Thursday, July 16, 2009

The ever-touchy issue of horse slaughter.

With all the recently escalated talk of slaughter and over-population and a crappy in-the-toilet economy, I figured it's time to make this post:

How hard would it be to fix the horse slaughter problems?

In truth, it would not be very hard to get slaughter to humane standards. It wouldn't even cost the plants an atrocious amount of money and would actually save them time.

Firstly, talk about getting them there. Using proper trailers and tying the horses wouldn't be that hard. If the horse is going to be on the trailer for an extended period of time, give them hay nets. Seriously. Not a hard concept. Before they get on the trailer, have the shoes removed. This all takes MINIMAL work. I know there would be a lot of willing hands to do it in the name of a HUMANE death for an animal that has no other choice.

Then, them waiting. What would be so hard about setting up an outdoor pasture with water tubs, and then roll out some hay once in a while? That's ALL they would need. Just a big freaking pasture. Then round them up and send them down the chute. They get time to stretch their legs and run around before they die. Again, I know a lot of people would volunteer to set this up in the name of humane slaughter. You could probably even find people to catch horses and take them to the chutes.

Okay, so the chutes.

Raise the walls so the horses can't see out or try to climb out or scare themselves with all the goings-on outside the chute. Put rubber on the floors so they don't slip... it's not that hard, use the stuff they put in stalls. They're just as easy to hose down, too and would save horse from falling which stalls production anyways.

Cut the chute off 20 feet behind the slaughter chute so they can't see or hear what happens to the horse in front of them.

Then... use a bullet. None of this captive bolt bullshit.

Then continue as you usually do.

That's not even hard to execute. Horse comes in, shoot it, done. No struggle, no falling, no painful misses, no terror for the animals in waiting.

Then I would be perfectly okay with slaughter.

Spread the news and knowledge and let's hope to do something about it.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Breed Characteristics and Breeding - Use Common Sense!

"The Book of Horses" describes a quarter horse as a horse that has a fairly long, flexible neck, sloping shoulders with well-defined withers, compact body with broad chest, deep girth, short back, well-sprung ribs, broad, deep, heavy, and well-muscled hindquarters with long, gently sloped croup, good limbs with short cannons, flat, low-set hock, muscular thighs and gaskins, medium-length pasterns and oblong feet with deep, open heels.

Why use QHs as an example? Well, since their registry was created in 1940, they've since become the LARGEST equine breed registry in existence.

However, the AQHA registers on bloodlines, not breed characteristics. This is a problem, as the Quarter horse (and "cow horse"-type) is probably the worst abused breed in existence, not physically but in the breeding "industry."

On one extreme you have AQHA farms pumping out hundreds of babies a year, and then on the other you have the senseless, barn-blind backyard breeders. That's the extreme we will visit today.

So where can you set your standards?

The first is to re-read the conformation guidelines I posted above. I agree with most of it except for the generally long neck... it's very hard to find even a good stud with a long neck nowadays.

However, that doesn't stop it from being appealing in the horse.

A few examples of good QHs for go by, that generally meet the conformation standards:

Look, I actually found one with a good, long neck! He's attractive and well-built and moreso well-presented. If someone showed me that picture and asked me what breed it was, I would, without hesitation, say QH. I would like to see a deeper haunch, but other than that this is a very attractive stallion.

Everyone knows this bloodline. Well, everyone into QHs... Peppy San Badger line, clearly a successful line of QHs. And you can see why. I would like a better neck and head on this stallion, but the haunch is very well-formed and and the body is solid, compact. He looks like he could go out and kick some ass rounding up cows all day. And that's what QHs are for!

I don't know who this is, but this is another attractive QH who doesn't look like he should be by an actual cow. I actually like the older QHs that didn't need to have all the ridiculous bulk on them. Deep haunches and short, solid limbs is what you want to look for, not grotesquely huge muscle mass. I would like to see a better croup on this horse, though, but other than that he's very attractive and bonus marks for being "colored," which is apparently more appealing to people these days (I, personally, have a soft spot for red bays...).

Unfortunately, the quarter horses we most often see nowadays are backyard bred and do not hold any of the breed characteristics. Any BYB horse that looks cow-ish is labeled as a QH, even though it's a walkapainterloosadbred. Of course, they can't be registered that way. With breed standards falling, however, QHs are looking crappier by the day.

For example, this horse is advertised for stud. Really? What breed characteristics do you see? I don't see a deep, thick haunch which is the FIRST thing I look for in a QH, the croup is slanted steeply, the shoulders are NOT well-sloped, the neck is crap and that is not a deep chest. Those pasterns are incredibly short, not medium, and all in all the horse does not in any way resemble a QH other than it looks backyard bred and should not be reproducing. Why would you breed something that looks NOTHING like what you want to produce?

The only thing that could be said is better about this mare is that she has better pasterns and a SLIGHTLY better shoulder. Everything else is the SAME PROBLEM. Is there a trend? MAYBE. (Though, in all fairness, I like her hind legs better.)

The problem also lies in cross-breeding QHs. "QH cross" is probably the most common term you'll here when you ask "what the heck is THAT?" There are the good QH crosses (I, personally, am a fan of a well-bred Quarab...) out there!

This is a Quarab. It has the flashy paint markings of a QH Paint, and the attractive, light body of an Arab while STILL having thicker qualities and a "cow horse" look about its head. Its body is a little thicker than your typical Arabian's but look at the attractive crest it adopted! I would like to see a deeper chest on this horse but all in all it is very attractive. And USEFUL. Once it gets older.

Here's another Quarab. Again, you see a thicker and bigger body than you'll find on an Arab, a more cow-horse type head and bigger haunches, but the same slender and arched look of an Arabian. It's a cute horse, and colored to boot.

Unfortunately, we most often see crap products such as this one, with terrible conformation, NO chest, a short neck, crap for shoulder, and some mutated in-between cross of an Arab and QH haunch. The only thing good I can think to say of him is "thank goodness he's a gelding!"

Again, if asked what breed that was, I would tell people it's a mutt. If asked about the buckskin paint above, I would confidently say Quarab, because it LOOKS like an Arabian crossed with a QH! It has the breed characteristics!

You want to breed something that is going to look like the breed. You want something useful, and that's why we pick breeds... to suit what we want to do. You don't go into endurance and buy a Quarter Horse... they're made for short, FAST sprinting and hard, low-to-the-ground work. You look at an Arabian because they're made for long-distance running on minimal hydration and food.

You don't go into barrel racing with a Warmblood any more than you would go into high-level dressage with a Quarter Horse!

It's a little different if you're just trail riding or having fun, then it's more a question if you ride Western or English, and what kind of movement and ride you're looking for, what kind of build you are, and what size would best suit you.

However, at the same time, you need to be able to plan for the horse's future, should you ever have to get rid of it for whatever reason. And things do happen! There's always a chance.

So you have to ensure that the horse is what other people would want as well, just in case something like that happens. People nowadays don't want a, ugly mutt, especially not in today's economy!

On an unrelated note, you halter QH people HAVE to stop breeding cows on toothpicks! THIS IS NOT ATTRACTIVE OUTSIDE OF YOUR ODDLY CLOUDED HEADS!

Seriously. How long do you think that horse is going to lead a sound, healthy, useful life on its TEENY feet? Which all halter QHs seem to have now on top of the disgusting mass of useless muscle and bulk. Selfish assholes... think of the animal, won't you?

Friday, May 8, 2009

Horse art

If I were to classify my art as directly horse-related, I would have to say the most frequently asked question in the field of horses is "how do you DO that?"... of course, quickly followed by "can you make me one?" or "can you teach me?"

Now, the answer to the last two, in order, are "if you pay me," and "no." This sort of thing I can't teach. I can give general guidelines for people to follow and practice and attempt to match (though in realism you should attempt to match the real life thing you are trying to copy, not someone else's art), but I can't just show you how to be a good artist.

However, the first question is more or less easily attainable. For the sake of having examples, I (at work, of course) quickly drew up a horse in a "just for fun" type of drawing. With these, the shading usually lacks detail, there are anatomy problems and usually they have a sketchy kind of look to them. I really enjoy doing these because it doesn't take any more than a half hour to do and it gives me basic practice.

I don't always have five hours to pour into a drawing, so these help me stay on top of my art while still sticking with my schedule.

So, how do I do that?

First off, I think of a pose and Google image search said pose. In this case, I was thinking of a trot. So, I typed in trot and picked a picture that looked alright. The lines were clear, the horse was attractive, and it wasn't a minuscule picture.

Now, when I do serious realism, I will find six, seven... even ten or eleven reference pictures. Things that have different definition, maybe the neck is more defined in one but you can see the leags clearer in another. With these kind of drawings, however, I pick one picture and use it as a basic reference. Sometimes I don't even use a picture.

The picture I do pick is often manipulated into something completely different when I'm done, but that's okay because that's what's beautiful about art.

This is the image I picked:

Okay, so now that I have an image, where do I go from there? Somehow, I have to get a likeness either from that image or inside my head, onto paper.

The first thing I do is plan out the basic arrangement of limbs and the shape of the head, neck, shoulder, and hip using lines and circles. Most artists call it a "skeleton" because that's exactly what it is. It defines the build and shape of the drawing, and is its most basic structure. Slightly resembles one as well!

This is done very lightly, and I will erase it as I move more into the drawing, almost immediately. Keep in mind all of the following images are low-quality cell phone photos and they are often warped by the camera angle, lighting, etc. I unfortunately do not have a scanner here. Darn place of work.

Okay, but that hardly resembles the full-bodied horse in my Google image. That looks like someone's stick horse, right. So the next step is to make it recognizable as a horse. Following the skeleton I made and the contours of the horse in the picture, I create an outline that mimics the image I Googled, only with a touch of my own originality.

As you see, the horse in the picture is a Thoroughbred-ish horse, and the following outline is more like a Warmblood. I thickened and arched the neck more, thickened the body a bit and filled out the tail a bit more. This outline also includes muscle lines, nostrils, and eyes to guide my shading.

Okay, but that's very two-dimensional. The thing I love about making art is trying to bring it to life in a way that not only impresses others, but myself. I want to look at something I draw and think "I really like that." It doesn't matter if it's a doodle or a work of realism... I want to bring it to life. When I have the time, I like to work on different shading and lighting.

The shading I did on this horse is more of a grey horse. I didn't feel like drawing a bay, which is odd because I almost always draw dark-colored horses. I'm actually quite pleased and I had a bit of fun with it. I start with the head and work my way down the horse and back to the tail. I'll pick a section (head, neck, shoulder, leg, barrel, hip, or hair) and first do the darkest parts of it, then work away from them into the lighter areas. The reason why I like drawing dark horses is because I like playing with dark and light contrasts... dark horses will have very, very dark points but also light highlights. I still had fun with this one, though.

I study the part of the horse that I'm shading and work off of that. I really don't know how else to describe it but to instead show you.

This really was a fun little piece. I know there are many faults but I fail to care because all in all it is an attractive piece that I look at and smile. And now you know how I do it. Whether or not it taught you how to replicate... I have no idea. But if there's enough interest I can probably do a quick how-to-draw-horses guide.

WARNING: the featured horse drawing up top is copyrighted (officially). While I don't care if you save it to your computer you must ASK PERMISSION if you are going to use it for anything. Any theft of that piece of artwork can result in legal action.

The other drawing is not officially copyrighted but Canadian law protects it anyways. Again, please contact me if you are going to use it for anything whatsoever.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

This morning is beautiful

Everything around my home is dripping wet. The tree trunks are stained dark with water and finally they have started to bud as the grass greens with the new life that the long-needed rain finally brought. There's a light fog clinging to some areas and the sky is partly cloudy. We had a gorgeous sunrise this morning.

Despite my broken foot, I couldn't resist heading out on my crutches for a short walk to enjoy the silence, the singing birds, and the amazingly beautiful morning that I woke up to. The rain had washed even the smell of smoke out of the air.

The world around me could have easily been gone within the next couple of days. However, I am safe, and the farm's horses are safe, and so I am ecstatic to be alive, well, and safely at home.

For the past few days, there was a fire raging not far north of me. Everything has been so dry the past couple of months (with the slow thaw we had, everything just absorbed and went dry) and so this fire was eating grounds, crossing roads, jumping fire ditches and rivers. My county and town was in a state of emergency along with two other counties and countless other towns. People were losing their homes.

The farm was on alert to evacuate at moment's notice.

If the morning seemed beautiful to me, I can't imagine how it seemed to the horses. This topic/discussion is about evacuation plans.

The horses were caught, brushed, had their legs wrapped in preparation for travel and stalled. We loaded hay into the big horse trailer along with eight buckets (one for each horse), horse first aid kits, people first aid kits, grain, and extra lead ropes and halters. We cleaned it out, filled the tires as they were low on air, and hooked it up to the truck. We scoured the barn and loaded anything priceless or valuable (like the 5000$ barrel racing saddle that's 30 years old) into the truck. All medicines needing refrigeration were put in an electric cooler and the cooler plugged in, ready to load into the truck at any notice.

We prepared tags with the farm's name, address, and the owner's phone number on it along with the horse's name and clipped them to the horses' halters. Horses were to stay in their stalls in case they decided to stir up trouble in the field if it was suddenly time to go, with light turnout for a couple hours in pairs into the indoor arena where we laid out hay for them to munch.

For the most part, they were all just restless from being stalled too long except for the Thoroughbred gelding I ride, Willow. He was extremely uncomfortable with the tenser atmosphere, the reek of smoke, and the sudden change of schedule. Poor boy. He was beside himself with nerves the whole time and I can only imagine the nap he's having this morning when we were finally able to let them out as the fire is 90% extinguished.

We had a plan to load him last should we have to go, and we had a plan to get him in there quickly. He was the only one nervous about loading.

The farm also had a place to go in case of evacuation, and had plans made with that farm owner to house the eight horses.

All in all, it was solid and quickly put together. We had plans in place before hand. We have plans for fire escape, tornados, or the need for quarantine.

What are your evacuation plans, should it ever come to it?

Saturday, May 2, 2009

A good study

So I know some of you are wondering/have asked me in the past about barrel racing pictures and whatnot, what looks good and what doesn't and I was Googling today and found a great barrel racing turn and thought I would share it with you as a textbook example.

As you see, the rider is quiet and in balance, leaning out of the turn with quiet legs. The inside toe is turned down which is the only fault I see with this picture, but the hands are forward (doesn't look like she's clutching the horn at all) and she isn't hauling to the side or even really pulling on the inside rein. Her body language and weight is showing him where to go. You see the reins are loose but not flying or being flung anywhere and he's not set against them.

The horse himself looks very relaxed like he knows what he's doing and trusts his rider. His head is down and forward to work with the turn, not up and stiff or unnaturally low. His ears are back listening to his rider and in concentration. They aren't pinned and they aren't focusing on anything else because that horse is focused and comfortable in his job.

He is bent very very well with his head in the right spot and his whole body wrapped around the turn. He is on the right lead and he's so close to the ground the girls' inside leg could probably touch. And he's well balanced enough that getting out of that lean and bend isn't going to be hard for him.

Nothing in the tack is too tight or pinching or looking like it's in any way hindering the horse and the two make a great pair. Check it out!

On the other side of the spectrum, we find a crappy rider. Not centered, leaning into the turn, hauling on the poor horse's mouth, flying out of the saddle, clutching the horn, heels up, and just all-round chaos. Compare the two horses and decide which one is more comfortable and which one is going to have a faster, closer turn.

Then decide which one likes its job more.

For the sake of comparison, I picked a picture where the horse is in almost the same stage of the turn as the previous picture.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Not horse-related.

I'm in Hawaii! And the girls were complaining about having a serious topic set up so here's the happiness... party away ladies haha

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

It makes you appreciate things

When you travel to less fortunate countries. Two years ago, I had the amazing opportunity to travel to Cuba with the music department. Where it was an amazing trip, I couldn't help but feel devastated at every turn when I saw poor, emaciated and in many cases miserable horses struggling to work through the day. Everything from cart horses to pull tours to horses that are actually the people's mode of transportation to ponies being galloped around the marketplace.

Now, I had such torn feelings. One one hand, these poor animals are in horrible conditions... but on the other hand, the people can't help it. They rely on these animals to get them places (and I saw many a yearling or YOUNGER pulling a cart), to get them to the small jobs they have, and they don't have access to food for THEMSELVES, never mind the animals.

And the arguments that work here don't apply there, either! You can't say "well if you can't afford them, don't get an animal" because without these wondrous animals these people would most likely die from lack of funds. Yes, Cuba is communist... but in order to get your "fair share" in a communist country, you need to do your part for society. To do this, they need to get to their jobs or work their fields, and to accomplish that they need these animals because cars are NOT readily available to citizens there. What cars are available aren't very new, either.

Sometimes, such as the case with tour guides, the horses ARE the people's job. No horses... no job... no money, no food, no clothing, death.

It was a very life-changing experience. I would go back there any day, I had so much fun... but that was a big turn-down. I just felt like sharing. Witnessing animals in this condition so first-hand really gave me a huge kick to step forward into actively helping the ones it was possible to help.

And to lighten the mood, my favorite picture from that trip... me standing fully clothed out in the ocean.