 years.  She owns 2 horses, but she has had her hands on 150 horses so far.)


I have been working; training and learning from the horse, and helping others understand the horse for going on 9 years now. I have read, heard, and seen a lot from others on how the horse to human relationship should be. Through my journey with the horse I have arrived at my own set of principles that I live by and apply to everything I do weather they are applied to the horse or the human to human.

They are simple and are the basis for life and reason:

·       Passion

·       Patience

·       Persistence

·       Purpose

The 4 P's as I call them, can be applied to everyday life, from relationships, jobs and even dreams.

·       Passion is needed in your life to enjoy it.  Passion for your religion, work, loved ones, friends, neighbours, animals, and even you enemies.

·       Patience is key! We need patience to keep our sanity.  As the old saying "Good things come to those that wait"

·       Persistence is determination.  If you work hard enough at something it will turn for the better.

·       Purpose is the reason for being.  We all need to feel as if we have a purpose.  Setting goals and standards gives meaning to our life.

They all tie into each other and you cannot have one without the others. The 4 P's can be applied to any aspect of our existence not just with the horse and when you dig down to the core of everything we do the 4 P's are there.

Thursday, 6 June 2013

This is War

At the 2013 Road to the Horse, the winner and poet, Guy McLean delivered a poem about the relationship between a horse and a human.  It gave words to how a horse feels when they meet a human for the first time and what the human must do to win the horse over as a partner in the battle of life.  This is the poem.


'This is War'

Man and horse have many differences
Yet they're drawn like moths to light
Once as two, then two as one
Such a wonder to delight

Many firsts have to occur
Before these gifts are given
That first encounter, something special
Where the horse is instinct driven

To gaze into their eye, first time
Is something to explore
There's fear and thoughts of doubt
Their look is saying, 'This is War'

'I will run till I am free
I will plunge and strive and fight
To give to pressure is to die
So I will struggle for my plight

You do not understand me
How my natural instincts burn
You want my trust, want my respect?
These won't be given, must be earned'

As a Horseman, it's my mission
To alleviate their fears
To prove I understand them
From my craft of many years

So I teach them what is needed
To keep them calm and safe
Show them all I know of this scary world
Show them how a champion behaves

And as these sessions grow and roll
I see a difference from before
For now within their eyes
They still are saying 'This is War'

'I see you different now before me
You have earned my true respect
I feel as though you have my back
So my actions now reflect

You have shown me I can trust you
Now a partnership's unfurled
I will follow you to battle
You and I against the world

For I see you as a leader now
Worthy of my follow
Today we'll share the sunset
And live to fight one more tomorrow'

Once as two, now two as one
Our mate ship shining like the sun
Let the war of life begin
For now together, We can Win.

Written by Guy McLean for all the horses of the world and especially his new World Champ 'My Mates Cat'

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

The Orange Tarp

This is just a short story about one of our early experiences with horses.

When we got our first horse, Bob, we had planned on keeping him at the boarding stable where we purchased him.  Within two months Val and I decided that it would be better if we brought him home.  At the time we had no paddock, no shelter and no hay or hay storage  etc. 

Three months later after a lot of work with a chainsaw, axe and post driver we had a paddock and a pile of hay covered with a tarp, but no shelter.  We were also told that horses don`t do well on their own and we needed a buddy horse.  So we acquired Wyatt, the buddy horse.  Since it was mid March and quite mild we brought them home before we built the shelter.

After about two weeks all was going quite well.  The horses were busy destroying most of the trees in the paddock and I had managed to convert the temporary/permanent plastic garage for hay storage.  Then the weather turned cold and it started to rain.  After twelve hours of steady rain it was obvious the horses were pretty uncomfortable and were getting chilled. 

We had a blanket for Bob but nothing for Wyatt.  I did however have a 6 x 8 orange, plastic utility tarp.  It seemed to me that it would not be difficult to install some ties and fit it out as a rain coat for Wyatt.  So after fixing Bob up I proceeded to go to work on Wyatt.  This was all done with complete confidence and total ignorance of the nature of horses.  Within 15 minutes I had Wyatt completely tarped up and he looked liked an orange Halloween Horse.

The next day the rain stopped and it warmed up.  The blanket and the tarp were removed and everyone was happy. 

It wasn`t until a week later that we spoke to another horse person and told them what we had done.  They told me that horses were afraid of tarps and that it was dangerous to have one around a horse unless they had been taught not to fear them.  I asked Wyatt`s former owner about it and was told he wouldn`t go near a tarp.

It was a year before we started finding really good information about the nature of horses and natural training methods.  It was then that I realized that the ignorance was the secret ingredient.  I didn`t sneak around the horse, and I was confident that he would be fine with it.  Because I was confident,  he was confident and in this case it worked for both of us.  Now that I know a bit more about horses I know why we got away with tarping a horse, but I also know that we were lucky we had the right horse.

I wish I had a picture of Wyatt wearing his orange tarp.  He probably wouldn`t like that image published.

Saturday, 23 February 2013

Road to the Horse 2013

It is just a couple of weeks to the 10th annual Road to the Horse Competition in Lexington, Kentucky.


This year promises to be a landmark event with two female clinicians competing.  This will double the number of female competitors (Stacy Westfall appeared in 2006(winner) and 2007).  Obbie Schlom and Sarah Winters will compete against the two down under fellas Guy McLean and Dan James.


Tootie Bland and her crew have done a great service for all horse lovers by establishing this event that will celebrate its 10th anniversary in Kentucky.  Thanks to the DVD`s they have produced I have watched every event several times.  I learn something new every time from all of the clinicians who have competed and shared their knowledge and skills of horsemanship.  The outstanding judges, who have also given their views of the qualities of horsemanship they look for, provide horse people great insight to the horse.  Together they have all given a wealth of information for horse people all over the world.  They have improved the lives of millions of horses.


I urge you to go to the event if you can.  If that is not possible get the DVD package.  Especially support the clinicians.  Go to their clinics and take advantage of the information they publish.  Soak in the knowledge they share. 


All of the information about the event is available at .


Congratulations Tootie Bland and all of the crew from Road to the Horse for these ten years of excellence.

Friday, 22 February 2013

My horse is my therapist

Animals have been engaged in therapeutic sessions with children in hospitals and with seniors in nursing homes for many years.  Usually dogs are the animals involved.  It has been shown that they have a calming effect on both old and young people.  In the past few years I have read accounts of patients, diagnosed as autistic, who have experienced positive responses when they were with horses.

Because I have been around animals of all kinds since I was young, I never really paid a lot of attention to the effects that the humans and animals have on each other.  As I have studied the practice of horsemanship I have come to appreciate how each species can have a profound affect on each other.  Humans have the ability to analyze and communicate concepts whereas the animal  has the very strong connection to nature and and its own senses.  The closer they live to the natural world the stronger the connection and the more refined the senses.

Humans on the other handle are quickly losing their connection with nature.  Unfortunately they are also losing the ability and desire to use their senses.  From an early age we art taught things like,  `Don`t judge a book by its cover.`  and, `Always make a good first impression.`  These are contradictory and deny the use of senses.

My horse doesn`t take my temperature or test my blood pressure, my horse teaches  me how to be aware of the world around me and how to use my senses  to be aware of that world.  He also teaches me how to refine my senses to be more aware of my body and my emotions.  To communicate effectively with horses you must use your body.  To do it effectively you have to be aware of the smallest movements and position changes of your limbs and your muscles.  By practicing this you learn how to be a part of the natural world and you understand yourself and your feelings.   As  I have said before, a horse begins their assessment of you the moment they see you.  The more you understand horsemanship the more you become aware of everything in your environment.  This awareness has a wonderfully calming effect on your emotional state.  It quiets your mind and and frees the flow of information from your senses to your brain.  This is the reverse of what we are usually taught; to use the mind to block and override your senses.

My horse has led me back to a closer connection to with nature and a refinement of all my senses and this is a healing condition.