Monday, January 31, 2011

Yay, Buck!

And the winner is.... "

The Audience Award for U.S. Documentary Competition went to Buck, about actual horse whisperer Buck Brannaman, who was also celebrating his birthday that night. In his speech, Brannaman, wearing his ever-present white rancher’s hat, dedicated the award to “everyone who loves what they do. I take my hat off to you.”

It was picked up by IFC (Independent Film Channel) Anytime a horseman or horsewoman gets the story out to this many people, everyone who loves horses wins. So, a big Woohoo for Buck.

A picture from this morning:

From this picture, what temperature would you guess it is outside?

I'm glad we got these holes dug yesterday for the tying post. It will have one tall post and two smaller ones with rails in between so the horses can't swing themselves and wrap their ropes around.

Here's a video of Beautiful from last week. She was having fun in the mud. Since then, it has largely dried up, but it was bad last week! And, this is why I'm in the market for sand.

Friday, January 28, 2011

New Camera--Tying Issues--Dieting--and a Movie Update

Whew! There's a lot going on in this post. I haven't done an update in a while, so here goes...

New Camera

My old compact camera died, so I needed a new one. It's just too much to ask to cart around my big camera on walks and normal trips to the barn; so I relied on the pocket-sized one.

I didn't research the purchase at all, thinking technology is so great, all the cameras out there should be good. Right? Wrong! I bought a Sanyo and brought it home, took a few pictures, and they were all blurry or dark. I tried the video, it was choppy and poor quality. It is hard to imagine a poorer quality camera anywhere on this planet. And, when I did finally research it, all the reviewers agreed with me. So, I returned it.

(Picture is of the new camera.)

What I found instead (at Walmart) was this package deal--a Sony Cybershot with a case and memory card for $119.00. Just the camera alone was being sold at the same store for $149.00. Very strange. The sales person is the one who told me about it. She was like, hey, we just got these in--it's a great deal--this is what you want. She was like my bookie, but sure enough, she was right.

The camera is teeny-tiny, but takes wonderful picures. The menus are easy to use, too, and it has this setting called "Sweep Panorama Mode" where you point and click while you move the camera slowly over the view until the arrow directs you to stop. Then, the camera--somehow, magically--seams the images together into one large panoramic picture--like this: (click to enlarge it)

I've never seen anything like it before, but it works!

Exercise & Diet

Like everyone else, my husband and I have been trying to get in better shape. Usually we take turns on the treadmill and doing strengthening exercises, but since the weather has been warmer, we've been out walking again.

I think that walking outside is better for the mind. I feel happier, less hungry, and I also feel that I've gotten a better workout than on the treadmill. The time goes by faster because I'm able to talk to my husband and watch and concentrate on the dogs.

I also got a walk in with a friend--although, we were supposed to be riding our horses.

I was all hooked up and ready to go....

But, rather than loading my horse, I loaded my pony--Riagan. (My friend wasn't up to trailering out of the mud.)

Cutting back on food has been another matter. I really like food. My favorite winter fare is an odd combination (I picked it up years ago and now my husband is also addicted) of french dip with swiss cheese, onions and peppercinis, french fries dipped in tarter sauce, and red beer (Bud Lt. and Clamato). I also enjoy wine and cheese. This odd combination of food and drink is my downfall in counting calories.

Since all of this is hard to give up, I've compromised by cutting my portions in half. So far, the scale hasn't moved much, but I do feel like my clothes are fitting a little better. At least I'm not gaining weight anymore. I was in the never say no mode--chocolate (yes), cake (yes), steak fajitas(yes), pasta (yes), seconds (yes), thirds (yes) get the picture. I'd love to see the scale start moving down because, when it does, I'm going to reward myself with a new cruiser bike, but I think it's premature to expect that.

(Cruiser bike, here I come! I can't ride a horse all the time!)


Everyone's taking turns walking Beautiful back and forth to turnout--myself, my husband and my daughter. One of the things that used to really scare her was when we'd throw up the large barn door when she was on the lead. It would frighten any horse. I worked with her last week with just leading back and forth into the barn and standing while that door was opened and closed. She got to the point where it didn't bother her at all.

As for tying, I need to do more of it--lots more. She hasn't developed patience and maturity being tied. Instead, she paws the ground, prances around, and whinnies. We're going out today to see if we can dig a hole with the auger and get a new tying post set in the ground outside of the arena--and maybe one right in front of the barn, too. I don't have a single tying post on this property (besides the horse trailer) that doesn't have something in front of it--and I want one where she can safely move around, paw the ground, etc, but will be okay if I leave her there for a while as I work with the other horses. I want to be able to keep my eye on her no matter where I am.

Movie Update

The way I'm talking about this movie, Buck, you'd think I'm a huge Buck Brannaman fan, but that's not really the case. I don't have a favorite trainer. I've read and own many books, but I haven't ever thought--this is the one. I like them all. I feel like each has something special to bring to the art of horses. Like music, one may be a Beethoven, a Mozart, an Enya or The Beatles.

But when I read about this movie, I can't help but be excited about it. Here's a review from the LA Times that came during the Sundance Film Festival.

LA Times Review of the movie Buck at Sundance, by critic, Betsey Sharkey: January 24, 2011.

Quotes from the review:

Can a documentary cross so many cultural, geographic and demographic lines that it could become a mainstream, mass-market phenomenon, all without a political agenda or shock value?

If ever a documentary had that everyman potential, it is "Buck," ....

Of all the movie screenings I've been to in the festival's first four days, no film has gotten as passionate and as extended a standing ovation as "Buck."

I first realized there was something deep going on when the tough guy in rapper chic next to me was wiping away tears at one particularly intense moment when Buck tries to gentle a horse so wild it attacked another trainer in the ring. There's also plenty of humor, with laughter rippling across the house at the homespun wisdom that seems as natural to Buck as sitting on a horse.

The movie came to the festival without a distributor but as of press time was sorting through multiple offers.

But beyond that, Buck's story seems right for the times: a decent man whose common sense cuts to the heart of the matter, an ordinary guy who's made an extraordinary life despite the odds. A guy who works hard for the money. The kind of story that would play anywhere, but definitely in Peoria.

I think it's going to be great.

Well, off to take on the day! Got to get some posts set in the ground, call around about sand prices for the arena, take my son to get his driver's permit, clean stalls, wash the cars, and another walk with the dogs this morning.

Hope you're all having a wonderful weekend!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Grass Is Always Greener South of Here

Do you ever get horse envy? I used to, but I don't get it as often anymore. I have too many of my own, and I don't want anymore, so I get horse "admiration" now. Let's see, I don't get saddle envy anymore, but I definitely admire nice saddles--the same with tack. I'm pretty sure, the only true envy I have right now, at this moment, is WEATHER envy.

Yep, I admit, the green-eyed monster struck me on January 25, 2011. It's common, even predictable, for me about this time of year.

Yesterday was the day that did me in, so to speak. It was cold, wet and muddy--all things I dislike. (If it's going to be cold and wet, bring me snow.) Then, to make it worse, I visited all my usual blogs, half of which it seems, take place in the southern climes. I read about trail rides in 60 degree weather and horses soaking up the sun....and it hit me.

I'm jealous!

Like Riagan for Maggie's bone--I think they have it better!

So, I'm going to upload this post, go in and put on my parka, my fur lined boots, my ratty knit cap and gloves, and slog through the mud to go muck out stinky, cold, wet stalls and groom mud-caked horses. Wah-Wah-Wah--that's the sound of me crying, in case you wondered.

Feel sorry for me?

(Today, looking back at the house from the barn.)

Lesson: Never Fear

Lesson: Never fear anything; with time and training, you and your horse can accomplish everything.

I'm still learning this lesson, but I'm very confident that if you have a good horse and you've developed trust and mutual respect, there is nothing you can't do together.

Beautiful has grown up, and she's developed an inner strength, I guess it would be maturity, that you can see in her eyes and in her actions. This is definitely her year. Last year, she was not ready for saddle training--or at least I didn't feel she was ready. I thought she was too reactive. This year, there's a big difference. She stands her ground and she's more confident. Could I have rushed saddle-training last year? Sure. But I'm glad I didn't.

Which brings me to another aspect of fear--that sometimes it's a gift, if we learn to listen to it. So, I'm saying don't fear, but listen to your fear, and those two statements seem to contradict themselves, and maybe they do. Here's an example of what I mean:

When I boarded, my trainer and friend boarded her horses and the horses in training at the same place. In fact, some of our horses shared an end panel together. We'd see a lot of each other back then and I saw her train a lot of horses.

One day, I remarked about how gentle the whole process was. There was never any bucking. She was never in any dangerous situations that I saw. (She did occasionally send horses back to owners early in the training.) But of the horses she kept in training, which was most of them, there was never any bucking or wild, scary antics. It was really calm and peaceful. She'd be on their backs, stroking their necks, quiet. She did as much as they could handle and then called it a day.

When I commented about it, she said, "If I've done my groundwork right, there shouldn't be any bucking."

The horse had nothing to fear and she had nothing to fear...because she was laying the groundwork every step of the way.

There are things I don't do with my horse even if my friends are doing it. There are places I don't take them. I like to think of it more as a warning than fear. Maybe the warning is saying you haven't prepared your horse for this, or maybe it's saying you aren't prepared for this, but either way, I'm learning to listen to it. So, if I use "warning" instead of fear, I could say, Listen to your inner warnings and respect them, but if you've done your groundwork and you have a good horse (a good match for you) and a strong partnership based on respect and trust, you have nothing to fear.

Does this make sense?

****As for the case of the missing water, Laura was correct; we'd left the hose in the tank and it worked like a vacuum to suck the water back into the spigot and empty the entire thing. This left it bone-dry for the horses--teaching us the lesson: Never leave the hose in the water tank after it's done filling up.

Monday, January 24, 2011

You Can't Buy Common Sense

But you can find a friend who has it, and stick to her like glue!

With horses, time is not often on your side when you face a delimma--especially something as important as water. So, when we saw Red licking his water, we knew enough to take it serious.

From the window or backyard, I could see these things. 1.) He looked healthy, 2.) He was drinking from a full metal stock tank, 3.) This tank had been sitting in the same place, at the corner of the pasture, for the two months we'd had the horses there.

Now, some background: We'd only lived in this house for six months and when we bought it, it was just a half finished house in a large, empty field. We had to string hot-wire, mow the pastures, run hoses out to stock tanks and put up corrals with panels until our barn and permanent fences were built. We refer to those days as living in shanty town because that's the only way to describe how it looked. Ah, those were the BAD 'ol days!

On closer inspection, there weren't any bees in the water and Red had not been stung on the tongue, as I had guessed. Something else I should add here, because Red is very old, we're always quick to wrongly assume that any issue which comes up is related to him. This bias on our part has made fools out of us. Like the time I looked out in the pasture and saw Red with all four feet up in the air and assumed he was dead. (More on that later) At the time this happened, he was about 26-27 years old.

So, I phoned a friend--that smart, horse friend I'm always talking about. I might be dense, but at least I know who to call! I related the situation to her--Red is licking his water and there doesn't appear to be anything wrong with his tongue or throat. That's all I told her.

She thought about it for a second--quietly. I began to doubt calling her. What was she going to say that I couldn't figure out for myself, me being the one that was here?

Finally, the wise one spoke. I've only see a horse do that one time. It was drinking out of an automatic waterer and the waterer had a pulsing short. The horse was taking licks of water in between shocks.


I told my husband and both of our eyes lit up! Could it be? Could that metal stock tank be connecting with one of the hot wires from our fence?

Um, yes. We went out to the pasture and sure enough, the metal tank had been shoved just close enough that a low wire was making contact. Metal and water are conductors of electricity. The electric fence charger is on a pulse so that if you were to accidentally grab it, you'd have a second to get your bearings back and release it before the next shock is delivered. It was, in fact, the case, that Red was taking licks of water in between pulses of shock.

The lesson from this--don't set metal tanks near hot-wire fence. Which leads to yet another mystery and lesson involving water tanks...the case of the disappearing water.

Once upon a time, my husband I had drug a hose to a large stock tank and filled it up to overflowing. The next morning we went out and it was bone dry and the horses were asking for water. Huh? What? Why were they drinking so fast? We filled it up again. The same thing happened. Filled it up again. The same thing happened. This was a big tank, and the water should have lasted the horses for at least 2-3 days, maybe more.

I bet you guys can figure this one out--just another lesson in the annals of what not to do.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Don't Ignore What Your Horse is Saying

(A Room With a View. That's my favorite chair to the right--it's turned so that I can see easily out the window and over to the opposite turnout where Beautiful and the pony are. I can see two turnouts from here. Sometimes the horses switch turnouts, but right now the stalls work out best this way.)

I have the privilege of watching my horses just about sixteen hours out of the day. One of the better things I did for myself was design the barn and turnout to be in direct view of my favorite chair in my reading/writing room. One entire wall of this room faces North and is 7/8's window. We placed the barn/turnout right outside of it. The back deck also overlooks this area, as does the hot tub on the patio below.

This was no accident, it was our dream realized. My husband and I have owned several homes--Lord willing, this will be our last. At all the other homes, we used to think, this would be great if only we could see our horses, too. In our last house, we could hear them, but not see them because the turnout and barn were too far to the East. Not being able to see them made everything else only half as good. For us, much of the joy of having them is "being" with them--part of them--and watching over them.

Call me crazy, but I want to see my horses all the time. At night, when it's dark, I'll sometimes shine a flashlight on them and watch. Or, I'll just stand in the dark with them and call out to them--sometimes they respond back with a whinny and, though I can't see them very well, I know where each one is by their unique sound.

(view from the deck--too cold to sit out there now. The playset for the grandkids and nephews and nieces is unused this time of year. See Red and Cowboy?)

This morning, as I was having coffee, I got to watch a particularly funny scene. The horses were fed and happy. They'd all assumed their positions in the turnout of standing sleep. The sun is shining, it's warming up, and they were soaking it in.

Then, along came our dog, Riagan, the Irish Wolfhound, and her next door neighbor buddy, the Doberman, Tory. Riagan is out there all the time and has learned to read the horses and listen to me, so she's safe with them, but Tory has generally avoided them and so, hasn't learned the lessons.

Riagan walked right behind Cowgirl. I watched as Cowgirl cocked her foot--slightly--Riagan saw it, too, and moved away. Then, Tory followed behind her, went up and sniffed Cowgirl's cocked foot and Cowgirl took it up a couple of notches to a semi-strike. Tory, the Dobie, darted away quick and missed being caught. In my experience, when a horse wants to really kick something, it does. So, I take that as Cowgirl was still threatening, but the next one was going to be the real deal.

I love this stuff. I can't be out in the barn 24/7, but when I'm not, it sure helps to be able to watch them from here. I can see how they move--how far do they put their fronts forward and where their backs strike after. I can see when and how often Cowboy camps out his front left hoof (the P3 fracture). I can see who is eating when and how much and who is lying down and how long. I can see who is threatening who or being disobedient to their herd leaders (Shadow and Red. When the mares are disobedient, it sometimes means they're coming into heat and want to go socialize with the stallion next door. They can't get to him, or him to them, but they'll call out to him and be flagrant little hussies--make the poor geldings work overtime).

Some of what the horses do is very, very obvious. When they want more food, they'll stand at the edge of the fence line and stare right into these windows. Or, if the UPS guy, a stray dog, or person walking down our driveway appears, they'll all be looking that direction with their ears trained on whatever it is.

Part of listening to our horses is knowing what's normal for them and how they say it. They all have different personalities, body types, weaknesses and strengths. The more I'm around my horses, the more I've wanted to be a good steward of them, and learn to be observant.

I'll add this one at #4 in my list. It is the most pleasurable, and it may be the most important part of the whole equation. Sitting with a cup of coffee, watching my horses, preparing to go drag out the turnout and clean some stalls--heaven. This is different than #3, the signs of your horse threatening you, but very similar--it's just knowing who your horse is and what's normal for him/her.

And this will lead to #5--an observation I did not understand. The day I saw my old horse, Red, standing out there licking his water. Yes, licking it. He'd lick, stop, lick, stop, lick, stop. What did it mean? What was he telling me? I didn't know. My husband didn't know. We had to call in help. And let me tell you, talk about 20/20 making you look stupid! To be continued--#5.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Never Test Ride a Horse On Pavement

#2 from the Annals: Never test ride a horse you don't know away from its owner, especially not on pavement.

I could even say don't ever test ride a horse you don't know, always let the owner ride it for you first. Or, never test ride a horse on pavement. Period.

As you know by now, I learned this from experience. I saw an ad for a friendly, seven-year-old, been-there-done-that Paint gelding in Coeur D'Alene at a time I was looking for another horse. He sounded good, so my husband and I drove up to see him.

A big, modern cowboy type guy came out of the house to greet us. He had about five acres, well-laid out, and about five horses. It was a nice house--well-kept--the horses were all nice-looking and clean--well-fed.

But seeing all the other horses there, my first question was, why is this one for sale?

His answer: It was his daughter's horse. They'd purchased him about five months before for barrel racing, but he didn't work out. He just wasn't a good fit.

Any vices?

Answer: He's cinchy and, occasionally, he bites, but once you get him saddled, he's GREAT! But none of this really matters, because even if he'd said he was P-E-R-F-E-C-T, I still should not have got on him.

He saddled and bridled the horse (and yes, the horse was cinchy) and he also used a running martingale on him. (I don't know how I feel about these. My first colt 25 years ago was trained with one and it worked well. My horse, Cowboy, came with a tiedown--he'd, apparently, been ridden with it for years--and it seemed fine, but I read horror stories about them on the trail--getting caught, drowning horses--so I just took it off one day and never rode with it again. Did he ever need it? I tend to doubt it. So, personally, I don't care for any of these aids.) This horse had one.

Here's where it gets hairy: The owner asked if I'd like to ride him down the road (there wasn't a good spot on his property in the subdivision.) At first I declined, but then he pressured me a bit saying it'd be fine, etc., so I started feeling guilty--that I was being a wuss--I caved. Stupid me, always doubting myself back then--always thinking I had to prove myself--always thinking there were people who knew sooo much more than me and turning off my warning signs and BRAIN! I can just see it--off I rode down the paved street leaving my husband and him talking on his lawn behind me. (The way this test ride was going to go--it may have well been the last thing I ever saw!)

Looking back, there are lots of things I wonder--Number 1, why didn't he volunteer to ride him first? He'd given me enough information to know he didn't trust the horse--that of all the horses he owned, this was the one he didn't want--that he hadn't even owned him very long and during that time, he hadn't corrected his vices....I could go on and on.

I should add to this, unless you aren't horrified enough at the thought of me riding a strange horse, an ill-mannered horse down a busy, paved highway, that I also was NOT wearing a helmet.

Off we go and, as I said, it was busy, the horse was tight, but not tucked..I thought, let's take the first turn off this street onto a quiet one. That turn came fast, but it was that turn where it all went wrong, too.

We took the first left off the busy road, but he realized, right quickly, he was out of sight of his owner. He didn't like that. He started to jig a bit, then he'd stop and loosen up. I'd think, Whew, he's relaxed. (Looking back, I do give the poor horse credit for trying to calm himself) But then, he'd tighten up again, loosen, tighten, and on and on. It became apparent, he was working himself up and soon there wouldn't be any moments of relaxation. I thought, I've got to take the next turn and circle this horse back.

We took the next turn around the block, however, when we got about mid-way down, he could see his backyard through the houses separating him from it--he could hear his buddies calling out for him, too.

He tried to flip a turn their direction--I tried to keep him walking straight--he started to jig--he tucked his head deep into his chest and his hind-end started to flip around. The running martingale was tucked in, too--and I had, basically, no way of getting his head around for a circle. At that point, he had all the control, and he didn't want me on him and he didn't want to be away from his buds. He wasn't going to go a step forward further away from them (since he saw a direct path home.) He was telling me, beyond any doubt, I'm going to buck you off and run back to my barn.

I made an emergency decision. (It often comes down to these split-second decisions, doesn't it? You make them so fast--they come straight from the gut--you don't have time to question them, yet everything hinges on their success.)

I HAD to get off that horse, but from where I was--on the pavement--he was not relaxed enough to let me dismount, and I did not want to hit the asphalt if he bolted or bucked. My decision was to let him go where he wanted--toward his house so that he'd bring his head back up and move forward. It would also get us off the road and into a yard.

I did it--gave 90 percent of everything to him, and it was all going as planned--he turned toward home, in seconds we were trotting through the neighbor's yard, and I could get his head to the side just enough to buy me a safe second where I slipped right off onto the grass and held him by the reins while he jigged circles around me. I was on the ground! Standing! I was alive--unharmed!

My heart was pounding out of my chest, as it should have been. The poor horse was puffing and snorting and looking toward his pasture. My hands were trembling from adrenaline.

His property was separated from the neighbor's by a fence, so I walked him back to the house from the way I'd come, with him prancing at my side. When I got back, I didn't care what anyone thought of me--good or bad. I handed the reins to the owner, and said I wasn't interested. In fact, I was pissed--at him, at myself, at the situation, but I hadn't time to process it all yet. My husband and I made a hasty departure.

There were so many bad things about that incident, where do I start? I don't even know what kind of horse he really was because it was such a horrible way to test ride him. It wasn't fair to him. It wasn't fair to me. But it was, certainly, my bad decision. Nothing he did was that abnormal--he didn't know me--I didn't know his ways--I couldn't comfort him--but his buddies could. How can I blame the horse? I can't.

So, lesson #2 for the annals--don't test ride a horse you don't know on pavement.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Lesson #1 From What Not To Do With Horses

There are many things that I do right with horses now, but I think it's only because I did so many things wrong previously. I am an authority on "What Not To Do". And, it seems, I add more wisdom to that list every day.

I thought about it yesterday, and I think, I have an infinite amount of these hard- learned lessons, so I've decided to test that theory by trying to come up with one every day. It's kind of like the "Small Stones" exercise, but a different theme. When I'm done, I'll organize them in one great collection--The Annals of What Not To do With Horses.

Here is #1: Never tie a horse to a rail that isn't secure.

I remember the day I learned this rule very well--almost like it was yesterday, though it was probably 23 years ago. I was boarding my two horses on a half acre piece of land near my parent's home in Idaho. I had an Appy and a Quarter horse.

One day, I was grooming my Appy, and as he was calm and relaxed and, as I figured it wouldn't take very long and I'd be there the whole time, I decided to tie him to the closest, easiest rail--a long, somewhat aged and rotten rail between two old posts.

Well, sometime during that short grooming session there was a loud bang from somewhere in the neighborhood. It's been so long ago, I can't remember what it was--but what I do remember is my Appy's head coming up like a cork out of a champagne bottle. I also remember how utterly POWERFUL he was and how utterly helpless I was in that second. He yanked that rail out of those two posts easier than he'd tear a piece of grass out of the ground with his teeth! It was effortless--just a yank and go--and there went my horse running all around the 1/2 acre with an 8 foot old rail post flying to his side and behind him.

Unluckily for me, I'd tied my knot real well and it didn't come loose of the rail no matter how much he ran. But luckily for me, though I envisioned it the whole time as I heard his feet knocking the wood rail as he ran, he did not break any of his legs.

At some point he stopped, stood--looked--and snorted, and snorted and snorted. The thing had stopped chasing him and was laying over to the side. I believe I'd been yelling for him to stop, but by then I was just saying, whoa boy, whoa boy, as I walked to his side, unbuckled his halter, and let it drop to the ground.

Since that day, I can't bear to watch anyone tie a horse to an insecure anything--not even for a second. Besides the obvious thing I learned, I also learned how amazingly strong and powerful these animals are, and how simple it is for them to do a great deal of damage so fast.

So, there's lesson #1 of What Never To Do--lesson #2 will follow shortly, as will another installment with TJ about Documenting Mustangs--a job I'd personally love to have, as would my daughter!

And Small Stones #7 (Haiku) and #8 (#8 comes with a movie)

Beautiful Girl runs
Rides wind, rain, mud, snort and steam
Looks toward the Butte.

Small Stone #8 goes with this little movie clip--Hanging with BG--

I will follow you.
You will rub my withers.
I will reach around
To itch yours with my teeth
But you don’t have withers,
And I’ve learned
Not to bite your face
So, we’ll stand together
And stare towards Beatty’s Butte.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

I Want Buck! I want Buck!

Oh, how I want to see this movie. It can't get here fast enough.

Sundance Trailer and Poster EXCLUSIVE: Buck, True Horse Whisperer Documentary - Thompson on Hollywood

A documentary about Buck Brannaman. I think, almost every horse person knows who he is and have either read about his methods or attended his clinics, but non-horse people know him from the movie, The Horse Whisperer. The character Robert Redford played was modeled after him.

In the trailer, he says things like I talk about all the time on this blog--horses are a mirror to our souls--and the other great truism--if you get to know a horse, you get to know its owner. Also, fixing horse problems is really fixing human problems--what people did wrong training their horses.

When I came back to horses, as I've shared before, I learned that I'd become a fearful person, and I think that is a common theme among women. You could look at my horses and know that about me because I'd take a perfectly nice horse and make it a monster without knowing I had. I'd learned to tune out threats to my welfare so well, that when a horse would threaten me, I wouldn't pick up the signs until they were so obvious they could have killed me.

I was incredibly lucky to have a trainer, and a friend, who boarded at the same place I did. She was like my own personal Buck Brannaman--and she'd trained a bit with him (clinic) and others like him. Nowadays, though, almost every trainer is like him--so that's not saying much, I guess.

Anyway, having her there with me, day to day, probably saved my life.

You may wonder, How do you make a perfectly good horse into a monster? Do you beat it? Starve it? Taunt it? Maybe that would do it, too, but guess what else does?

Spoiling it.

When I came back to horses, after a ten year hiatus, life had beaten me down--I was just a shadow of my former self as a young woman. I definitely didn't need a horse beating me down, too, so I tried to make friends with my horses--a non-confrontational approach, you could say. I hoped they'd love and respect me because I loved and respected them.

What I came to find out is spoiling a horse isn't respecting it. Spoiling a child isn't respecting him/her. Spoiling a husband isn't respecting him. Acting like a monster to a horse isn't respecting it. Acting like a monster to a child isn't respecting him/her. Maybe, just maybe, the answer to good people and horse skills lay somewhere in between spoiling and acting like a monster. Maybe I could get what I needed and wanted, and what was best for the horses, another way.

This is how it would look in practice--a real-life example from my What Not To Do annals:

I'd be walking my horse from the outdoor turnout to the stall--a distance of about 1000 feet. My horse would be on a lead--I'd have it somewhat tight (like I was controlling him with my strength) and he'd move ahead of me a small bit--his shoulder slightly in front with his ears pinned back. In this position, I felt like I still "had" him--I was almost to the stalls--and I wasn't going to make any waves because I didn't want another "fight" in my life.

Enter my trainer:

She's also walking a horse back from another direction. Her rope is slack and the STALLION is walking behind her, relaxed, head down, eyes wide and gentle. She stops. The stallion stops. She sees me. She yells at me. Do you see him disrespecting you?!? Don't let him do that!!

I look at my horse, who is now looking at her. He knows who she is, and when she's around, he starts acting better. Huh? What? I think.

So, I can't just sing Kumbya with my horse and have peace? Shoot! I'm actually going to have to look at him with my peripheral vision and watch for these signs? It seems so nit-picky!

Wrong. When I finally started taking her advice, opening my eyes to see when my horse was challenging me, I could correct him with a gentle strength--not a display of fake prowess--and, after time, as my courage and my self-preservation increased, his trust in me increased. A couple years later, my horse was and still is walking behind me on a loose rein, head low, eyes gentle. Today, I feel like I do surprisingly little to correct any of my horses because what I do DO is early and appropriate.

So, I can't wait to see the movie. I know I'm going to LOVE it and learn a lot from it, and there's little I love in life as much as learning about horses.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Home From Texas!

My husband and I decided long ago that we wanted our home to be a mix of everything we love most, and we've created that. So, it's hard to leave. In fact, about the only reason we'd EVER want to leave is to see our kids and grandkids or parents and siblings, because family is very important to us, too.

We had a wonderful short trip to Texas. We rode bikes, went on walks, smoked cigars by the pool and ate steak fajitas.

Yesterday, though, it was so wonderful to get back out with the horses. Beautiful had a lot of pent up energy. All the snow melted and the temperatures have been relatively warm, and she's been eating good. She put on a show for me.

I was so impressed with her on the way to the turnout. I knew she was containing herself on my behalf, holding in her excitement, staying in her space, but as soon as I removed her halter and gave her the shove-off that says, Now you're free, she cut loose. She went off running and bucking, rearing, sliding, and rolling in the mud. As I've said before, she's not a prissy horse. When she runs, she gets low--almost tucks herself in--and she can really navigate the turns.

So, home again, home again, jiggity, jig! Off to see the barn cats, and the horses, clean stalls, rake the turnout, brush the mud off my Beautiful Girl, and play with the dogs!

Small Stones from the last four days:

Small Stone #2

Cheap seats, takes on added meaning
Legs tucked tight, knees pressed
Against the seat in front of me,
Permanently crossed to the left
Until the plane lands.

Small stone #3

My grandaughter’s jammies
Have fuschia flowers and froggies
With tussled hair, redhead-bedhead
She paddles around happily chasing puppies
Plastic footies sliding over wood floors.

Small Stone #4

When it rains in Houston,
It has no smell
, she said.
I tell her, that's poetry.
We travel in a Suburban
Past Pappadeauxs, Ella Blvd,
And Hardy Toll Rd
Passing Hummers, Fords, Chevys
To Bush Intercontinental airport
My tennis shoes, still wet to the strings
From walking along the Bayou
We step out and hug goodbye
It’s still raining, but I think
I smell French fries.

Small Stone #5

Seems like,
After snow melts
We always get wind.

Small Stone #6

I'm thankful for my barn kin:
Furry, white kitties snuggled under round bales
A Mustang, who likes to rear and roll in mud
Mischievous eyes, mutual grooming,
Sleeping standing up,
Dogs who eat manure,
Goats that head-butt us
When we try to clean their stall
A shy pony who finally eats from my hands
And lets me pet her, unhaltered.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

A River of Stones

I thought it would be great fun to participate in what Annette, at Aspen Meadows (see blogroll on my sidebar) is doing--writing a small stone every day for the month of January or, if you're joining late, like me, for thirty-one consecutive days. You can either polish your stones, or not, but you're supposed to pay attention to your world--the smells, sights, feelings, thoughts, and add these details to your "stones".

Here is mine for today:

Small Stone #1

Snow slides from the barn’s roof
Cold water streams through gutters
And splashes beyond the downspout
The ground, still frozen,
Cannot absorb rivers of brown water

It puddles and ponds
Floods breezeway and stall
As we wait for more rain.

The horses, jowl deep in hay,
Are oblivious to the melting
Happy to be rid of cold nights
And eager for spring—
Though spring is a ways off
They nicker, to ask if it’s time for grain
We shovel and spread soft shavings of pine,
Like blankets laid over a bed
Taking comfort they’ll be dry
Taking comfort they’ll be warm
Taking comfort
they’ll be well-fed.

Thoughts On True Grit & the Equine Actors

After seeing True Grit, I'm officially afraid of rattlesnakes--how about you? Did you see it?

My husband and I went on Christmas day, then watched the old True Grit and Rooster Cogburn movies. I was surprised at how much alike they all were. The new version borrows from both the old version of the same name and Rooster Cogburn (the rope keeping rattlesnakes away, for example.) All of them had that great western, horsey feel--and humor.

Another thing that impressed me right away with the new movie (but not the old) is their strict adherence to using NO CONTRACTIONS. I can't even imagine how difficult that was for the actors. It could have made the language seem stiff and false, but because they added the right dialect, it brought an edge or quirkiness instead. The Coen brothers did comment that it was difficult to do, but they wanted to stay true to the book.

I loved the horse, Blackie. The scene where she swims across the river on his back was great. All the horses did magnificent, as far as I'm concerned, as did the actors. I was sad when it was over. I could have stayed in the world of True Grit all day long. I'm not a person who likes to see many movies twice, but I'm looking forward to seeing this one again.

Here's an excerpt from an NPR interview with the Coen Brothers about working with the equine actors in True Grit:

"In addition to casting actors, the Coen brothers were faced with the difficulty of casting horses in True Grit, a task they initially approached with great trepidation. (For most of the movie, the actors are on horseback.)

Equine actors "are difficult to deal with for a number of reasons," says Joel Coen. "But we were lucky to work with probably the best horse wranglers in the business. And they do extraordinary things with the horses. The horses will often hit their marks in ways you sometimes wish the actors were capable of doing. But we were doing a lot of very complicated things with the horses, and there are restrictions on what you can do with animals — and horses in particular — which are there for very good reasons."

For instance, if you wanted a horse to fall down 20 years ago, Ethan says, you could have simply tripped the horse.

"You're not allowed to do that, with good reason," he says. "But it makes it very difficult. The horses have to be trained, and they have to want to fall down."

There are also rules in place about how close moving camera equipment can be to horses, who is allowed to touch a horse, and what the water temperature must be for aquatic scenes involving horses.

"It seems odd, because we were throwing actors in there with the horses, and the actors weren't complaining," Ethan says.

"There's frequently things you can do with actors that you can't do with animals," jokes Joel. "That's actually quite common. The horses are protected but the union isn't saying anything about putting the 13-year-old in freezing water."

Did you see True Grit? I've heard a couple people say they didn't like it because they were so happy with the first, and John Wayne, they can't accept a replacement. Personally, I thought Jeff Bridges brought Rooster Cogburn into the modern world. I was thinking, John Wayne, who?--after it was over, and I've always loved John Wayne.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Do Animals Laugh?

After yesterday's post, I've decided that the best thing I can bring to my work with horses (and writing, and piano, and parenting, and, and...) is a sense of humor. A lot happens in life that we can't control, call it chaos, but we need to move on.

There are times when I've thought my horses (and other animals) might actually have a sense of humor--they seem to tease each other, and me, on purpose.

Could it be? Do animals have senses of humor? I definitely think they feel joy, and maybe they laugh, too.

You may have seen this joke circulate, but I cut out some and only kept the parts that I can relate to (and added my own comments):

You Know You're A Horse Person When...

...your horse gets new shoes more often than you do. (I think we're actually tied. I'm addicted to boots!)

…your mouth waters at the sight of a truck full of hay. (Definitely this one!! There are times I've considered chasing a load down the freeway to ask, Where did you get that beautiful hay???!!!???) consider a golf course as a waste of good pasture land. (Actually, I've thought about grazing my horse ON the golf course! Think of the money I'd save!) pull a $17,000 horse trailer with a $1,000 pick-up truck. (This one isn't me, but it could be--a horse trailer with a living quarters...dreamy.) realize finding a horse shoe is truly lucky because you've saved ten bucks. (Oh, how many times have I walked that pasture looking for shoes--but not to save ten bucks--to make sure the nails are accounted for!)

...someone does something nice for you and you pat them on the neck and say 'good boy'. (Uh huh, why not?) try to get by someone in a constricted space and instead of saying "excuse me" to him/her, you cluck at them instead. (You bet I do--it works!) show up for an appointment in your city clothes and when you get there people reach across the table to pick alfalfa out of your hair. (This one happens WAY too often to me! I don't know how alfalfa gets into so many places--the unmentionable places, for sure. It's down the bra I hate worst of all--try picking that out during coffee with the girls! And, it itches!!) one wants to ride in your car because they'll get sweet feed and hay in their socks and on their clothes...but that's ok because you'll have to rearrange all the tack to make room for them anyway! (and dog hair and horse hair--have lint roller, will travel) say "whoa" to the dog. (Well, my dog is as big as a horse, so this one is excusable, right?) see the vet more than your child's pediatrician. (Sad, but true--does that mean my children are really, really healthy?) groom your horse daily for hours and you haven't seen a beautician since...? (Only because I don't trust beauticians with my unruly mane.)

...someone asks for a screwdriver and you hand them a hoof pick. (I've used a hoof pick as a screw driver more than once--haven't you? Use what you got!) clean tack after every ride but you never, ever, wash the truck. (Well, confession: I don't clean tack after every ride, but I never wash the truck either!) can remember worming schedules, lessons, and farrier visits in your head, but often forget your class schedule, household chores, and meals. (If you met my farrier, you'd know why I don't forget an appt. He'd be gone, baby, gone, if I did!) are unreasonably pleased to get a horse item, ANY horse item, as a gift. (So true! Anyone want to send me one??) stop channel surfing at Budweiser Clydesdale commercials. (Well, they're funny.) actually get to a point where flies don't bother you that much anymore. (Well, kinda...I'm very thankful for fly predators! It's not that they don't bother me, I just want to conquer them and feel very pleased when I'm winning.)

Hope you have a wonderful (and humorous) day with your horses, dogs, cats, goats, husbands and children!

And I'm very interested, if you have time to comment, do you think horses laugh, too?

Oh, and in a weird twist of fate, I have a friend who posted this link on her facebook account--Laughing Dog Sound Comforts Dogs in Shelter! And, you can buy a CD of recorded dog laughter, too!

Monday, January 10, 2011

Movie Suggestions?

As we sit here and watch the Auburn VS Oregon game (Go Ducks!) we're updating our Netflix queue. We can't find a single movie (or Television series) that looks interesting.

Any suggestions?

If You Stick Your Neck Out....

it's going to get chopped.

I know some of you have been silent during our PZP/slaughter discussions, and why shouldn't you be? We're all horse lovers: attentive, caring stewards of our animals--horse poor and getting poorer. Why heap coals upon our sacred love for the horse by inviting trouble? (And when you wade into these waters, you know there's going to be trouble.)

It appears to me, there have been more misunderstandings in the world of horses than any other. Which made me wonder last night...why?

I have a hypothesis...

I think many people love horses and are emotional about them. Horse lovers have loved horses since they were little girls and boys--they've been the fodder for their dreams, their play, eventually their lives, and identities. (Identities is the most important part of that list.) So, whenever there's a challenge to a deeply held personal horse theme--the emotions kick in and we no longer hear or see the other person as they really are. We hear what we want to hear--see what we want to see--to confirm our internal biases.

Did any of you, after reading TJ's interview, come away thinking she worked for the BLM or advocated for roundups? Though she's not a BLM antagonist and though she feels that some roundups are done better than others, she would like to see a day where they don't have to occur anymore through (limited) Mustang contraception. She doesn't want to administer PZP to the point of sterility. But the best thing about TJ is that she doesn't see ANY Mustang advocate (good sense of the word here) as an enemy. She sees us all as a team. We may have different ideas, but shouldn't we? Isn't that a good thing?

Well, enough of that. We've all been there before--misunderstood and demonized--I just don't like to see it happen to someone as sincere and hard-working (for the Mustangs) as TJ. But that won't stop me or her from getting the word out and advocating for PZP--the best compromise anyone's come up with yet.

Now a little about what's happening at my place--lighter fare. (Knock on wood)

It's cold and icey. I hate ice. I love snow--hate ice. So, I've had to lock up some of the horses--especially, old Red. I really didn't mind locking him up because I've noticed he has started to drop weight. It happened quick, as it usually does for him, and probably due to the extremely low temps we've had. At this point he does best being sequestered off from the rest and given free-choice alfalfa. I'll probably keep him by himself until the temperature rises well above freezing.

We're expecting 11" of snow in the next couple of days, which I don't mind at all--especially since we're taking a trip to Texas for the weekend to see our kids. The forecast down there is for 60s-70's and rain. What a difference that will be.

My husband's outside right now moving another roundbale into the turnout. Since the temps have dropped we're burning through a round bale about every four days. It's amazing how much the horse's appetites pick up during cold spells. I have faith that they know what they need, and as long as they're healthy enough, need very little tinkering.

Old Red though, he needs some tinkering, and I'm happy to give it to him so that he becomes "Older" Red! He's at least 30 (unregistered)--but has a colorful and happy history of previous owners. We've had him for his last decade of life and have just enjoyed the stuffing right out of him. He took my daughter through her first year of 4-H and built up her horse confidence. He has also provided a safe horse back experience for every green rider who has visited our home. Now, his main job is to teach the grandkids.

Nothing makes me happier than to see my horses growing old out here in our pastures. I figure, if Cowboy doesn't go completely lame from his P3 fracture someday--I could be riding him until I'm sixty. Beautiful and Cya--I'll be riding until I'm 70! So, isn't that a good system? Ride them while they're young (and I'm relatively young) and as they grow older and wiser, I'll be growing older and more fragile--a perfect combination.

Here's a picture of Red from this afternoon. Maybe it's just his age that makes him look thinner, because today he looked fatter to me.

Cowboy at the bale.

The barn sisters. Is one pregnant?

Horses at the bale today.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

TJ Holmes Interview: How Did PZP-22 Affect the Mares?

(Above: the mare, Alpha--still nursing after 2+ years)

One of the questions I asked TJ, in the interview, was whether or not PZP-22, the vaccine given the horses she watches in the Spring Creek Basin, changes the behavior of the herds. This is a vital question because part of the guidelines the scientific community followed in developing a wild horse contraceptive included this: The vaccine should "not influence the social behavior of the horses."

Some, who do not endorse PZP say it does change the social behavior, so I was very interested in what TJ has observed in her herd.

Question: From your observations and knowledge, does PZP change the behaviors of wild horses?

Given that I'm observing a very small herd that has been gathered frequently in the last decade, I've found it hard to determine a baseline of normal behavior for my horses. Basically, I've decided to try to determine their behavior as "normal for them." The more I considered this question, the more complex the answer seems to be.

(The mare, Alpha)

In 2008, I observed Alpha being bred in different months - by the band stallion and by a young stallion I've always assumed was his son. This year, the band fractured socially, but they're still together physically (except for four youngsters and a few bachelors). All three mares have a single stallion, including Alpha. Five mares were given the PZP-22 and released after the 2007 roundup (all the released mares were given the PZP-22).

These are the mares that got the PZP-22:

Slate (1) died that winter.

Molly (2) died last fall (fall 2009) but had foals in both 2008 and in 2009, right on her established schedule - early June then late May.

Kiowa (3) was released with her foal, Reya, now 3, and I don't know when Reya was born. Kiowa's daughter Spook was born May 1, 2008; son Milagro was born July 1, 2009; son Maiku was born June 28, 2010.

(Kiowa and Maiku)

Chipeta (4) likely had not had a foal before the 2007 roundup; she did not foal in 2008 (neither PZP nor PZP-22 affects the fetus) - she is young ... although it's possible she aborted because of the roundup. Her first (I think) foal, Joven, was born July 26, 2009. He died at about two weeks - cause unknown. Her second foal, Puzzle, was born Sept. 1, 2010. Now why that delay?

(Chipeta and Puzzle--she had a foal die in '09)

Alpha (5) had Storm on July 25, 2008 - not affected by PZP-22.

Why so late?

(Alpha with Storm Winter '10/'11)

Alpha is an older mare, but I don't know her exact age. Did she have trouble conceiving? It was her I observed being bred by at least two different stallions. She has not had a foal since Storm in 2008. Again, age ... or atypical long-term effects of PZP-22? I don't know. Storm was still nursing as recently as last month - at 2+ years old (I'm not sure whether it's habit, comfort or whether he's actually getting anything, though Alpha's udder does seem fuller than it would be if she wasn't producing milk). Alpha is very healthy and in excellent condition, and Storm is as big and stout a wild 2-year-old as I've ever seen - so not only is the mare healthy and thriving, so is her colt.

The three mares from Sand Wash Basin received PZP-22 during their roundup, before they were trailered to Spring Creek Basin: They stayed together, by themselves, from the time they were released in late October until December that year, when I found them with Kreacher, previous low man on the bachelor totem pole.


(Kootenai, Raven, Mona and Kreacher--Corona is between Kootenai and Raven)

In spring 2009, Raven, who apparently went off to have her foal (obviously sired by a Sand Wash Basin stallion) was picked up by Duke, and the three of them spent several months together.


Duke later lost them back to Kreacher, and they're still with him. Mona ended up with Seven in September after she had her filly, Shane.

(Mona & Shane)

I want to address the "rape" allegation. The only stallion I've ever seen "chase" a mare - two - until he bred them was Seven, completely unrelated to fertility control - one mare (Molly) was bred by him on her foaling heat (about a week after she had Liberty), and the other (Roja) has never been treated with fertility control - I observed him chasing and mounting Roja two full months after she had her foal this year. I want to make this perfectly clear: RAPE IS ABOUT DOMINATION, not sex, not procreation, and it is PURELY a human construct.

I have NOT observed the frequent movement of horses between bands like I've seen and heard about in some other herds. I don't know why this is. Basically, I have not seen any massive, dynamic-altering behaviors among the horses treated with PZP-22 in Spring Creek Basin, certainly not enough to alter my feeling that PZP is the humane alternative to roundups and removals. While there are many guidelines of mustang behavior, the horses are individuals, and their behavior varies.

You can follow along with these horses as TJ documents them day to day, year to year--sunshine and snow. Spring Creek Blog

If you have any questions for TJ, please leave them in the comments. I'll start off.

Hi TJ--It appears, from your information, that the PZP-22 wasn't very effective in controlling reproduction. Do you have some thoughts about why it wasn't?

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Kindle Addiction, Piano, and Poetry

I can't say enough good about my Kindle. I've been reading so much more since I got it; I think, because I can take it on the go and read between errands and during errands, which keeps me in tune with the stories. In the past, I'd start something, get interrupted, start again, put it down and leave, come back and get side-tracked.

I'm like a kid in the candy store now, and the candy store is tucked away in my purse. (It holds 3,500 books!!) I consider every inconvenience--like slow checkers--an opportunity to pull it out. Delays don't bother me anymore. My husband had to run into the bank yesterday--I pulled it out--started reading--and it seemed like he'd only been gone a minute. He came out and apologized for taking so long!! What?!?

Another feature of the Kindle (and possibly the Nook?) is that it reads the book to you, even if it's not an audio book. While I was preparing dinner for the crock pot today, I let it read to me. It was reading Dostoevsky's, The Brothers Karamazov, "Stinking Lizaveta." It wasn't perfect, but it sure wasn't bad either. I could easily follow along with it. You can make the voice a female or male, and you can have it read slow, medium or fast. Niiicccce.

In other, piano news, I'm still plunking away at lessons, though I was side-tracked during Christmas. My teacher was very happy with me, because she says most adults quit. Not me. I just keep showing up--practice or not! She's like a treasure-trove of information, and I wouldn't miss out on a bit of it. Lately, she's teaching me left-hand fills so I can play chords with more variety. We're also playing duets together. Apparently, this is the year of corroborative piano! Woohoo!

As for riding, haven't been doing any lately. I got together with my cowgirl friends for coffee this morning, and some of them were really missing it. I can't say I am. Oddly enough, I look forward to January and February as time for my reading and writing. I'm working on, and would like to finish, a collection of poems from my garden--inspired by the poetic garden space I blogged about as it was being created. The poems are turning out to be missives on my love for my children and the bitter sweetness of seeing them grow up. You never know where a poem is going to take you--I'm always quite surprised where they go--here's a section of one I'm working on now--"Narcissus":

We planted Daffodils together, you and I,
Yellow and white Narcissus, over her grave.
I thought your hands were like petals then,
The way you cupped the soil.
I thought your heart was like petals, too,
Fragile, soft, easily plucked.

Well, I hear my Kindle calling. I'm coming! Oops, you weren't supposed to hear that.

I got a little side-tracked with the lovely topic of slaughter, but I will be back on to PZP again as we finish up the last of the interview with TJ this week.

Hope your winter trails are ice-free and happy!

Slaughter Not An Option for Mustangs

"Bob Abbey, told the summit that slaughter was not an acceptable option."

From the Wall Street Journal...

"While U.S. slaughterhouses in the past processed primarily domesticated horses, the conference in Las Vegas will also discuss the thousands of mustangs the federal government removes from Western rangeland each year to keep herds in check.

The government has had difficulty finding adoptive homes for the wild horses. Last year, taxpayers spent $37 million to hold nearly 40,000 animals in corrals and pastures indefinitely, the Bureau of Land Management said. But the agency's director, Bob Abbey, told the summit that slaughter was not an acceptable option

click here to read the Wall Street Journal article: Wall Street Journal Article

Monday, January 3, 2011

Slaughter? Really?

Since the issue of slaughter is really on the table--click here to read about the Summit of the Horse--I want to make it clear that I'm not actually against it happening in the U.S--although, I am against using it as a population control for Mustangs.

Why am I okay with slaughter? Because it's already happening. If you go to any horse auction out here in the West, you will see that many a good horse--young and old--is being purchased by what we call the "kill buyer." In this economy, people aren't paying good money for horses--but some really irresponsible people are still churning out crops of foals whose prices are so low, they are being purchased for their meat--the same with the old horses. If their sell price is low enough it comes within a range that the meat buyer can make a profit--he bids on them.

The problem is, since there is no legal slaughter in the U.S., these poor horses are hauled across the country to Canada and Mexico for slaughter--places where we have no input into regulating. The trip is stressful for the horses--some dying along the way--and we don't have any idea what happens when they get across the borders. This makes us hypocrites, at best, and inhumane and cruel, at worst. We won't slaughter, but they can? Really? So, in other words, we just don't want to see it.

I have a family member who worked at a local horse sale and she said it was very sad to see the "kill buyer" herding the frightened horses into the trailer--they were fighting, kicking, biting, basically, frantic.

Is this the way you want your pet to go? I think most of us--or anyone reading this blog--would probably never want their horse to go this way. Most of us would have the vet come out or otherwise end their lives (when the time comes to do so)-- humanely.

However, maybe you've sold your "pet" to someone you thought would take care of him or her--but years down the road life changes, finances change, and they take Old Red to the auction. The kill buyer gets him. So, despite your good intentions, he ended up at slaughter anyway.

Well, one good idea coming out of this summit is a national registry you could join--microchip implanted into your "pet"--that says your horse can NEVER be slaughtered--even if he/she changes ownership. Wonderful. (Although, I don't know how practical a microchip would be since it could be cut out.)

Since slaughter is happening anyway, I think it's best that it be handled right here in the US--regulated by the US and done with as much humanity as possible.

That said, I completely and utterly disagree with slaughter as a wild horse management tool.

I advocate--yes, "advocate"--the verb, which means, "to speak or write in favor of; support or urge by argument; recommend publicly"--I advocate Mustang contraception as a way to control herd populations--not slaughter.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Slaughter or PZP?

I read this article in the Spokesman this morning. Personally, I found it disturbing, especially since PZP has so much promise.

This week I'll be preparing TJ's final Q and A--her observations of the mares in the Spring Creek herd given PZP-22 and her documentation project. I hope, as these questions come to a head, what to do with too many horses costing too much money and destroying too much land--people will begin to take more seriously controlling the population on the first end (contraception) rather than the last end (roundups and--YES--slaughter).

Most of us can agree--there are too many wild horses in holding. There are not enough people wanting to adopt wild horses--nor should they feel pressured to. It is costing too much money.

We can agree on this, but we can disagree on the solution. Wallis' non-profit wants slaughter; I want contraceptives.

The other issue here is that though Representative Wallis has a non-profit (the one organizing the summit), it's also reported that she's starting a private company, a Limited Liability Corporation that will slaughter and sell meat within Wyoming. This appears to be a conflict of interest. I started a 501c-3 in the past, and one of the first questions they asked is if you could benefit financially from the work of the non-profit. Again, this is what's being written; if it's not true, please inform us--I'd hate to falsely accuse. Link here.

As our country struggles to come out of the recession and as states struggle to balance budgets, wild horses are going to be threatened with a loss of protection. Instead of apathy, which it is easy to sink into when you don't see a solution to a problem--I want to encourage everyone who loves Mustangs to at least consider Mustang contraception--study it, provide input, spread the word to others.

Here's a link to the summit. Summit of the Horse.

This is what their front page says: If you are sick and tired of so-called horse “advocates,” radical animal rightists, and Hollywood do-gooders defining our relationship with horses: if you are disgusted by lawmakers dictating impractical, counterproductive, and damaging measures that hurt horse people, and cause horses to suffer…then you need to be here.

What?? I'm not a hollywood do-gooder, and I'm not a so-called "advocate". Yet, I do want what is best for the Mustangs, and I sure don't think that's slaughter.

The article from the Spokesman-Review--January 1, 2011:

Herds Overrun Ranges

SEATTLE – Horse people hope the new year will bring a solution to an old problem: too many horses.

A horse summit planned for the first week of the year is expected to draw to Las Vegas representatives from Northwest tribes, federal agencies and conservation groups, as well as wildlife advocates, and horse people vexed by too many horses with no market to cull the herds.

“It’s bad and getting worse,” said Sue Wallis, a Wyoming legislator and member of United Horsemen, a Wyoming-based nonprofit organizing the summit. She backs development of a plant in Wyoming where horses can be slaughtered for human consumption – which she says is the humane and ethical solution to the problem.

[Huh? Human consumption? Who in the U.S. eats horse meat? Is it going to be shipped overseas?]

“We are not just some meat-industry schmucks,” she said of slaughter supporters. “What we need is humane and regulated horse processing in the U.S. where we can control it, and we can set really high standards. We are horse people concerned about the well being of the horse.”

The Yakama, Warm Springs, Shoshone-Bannock, Paiute, Crow, Apache, Navajo, and Pueblo tribes are among those expected at next week’s summit to talk about horse troubles, as herds keep multiplying on tribal lands, destroying a fragile balance of land and wildlife.

The horse has proved tricky to reckon with: Neither wildlife nor livestock intentionally grown for slaughter, growing horse populations have defied a solution since the U.S. slaughter industry for horses was shut down in 2007 by animal-rights activists, many of whom objected to the way the animals were treated and killed.

While the slaughter industry is still technically legal in this country, a congressional ban on spending federal money to pay inspectors of horse carcasses intended for human consumption, primarily overseas, killed the industry.

Populations have been building ever since, as the bottom fell out of the market that helped tribes and other horse managers keep numbers in check. Today, horses are trucked to Canada and Mexico for slaughter, and many more are overpopulating public and tribal lands – to the detriment, land managers say, of wildlife, native plants and the health of the range.

The Bureau of Land Management estimates it has nearly 12,000 more horses on its lands than the range can support, and the agency is feeding more than 11,400 corralled animals it can’t find adopters for.

The BLM spent $36.9 million in 2010 alone just to feed and care for horses it has rounded up and confined in corrals and put out to pasture in long-term holding facilities in the Midwest. And the cost is going up.

United Horsemen members want to see a solution in 2011, Wallis said. Tribes, too, are seeking an answer. The Northwest Tribal Horse Coalition has morphed into the National Tribal Horse Coalition, as other tribes joined with Northwest nations that last year embarked on a feasibility study of opening a slaughter facility on tribal lands.

That study, paid for by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, is expected back soon and will help guide tribes’ decision making, said Jason Smith of the Warm Springs Tribe in Oregon, president of the coalition.

The Yakama reservation offers a good look at the problem. There, wild horses pour over the backcountry of the reservation in growing numbers. Their beauty is part of the problem, stoking a mystique around wild horses that has made them a hard problem to talk about.

Like feral cats, the horses multiply at a prodigious rate: With no natural predators, and these days, no market for purchase, the herds are estimated at about 12,000 animals and growing.

That’s up from about 500 animals in the 1950s; 2,500 in the 1990s, and more than 4,500 in 2006. Carrying capacity of the tribe’s rangeland was about 1,000 horses in 2007, and it’s significantly less than that today because of continued degradation from overgrazing, said Jim Stephenson, big-game biologist and wild-horse project leader for the Yakama Nation.

By now, deer are mostly gone from several of the game units he helps manage for the tribe, Stephenson said, because of competition from horses. The tribe is also worried about how grazing pressure from horses is affecting its efforts to re-establish populations of sage grouse, and reintroduce pronghorn antelope to the reservation this winter.

In the past, the tribe lived in balance with these herds. Originally of Spanish origin, the herds today include descendants of domestic animals turned out by homesteaders, and lately, horses dumped by people too hammered by the recession and high cost of hay to keep their animals.

First floated publicly in the spring of 2009, the idea of a tribal horse-processing facility is controversial and runs into a thicket of regulatory and legal roadblocks, from food-safety concerns to international trade and the federal-inspection question.

There is also widespread popular opposition in a country long wedded to a romantic notion of the wild horses of the West. “Horses are not food animals in this country; they are companions,” said Scott Beckstead, Oregon state director for the Humane Society of the United States.

“My guess is they are scrambling to find a way to make it feasible, but they are fighting against the tide of public opinion,” Beckstead said.