Friday, December 31, 2010

2011--Here We Come!

We're enjoying the snow here at our house. The horses love it!

We're also enjoying an extended holiday celebration with family. I have all my kids together and more coming today--so a full, full house. I couldn't be any happier.

I hope you're all having a wonderful holiday as well.

Oh, and an update on my Kindle--it has become my new best friend. More on that after the holidays.

I do have big plans for this year--riding Beautiful Girl, for one.

Happy New Years, everyone!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

TJ Holmes Interview: Why PZP?

****Review from Part I--After TJ experienced her first Mustang roundup--helicopters, mistaken horses, and a mare placed in the stallion pen and almost killed--she became passionate about documenting the Spring Creek herd and finding a better way to bring the horses in--such as baiting with minerals--and, ultimately, controlling their numbers in a humane way, with PZP darting. The next segment concentrates on the use of PZP.****

Interview with TJ Holmes (continued from this first segment)

You’ve said that you’d advocate the use of PZP to control the growth of Mustang herds, can you tell me why you’ve come to that decision?

I am absolutely an advocate of fertility control in wild horse herds, with the caveat that it be used as it is meant to be used - in the best interest of the horses. I am absolutely against permanent sterilization of wild horse herds - we are trying to protect them, not "extirpate" them. Gelding stallions and SpayVac and GonaCon fall into the permanent sterility category, although PZP can cause sterility if used several years consecutively.

That said, I am not against mares of at least 15, that have had many surviving foals (that have not been removed!), being allowed to stop reproducing - become sterile. We've had at least two old mares in the basin since I began my documentation that have had foals right up to the year they died, leaving them in very poor condition and leaving their foals orphans. Nature, but not very humane if we can do something about it.

We also had a mare die in foal birth that had healed from a broken pelvis. She was perfectly healthy, but having that foal killed her - and the foal. She would have been a perfect candidate for PZP. In a herd our size, she likely would have eventually been removed, but until then? She and her two stallions (yep, that's right) were very close. I'm going to anthropomorphize here, but I believe the dominant stallion still mourns her - he hasn't regained the "spirit" I previously knew in him.

I've studied PZP research and talked with numerous people about it - people in the private sector as well as employed by government agencies such as the National Park Service (think the East Coast horses; PZP has been used for 23 years at Assateague Island National Seashore), the U.S. Forest Service (a program just started with the Carson National Forest wild horses, our southern neighbors in northern New Mexico) and BLM. This summer, I went through PZP and darting training at the Science and Conservation Center in Billings, Mont., with Dr. Jay Kirkpatrick, one of the (if not the) foremost PZP experts in the world.

Something else to know: PZP is used on a wide variety of species around the world - in zoos, game preserves, private sanctuaries. In wild horses at least, its use is regulated by the Humane Society of the United States, which is currently studying PZP-22 in mares of the Sand Wash Basin, Colo., and Cedar Mountains, Utah, herds. PZP-22 is a time-release pellet with a hoped-for efficacy of 22 months - two gestation periods. But that hasn't proved true in reality, and they're seeing that the timing of application is pretty narrow. PZP-22 given to Sand Wash Basin mares in October 2008 was not nearly as effective as PZP-22 given to Cedar Mountains mares in December.

Currently, the BLM looks at its Wild Horse & Burro Program from the end result, "excess" horses, however, I feel the BLM should look at the appropriate place, the beginning stage, which is reproduction.

When the NPS started looking at a management plan for its wild horses more than two decades ago, that's exactly what it did. Fifteen years after the plan was put into full management on Assateague, that herd's population has been reduced almost 35% WITHOUT the removal of animals. But to achieve that, the management plan is very specific - basically, every mare has the chance to produce a single surviving foal with which to continue her genetics. Every horses contributes genetics, but not in an ongoing process--not year after year after year. That results in sterility eventually. But the mares are healthier, they produce their first foals when they're older (as in 5 or 6, not 2 or 3) and they don't keep having foals year after year.

Before PZP was started, no horse survived to 20 (in fact, the average age at death was much younger). One of the original mares died last year at 32. As Jay asks "advocates" against fertility control, "If it's so bad for the mares, why are they healthier and living longer?" But that's also a reason for ASIS' aggressive use of PZP - it is population control. Foals replace old horses, but now your horses are living longer because they're healthier - you cannot support multiple foals born each year.

Something else to think about - fertility control should NOT be used to "selectively breed" wild horses. Genetic viability simply means a population of animals that is able to reproduce - Do they breed successfully? Do the offspring survive? If yes, then yes, a herd is genetically viable. Kinship refers to horses' "relatedness." We want all genetics represented. [Insert opinion by me, Linda, here: the more representation of different genes you have--TJ's point of every mare producing a foal rather than selective breeding--the less in-breeding you get.]

I hope to slow population growth enough to show BLM significant cost savings, with the hope it puts some of that savings into building a temporary-holding facility and moves from helicopter roundups to bait trapping when necessary. Basically, my philosophy equals fewer horses born, fewer horses deemed "excess," fewer horses going into the unknown of the adoption pipeline (depressed in the current and foreseeable economy) or the unknown of the long-term holding pipeline - or worse.

Your organization has submitted a plan to the BLM, can you give us the highlights of that plan?

Our fertility control proposal is basically BLM's, by which I mean this: Nationally, BLM has acknowledged the benefits of fertility control. In our request to implement this program, we have volunteered to administer the program and do the darting. This saves BLM money and time, two things they have precious little of.

Basically, we proposed that it start with the next roundup so BLM can write the EA for fertility control at the same time they write the one for the roundup. Also, so we can start the "darting" while the mares to be released are in the chute, reducing our need to dart them in the field.

I got certified this summer to administer PZP by remote darting. During training, we also practiced with several different types of darting rifles. Our NMA/CO bought the rifle I thought would best suit our needs here, a CO2-powered rifle with a range up to about 50 yards. Now I'm practicing with that, hoping to be able to do some darting at a private sanctuary in the spring and continuing to learn all I can so we're ready when the BLM says yes.

What are the downsides, if any, to using PZP?

Fertility control addresses the reproduction cycle and does it simply by preventing fertilization of the mare's egg. Mares continue to come into heat, but although this has been seen as a downside by some "advocates," I haven't seen evidence of this.

PZP has the potential to cause sterility with prolonged use in consecutive years. ("The best available data indicates that six or seven years of treatment are required to cause orreversible infertility.") Although, for older mares or mares like Bones (healed fractured pelvis), sterility is not a death sentence. Everything has downsides.

Let me list some upsides: PZP is cheap. PZP costs $25/dose. Adjuvant is about $18 a "vial" - about 18 doses - you have to use the adjuvant to mix the PZP. The dart is $2.15. It is engineered to hit the mare (target is the big muscles of the mare's hindquarter), deliver the PZP dose and pop out nearly instantaneously.

Abscesses have gotten a lot of criticism from some. This is speculation, but it is thought that a cause of abscesses is dirt on the mare's coat that is pushed into the skin with the dart. Almost all of these clear up within a very short time. Ever seen a pristine mustang with nary a nick or cut or scratch or scrape?

Another big upside for me is the lack of handling - you don't have to hold a roundup; you don't have to separate mares, even temporarily, from their families; you don't have to immobilize (tranquilize) her. You don't touch her at all except with that dart, fired from a distance.

Do you have any unanswered questions about PZP?

I live my life with this belief: We never stop learning. Do I have unanswered questions? Sure I do! And there are questions I haven't thought up yet! And I'm sure the answers I do have will evolve as I learn more.

I wonder about the results, which we won't even start seeing until 2013 (primer in fall 2011, booster in spring 2012 - first foaling season we should see a reduction in foal crop: 2013).

Basically, I have every faith in the efficacy of PZP. I am confident in my training and my darting, but it's starting something new - like a first day at kindergarten - how will it go? Most of my questions are ones I think will resolve themselves with my own practice and experience darting mares. I have questions about how BLM will handle things - that, to me, is the biggest unknown.

(The pictures of TJs I included are in no particular order in the interview--many of them are mares and foals in the herd she follows who are part of the PZP-22 program already in effect. All the mares pictured have been treated with PZP-22. Also, TJ wanted me to add, in case it wasn't clear in the interview so far, her advocacy of PZP--or Mustang Contraception--is in response to wanting to end round-ups--please refer to the first part of this interview to read TJ's story of her first round-up.)

And, here's a link to TJ's Website: Spring Creek Basin Weblog

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Beautiful Girl Celebrates the Holidays

Merry Christmas, everyone! Thank you for your kindness to Beautiful and me, and may you be blessed with much love and great personal accomplishment in 2011!

My horse has a hoof like striped agate;
Her fetlock is like a fine eagle plume;
Her legs are like quick lightning.

My horse's body is like an eagle-plumed arrow;
My horse has a tail like a trailing black cloud.

I put flexible goods on my horse's back;

The Little Holy Wind blows through her hair.
Her mane is made of short rainbows.

My horse's ears are made of round corn.
My horse's eyes are made of big stars.

My horse's head is made of mixed waters--
From the holy waters--she never knows thirst.

My horse's teeth are made of white shell.
The long rainbow in in her mouth for a bridle
and with it I guide her.

When my horse neighs, different-colored horses follow.
When my horse neighs, different-colored sheep follow.
I am wealthy, because of her.

Before me peaceful,
Behind me peaceful,
All around me peaceful--
Peaceful voice when she neighs.

I am everlasting and peaceful.
I stand for my horse.

--Unknown Navajo Poet

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Assessing Beautiful's Training

What a beautiful morning! This is the view of the mountain as the sun cast it pink.

After sharing my morning pictures, I want to give a brief run-down of Beautiful's training to-date, in preparation for the saddle-training that will occur this spring. And, if you haven't had a chance yet, please read TJ's interview from the last post--It's Part I of our discussion about PZP--the Mustang Contraceptive--something I'm curious about, especially if it can someday end roundups and make cattlemen (and in the case of my good friend, cattlewomen) happy, too. She's been kind enough to share her knowledge and experiences with us, so please take a chance to say hi to her.

We were out waiting for the farrier this morning (my husband and I) but turned out, we had the wrong day. So, he was kind enough to take some photos of me with my Beautiful Girl.

I like to blow in her nose--she loves it, too. It's our weird little thing. My cattle-woman-friend, Elaine, taught me this a long time ago with a batch of colts we had. She said they like it, and ever since, I've been blowing in my horse's noses. Does anyone else do this? Or, am I crazy?

She was very playful during our photo shoot. See the tassles on the sides of my hat? She decided to grab one in her mouth. We all started laughing pretty hard. Didn't get it on camera.

I titled this one, What Not To Do At Home, since I've given her a bunch of rope and walked behind her. However, I tend to do it a lot with her because she's never given me reason to think I'd be in any danger. She's never, never, never offered to kick or strike me.

Fat and Happy, as always.

Something fun I did with a picture I took of Riagan last night.

Here's Old Red--faring pretty well this winter, I'd say.

Maggie, our lab.

One of the barn kitties Lea, of Lea's Mustangs, gave us.

And Riagan standing guard while I was out at the barn. Our animals surround us utterly and entirely when we're outside, and we LOVE it.

So, here goes...What I've done (and not done) with Beautiful:

1. When I first adopted BG, I worked with her at great length to desensitize her for the farrier. Having been wild and never touched by humans, the first weeks toegther were all about, I'm not going to kill you.

Eventually, these lessons included all the basic things--touching all over her body, haltering, leading, tying, picking up all her feet and tapping them with a hammer, roping around her legs, flagging, waving around her head--basically anything I could think of that might happen to startle her when the farrier was underneath.

2. Last summer we worked on trailering, but didn't get very far. We only got her to the point of stepping up. So, obviously, this is a BIG hole. I don't know why I didn't work harder with her on this one since it's so important and it's usually what I do right after haltering and tying. For some reason I was negligent in this area with BG. I think it's because, right as we started it, I got distracted with the riding season and put BG on the backburner.

3. Clipping--I only bought a decent pair of clippers last spring, before that I always borrowed them or used scissors. So, I started her on clipping when I got them. She got to the point of allowing me to clip her bridle path and her feet--the only areas I really wanted to clip. But she could use more clipping practice.

4. Blanketing and saddling: From the beginning, I worked with throwing things over her--blankets, ropes, rain coats, basically anything in my hands. She shows a great deal of trust in this area. She's also had my little saddle thrown over her, but not cinched.

5. Bending and giving--I've been working with her on hind and front giving and bending since she was a yearling. She'll disengage in front and back and very easily back up with just a little pressure to the nose, basically, a tapping with the halter. But, as you know, this is something that goes on all the time to soften them up, and they have good and bad days.

So, there you go. I may have forgotten a few things, but that's basically it. She's not good at tying--she paws the ground and is very fidgety. She doesn't trailer load well yet. She needs to experience moving out with something (a curcingle) cinched up, and ultimately she needs to pack the saddle and be ponied off of a big horse so she gets used to seeing someone above her.

I did order a book at Andrea's suggestion: The Modern Horseman's Countdown to Broke: Real Do-It-Yourself Horse Training in 33 Comprehensive Steps I flipped through it online and read that the entire course is designed to last 1 year. I'm thinking, though, since I've been working with Beautiful for 2.5 years--most of the territory should be covered. Still, I'm curious about the finishing lessons, and I want to make sure I've done everything in my power to have a productive and safe first ride.

If I've learned anything with horses all these years, it's that you NEVER know it all, there are just too many variables. To put it better, there are as many variables as there are horses--and no two horses are the same. Through the years, I've read everything I could get my hands on--and I'll continue to do the that as long as I have horses.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

How Following Her Heart Saved The Wild Stallion, Traveler: Part I Interview with TJ Holmes

Can you tell us a little about your life and experience with horses, and how you came to be so passionate about Mustangs?

I've had horses all my life. I was blessed to be born into a military family - my dad was a career Army officer, and we moved a LOT. Only in a couple of places, when I was a baby and in Germany, did we not have horses, although we still found ways to ride, and my parents gave me dressage lessons in Germany.

Both my parents grew up with horses, as did my mom's mom and dad's dad - with riding horses/ponies and farm horses. I showed horses growing up - mostly in 4-H, some lower level dressage, and equestrian team one year in college. So I brought a significant amount of horse knowledge when I embarked on this experience with mustangs, which started in 2002, when I found out about a herd about three hours from Durango, Colo., where I was working (and now work again) at a newspaper.

First Round-up and Meeting Traveler

The first three years, I visited the horses two or three times a year, enjoying and taking pictures and getting to know a few favorites. I moved to Montana in 2005, and the last thing I did, before I left, was visit the horses ... never guessing I'd be back within a year, never guessing how they'd change my life.

In 2007, BLM held a roundup of Spring Creek Basin horses - the first one I ever attended. I had just met some people with the Colorado chapter of the National Mustang Association, so my journey of documenting and advocating for these horses began at basically the same time.

The roundup, while fairly well done, I thought objectively, was nonetheless one of the most traumatic experiences of *my* life - to say nothing of the horses'. I shook and cried the entire time Grey/Traveler's band was brought in ...

We had to deal with someone who insisted that it was NOT Traveler - I'd only a few weeks earlier found out he had a name (and a human following) when I showed my pictures of him.

We had been promised Traveler would stay - he is to Spring Creek Basin what Cloud is to the Pryor Mountain herd - but the last day of the roundup, when the horses were a) released, b) loaded for the adoption outside Cortez and c) loaded for short-term holding at the Canon City prison, we found out that Traveler may NOT have been released, that he may have been on a trailer bound for Canon City prison.

I was at the roundup Sunday, Monday and Tuesday, but had to leave Tuesday evening because I was the editor of a small paper at that time with a Wednesday deadline. So I missed Wednesday's captures, and I was on my way to the basin Thursday when I "met" the trucks and trailers bringing horses to Cortez (so I turned around and headed back to the fairgrounds where the adoption was held).

Springing Traveler From Prison

I made a frantic call to someone from the government who had taken pictures of the release horses, but he was useless as an identifier of horses.

When asked, the herd area manager told me, "I released the horse I thought was Traveler". Five minutes later, he came back and told me, "Traveler wasn't gathered because at the 2005 gather, he was seen to have a broken tooth, and no horse came in this time like that."

However, we later saw Traveler handled in the chute at Canon City, and he had a tooth that was high in his gum--making it appear broken.

We were able to convince the wild horse specialist for Colorado that we, or I, could identify the stallion, Traveler, that we had been promised he'd stay in the Basin, and that he was important to the herd and to its supporters.

With an NMA/CO board member and a civilian who had the legal ability to drive a BLM truck and trailer, we went the next Monday to Canon City, and I identified Traveler when we were taken to the prison facility.

(TJ was able to do this, prove it was Traveler, because of her photography and documentation.)

Heading Home:

Before the release, he was in quarantine for three weeks.

Free Again!

On Sept. 19, 2007, he was returned to his home and set free. One of the happiest days in my life.

That day was also the start of my personal "documentation project." I had attended the Little Book Cliffs roundup just a few weeks after ours, and although they also used a helicopter, they did not use contractors. Instead, they had volunteers from the very involved Friends of the Mustangs group.

No yelling, no mass hazing the horses with plastic bags on the end of whips (that was only used once, when two stallions' bands came in together--a stallion with a mare and a stallion with two mares. They used the bags very briefly to separate the bands into pens, but they kept the bands together). Best of all, because the horses were known and quickly identified because they'd been thoroughly documented, they were able to separate out particular horses and release the horses that had been gathered within about three hours.

This was amazing compared to ours: yelling, whip-bags constantly going, horses banged up, scraped up, separated immediately, and a mare mistakenly put in one of the stallion pens (Traveler's mare). In our roundup, it took three days for the horses who were gathered first to be released.

(The bay in the picture is Traveler's mare. They did finally get her out, but not before she had gotten punctured or scraped and bled all over several of the stallions. The vet on site stitched it, apparently, when they got her out.)

Immediately after that, I visited Pryor Mountain Wild Horse Range for the first time and learned they also document their horses (have for decades) - and their previous gather had been done by bait trapping - not helicopters.

Bait Trapping

Bait trapping takes longer and costs more per horse (though I'm not sure about overall cost because it's done by one man) but is extremely low stress and also singles particular horses out for removal. It also requires a temporary holding facility because the horses are removed in small numbers as bands come to the bait trap (the bait is usually a mineral mix), so it takes longer than the mass roundups and removals of horses BLM typically conducts.

Why TJ Prefers Mustangs Now

What an education that year was ... and every year since. I love horses, but there's something about mustangs - self-reliant, independent of human "care" (and I think most domestic horses are too babied - and that has resulted in a lot of problems - founder, colic, pacing, weaving, etc.), tough, incredibly social, indulgent of their babies, fierce protectors of their families, terrified of being separated - but capable of surviving alone.

Before I ever saw these horses in 2002 - and they were my first experience with mustangs - I was a little worried, expecting to see skinny little runty hammer-headed, knock-kneed "cayuses." ... Yeah - not. I've been in love with these beautiful free spirits ever since!

Spring Creek Basin Mustangs: A Tragic History

A little about Spring Creek Basin mustangs: There were originally three major herds in that basic area: where they are now, tucked up in the northeastern part of Disappointment Valley; an area called Slickrock, just west of Disappointment Valley; and near Norwood, north of the herd area as the raven flies.

My understanding is that they were consolidated to Spring Creek Basin in about the 1950s. They're thought to descend from Indian horses (Ute and Navajo), white settlers' horses, even stolen cavalry horses brought from Montana.

In about the 1980s, three stallions were introduced from Wyoming herds, before it was known that mares make better introductees. One was a grey stallion with a Roman nose named Miguel, one was a grey stallion considered very Spanish in type - believed to be Traveler's sire - Mr. Ed (yeah, I know), and one was a pinto stallion named Spook (2-year-old pinto filly Spook was named after him). Until Spook, there were apparently no pinto horses in the herd.

Spook was later found dead along the fenceline border with the county road (shot, though BLM would not confirm that). Mr. Ed was taken to Little Book Cliffs, where he was later found dead, also shot. And Miguel was taken to a sanctuary, where he bled out and died after gelding. But they all left their legacy in Spring Creek Basin ... from Houdini's Roman nose to Traveler's refinement to the pintos' spots.

So, while I've known the horses and herd since 2002, I have known them intimately since 2007. With the exceptions of bad weather (thunderstorms, blizzards - the roads are exceptionally bad when wet) or I'm out of the state visiting my parents or Yellowstone country (my other favorite places on the planet), I visit the horses every week of the year.

This is the first of what will be a four part Q & A with TJ Holmes, of Spring Creek Basin Weblog. The next three parts will concentrate on what TJ has learned about the Mustang contraceptive, PZP: the good, the bad, and the unknown.

If you have any questions for TJ, please ask them in the comments, and she will be happy to answer them for you--or just say a quick, "Hello."

Friday, December 17, 2010

Training Beautiful: Distractions

What's BG looking at, and why is she way out there?

Well, I was out working with her in the enclosed riding area when the neighbor's puppy (my puppy's best friend) was let out to play. My puppy, Riagan, always runs right to me, so I had two dogs running circles around the riding area. Beautiful was frightened, but she stood her ground. I got worried they'd come into the area, so I unhaltered her from the lunge line (we weren't lunging, the ground is too slick--we were just grooming and bending, etc) and walked the dogs back to the house away from her.

This is what ensued, and this is what Beautiful was watching from her turnout.

Now I'm just waiting for the dogs to finish playing--a Dobie and an Irish Wolfhound, what a sight--so I can go back out to her. In some ways, it's a pain to have my time interrupted, but the benefits (a tired dog), far outweigh the negatives. I like the puppy playtime--planned or not.

Speaking of training, how many of you have saddled trained a horse? Any suggestions from your own experience? I've done it before, but I've always had a professional around to help me out when it comes to the first ride. They've never had a bit of trouble though, which makes me wonder why I haven't done it. Fear of what? Possibly being bucked off and dragged around with one foot in the stirrup? Has it ever happened? No. But if I can think of it, it can happen. It's important for me to do the first ride this time. If I've done the groundwork properly, it shouldn't be a big deal, right?