Wednesday, September 19, 2012
After college, Aubrey went to Vet School and I found a job. Our horses were still together until the last 2 years of Aubrey's time in Michigan. She took Chocolate to Michigan so that she could have her horse with her.
This Spring, when Aubrey graduated from Michigan State University, I took the 10 hour round trip to pick up Chocolate. I knew that Riskie would remember Chocolate. They were together for almost 8 years before we separated them. When Chocolate got off the trailer at home we sent her out with Riskie in the big pasture. They sniffed noses and went right to grazing side by side. It was as if they hadn't been separated for more than 10 minutes.
This Summer Aubrey and I took our mares on a ride I know that I will not soon forget. It was a really hot day at the end of July. Aubrey and I had spent the morning putting hay up for the winter. We had planned to ride that day, but hay is one of those things you need to get done when you can so we had to postpone our all-day ride for a shorter one. I decided we should trailer to a nearby park with lots of shade down by the river since it was so hot.
We got to the park and hopped on our already saddled mares. Riskie lead the way down a narrow path along the river. A recent storm had knocked several trees down so our mares had to carefully step over the logs blocking the trail. They carried us with grace and strength down the over grown trail.
We ended up coming to what must have been the end of the trail so we decided to meander back and try to find where the other trail met up. I remember riding behind Aubrey and Chocolate. I remember watching as that small little pony lifted her legs so high over the downed trees and branches. She took her time and knew where her feet were. Aubrey never had to lift a rein to ask Chocolate to slow her feet down or to prevent her from rushing through the brush. I know the feel that Aubrey had with Chocolate, because I have that same feel with my first horse, Riskie. It is something that you know about if you've had a good horse. That trust you develop in knowing each other's every thought and move. You are two bodies, one spirit.
We were the only two riders at the park that day. We mostly rode in silence, except when there was a question as to what direction we should take. Good friends don't need to talk in order to enjoy the time they spend together. I still think about that ride, even more so over the past few days. It was the ride dreams are made of.
Yesterday morning I went out the the barn, a little earlier than normal because I had a meeting I needed to be at before school. It was still dark out. I called the five horses into the barn yard for their hay, but only four came to me. I went to the tack room for the flash light and headed out to the pasture in search of my fifth horse. I could see her in the distance, standing against the fence line in the large pasture adjacent to the barn yard. As I approached her, she nickered to me. Something wasn't right. As I got closer I noticed she was holding up her left rear. My worst nightmare was unfolding right before my eyes. I knew, without a doubt, that my best friend's horse had a broken leg.
The next few hours were a blur. I contacted the vet first, then Aubrey, then my principal. I got Chocolate some hay because I knew that's what she wanted. She was in shock. She knew enough to stand still, but the adrenaline coursing through her must have helped to numb the pain. She took a few bites here and there but it seemed as if she was getting tired of standing on three legs as I waited for the vet to show up.
When the vet arrived he confirmed my belief. Too much damage was done to the leg to save it. I called Aubrey and handed the phone to the vet. A close friend of mine showed up shortly after and all I could do was cry and hug her.
I rubbed Chocolate's forehead as she left this world. A first horse can never be replaced. I know the spot that Chocolate holds in Aubrey's heart, and I know the pain that Aubrey is experiencing now. I am lucky to have witnessed the bond between the two of them as they grew together from a teenage girl and a cranky Mustang mare into a friendship that will not be forgotten.
Tuesday, May 15, 2012
This weekend I went to a horse show with a pony that I've been training for quite some time now. He is under 13 hands so he is quite small, but he packs me around just fine. His owner is the perfect size for him though.
I have been working on reining with him since he seems to have some talent for it (for a pony!). We have our basics down pretty good and now we've just got to work on refining the maneuvers. I did my first reining class with him at the show on Sunday. We did NRHA reining pattern number 4.
Wednesday, May 2, 2012
I warmed Oakley up the best I could in the Nutrena arena. She seemed tired. Again, there were lots of horses and not much room to get a good warm up in.
I took her back to her stall and got ready to do the walk through with the judges. The crowd was bigger in the Nutrena arena... probably because there was more seating, but it seemed like there were many people standing to watch as well. We walked through the course together and then I headed back to the barn to get Oakley out. I knew I would have issues because her back wouldn't be warmed up from the morning and the first portion of the course was in hand. I was at least going to hand walk her a lot before going in.
I still had planned to shoot off of Oakley. I had never had the chance to actually shoot off of her, I had only shot next to her, but I was confident she would be okay. I had popped balloons off of her back and she never flinched. My uncle showed up with the gun I was going to borrow and we talked for a bit. The plan was to hand me the gun just before I went in.
The trail course seemed to be taking a long time. Finally I was next up to go. My uncle made the hand off with the gun and I headed into the arena. Oakley was great for the in hand portion. She was calm and quiet except for one bobble with a hind leg when I went to pick it up. She stood perfectly for me as I mounted from the block, but as soon as my legs made contact with her sides it was over for her. She didn't have the chance to warm up that she needed in order to get accustomed to my legs so she was HOT. She trotted when she was supposed to walk and she cantered when she was supposed to trot... she took off at a blind gallop when she was supposed to canter... I was a little upset with the way they had the course set up. The last obstacle was a canter, straight toward the gate where the Mustangs entered. Not fair if you ask me. The horses were all hoping to get out of there and to ask them to canter and then stop before the gate was just not a good way to showcase the abilities of these horses. By the time the course was over and the 90 seconds had begun Oakley was still trying to get out from under me. I tried some lateral work and spins to calm her down, but I knew the only thing she wanted was for me to take my legs off, so I did, and she stopped. Oakley stood stock still as I pulled the gun out of my holster, cocked the hammer, and shot not once, but twice. She stood like a rock when the audience erupted with applause too, it was pretty cool. My 90 seconds was up so I hopped off and headed out. I was proud of my little Mustang. I had a feeling our out of control pattern wasn't good enough for top 10, but I was so happy that I was able to accomplish my goal of shooting off of her.
To Be Continued...
Thursday, April 26, 2012
Wednesday, April 25, 2012
After the breed demo I went back to check on the scores. It took a long time for them to be posted. When they were finally up I found out that I was tied for 10th place with 67.5 points. The first place competitor had marks in the high 80's. I felt that my ride was a little better than what I was scored, but then again, maybe it was just good for Oakley, not necessarily good compared to the others. There was questionable scoring throughout the weekend though and I try to just be happy with the scores I've been given.
Next it was time to get ready for the handling and conditioning portion of the competition. This part required us to lead our horses into a roundpen, unhalter them, walk out, reenter, and catch them. The judges also scored on coat and body condition. I was 11th to go so I didn't have too much waiting. Oakley did okay. She did what I heard a lot of the horses did, when I released her she stuck her head down and started eating the dirt. Weird... When I came back to get her I was hoping she would respond and walk up to me, but not that day. She put her head up to look but then immediately went back to licking up dirt. I approached her with my arm out and she startled a little when I touched her, but she didn't step away. I haltered her and walked her to a sunny spot in the round pen so that her coat would gleam for the judges. Again, I felt as if things could have gone better. Oh well.
I had about enough for the day and I was ready to get home and go to bed. I was hoping I would be so exhausted that I would be able to sleep. I put Oakley away for the night and drove home. Unfortunately, Friday night was a repeat of Thursday night and I didn't sleep much.
To be continued....
Monday, April 23, 2012
Tuesday, April 17, 2012
Wednesday, April 11, 2012
Friday, March 30, 2012
Tuesday, March 27, 2012
Monday, March 19, 2012
Friday, March 16, 2012
Wednesday, March 7, 2012
Thursday, March 1, 2012
Monday, February 27, 2012
Friday, February 24, 2012
Tuesday, February 21, 2012
Wednesday, February 15, 2012
Monday, February 13, 2012
Thursday, February 9, 2012
Tuesday, February 7, 2012
Monday, February 6, 2012
Saturday, February 4, 2012
Friday, February 3, 2012
Thursday, February 2, 2012
Wednesday, February 1, 2012
Murderer's Creek Wild Horse Territory
U.S. Forest Service
LOCATION: The Murderer's Creek Wild Horse Territory was established in 1972. It is located SW of John Day, OR in the Malheur Nat’l Forest.
ACREAGE: It includes 73,615 acres of Forest Service and 34,954 acres of Bureau of Land Management lands which is managed by the Malheur National Forest, John Day, OR.
ELEVATION/LANDMARKS: 4,500 – 6,500 feet.
TOPOGRAPHY: The "timber horses" of the Murderer's Creek Territory inhabit mountainous terrain. These horses tend to stay at the high elevations year‐round, living in bands of three to eight animals. Despite snow depths of 2 to 4 feet in these areas, the horses have adapted using timber thickets for shelter, staying near springs and utilizing the south slopes of ridges which tend to melt off earliest in the spring to provide forage. More than 50 percent of the horses of the Murderer's Creek are "timber horses." They live in heavily timbered areas of ponderosa pine and mixed conifer. Most of the horses gathered in 2008 came from the forested area of the Territory.
WILDLIFE: The horses of Murderer's Creek HMA coexist with mule deer, elk, antelope, bighorn sheep, bear, cougar, and myriad smaller forest animals. Horses have been observed at salt licks with deer and grazing in the company of elk. One mare was seen on numerous occasions running with a herd of elk.
HERD SIZE; 50‐140 Head
HORSE COLORS: The forest horses tend to be black, bay or brown in color, whereas the horses in the western, more open part of the territory, are grays, duns, and sorrels.
SIZE OF HORSES: 13.3 TO 15.1 Hands
GENERAL INFORMATION/HISTORY: The lineage of the Murderer's Creek horses is diverse and quite debatable. Although it is likely that horses found in the area by early explorers (probably escaped from Indian herds) left their mark in the area, there can be no dispute that many of the Murderer's Creek horses are descendants of animals lost or turned loose by settlers and ranchers. Dr. Gus Cothran performed genetic analysis of this herd in 2000 ‐2001. He found that this herd ‐which is physically isolated from other herd areas ‐is the most unique, bearing the least similarity to the other Oregon herds studied. He found that this herd bears closest genetic resemblance to the American light racing and saddle breeds as well as to the New World Iberian breeds.
Most areas of the Murderer's Creek Territory are accessible by road during the summer months. Visitors may get a glimpse of horses retreating into the trees. Stud piles along any road are an indicator that you are close to horses. It has been said that these horses are more like elk than horses. Despite this reputation, the "timber horses" tend to settle down shortly after capture, and they are generally quieter when worked with than their open country cousins of the west end of the territory.
Tuesday, January 31, 2012
Monday, January 30, 2012
Sunday, January 29, 2012
Saturday, January 28, 2012
Friday, January 27, 2012
Tuesday, January 17, 2012
Monday, January 9, 2012
Horse owners often send their horse for training to become better trail horses. They want their horses to get the necessary experience out on the trail in order to be safe, reliable mounts. When I get a horse intended to be a trail mount in for training I spend 75% of my time with this horse in the arena and 25% on the trail, at least for the first 2 months. Owners are sometimes disappointed to find this out because they want their horse to have experience on the trail, but I have good reasoning for my method.
If my horse doesn’t respond to my cues in an arena (a controlled setting), you can bet he won’t respond to my cues out on the trail. The trail offers so many outside stimuli that the horse must process, it is important that he learns to listen and respond to me before he responds to the stimuli found out on the trail. This foundation must be built in a safe environment where learning can occur, such as an arena.
I want my trail horse to know 4 vital skills before he ever sets foot in the open. These 4 skills are: Forward, whoa (including the one rein stop), the start of collection, and yielding to leg pressure. My first priority in training a horse is safety. By practicing these developing 4 skills in an arena, these requests become second nature to both me and the horse. That is why it is also important that the owner takes lessons and learns the cues that I teach the horse. When I need to make the request out on the trail, for example, if the horse bolts, the horse will rely on the prior knowledge he learned in the arena instead of following his original instinct to flee. I will describe each skill I teach my trail horses below and include why it is important to set the foundation for each skill in the arena first.
Forward – Forward is the first thing any horse should learn. I teach my horses forward first on the ground with verbal and visual cues, then from the saddle with seat and leg aids (and the ends of my reins if needed). If I point my horse in a direction and ask him to go forward his only question of me should be “How fast?”. This is usually easy to get in an arena free from distraction. The horse feels comfortable going around, following the fence on nice even ground. The horse learns to carry me at all speeds without worry of losing his footing. He also learns to follow my direction at any speed. It is unfair to ask my young horses to learn to carry my weight out on the trail on uneven terrain. They must first learn to carry me and move forward at all 3 gaits on flat ground. How many times have you heard someone complain of a horse that will not leave the barn? Simply put, this horse is refusing to go forward. This type of horse did not develop a response to the “go forward” cue, or he was spoiled by someone who did not enforce the “go forward” cue. Once the horse is comfortable going forward off of a cue in an empty arena I will begin adding obstacles that I expect my horse to go over. These obstacles can include tarps, bridges, poles, water etc. The horse learns that no matter what is in front of him, he must trust me to move forward at the pace I ask him to go. Now that he’s learned to go forward in a controlled setting, he will have the confidence to go forward out on the trail.
Whoa – Whoa is the second thing any horse should learn. A horse can’t learn “whoa” until he can go forward. Again, I teach my horses on the ground first with verbal and visual cues, and then from the saddle with verbal, seat, and rein cues. I should be able to use any single one of those aids (verbal, seat, rein) or all three together to stop my horse. I probably do not need to go into great detail as to why it is important that my horse knows how to stop out on the trail. Anybody who has ever been on a horse that bolts can tell you how dangerous this situation can be, not only to the horse and rider, but to anyone else who may be in the bolting horse’s path. I teach my horses to be soft, supple, and light in the bridle. If I pick up on a rein, I expect my horse to give me his face. If I move a leg back I expect my horse to disengage his hindquarters as well. Those two cues together are what is known as the one rein stop. If a horse bolts and he does not respond to my verbal, seat, or rein cues to whoa I know I will be able to stop him with the one rein stop. I practice this in the arena. He knows how to give his face and disengage his hip before I take him out on the trail. By taking his face from him and disengaging his hip he has no power left to propel himself forward and bolt. This technique can also be used to stop a bucker.
The start of collection - I say the start of collection because this can take years to develop, but it is very important that a trail horse knows how to give his face, round his back, and use his hind end. Imagine riding down a steep embankment after a rain storm. Would you rather have a horse that blindly throws his head in the air and charges down the hill on his forehand or a horse that gives his face, rounds his back, and sits on his haunches to slide down that hill in a controlled manner? I would much rather have a horse that knows how to collect and sit on his haunches down that hill. The same is true for going up hills. Do you want a horse that scrambles up the hill, practically dragging himself up it by his front legs, or a horse that powers from behind with his rear end and propels himself up the hill. The horse who knows how to use himself will be sure footed on the trail. Horses need to be taught how to correctly carry themselves and the weight of their rider.
Yield to my legs – The next thing I will teach my young trail horses is how to move off of my leg aids. Imagine heading down a narrow winding trail (such as those found at Magnolia Bluff). Trees are on either side of you making the path seem as if it is closing in on you and your horse. If your horse moves off to one side or the other you’ll end up needing a knee replacement. A horse that moves off of leg aids would have no trouble negotiating through a trail like this safely, but if your legs mean nothing to your horse you are in a dangerous situation. I teach my horses lateral movements such as the side pass and leg yield. I also teach them to move their front end independently from their hind end and vice versa. Again, all of this is done in order to prepare the horse to be a safe mount out on the trail.
I teach my trail horse all of these skills before we venture out on the trails so that I truly set him up for success. It would be absolutely unfair to ask my horse to do any of these tasks without first practicing at home. One of the best qualities in a trail horse is confidence and the only way to get that confidence is to prepare the horse for what lies ahead.