Thursday, August 27, 2009

Cheap Horse Activities in a Cruddy Economy: Rediscovering the Desert

This is a second in a three-part series of articles on what cowgirls and cowboys can do with their horses for cheap in this depressed economy. The first focused on the three ideas of retrofitting what you have, bartering with others, and borrowing from others. This one focuses on riding in other locations without necessarily paying show fees. So here goes ...

I hadn't noticed until recently, but I've become horribly arena-bound in the last few years. As a rider who very much enjoys the horse events of hunter/jumper, penning and sorting, and more recently, reining, I realize that I have spent a whole lot of time in arenas. After all, you need good arenas, great footing, and jumps or cows or cones for all of those activities.

But arena-riding, not to mention hauling to arenas several times a week, can be expensive ... and for me, no longer acceptable. These days, I very much want to invest my land and invest in acquiring new land. So hauling to other arenas all the time is out, at least for now. So I've been looking at alternatives that still allow me to have fun and not spend a fortune. I recently wrote about becoming a one-jump wonder, or schooling my hunter/jumper mares to jump full courses using only a single jump. That's going to be a fun work-in-progress.

My Second Idea for Having Fun with Your Horse for Cheap
My second idea for cheap horse activities is rediscovering the desert. When I first moved out to Western Colorado about 9 years ago, I spent a lot of time with neighbors and friends riding out in the high desert. I learned how to go up super-tall ridges. Then I learned how to come down steep ravines, since what goes up must come down. I had a blast! And I spent very little money. Riding in the desert cost very little. You only pay for gas hauling to the trailhead, some snacks to eat along the way, and some minor repairs to your trail gear when necessary.

But riding in the desert isn't just cheap, it's priceless. The peace of mind you can get from riding out just before dawn and heading back just before dinner is better than any meditation I've ever experienced. Not only that, but any sort of open-range riding helps you school your horse, without the awful boredom of arena-riding. Trail riding teaches your horse to:

- place her feet carefully
- stay balanced on different kinds of footing
- navigate around objects (like trees, rocks, and shrubs) with a minimal of guidance
- conserve energy for the long ride ahead
- drink when presented with water
- enjoy the art of standing still
- engage different muscle groups while going up or down hills
- accept wildlife
- cross water and other obstacles

The list could go on ... and those of you who to ride the open range could probably double or triple this size of this list. The bottom line is that getting out of the arena and into "the real world," so to speak, is not only less expensive but also offers so many benefits you can't find in the arena. It's cheap schooling plus beaucoup fun for you and your horse.

Some Cheap Horse Activities for You
Can you think of some places nearby where you can haul your horse without paying massive fees? If you don't have access to a high desert, here are some ideas:

- horse-friendly state parks
- a friend's arena (who won't charge you to ride)
- wooded trails
- a horse show (haul in to school but don't show)
- down the road and back (as long as there's not too much traffic)

Does that give you some ideas of some cheap ways to enjoy your horse? I hope so. As for me, I'm off to rediscover some desert land that I haven't ridden in a few years ... see you some time before the supper bell rings!

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Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Cheap Horse Activities in a Cruddy Economy- -Becoming a One-Jump Wonder

Yikes! The price of being addicted to horses has suddenly gotten higher than ever! Have you noticed that while no one has any money, the price of horses hasn't really dropped much? The price of keeping, feeding, caring for, and showing horses hasn't gotten any cheaper, either.

In fact, it's gotten more expensive. Our local "come learn how to do penning and sorting" has just become a jackpot penning, driving the price up by 3 times. The local shows now have added surcharges for fuel and office administration. Does that make any sense in a depressed economy?

Regardless, it's resulting in the zen cowgirl blues. This zen cowgirl has money but has bigger dreams. I want to invest in an enhanced watering system for the back pasture, not to mention some raw land. So that means less showing and more work and investment in my business. Yikes! Unfortunately, I do better when there's a competitive event on the horizon to shoot for ... a horse show or a practice penning. So what's a zen cowgirl to do?

3 Ways to Find Cheap Horse Activities in This Economy
Below I'm going to highlight one of the ideas I'm pursuing as a cheap horse activity. The three basic concepts of that idea are:

1. Retrofit what you have
2. Barter services with someone else to save money
3. Borrow equipment or gear from others

These three concepts really don't require money, or at least not a lot of it. Now, read through the idea below and see if this gives you some ideas on what you might be able to do for a cheap horse activity.

What I'm Going to Do About the Zen Cowgirl Blues
What do zen cowgirls do when the wallet gets tight but the competitive spirit is still burning strong? We get creative, and that's exactly what I'm going to do. I've come up with 3 horse activities that I plan to do in the next 6 months which are aimed at competitive goals but won't break the bank. In this article I'll cover the first one:

... to be a one-jump wonder ...

How to Be a One-Jump Wonder
I live on five acres of heaven with lush pastures for horses to graze and for making hay. One thing I have not had, though, is a flat area large enough in which to lope my horses. Thus far, I've only had enough room to walk and trot. That is all about to change. At the back of the property I have an large area that is currently divided into three corrals. The corral wood is old and nasty, not to mention chewed-up by the horses (see the picture and you'll know what I mean).

I was recently struck with the idea that if I take the corrals down, I'll have a huge arena in which to lope. I can also put 1 or 2 jumps in that space. I can't take down all that wood by myself, but I can with the help of a friend. So I'm bartering with my buddy Bill. He's going to help me take down the corral wood and I'm going to do chores for him later in the month, when he and his wife are going on safari. Barter is cheap and only requires a little gas money and some elbow grease on my part.

Once I have my loping arena, I'm going to put 1 or 2 jumps in the area (a friend is going to loan me her jumps). Once that's set up, I am going to become the one-jump wonder. That means I'm going to school my hunter/jumper mares to jump full courses by using only 1 or 2 jumps. This is modeled after a chap with whom I took one jumping lesson. Like me, this man only had land for one jump, so he taught every one of his horses and riders to jump entire courses by schooling over a single jump. Given that this man was once the high-jump champion in the state, I think he might have something there. I'm going to give it a whirl this coming fall and spring, and see whether I can use his techniques to teach my mares.

The benefits of this idea are:
  1. Allows me to school my horses without hauling, thus saving on gas.
  2. Keeps my intrigued because the idea is so crazy it's fun (if I get bored, I go out and collect more horses).
  3. Enables me to keep my horses in jumping shape without buying a bunch of jumps or taking expensive lessons.
The downsides to this idea are:
  1. I will be proving once again that I am crazy (but hey, what is a zen cowgirl anyway?).
  2. I'm not sure if I remember everything the dude taught me about schooling over just a single jump.
  3. There are probably pitfalls to this approach that I have yet to discover.
Oh well, as with most activities related to my horses, everything is an open experiment, a work in progress. Without a doubt, this one-jump wonder idea will be interesting to implement, and I will probably learn some new tricks. It is, in any case, a fitting activity for a zen cowgirl who is addicted to mustangs. Stay tuned for more progress on this INSANE idea!

What About You?
What crazy but cheap ideas can you come up with to do with horses? Here's one from my local paper:

"Will pay someone to ride my fat draft gelding."

Hmmm ... does this sound like you? It's not just cheap, you get paid!

*** Get an Update on the One-Jump Wonder Project here ***

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Thursday, August 20, 2009

Protect Your Horse from Flies -- An Old Time Remedy

Being a zen cowgirl, there's nothing I like better than cooking up homemade remedies and natural horse care products at the kitchen table. One of my favorites is an old-time cowboy remedy people around here (western Colorado) use to keep flies away from their horses.

Are you ready for this? It's a super-duper rancher secret. Here goes:

Bacon grease.

Yup, I do mean bacon grease, poured straight from the frying pan into an aluminum can after you're done making breakfast. I accumulate three or four giant soup cans' worth of bacon grease at a time, especially during the winter, and then use it lavishly in the spring, summer, and fall to keep the horses happy and free of flies. I keep it in the refrigerator or freezer between uses.

How to Use Bacon Grease to Keep Flies Off Horses
Using bacon grease is simple, if a bit messy. Just take the can of bacon grease out of the fridge and let it warm up a bit, until it's a little gooey and runny. Then apply it around your horse's eyes, ears, and face. Slather it down your horse's midline, top and bottom. That includes your horse's throat, chest, belly, and the area behind the hind legs. On top, apply it on the midline from the withers to the tail head. If your horse has an itchy tail, you might put a little bit on the tail head as well.

Unlike ordinary fly sprays, which are only good for a few hours, bacon grease will repel flies for up to a week. These include regular flies, giant horse flies, mosquitoes, and even "no-see-ums," those tiny bugs that you can hardly see but bite nonetheless.

I know the bacon grease works because I have two horses that are super-reactive to fly and mosquito bites. My quarter horse gelding, Walker, will literally buck and run around like a mad-man if a giant horse fly lands on him. When he's wearing bacon grease, he rarely reacts this way in pasture. The other sensitive horse, my mustang mare Samantha, develops welts and swellings from fly bites. She also rarely shows signs of these swellings when I apply bacon grease regularly.

Repelling Flies from the Inside Out
Bacon grease works great to keep the flies away from horses, especially if you don't mind smelling like a short-order cook after you're done. For horses with sensitive skin that are reactive to fly bites, I've also found that certain nutritional supplements help repel flies from the inside out. Two that work well are high-quality antioxidant juice and apple cider vinegar.

I feed my horses an ounce of this high-quality antioxidant juice daily, either in their feed or simply by squirting it in their mouths with a syringe. The mare who develops welts from fly bites is much less prone to skin swellings when taking the juice, and the gelding doesn't seem to attract as many flies. Before I discovered the mangosteen juice, I fed the horses ¼ cup of apple cider vinegar twice a day with their feed. I also used apple cider vinegar topically, usually mixed with water and Avon's Skin So Soft, to keep flies away.

Over time, though, I have found that the best combination of home remedies to keep the flies away from my horses is to slather bacon grease on the outside and feed the antioxidant juice internally. Together they work like a treat to keep my horses happy and relatively free of flies -- naturally!

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Tuesday, August 18, 2009

How to Keep Your Horse's Tail Long and Beautiful

I used to think that the secret to keeping my horse's tail long and beautiful was to brush it everyday. After all, I brush my hair everyday so why shouldn't I brush my horse's tail everyday? Because daily brushing doesn't work for horses. It only works for humans.

A Weekly Regimen for a Long Beautiful Horse Tail

I once rode with a cutting trainer who specialized in breeding and training Appaloosas. If you are at all familiar with Appaloosas, you know that they are notorious for having short skimpy manes and tails.

Even so, this trainer was able to get her horses' manes and tails long and beautiful. She followed a simple weekly regimen that worked like a charm. Once a week she:
  1. Washed the horse's tail with a mild conditioning shampoo that cleaned and detangled the tail hairs.
  2. Brushed the horse's tail, first with a large brush and then with a wide-tooth comb.
  3. Applied Shapley's MTG product liberally.
  4. Braided the tail (if the horse's tail dragged the ground, she doubled up the end of the tail and put the whole thing in a tail bag).
That's it -- a simple but effective regimen. I've since followed this regimen on my own horses and the results are pretty darn spectacular. What's neat is that you only have to follow these steps once a week. Brushing and messing with your horse's tail more often than that causes hair breakage, which shortens the length of the tail.

FYI: When applying the MTG make sure that you take off any silver rings or jewelry. The sulphur in MTG will stain your silver dark. You can polish the silver to restore the shine again, but why make more work for yourself?

My Own Extra Step for Long Horse Tails
I have a couple of horses who like to rub their tail heads on fence posts. I wormed them and ran fecal tests on them, and they weren't heavy on worms, so I figured it was a skin problem. The MTG works well to keep the itching down, and I found that applying the MTG just to the top of the tail worked well to keep the butt-scratching to a minimum.

Later, when I started feeding this special antioxidant juice to the horses, I noticed that those two horses stopped rubbing their tails. Their tails also started to grow faster. When I researched the ingredients in the antioxidant juice and consulted an acupuncturist about it, I found out that the ingredients in the juice support kidney health. From a Chinese Medicine point of view, the kidneys rule the head hair (in humans, that is). Translated for horse anatomy, healthy kidneys mean healthier manes and tails. The acupuncturist pointed out that older dogs, for instance, who suffer from renal dysfunction, tend to have thinning hair on their tails. Horses with kidney problems also have poor tails and thin manes. It makes sense to me.

I'm always surprised when I bring a new horse home and start using this weekly regimen. I have one mare who started out with a relatively short tail (it reached only as far as her hocks). After about six months on this program, her tail reached down past her ankles, nearly touching the ground. That's pretty fast progress, and I've seen it happen over and over again.

The moral of this story? Keep if simple, silly!

P.S. You can get MTG at just about any feed store and the antioxidant juice here.

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Thursday, August 13, 2009

Barefoot Trimming: To Shoe or Not to Shoe?

Barefoot trimming, or the practice of not shoeing your horse, is a wonderful gift that you can give your horse. Leaving your horse barefoot allows his body to function the way nature intended, with the hooves able to expand and contract as they strike the ground. This allows them to act as shock absorbers for your horse's entire body.

At present, I have three mustangs and one quarter horse, and all of them are barefoot. In the past, every horse I have owned, with the exception of my very first horse, has been barefoot. But barefoot trimming isn't for every horse or every horse owner. I love barefoot horses, but I am also enough of a realist to understand the limitations of this approach.

Why Barefoot Trimming Isn't for Everyone
There are numerous reasons why barefoot trimming does not work for every horse and rider combination. I believe that every horse CAN go barefoot under the right conditions, but often times those conditions can't be met, which means the horse will need to be shod. So why isn't barefoot the way to go for every horse?

1. The Transition Is Too Long or Painful
If a horse has worn shoes for many years then the transition to being barefoot can be painful and take a long time. A horse shoe protects the bottom of the horse's foot, especially the sole and heel, from contact with the ground because the shoe lifts the hoof off the ground. This means that the horse tends not to grow a thick sole or thick hoof wall. When you remove the horse's shoes, the resulting hoof is tender, thin-walled, thin-soled, and very sensitive. Now every rock and bump on the ground makes the horse go, "Ouch!"

Now the horse has to grow a different kind of hoof to accommodate his new conditions. As you know, it can take up to a year for a horse to grow a completely new hoof, from the coronet band to the ground. During this transition, the sole and hoof wall have to thicken, the heel usually has to expand and widen, and the whole hoof has to achieve more concavity (which raises the center of the hoof off the ground). All of this change takes a long time (from a few months to a few years). During this transition, the horse will need to wear some kind of boot to protect his sensitive hooves. In addition, he will need access to both gravel and smooth ground. The gravel will give his feet stimulation, which will encourage the right kind of hoof growth, while the smooth ground allows him to rest his feet when they are feeling sensitive. The horse will probably also need a nutritional boost to strengthen his hooves.

So are you starting to get the picture? The transition period can take a while, and you'll have to provide special care for your horse during this time. For some horses, such as ones that haven't been shod for long periods of time, the transition can be very simple. For others, it can take a while. Just be prepared to boot your horse to keep him rideable during this period. Learn more about how to transition your horse to barefoot by reading books by Pete Ramey and Jaime Jackson.

2. The Horse's Feet Are in Poor Shape
Given enough time and care, every horse can probably go barefoot. I've had some horses that had terrible feet, and I was able to transition them to barefoot. But a horse with a good set of hooves is going to make the transition to barefoot a lot easier than a horse with genetically poor feet. A horse with platter-shaped hooves, crumbly hoof walls, compressed frogs, or thin soles is going to have a much more difficult time going barefoot. Also, horses with bad feet living in demanding environments (like rocky soil) will find the transition quite challenging, since the rocky soil tends to wear away the hoof wall faster than it can grow. Having said that, if you are truly dedicated to making your horse barefoot, it can be done. I've done it with some of the most impossible cases!

3. The Owner Doesn't Have the Time, Energy, and Money
This is the biggest problem that most people run into when taking their horses barefoot -- the investment of time, energy, and money. With the cost of shoeing rising out of sight, it can be tempting to think that going barefoot is a cheap alternative. It can be -- if you can find a barefoot trimmer who does a good job. A good job means that your horse is trimmed so that he remains sound and continues to make progress toward a healthier hoof. With bad-footed horses, I find that I have to trim their hooves every two weeks or so to make speedy progress toward healthy hooves. If you horse has lousy feet and you don't want to learn to do barefoot trimming yourself, you'll find shoeing a cheaper alternative than having your farrier visit you every two to three weeks for barefoot trims. On the other hand, if you are willing to invest the time and money up front, your horse will eventually be able to go barefoot on a six to eight week schedule.

Barefoot is Great for Many Horses
I hope this article doesn't discourage you from transitioning your horses to barefoot. I prefer it as a much healthier alternative to shoeing, but I also realize that barefoot won't work for every horse or every horse owner. My three mustangs are blessed with solid hooves of steel, and they've never worn shoes. My quarter horse gelding, bless his sensitive little soul, is transitioning out of shoes. I expect it will take a year or so for him to complete that transition, and in the meantime he is a happy pasture ornament. I am fine with having a pasture ornament, but many if my friends are not.

The choice is yours: to shoe or not to shoe? That is the question. I hope this article sheds some light on reasons you may or may not want to take your horse barefoot!

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Tuesday, August 11, 2009

National Wild Horse Adoption Day -- September 26, 2009

Mustang horses are the love of my life, aside from my significant other, of course! That's why I'm so pleased that a coalition of wild horse and humane advocacy groups from around the nation are banding together to promote the first National Wild Horse Adoption Day.

The goal of the National Wild Horse Adoption Day is to find adoptive homes for 1,000 mustangs. Wow! I'm jumping for joy. There is truly a mustang out there for every horse lover, and having a day dedicated to finding homes for the wonderful creatures is amazing. You can learn more about this special Adoption Day at the BLM website.

Let Me Name the Ways I Love Mustangs
In case you're not familiar with the mustang breed (and hence might be wondering why the hell you should consider adopting one), let me name just a few of the reasons that make the mustang breed unique.

In my experience, mustangs:
  • can be among the most loyal equine partners you'll ever find
  • have the toughest feet of any breed, come hell or high water
  • are adaptable enough to do almost any job (not every mustang can do every job, but there's a mustang out there for every job)
  • are either totally beautiful or so "ugly" they are adorable
  • each have personality enough for a dozen horses
  • are tough, tough, tough
  • eat very little but give a lot
  • can survive in almost any circumstances
  • will teach us different aspects of horsemanship than domesticated horses
  • may take longer to train but forget almost nothing
  • compare quite nicely with mules in terms of sure-footedness
  • are a true part of American history
  • are inexpensive to adopt and keep, even in this crazy horse market
Enuf said?

Having adopted five mustangs now, and having started four them under saddle myself, I can personally attest to the versatility and talent of the mustangs. I show my mustangs in hunters and jumpers, team penning, team sorting, barrel racing, pole bending, and trail classes. My mustangs will also tackle any mountain, high or low, and do ranch work with ease. Two mustangs in particular have been champion jumpers, jumper horse of the year, winners in the hunter ring, and money-earners in team penning and sorting. The mustang pictured in this post is Valentine, a money-earner in the jumper ring and a "jumper horse of the year."

Because there are not many mustangs competing publicly, people are frequently surprised to see my mustangs competing. They often say, "I had heard that mustangs were untrainable, yet you are competing yours successfully."

It's true that training a mustang is a very different process than training the domestic horse, but the journey is immensely rewarding. I find that while the domestic horse wants to get along with humans, the mustang simply wants to survive. Getting along with me isn't usually at the top of the agenda, so it takes a lot more persuasion and discussion to accomplish certain training tasks with a mustang than with a domestic horse. Mustangs always ask "Why?" before complying with a new training request. But the end result is that a mustang never forgets a lesson learned.

Want to know more about mustangs? Feel free to drop me a line, leave me a comment, or visit BLM and learn more about the breed. Also, drop by the Colorado Correctional Industries website to see the mustangs up for adoption in Colorado. This facility is where I have adopted all of my mustangs. To access the information on mustangs, simply click on the Wild Horse Program link in the left hand navigation bar.


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