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.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Mud and shedding... what a lovely combo.

Well, spring is coming, no matter how far away it seems... this means we have the wonderful thing known as mud that's going to be covering every inch of our wonderfully furry friends. This is, in particular, most frustrating for us draft lovers. Mud stuck in feather is a PITA to deal with.

So, there's the issue of keeping your horses clean and happy as you put them (and yourselves!) back into training.

However, on top of this problem which is bad enough, say, in the middle of summer... us in the north also have to deal with horses shedding their winter coats.

So, this is a discussion! Share your mud and shedding solutions.

A few years ago I was introduced to a wonderful thing called a shedding stone. If your horses' winter hair is coming out in patches or if you have an early-mid spring show coming up and need your horse looking sharp, you can pick up a shedding stone at your local horse supply store. It also works for getting out stubborn patches of mud.

It's actually just a big pumice stone. It's smooth and gentle and feels like a massage.

If that's not available, I love the good old rubber curry comb. That, a body brush, and a damp cloth with thoroughly clean a coat just as well.

For feather, you can bring a bucket of warm water, plastic curry comb, mane comb, rag, and some elastic bands... soak the feather and wash it all out with the water and rag, brush it thoroughly and shampoo, whatever you need to do, comb it out and if you can manage it, blow dry it.

Separate the feather, band it, and braid it, fold it up like a plait and band it, and a workout later your draft won't have huge mud balls stuck to its feet.

You can keep it braided in the field, even. I'm not so sure about keeping it folded but again it saves the problems of your drafts coming in with mud balls stuck to their legs that makes you want to shear all that stuff off. I've only ever done it with show drafts... the others I just clip the feather right off in the spring, it's not worth it.

Of course nothing works better than a thorough bath. And dish soap.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Meet Mike

Hello my name is Mike. Mel invited me to do blogs on her blog and as I've been thinking of keeping a horse blog myself I figured I might help her out. So a little about myself I guess.
I'm a ranch owner in Canada. I currently own five horses on my farm and I am boarding four more for clients. I've lived here for two years now. I've been riding since before I could walk and have competed in lower level cutting and roping and I currently compete up to a professional level in the show jumping community which is a good opportunity for travel and meeting different trainers so I really hope I can contribute to this blog.
Right now my horses include a arabian gelding, two clydesdale thoroughbred cross mares, a shire quarter horse cross mare, and a warmblood gelding. i hope to share more about them in the time to come. In the mean time feel free to ask me anything you want to know.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

A quick blog entry on barrel racing

I love this sport. It's a bit of my thing, I'm OCD about everything about the sport from what horses should be doing it to how people should be riding the runs. It disappoints me how much bad horsemanship I see in the sport, everything from kicking the living hell out of the horses to clinging to the horn for dear life to yanking on the horse's mouth to jerking around uncontrollably on the saddle.

It all doesn't matter, as long as the run is fast. So I'm going to share with you my idea of a good barrel racing turn and a bad one, pulled off of a Google image search.

First, a bad one.

First off, what's with being able to fit the universe between your butt and the saddle? Second of all, the hands are straining at the reins and the horn because clearly a solid seat and legs aren't going to keep her on the horse, so we'll rely on its spine and poor, sensitive mouth (click here to see a full picture, complete with BIG LONG SHANKS on the bit...) and the hopes that the horse doesn't decide it doesn't like the hat the lady on the other side of the ring is wearing and takes off in the other direction (seriously, how would she stay on? Not a hope in hell).

There's the legs with the toes down and out, heels pressed into the sides for dear life (most likely the reason for flying out of the saddle) and the look on the horse's face says it all. Head up, neck stiff and tense, shallow stride, wide turn, ears back and a snarly look on the face that says "LADY LET GO OF MY MOUTH!" At least the horse is on the right lead.

Here is another horrible position to be in. We'll let you figure out what's wrong on your own... but I can tell you one thing, your legs don't belong THERE.

Here is an example of a good barrel turn.

I would like to see the heels come down, but the legs are quiet and gentle (the probable reason for the toes being down is that the stirrups don't seem to be in use at all, which is a good sign of balance), the balance of the rider is properly turned upward and staying in center. The hands are sitting quiet and forward without straining to the side on a huge curb, the horse is turning close, tight, and quick (note how far in he's leaning), and the rider is looking where she's going. She looks to be in balance and working hard for the horse. My other complaint besides the toes is how the horse's nose is for some reason turned out, likely a product of being checked for trying to turn too fast because the rest of the body is going into the turn nicely. But notice how relaxed this horse seems compared to the picture above. He's just doing his job. The other one looks like he'd shatter if you prodded him with a chisel.

It's just a nicer picture all-round. All it is is basic horsemanship...

When I was just four years old and in riding lessons, my trainer always told me that touching the horn would burn the horse. I knew, of course, she wasn't serious (it was the middle of winter!) but I used that to never cling to the horn and learned to rely on my balance. I never learned to ride with stirrups until I was eleven years old.

And speaking of four-year-old me... I have to hunt that picture down. Little me on a big horse in a class full of adults.

And how hard are you booting your poor animal that your heels are coming this far out from the horse's sides? Ouch.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Arena Footing

Q: I just put up a 70 foot round pen at our stable and I need to put in some good footing. Everybody says that beach sand is perfect. I live in Southern California and it is illegal to use beach sand. What would be a good, economical alternative in your opinion? Some say plaster sand, some say screened fill dirt base with shavings on top, others say to use dg base and some others say to use the muck you clean out from the stalls. Can you help?

A: Surprisingly enough, an option is rubber. I don't know if they're doing it down in the US, but in Canada people are using old tires to mix into asphalt, use as rubber mats in playground, and actually crumbling it up into a sand-like substance to use not only in playgrounds but horse arenas as well. It's got good grip, it's springy and absorbs shock, and there's not a lot of dust to go with it. The only problem is that it's expensive, but if you're willing to invest in something like that, here's a link:

When you're looking for materials, you have to make sure it's not dusty, that it cushions that horse's steps but still has a good amount of traction. My recommendation would primarily be sand. It doesn't need to be beach sand, you can shop around and find out what's available. You can purchase it in fine or coarse grain, whatever you prefer, and have it shipped in. You would probably prefer a coarser grain, not so fine that it's going to create a lot dust. If you're using sand, you have to make sure that you aren't piling it very deep. Anything deeper than about five inches is going to be pretty stressful on the horse (you know what it feels like to run in loose sand, I'm sure). You can also mix sand with different footing materials to loosen them up.

The downside of sand is that it will pack down and erode and get crushed up after a while, so it will need replacing every once in a while and re-layering because the footing will become hard. Also, you'll need to mix and wet down the arena often as sand is very dry. Sand is also probably your cheapest option and will last anywhere from 5 to 11 years, depending on what you get.

A softer footing option is sawdust. Again, you can shop around and get more information on it, but sawdust does need to be replaced every couple years. Saw dust wouldn't necessarily mean the very fine dusty stuff you see after taking a power saw to a piece of wood, but rather looks like fine wood shavings and can be mixed with sand. The arena I currently ride in has wood product footing and the Thoroughbred gelding I'm working with just loves it, and we do show jumping. It's also great on the residing barrel horses' limbs.

And all of this stuff can be mixed. It's recommended that you mix rubber with sand for good footing and just run a harrow over it to keep it mixed up. If you're willing to invest, I would most likely recommend that option.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

When is the time to start riding a young horse?

I made this guide a few months back and figured it would be useful for any readers curious about what ground work should first be covered in a young horse.

This is an issue among many horse people, and I'm going to share some facts and honest opinions on how to tell if your horse is ready to be backed.

Most people figure that just jumping on and STAYING on is the first step to riding your horse. Nothing could be further from the truth. When you're breaking the horse to ride, you should have accomplished at least four things:
1) Your horse has been sacked out, and accustomed to a saddle and you draping yourself over it, rubbing your hands everywhere, and be used to the saddle sitting on it.
2) Your horse respects you in every way, showing good ground manners and a submission to you as the alpha being. A bond is also very important when backing; if the horse trusts you, you're in for a good ride.
3) The horse can steer. You can teach this 100% from the ground by teaching it to move off of pressure and by ground driving.
4) Letting the horse age to an appropriate stage.

First, let's discuss age.

IMO, a horse shouldn't be backed until it is 3.5-4yo. I'm also heavy-set, so I know that a younger horse could not support me properly. I let the horse develop and let its knees close and its spine form properly, letting it reach close to its maximum height before backing it.

The absolute youngest a horse should be backed is 3yo. Before 3, they are by far not developed enough to support the weight of a human; they're STILL babies at 1 and 2. Racehorse owners often back as a YEARLING and that just screws a horse up. Let's face it, if you get up too early, you're hurting it.

The results of backing a horse too young can be quite devastating. The following image is not Photoshopped in any way.

See? Gross. Now, let's compare. When you look at a full grown horse compared to a younger one, their neck has filled out slightly, their haunches have developed, they back has lengthened and muscled, and their legs have become more solid. Looking at the following yearling, you can see that he is still very slim, and his legs fragile. The joints are all still soft and mostly cartilage, and the back is flimsy.

Now, looking at a 2yo, you are seeing them grow into themselves, but they still have that little horse look. Their legs are strengthened, but as you can see, they are not, by far, fully developed. Their neck is mostly filled out, their haunches are developing nicely, and their back is still not up to holding the load. They're still going through many growth stages and leveling outs to do, so the best thing to do is stay out of their way.

At three years old, they still have some growing and filling out to do, but finally they are beginning to look like adult horses. They've leveled out about as much as they're going to, they've almost completely finished growing UPWARDS, and their legs are completely solid. Their backs are strong enough to take on light work... however, cantering/galloping/sharp turns with a rider is out of the question. It will still strain their joints. They still have some filling out to do, and their bones are not 100% developed.

This fact completely changes with drafts and bigger horses. You shouldn't back a draft at this stage, simply because he isn't developing as fast as a little horse. The following is a three year old Clydesdale. Note the differences:

This is a full-grown Clyde, for comparison

At four years old, you have a horse. 4yos are considered adult horses, but horses don't stop growing and filling out until they are 6 or 7. At this point, you don't want to put the horse through anything rigorous such as barrel racing or jumping: that should be left to the 5-and-6-year-olds. You STILL have to be careful of the horse's joints. Remember, they're STILL very young.

And at last, you have a 6yo horse. Yes, I skipped 5, that's because 5 is boring. They are mature and filled out and ready to start their show life!

Moving on from the matter of age...

After you're sure your horse is physically able to carry you, you have to worry about their mental state. Not only do you not want to annoy, frighten, or confuse them, but you want to ensure that this ride is perfectly safe for you.

You want the horse to have the utmost respect for you at this point. After teaching them all the groundwork and rules, personal space and respect problems, you will have a well-behaved horse that isn't going to bolt away or trample you or kick AT you when you try to mount it for the first time.

You also want a horse you have bonded with. Does HE trust YOU? Will he let you touch him all over and rub things on him? A big part of trust-building is sacking out your horse, getting him used to plastic bags, tarps, ropes, etc, etc. A good horse will just walk over or under a tarp no problem. A good horse will let you fling a tarp right over him with no fuss.

A horse that trusts you will follow you, let you approach it, let you touch it, etc. It will trust your comforting. This does NOT fall outside of the spooking line. A horse is a horse and every horse will spook no matter who it is with. That is something completely different.

Also, you want a horse that has been worked under saddle. Under saddle =/= under rider. You'll want to have introduced the saddle to the horse, let it wear it for a bit... you'll want the horse to be used to a saddle. Even if you're going to get up bareback for the first time (which I've done but recommend against). That also means that you've lunged the horse with the saddle, lead it around, let it graze with it... it means you've pulled on the stirrups a bit, adjusted all the straps periodically, and it means you can saddle the horse without him fussing.

The SAME THING goes for a bridle. Lunging and everything.

The horse, before you mount, should have been taught to move off of pressure. Pressure on the neck, on the sides on the face, etc. Basic groundwork. This way, it will respond to the pressure of your heel, the pressure of reins or hands on its neck, and the pressure of your seat.

The horse should know that a clicking sound means move forward. Push-button, in other words.

Also, to teach it how to steer before you get on, ground driving is an EXCELLENT thing to teach a young horse before backing. Remember, if you get on that horse and he doesn't have steering or breaks... you're just begging for an accident to happen to you or your horse. Crap happens, no matter how hard you work to avoid it.

A horse who is ready for you to back him will also let you drape yourself right over him without caring. He'll be comfortable with it and trust you to be okay with him.

Some people also work with lying their horses down during work (especially if the horse is very disrespectful and a handful). I personally have only ever done this with a couple of horses, but it's up to you.

Well, I think I've gotten everything! If your horse is okay with all of these things, hop right on up and happy trails to you and your baby.

Updates on the blog

Okay, so... seems we have more people starting to read (and even comment!) in the past couple of days so I'm going to make a change.

I know a few of you had questions for me, whether you're my former co-workers or people I met on my internet rantings through FHotD or HTG or HLU or wherever else you might have come from, and this blog is the spawn of people prodding me to make one about horses instead of just my general rant blog.

So, we're going to change it. It's not just about your questions any more, it's about whatever's going to pop into my mind. Every week I'll do my best to post a question from a reader or otherwise, but the rest of it is just going to be good old horse information as it pops into my brain!

Happy readings, happy trails!

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Backyard breeding

Anonymous, from my e-mail.

Q: why do you think that its so bad for someone like me to breed their horse in their own home if they are going to use it for their own purposes? its not like were flooding the world with horses like huge organizations like the aqha.

A: I think you have the wrong idea.

I, in no way, think that it is bad for people to breed a single horse and keep it for their own purposes... under the right circumstances.

First of all, I have no problem if people breed good, quality horses. This means good conformation, a good disposition, they've done something else in their life other than reproduction (they can be handled, ridden, and preferably shown), and the two horses breeding have to be a good match if a crossbreed is being made.

Good general conformation: are they built nice and solidly, with strong limbs that won't break down under the pressure of work? Halter QHs are notoriously bad for having tiny hooves, horridly upright pasterns, and post legs in the back... this is not a good thing. These are the horses that break down early in life and are tossed to the auction pen, limping away around the ring. You want a good, sloping shoulder, a strong, deep haunch, and a solid back (no roach backs or sway backs!). Solid legs, as I've already said... that means fair-sized hooves, solid pasterns, good knees and a strong upper arm. In the hind leg, you want clean hocks and a solid gaskin, and a good bend in the hind leg to allow for free motion. Aside from the conformation that allows the horse to work to the best of its abilities, you want an attractive horse.

Why? Because you CANNOT 100% guarantee that something will not happen where you have to sell your horse, and a horse that is built well and looks good has a BIG CHANCE of finding a good home. Attractiveness means he's well put-together and doesn't look like a franken-horse. It also means a good, long neck and a cute head that doesn't look like someone hit a brick with a hammer a couple of times.

This is an example of a badly-conformed Warmblood:

And a well-conformed one:

A badly-conformed QH:

And a well-conformed one:

Ask yourself which ones you'd rather buy.

As for good matches... something like a Percheron and a QH go well together. QH and TB go well together, Arab and TB, Belgian and QH, Percheron and Clyde go brilliantly together, Clyde and TB is also a very awesome mix. Arabs and Saddlebreds... I could go on forever on matches that look good and make sense.

Things like Freisian and QH... Percheron and Akhal-Teke... those things, not so great actually. They won't come out so well.

Aside from looking good and acting well, the farm has to have a proper foaling facility if the mare is giving birth on site... and then good foal fencing for when the foal is there. This means NOT pagewire and NOT barbed wire. Good, strong fencing that the horses cannot hurt themselves on, especially dorky foals who will end up doing some stupid things.

A solid income is a must. If you don't have a regular job, then don't breed. If you're having a hard time supporting one horse, don't make another! The fees don't gradually increase... they DOUBLE when you double your amount of horses. Double the feed, double the vet care, double the tack...

Also, you must have the skills or resources to ensure that this foal gets trained. If you, yourself, do not know how to train a horse, RESEARCH IT PROPERLY. Figure out what a foal should be able to do and how to teach them safely and properly. If you can't do it, send them to a WELL-KNOWN, WELL-RESPECTED, NEARBY trainer and then CHECK UP ON THEM UNANNOUNCED. You think that's paranoid? Go read my last blog.

And last but not least (actually, the most important and first thing you should do), you need to ask yourself if you can pick up an identical foal at the auction kill pen and save its life. You can go on forever about how SPESHUL your horse is (there are other special horses out there), how you want to witness the miracle of birth (have your own kid?), or how you don't want to have to spend the money buying a foal (for your information, buying a foal is waaay cheaper than putting the mare through pregnancy... with the vet checks, ultrasounds, extra food, etc), I've heard every excuse. I think. I hope.

But the fact of the matter is, if you breed something and the resulting baby is identical to a foal that went to slaughter, then you just added to the horse slaughter and overpopulation problem.

And don't make assumptions. Go and ATTEND an auction. Visit the kill pen after... there are lots of NICE HORSES that fall through the cracks, many of them just babies. Some even come with papers.

Do you want to create a new life and send that one to its death, or do you want to give that one a chance at life and take a baby step forward, for the horses? I will guarantee you, saving a slaughter-bound horse will be the BEST feeling of your life. And they're cheap! Very cheap.

Some are as cheap as $40. Some can be more expensive.

I'm always faced with the argument, "I'm not adding to the overpopulation problem... it's just one horse!" Or, "how is my TINY breeding facility adding to the problem."

Here's the thing. It's like littering. You toss one gum wrapper on the ground thinking "oh, just one won't kill the environment," while someone across the street from you tosses a napkin away thinking the exact same thing... and thousands of other people around the city thinking the same. "Oh, one won't hurt."

Soon your city is piled up with trash and it's disgusting to look at, and things like city clean-ups need to take place.

It's the same here. Hundreds of thousands of farms are thinking "oh, this little bit won't add to the problem" and suddenly there are hundreds of thousands of foals born, most of which they think they can make money off of, and sell at an auction... the vast majority of the foals end up being sent to slaughter, either as babies or later on in life when they suddenly aren't wanted any more.

And again, you can argue until you're blue in the face that the foal is for you.

But you can never know for sure that you will be able to keep it for your whole life. Shit happens. You want to guarantee that in the event that you need to sell your horse, it has a chance at the future.

And YES, I know that huge AQHA farms pump out thousands of babies a year and they are the problem too. Their problem is much, much harder to fix because those mass farms are in it for the money, and the money only. They couldn't care less about the over-population problem, as long as they get paid at the end of the day. But that's a debate for another day.