January 30th, 2010 Unconventional

This week has been a blur with 40+ new horses on our trimming schedule and 2 new horses in for training.  But Colorado’s weather has really cooperated, giving us daily doses of sunshine.

Kirk and I traveled out to Ruby Ranch Horse Rescue and trimmed 13 horses and brought home a lovely paint arabian mare named Cindy and a beautiful bay pony mare named Ginger.

We took them out the next day up to the neighbor’s indoor arena and introduced them to obstacles.  Today they leanrned how to pony beside our horses and tomorrow they will get an introduction to saddle and bridle and if all goes well, we will ride them out on the trail for the first time.

People ask me all of the time why I leave the safety of the round pen so soon.  Most people spend hours working in the round pen or arena.

I don’t.

Balls to the wall, I like letting the horses own curiosity move them out down the trail.  It’s not the best philosophy probably but I’ve had less trouble starting horses this way than working them over and over in the round pen and arena.

Horses that get to move out naturally tap into their own instinct to explore and move.

Of course there are obstacles.  Other horses, dogs, traffic.

Horses new to these often need lots of support. 

We usually ride out in a group and take mature horses with us.  But sometimes that still isn’t enough.  Horses new in training will sometime spook.  Sometimes they freeze.

It’s a risk any way you look at it but if I’ve built a raport with the horse like I should it really isn’t. 

Growing up we didn’t have a round pen.  We had a corral.  I never even knew what a round pen was until my twenties. 

Growing up you worked get a horse looking at you like a friend and then it was several miles from the corral to the fence.  By the time you reached the fence the horse was turning left, right, able to make circles, able to whoa and back up.  They did so without trouble or resistance. 

Horses look for leadership and if they have a little trouble with this, I always say, there is no dishonor in dismount.

Horses happy with their handlers naturally look for leadership.  Being on the ground in front of them puts you back in that position if they are insecure.  When they gain more confidence you can mount back up again.

Today I took our neighbor’s TB out for his first outdoor ride.  He was a tense ball of nerves but he was far better behaved than when I rode him in the indoor arena yesterday.  I think this was because his mind was stimulated by his natural desire to move and explore.  After he was comfortable inspecting the uneven ground with this nose and hooves he relaxed quite a bit and we had a very nice ride.  He’s going to be a trooper. 

Tomorrow will be the two new rescue horses.

It may be unconventional, but I swear, I am more comfortable channeling a horses natural instincts than I am pushing and riding every step in an indoor.

January 21st, 2010 Fancy Foot Work

Technology has given us many things.  Last post I discussed the benefits of progesterone cream.  This week I am going to write about Natural Hoof Care.

A majority of people still rely on traditional farrier care and a majority of farriers haven’t yet updated their education of the horse’s hoof.

Five years ago my partner turned my world on end when he challenged me to question.

“Why I would put shoes on a perfectly good horse?”

Good question.  I’d never really thought about it that way before.

My horse’s hooves were in good shape.  Why couldn’t I use her without shoes?

As a kid I grew up riding and using my horse and never put a shoe on her.  My grandpa worked cattle and his horse wasn’t shod either.  My Uncle and my cousins roped and worked cattle daily.  Their horses rarely wore shoes.

Then, when I left home and started working in different barns I saw lots of people put shoes on their horse.  Pretty soon, so was I.


Kirk’s always been good at asking probing questions.  He thinks in large, spacious patterns and this question brought me back in touch with what I knew intuitively.  That natural is better.

This month Kirk and I have trimmed some 60 horses and it’s been interesting to compare hooves in Colorado to those we used to see in Maine.  The hooves here condition faster due to the fact that Colorado is dry.  The hooves wear more evenly too since the soil here in Colorado is not muddy but gritty and abrasive.

We’ve opened up a dialogue with our clients that is going to lead to some interesting changes in the horse industry.  But the conversation isn’t a new one.  It’s been ongoing for years. 

Jaime Jackson, a well known natural farrier raised the question and challenged the racing industry, the spanish riding school and dressage disciplines.

Pete Ramey took the conversation further by comparing today’s domestic horses with wild mustangs and proving that domestic horses can and will develope mustang-like hooves if given the proper care.

As hoof care practitioners we have the opportunity every day to see people get excited about the positive changes they see in their horses as a result of natural hoof care.  They get excited as I did when searching for an answer to Kirk’s question, I retraced my roots and once again embraced the natural practice of hoof care. 

I’ve seen a lot of changes in the horse industry over the last twenty years.  As people question tradition, they make improvements and in the coming years I think that Kirk and I are going to get to be an important part of a new revolution in the horse industry.

We are going to see trainers race horses barefoot.  We will see horses compete in dressage barefoot.  We’ll see even more endurance horses race barefoot.  Olympic jumpers will jump barefoot.

I’m excited that Kirk started the ball rolling by challenging me with that important question five years ago.  His question prompted me to re-study my philosophies and ultimately use technology to re-alter my knowledge regarding horses and to study the hoof in such a way as to realize that the hoof isn’t just a part of the horse.  It is the horse.

The hoof allows the horse to move long distances over difficult terrain.

The hoof acts as a second heart, pumping blood and detoxifying.

The hoof is nature’s perfect shock absorber.

The hoof…is nothing short of a miracle.


January 2nd, 2010 Salty Ol’ Cowboy

Not too many days ago I was swapping stories with my favorite Uncle and Aunt and asked their advice as I often do.

Now before I continue this story there is one thing you should know.  My Aunt and Uncle practically raised me and I credit them for teaching me much of what I know about horses.

My Aunt and Uncle are the kind of people that make up camp fire stories.  They are legends.  Truly.

They’ve been the character inspirations for stories told by Cowboy Bard, Waddie Mitchell.  They’ve influenced the cowboy art of William Matthews.  They’ve ranch bossed the big ones….like The Ocatillo and the King Ranch.  They’ve managed ranches for big corporations and even John Wayne.  They’re the real deal. 

Like characters out of the 1800’s they’ve lived their lives ranching and cowboying.  Eighty percent of their lives have been spent bunking in cabins without electricity or running water.  They take to the mountains and live months in just a ‘Mountain Teepee’ and the clothes on their back.

At seventy three and seventy one, they still swing a leg over a horse.  In fact, when my Uncle turned seventy-three this month I called to wish him Happy Birthday. 

“What are you doing to celebrate such a milestone?” I asked.

“Well….nothing much different.  I saddled up this morning and gathered 400 strays and your Aunt Taffy made me a real nice lunch.”

Yep.  That’s what I’m shootin’ for!  Still riding and punchin’ cattle at seventy-three!

My Uncle’s mentors include a man he regulary brands with.  An ol’ cowboy, 84 years old…who still rides his horse every day and brands his own cattle.

“You are only as old as you feel.” is some of the best advice my dear Aunt and Uncle have given me.  In their seventies, their eyes still sparkle and their  footsteps are still youthful.  But by today’s standards, they’re salty ol’ individuals and I take every oppportunity I can to learn from them.

So on this visit, which I greatly enjoyed, my Uncle gave me some parting wisdom in answer to my questions, “What’s one of the horse industries greatest advancements?”

You see we’d spent the better part of two days going over training philosophies, bits, spurs, cow camp stories, mishaps and horsemanship.  We’d talked about clinicians from Ray Hunt to Brian Neupert, Pat and Linda Parelli and everything in between. 

I’d absorbed their opinions with every once of brain matter and written quite a few of their ideas down.  They make a living on the back of a horse and I can only hope to be as artistic as they are when I sit my butt in the saddle.

“Your Aunt started to go through the ‘change of life’” My Uncle said.  “And being out packin’ is a lot of hard work.  So when we sleep, we sleep.  About four months of your Aunt throwing off the covers and yellin’ “Ahhhh!  it’s HOT!” I had just about had it.  That’s when she started doing her research.

My Aunt is a regular Dr. Quinn.  She knows her herbs!

“She started concocting her remedies but nothing was working and both of us were getting frustrated.”

I listened with rapt attention.  My Aunt once healed me after a horse had bitten through 1/2 my neck.  I thought I would be disfigured but her herbal compress applied every day for 3 weeks had healed my wound and today I don’t even have a scar.  I couldn’t wait to hear what she’d found.  The change of life is in my future after all.

“There’s this stuff they make…some doctor formulated called progesterone cream.”  My Uncle wiped his mustache, something he does just before he says something you really want to remember.

“This stuff saved our marriage.”

Now that’s profound!  They’ve been married 53 years!

“And I gotta tell ya.  If I ever meet that man I am going to give him a kiss!”

Now mind you, my Uncle’s old school.  He has some very macho ideas about man to man relationships so this really surprised me.

“But only on the cheek.”  And he gave me that wink that told me he was very serious but full of mischief at the same time.  The ol’ twinkle of the eye that relayed his strength and wisdom.

“And that’s the most important invention I can think of ’cause your Aunt and me can still take off for th hills and BOTH of us can stay warm at nigh!”

Yep, the wisdom of a salty ol’ cowboy.