Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Sometimes to Love Them is to Leave Them

There has been a long discussion on the Linkedin group, "Horse Lovers of the Business World" concerning Dan's problems with his horse, Primo. Primo's behavior is inconsistent -- sometimes he's a joy to ride and then other times he's a terror. Dan can't predict which Primo will show up and Primo will change his temperment during a ride. After listening to much advice concerning training and riding techniques, supplements, aromatherapies, etc., Dan said that while selling Primo would be sad, riding is a hobby and he can't afford a project horse. He's trying to apply the advice for another week or so and plans to sell the horse if things don't improve.

I was in a similar position several years ago with the horse pictured here -- I'll call him Leo. I'd bought Leo at a reputable auction for trail horses. Most of the horses, like Leo, were registered and most, including Leo, were shown over a series of demanding trail obstacles before the sale. Leo was intended to be the eventual replacement for my 20 year old Appaloosa mare.

I should have been warned when the seller didn't offer to let prospective buyers ride Leo in the ring before the auction started. I should also have been warned when Leo went for a relatively low price despite being a great looking young horse with foundation Quarter Horse bloodlines. I wasn't cautious though and thought I'd gotten a great deal on the horse that would carry me into retirement.

I started having problems with Leo as soon as I started to ride him. He was pushy and hard to handle and knew as many tricks as a seasoned dude string horse. One of the first times I tried to ride him, he started to buck as I put my foot into the stirrup. There were respectable bucking sprees occurring on every ride, whenever he found a slight excuse.

Using the name and address on his papers, I talked to the woman who had owned Leo before the auction seller. She told me that she'd purchased Leo for her daughter, but that her trainer had abused the horse, and Leo had finally bucked off the trainer and the daughter. The person I'd bought Leo from had done a quick retraining and consigned Leo to the auction.

I was able to ride Leo three or four times a week, and we made slow progress. His ground manners improved, he stopped bucking when I mounted, sometimes he completed an entire ride without bucking, and his bucking was getting to be less exciting.

Then I took a new job that kept me away from home much more often, and my riding slipped to only two or three times a month. Some horse adapt easily to more time off, but Leo didn't and he became much harder to handle. I was riding him one fine October morning, and he put on the biggest bucking display I've ever been able to ride. But for my good luck, he'd have thrown me and I'd have been deposited in the far part of a pasture several miles from the nearest house. I completed the ride, but my confidence was shaken. I decided something had to change to make Leo safe to ride again.

I read several books about training and settled on trying to apply Clinton Anderson's techniques from Downunder Horsemanship to the task. You're probably asking why I didn't send him to a trainer -- I guess it's because I thought I could fix the problem myself. I also wasn't sure that I wanted to put lots of money into him with only the hope that it would make him a safe trail horse. I worked with Leo for several months, when I had time, but it became apparent that things weren't going to change, and I found a trainer to work with him to prepare him for sale.

The new trainer told me that she rode Leo every day for a month before he stopped bucking, but eventually he did stop. She also liked Leo and found a qualified buyer for him as a long-term project, so that Leo never went to auction. Today, Leo is doing really well and has won ribbons for his new owner. I have a new horse now -- one that's never been abused and is a pleasure to ride.

It was hard to make the decision to sell Leo, but sometimes it's better for you and for the horse. Like Dan, riding is a hobby for me, and it's not an enjoyable hobby when your horse is trying to throw you. I hope that Dan can find a similar win-win situation -- a horse better suited to him and a rider better suited to Primo.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

One-Rein Stop -- Part Two (The Pulley Rein)

Part One described the one-rein stop as a way to refocus your horse if you feel that you're starting to lose control. Our discussions on the Linkedin Group, "Horse Lovers of the Business World," identified a related emergency technique called a pulley rein. I had never heard of it, but Claire Thompson and Nanette Levin provided a description. I'll be borrowing from Nanette's description of the technique, plus another discussion from Julie Goodnight, a well-known trainer and clinician.

The pulley rein is intended to be used if you've lost control on a runaway horse. With the pulley rein you do not want to turn the horse's head. You shorten one rein as much as you can and press the knuckles of that hand into the horse's neck, with your hand braced and centered over the neck. Then you slide the other hand down the other rein as far forward as you can and pull straight back and up with all the force you can muster. The objective is to hold the horse's head straight with your anchored hand, and use your leverage to put some serious force on the the other rein.

If the technique is executed correctly, you can stop a runaway horse quickly, but it requires some practice and obviously the practice is very hard on your horse. However, if you're ever completely out of control, this might be your best option.

On her website, Julie Goodnight also cautions that the very worst thing you can do is pull back on both reins at the same time. The horse will stiffen its neck and lock its jaw and might just pull you out of the saddle. I've seen a horse stop and rear over backwards with lots of pressure on both reins. Julie also warns against pulling an out-of-control horse in a circle due to the danger of the horse losing its footing and falling.

Tying this discussion to the Part One post, Julie reminds us that horses are much more responsive to using the reins alternately -- for better control, she teaches the one-rein stop or yielding the hindquarters.

Nanette has used the technique. Has anyone else? If so, what's been your experience with it?

Here's a video demonstration of the pulley rein from Julie Goodnight.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

The One-Rein Stop (Part One)

Several weeks ago, I started a discussion of one-rein stops on the Linkedin Group, "Horse Lovers of the Business World." I'd seen the term used in a variety of ways, but the online discussions seemed to establish two different uses of the term. One group used the term to describe a technique for suppling your horse and for re-establishing control when a horse is beginning to act up. Another group used the term to describe an emergency technique, so severe that it shouldn't be practiced, to establish control in the event of a bucking spree or in a runaway situation. This post will examine the first meaning of the phrase and a subsequent post will examine the potential use of a one-rein stop in a full-blown, on a runaway or bucker, emergency situation.

My motivation for starting the discussion was an article in the May 2009 issue of Western Horseman magazine. Titled, "The One-Rein Stop and Getting Soft," it was written by working cowboy, clinician, and writer, Buster McLaury. Buster describes the one-rein stop as a maneuver to use when a horse is showing signs of being troubled. To cue for a one-rein stop, he first stops riding. Then to do a one-rein stop to the right, he reaches way up the right rein to get a short hold -- leaving slack in the left rein. Feeling of the horse with the right rein, he has a hold of it with just two fingers with his hand out about as wide as his knee. He slowly adds his third and then little finger and provides a gentle firmness in the rein for his horse to find and follow. His hand may move a little wider than his knee, leading the horse around from its back and keeping slack in the left rein. As the horse softens to the rein, he bends his elbow and takes up the slack the horse gives him. The horse slows and spirals to the right and eventually stops. When the horse is stopped and soft, Buster will reach up and rub on his horse's forehead. When the horse is flexed around like this, there should be no pressure on the rein.

Buster says that the first couple of times he stops, Buster will release immediately. Then he keeps a little pressure on the short rein and asks his horse to get soft by putting a little slack in the rein. When the horse is stopped, with slack in the rein, the horse is telling Buster that he's with Buster mentally. Remember to practice the exercise on both sides. Eventually the horse will stop straight or almost straight when the rider quits riding and reaches for a rein.

Buster says that there's a lot more to the one-rein stop than settling a troubled horse -- it's really about stopping and getting soft and building a foundation for better stops in the future. However, if your horse is showing signs of needing to run or buck, the one-rein stop can be used to head off the wreck and get him stopped. He also says that if you don't act before the horse starts running or bucking, don't crank his head around. You're likely to throw him off balance and he'll fall. If you find yourself on a runaway or a bucking horse, "just sit up there and ride him."

Clinton Anderson also describes a one-rein stop in his book, Downunder Horsemanship. His method is similar to Buster's, but Clinton has the rider pulling the short rein to the hip -- not wide. He also says that the horse should stop his feet, give to rein pressure, and touch your boot or stirrup with his nose before you release the rein. After the horse has mastered the maneuver at a walk, move to the trot, and then to the canter. However, don't move to the next gait until the horse is very smooth at the slower gait. A common rider mistake is to jerk on the rein to stop, but you could cause the horse to fall if you do that at a faster gait.

Another version of the one-rein stop uses the inside leg behind the girth to disengage the hindquarters and further reduce your horse's impulsion. "The Power of the One-Rein Stop" is an interesting video using this technique.

If you have variations of these techniques that work for you, please add your comments.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Riding for Life: A Horsewoman’s Guide to Lifetime Health and Fitness -- Book Review

Riding for Life: A Horsewoman’s Guide to Lifetime Health and Fitness
by Rallie McAllister, M.D.
Eclipse Press, 2007, $28.95
ISBN-13 9781581501704
Available through Amazon and Chapters/Indigo

Reviewed by Carol M. Upton – www.dreamsaloud.ca
First published in Horses All Magazinewww.horsesall.com

"If you’re like most horsewomen, you probably can’t imagine a life without horses. How long and to what extent you’re able to ride and remain actively involved with horses depends not only on your desire but also on your health." ~ Rallie McAllister, M.D.

Many of us have difficulty fitting good health habits into an already rushed schedule. We have careers and raise families; some of us tend farms, ranches and riding centers, over and above our personal equestrian pursuits. Enter physician Rallie McAllister, also an avid horsewoman, syndicated columnist and author of Riding for Life: A Horsewoman’s Guide to Lifetime Health & Fitness.

This unique book can help all riders maintain optimal fitness and health while keeping up regular daily priorities. It includes two simple Riding for Life Programs, one focused on wholesome eating / nutritional supplements and one on physical fitness. Both serve as launching pads to help women improve their strength and stamina as equestrians, no matter what their current levels. We may understand the importance of good nutrition for our horse and yet neglect our own. McAllister details simple solutions to help us eat smart and ride well. No extra time for gym or exercise class? McAllister’s exercises require little equipment and can be done at home, at the barn or in your office. Her logic is clear. The more toned specific muscle groups are, the more quickly and comfortably your skills as an equestrian can advance.

There are two chapters devoted to overcoming obstacles that can stand in the way of your horse passions. As women, we often spend much time taking care of others and shortchanging our own needs. Finances and individual circumstances can also impede what we would like to achieve. These chapters contain worksheets to help define your dreams and priorities, identify barriers and create solutions, both in the saddle and on the ground.

McAllister combines excellent medical information with her deep love of horses. She writes in an encouraging, yet no-nonsense voice, designed for reader inspiration. This book can help anyone continue to ride regularly throughout the seasons of life.

About the Author:

Rallie McAllister, the mother of three boys, lives on a farm in Kentucky and enjoys riding her four horses. She designs corporate wellness programs, is the author of several other health books and writes a nationally syndicated newspaper column, Your Health. Visit Rallie at: http://www.rallieonhealth.com

Saturday, May 9, 2009

The Rider's Pain-Free Back: Overcome Chronic Soreness, Injury and Aging, and Stay in the Saddle for Years to Come -- Book Review

Guest Post Book Review by Sue McCarron:

As an avid rider (I went riding in a neck brace the day after a car accident) and a person who had her lower back muscles torn twice, “The Rider’s Pain-Free Back: Overcome Chronic Soreness, Injury and Aging and Stay in the Saddle for Years to Come” was a book I had to have. The author, Dr. James Warson, is a neurosurgeon and a lifelong rider, and he understands not only the physical aspects of riding, but also the need and desires of riders that make them want to keep riding despite potential back problems.

The book is divided into two parts. Part one deals with the anatomy of the back and some of the most common physical causes of pain such as obesity, aging, sciatica, disc problems, etc. Basic anatomy is discussed, and a glossary of terms is included. Tack, riding disciplines, and the type of horse ridden are also included in this section as potential causes of discomfort.

Part two deals with achieving, improving and maintaining back health. Dr. Warson has exercises for increasing flexibility and strengthening the back. Pain management is also discussed, including both conventional and alternative treatments. His “Save Your Body” Prevention Plan centers on preventing injuries around the barn and possibly changing riding styles or the type of horse you ride.

The book is not a complicated treatise on medicine. It is a book of practical applications and guidelines. Case studies, pictures, humor and common sense make this book an interesting read, and I heartily recommend it to all other mature riders. I can honestly say that it has helped me keep my back in good shape.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

The Ultimate Horseback Riding Vacation -- Horsequest USA

I think many of us dream of completing a distance riding trek in the US or another country or trailering our horses to ride for weeks in some distant national parks. Since I picked up a guide to following the trail of Lewis and Clark several years ago, I've been thinking of loading my horse, Mason, in my trailer and following in the footsteps of that Corps of Discovery. Unfortunately, the day-to-day demands of work and family make that very difficult for most of us; however, we keep hoping that some day circumstances will allow us to take that big trip.

For David and Anita Hasbury-Snogles, that dream became a reality when they decided to leave their native England; purchase two horses, a truck, and a live-in trailer in the US; and travel through the US with the goal of visiting and riding in every state. They came very close to achieving their initial goal -- visiting 40 states and riding in 35. They called their adventure Horsequest USA, and it is described in a recent article in Virginia's Orange County Review Insider section, written by Phil Audibert, titled, "Travels with Max and Roo." This is a summary of that article.

David and Anita were going through what David describes as a "crazy mid-life crisis type of thing," when they saw an ad for a live-in horse trailer in the US. After some "what if" analyses about using such a trailer to travel and ride around the US, they decided to do it. The only major problem was that David had limited experience with horses. A horseback riding vacation in Italy functioned as a tune-up, and David emerged from that experience as an equestrian.

David and Anita purchased their trailer from Blue Ridge Trailers in Ruckersville, VA and found a suitable truck in Florida. Anita found her horse, Roo, online, and David found his horse, Max, at a "meat sale" auction in Marshall, VA. A base of operations was established at Andora Farm near Culpeper, VA, and David arranged to write a weekly account of their adventures for the Culpeper Star-Exponent. With preparations complete, they were ready to set forth.

Starting from Culpeper, VA, on a cold day in March 2007, they drove to Ohio, where they picked up Roo and completed a three-day Natural Horsemanship clinic. Then it was off to Kentucky, Tennessee, and South Carolina, before returning to Culpeper for a brief respite. In April they set off again for the Deep South, encountering sleet in New Orleans. David came off Max in Mississippi and cracked several ribs, but they pressed on to Oklahoma and then to Kansas. Typically they would spend several days at a place before moving on, and since they had established a website publicizing their travels, they often received offers of hospitality before arriving in the states they visited.

The horse coped with the travel well and remain inseparable companions today. Feeding horses during extended travel can be a problem, due to the stress and removal from pasture. A colic incident during their initial trip taught them to keep moving roughage through the horses, and they relied on a diet of hay, wheat bran, and soaked beet pulp, plus Purina pelleted feed, to keep the horses healthy.

David and Anita had a near miss with a tornado in Michigan, did some trail riding in Indiana, visited a ranch east of Denver, and took a trail ride in the Rockies. After crossing Utah and Nevada they arrived in California and camped on the Coast, where they rode the horses on the beach. After traveling up the Pacific Coast and resting in Seattle, they headed east for Montana, and rode the Little Bighorn Battlefield with a Crow Indian guide. Continuing east through Nebraska, Iowa, and Missouri, they returned to Virginia for a welcome rest.

The next leg of the quest was to New England, where they rode in eleven states in six weeks. Returning to Virginia, they decided to remain in the US, and purchased a home and obtained green cards.

David and Anita and Max and Roo have settled into a new life in Virginia. The trailer has been sold, and they've found employment at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. David founded and manages the "Horse Lovers of the Business World" group on Linkedin. For a much more complete account of their adventures, visit their Horsequest USA website. Perhaps their adventure will inspire some of us to reach for our own horseback riding trip of dreams.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Horseback Riding Fitness for Mature Riders -- Help Your Body When You Ride

Guest Post by Nanette Levin, Owner of Halcyon Acres

First, I’d like to say that I don’t consider myself mature. You (usually) can’t see my gray hairs, there’s not too much gathering in my midsection, the sun hasn’t yet cratered my face, I’m more active than most teenagers (that’s not saying much these days), and I’ve been accused on more than one occasion of being childish.

It seemed important to make this clear. That said, I’ve definitely noticed some challenges riding, particularly in the last decade or so as I have seen my thirties wane and have roared well into my forties.

Paul asked me to discuss how I’ve altered my routine to accommodate some of the physical challenges – many borne from injury, some just plain about getting older - that have developed over the years. For the record, I still gallop Thoroughbred racehorses at an area track and start and fix young horses under saddle at Halcyon Acres.

Stretching prior to riding (I’m not as vigilant about this as I should be) has really helped. This is a good practice for anyone, but becomes essential later in life. Try to stretch the muscles you use most (think thighs and shoulders), but don’t forget about the hips, ankles, calves, the neck, and back. Simply spending twenty minutes stretching, can not only keep you from getting sore, but also help avoid injury. To offer extra assurances the toxins are released from my muscles periodically, I have also incorporated massage twice a month.

These days, I always wear a back brace when riding. Having torn a major ligament, my back just isn’t what it used to be. It helps to have the support to avoid future injury and offer additional strength. If you have an area that’s giving you trouble, try wrapping it and you may be amazed how much less pain you suffer.

I now listen to my body instead of riding through the pain. If I pull something, I take care of it. Sometimes this requires rest. I’ve also become a big believer in ice. Twenty minutes on; twenty minutes off; coupled with some massage to an injured area can really speed the healing process and minimize the discomfort.

Sometimes you have to learn to say no. This can be extremely challenging when you’re used to doing it all, but I do not hesitate to let some cocky young rider rise to the challenge of a difficult horse anymore as I happily climb aboard the “boring” steed. That’s saved me from feeling old on a whole bunch of occasions.

You get wiser too. I spend a lot more time on the ground than I used to with young horses that are fractious, concerned or just plain belligerent. It is amazing how effectively you can teach a lesson in the stall, the round pen or with long reins and have it understood once you hop on their backs. This saves a lot of time in the long term too, because riding becomes a pleasant cooperative experience developed from a communications process that is clear. It’s also a lot easier to ride without pain if you’re not brushing dirt off your backside.

I’ve found water to be more critical as the years have passed. Merely keeping hydrated can help you avoid a lot of muscle ache after a particularly rigorous day.

Finally, I’ve had to slow down. Gone is the routine of riding twenty or more horses in a day. Instead, I take on less, but enjoy it a good deal more. Breaks between horses also gives the body time to recuperate and muscles time to relax.

Older and wiser is a term that didn’t mean much to me years ago, but as it’s become necessary to supplement brawn with brain, I’m getting it. Now I just wish I could go back a couple of decades and institute the care required now to avoid some of the creaky quirks that remind me daily of neglectful mistakes made in the past.