Calming Show Nerves

As a judge and a competitor that trains my own horses, I’m all too familiar with show nerves in both horses and people. The funny thing about show nerves is that they tend to be a vicious cycle. The more nervous we are, the more the nervous the horse becomes. The more nervous the horse gets, because we’re nervous, the more nervous we get!

Warm up pen - Harriman, Tennessee
Warm up pen – Harriman, Tennessee

It’s a never-ending cycle! The problem is that someone – whether it’s us or the horse – has to lead. If you’ve got a solid baby sitter type horse that’s been everywhere and done everything you might survive if they lead. However, if you’ve got a horse that’s the least bit green or insecure you had better learn to step up to the plate and be a leader.

Insecure horses, whether they’ve been hauled a lot or not, need a confident rider. They need to feel safe and they look to us to make them feel secure. Only when they feel that security can they start to relax and settle. The first step to improving you and your horse’s show nerves is to recognize their need for confidence, and to recognize your responsibility as a leader. When you realize your role of helping your horse, suddenly you go from being reactive and somewhat of a victim to being more in control. Your mindset tends to change when you see you are responsible for your horse’s frame of mind.

Smarter horses tend to anticipate and get more nervous because of that. The best thing you can do on show day with a horse that anticipates is to not get in a hurry. I get nervous if I feel rushed, and I know they do too. The more relaxed I can be, the more relaxed my horses will be as well.

If I have a horse that anticipates, a high energy horse, or a horse that hasn’t been hauled a lot I try to arrive at the show at least two hours before it starts. I’ll wait a few minutes before I unload, and then wait another thirty minutes before I start tacking my horse up. This gives them a chance to acclimate to their surroundings and relax.

Seasoning at the shows
Seasoning at the shows

A lot of riders will spend time lunging their horses to work the energy off. While I do think some horses do need to get that energy out of their system, especially those that don’t get a lot of daily turnout, I think the majority of horses would benefit more from just a few minutes of quality ground work that makes them think.

Mindless circles at a crazed canter doesn’t get a horse’s mind. All it does is tire them out, and if you’re showing you need a certain level of energy to compete. Save some of that energy for the show ring by working your horse in a way that makes them think and engage their mind.

As the saying goes, if you get their mind you get their feet. Asking them to move their shoulders and hips, or make a lateral move from the ground goes a long ways towards getting them thinking under saddle.

The same concept goes for warm up under saddle. Lope or canter just enough circles to get the edge off if they need it, but don’t let the goal of your warm up be to tire your horse out. The goal of your warm up should be to get your horse thinking and paying attention to what you’re asking.

Just like on the ground, moves that require them to think are great for making a horse think. Instead of repetitive circles, try frequent changes of directions and rollbacks, a side pass or a half pass to get your horse paying attention. Mix your ride up to keep them guessing what you’re going to do next.

As you’re riding, make sure you’re relaxed. Any time you’re tense, whether you realize it or not, you’re contracting muscles in your body that send a “go forward” cue to your horse. While your hands and legs may be telling your horse to slow down or stop, the rest of your body is telling your horse to move. This conflict in cues can frustrate a horse and cause them to be more nervous. Taking a big deep breath and releasing it loudly will release the tension that you’re feeling as well as relax the muscles, and it sends an audible cue to your horse.

Relaxing before a class
Relaxing before a class

Knowing your role as a competitor, and changing your warm up strategy can improve show day nerves. Take the time to do an honest assessment of you and your horse, and look for ways to improve your preparation and you’ll see results in the show pen.

Do you struggle with being nervous in the show pen? How do you think that impacts your horse? What changes can you make to improve that?

Hanging out at the trailer on show day. No rush!
Hanging out at the trailer on show day. No rush!

 

More Thoughts On Horse Slaughter

Earlier this year, I wrote a post entitled “A Solution To The Slaughter Issue“, in which I proposed the rescues start a “Rescue Registry”. In my blog post, I suggested that they could not only limit breeding to a certain extent, but also provide an incentive to rescue by offering large events with a pay back. Basically, they could offer a nationals and a “Mustang Makeover” type event for rescued horses.

Although I covered a lot of territory and offered at least a partial solution, I didn’t completely reveal the rest of my solution for the hot topic of horse slaughter. A couple of weeks ago however, I was reminded that I need to write the next blog post!

On a Sunday afternoon I was headed with a friend to a Cattle Sorting practice in Resaca, Georgia a couple of hours away. As we drove along I-75 South, just a few miles north of Chattanooga, we were passed by a red full size semi tractor-trailer truck with a Stanley Brothers Farms logo that was pulling a single deck semi livestock trailer. We could tell it was full of horses.

Stanley Brothers Truck
Stanley Brothers Truck by Animals Angels 

My first thought was maybe they were transporting draft horses since the trailer was a little larger than most, but my gut told me something else. I had seen the exact same truck and trailer headed north on I-75 just two afternoons before. My friend got on her smart phone and looked up Stanley Brothers Farms. Sure enough, she found an article where Animals Angels had done an animal cruelty investigation on Stanley Brothers, which is basically a horse slaughter feedlot.

As Stanley Brothers is located in Arkansas and Louisiana, I had to wonder why in the world they were in east Tennessee, basically 12 plus hours away. It didn’t make any business sense for them to drive at least 12 hours in the opposite direction to purchase horses for slaughter when there are a lot of sale barns much closer to their part of the country, and on the way to Mexico. Additionally, even if they had driven that far to purchase horses, I-75 is not the quickest route back home, or to Mexico.

So what are they doing in east Tennessee? Do they have a secret farm close by that no one is yet openly aware of? All their other farms have gained a lot of bad publicity, which I’m sure impacted their ability to purchase horses from unsuspecting sellers.

With illegal slaughter houses being busted in Florida, it sure brings up a lot of possibilities of why they’re here. There’s got to be a reason for their being in east Tennessee because it makes absolutely no business sense for them to be transporting here. Sales in this area wouldn’t support the volume needed to drive 12 hours, so there’s got to be another reason and someone needs to investigate that.

On to the rest of my business idea for at least a partial solution to the over population of horses and the slaughter debate.

I think that horse slaughter should be turned over to the horse rescues to monitor and to profit from. While that might seem like somewhat of a radical, perhaps even crazy idea, I honestly think it needs to be considered because it’s ultimately a win for both the rescue and horses.

The rescues could be in charge the actual slaughter, which means they could make sure that it was done in the most humane manner possible, and in the most humane environment – on site. They could also regulate which horses were put down, and which ones were salvageable which means that a good number of horses would have a second chance.

While we all like to dream that you can save every horse, the cold hard truth is that you just can’t. Even Buck Brannaman, the biggest horse advocate on the face of the planet, conceded that the stallion in his documentary should be euthanized because he was too dangerous. The fact is that some horses are just too much of a danger to themselves and to others, and the only possible solution, the most humane solution, is euthanasia.

The problem is that a lot of horse rescues do want to save every single horse, sometimes at the cost of being able to rescue more horses. That’s not to say that they shouldn’t try to help a horse if it needs it, but they need to do it within reason. If the option is doing a surgery that costs $10,000 or putting a horse down, I’ve seen rescues do the surgery. That $10,000 could have fed a lot of horses!

In order for the rescues to regulate slaughter, they would have to adopt a more practical and business like approach, and keep the bigger picture in plain sight. Are they going to rescue one, or are they going to rescue many?

Currently, practically all horse rescues depend on public donations to operate, and they’re always short on funds. One plus of the rescues regulating slaughter is that they could at least become partially self-sufficient from the sales of horse hide, horse hair, hooves and whatever else they could sell from the horses that they slaughtered.

While some might worry that a group might operate under the guise of a rescue only to slaughter every horse that comes in, that could be easily remedied by requiring every rescue group to have a board of directors without a conflict of interest. Additionally, they could be required to keep detailed records that are also available to the public.

I’m sure horse slaughter will continue to be a hot issue. The problem is that there are no easy answers and I think in order to find an answer of some kind, people need to start thinking out of the box. If enough minds work together to find a solution, one can certainly be found with enough effort and input.

Rescue Donkey - Oscar
Rescue Donkey – Oscar

 

 

Happenings At Fairweather Farm

It’s been a while since my last post and a lot sure has gone on since then.

Just this month I wrote an article on Time Tips For Showing that Horse & Ranch magazine published. If you get stressed showing you’ll want to check it out!

My article in Horse & Ranch Magazine
My article in Horse & Ranch Magazine

I also launched Cowgirls With Curves a couple months back. It’s a blog and website for plus size riders to highlight their efforts, encourage them, and to help motivate and give them a voice. It’s something that I can relate to first hand, and it’s something I’m passionate about!

Back in early April I had to put my twenty-five year old gelding down. I had owned Matthew’s Bluff, aka Bluff, for twenty-three years.

I went to bring in the geldings that morning and he was unable to control his hind end and was falling. He was trying so desperately to come in because it was feeding time and I was worried he was going to fall into the fence. The vet suspected he had a stroke and I knew we had no other choice. The hard part was that I knew he wasn’t ready to go, but at the same time he hadn’t suffered. Quite frankly, had none of this happened and it was a case of planning his euthanasia I’m not sure I would have had any more peace. So I guess this was the least of the evils.

Bluff taught me so much, like how to ride big horses, and how to re-hab a track horse. I’m sure going to miss him!

Mister Decision, aka Bluff
Mister Decision, aka Bluff
Bluff & Fireman loved to scratch shoulders.
Bluff & Fireman loved to scratch shoulders.

About a month after that, my bay gelding Cool presented with what we thought was colic but then spiked a temperature of 106.2 and required IV antibiotics and fluids. I spent most of the time in the barn and needless to say there wasn’t a lot of sleep, and my pocket-book is a lot lighter. The vet suspected an infection but unfortunately we don’t have a definite answer. The good news is he’s back to his grumpy little self.

The cat hammock
The cat hammock
Ponying Cool
Ponying Cool

This past weekend was a nice milestone. Mister Decision, aka Bubba, won me the High Point award for the Smoky Mountain Show Series held at Tri-State in Cleveland, Tennessee. We showed in Ranch Trail, Horsemanship, Barrels, and Poles.

Last year, this same gelding left a nice big bruise on my leg when he acted like a bronc before one of my classes. Then later in the year he wouldn’t settle on the trail pattern and managed to knock over the gate and one of the boxes. So to just get through a trail pattern leaving everything intact was progress!

Smoky Mountain Horse Show at Tri-state in Cleveland, Tennessee
Smoky Mountain Horse Show at Tri-state in Cleveland, Tennessee

My barrel horse, Shawne Fire N Te, aka Fireman, is going to have several weeks off. Last year we struggled with keeping him tracking sound. I finally bit the bullet and had x-rays done. Although his feet looked perfect and were on the exact same angle the bones were nowhere near the alignment that we thought they were in shoeing. So we’re making some major changes and hopefully will be back to barrel racing later in the year.

Fireman at Ft. Smith futurity
Fireman at Ft. Smith futurity

On an end note, Oscar the donkey that we rescued is still here. Last weekend he was gelded. And no, it didn’t go as planned but then when does it ever with a donkey? Yes, he still likes his butt scratched.

Oscar says hello!
Oscar says hello!

 

A Solution To The Slaughter Issue?

© copyright owned by F.J. Thomas

There’s been a lot of very heated debates world-wide over the horse slaughter issue. The one thing that I’ve noticed is that a lot of people like to complain about human nature but very few people actually offer a solution that’s realistic. One of my favorite quotes is, “If you’re not offering a solution then you’re whining.” I think that’s true.

One of the horses we rescued and fostered over night in January.  This mare would make a NICE barrel or ranch prospect.
One of the horses we rescued and fostered over night in January. This mare would make a NICE barrel or ranch prospect.
Foster donkey (spring 2015) - Working on getting him gentle.
Oscar – he’s a rescue donkey we’re currently fostering until we can find him a home.

While I don’t think there’s an absolute solution, I do think there just might be a way to save some horses, educate owners, help bring awareness, and support the Horse Rescues all at the same time. What it requires is for people to come together and think bigger, outside the box. A lot of rescues focus on getting more donations – I say they need to think bigger, much bigger.

What if all the local Horse Rescues came together and started a national or maybe even world-wide registry?

Think about that for a moment… Something along the lines of recognized breed registries already in existence but instead of getting papers through breeding, the Registration papers would be issued from the Rescue itself and the Rescue Registry. When you adopt a horse from a rescue, they would issue a Rescue Registration to the horse. Individuals that rescue on their own could apply for a registration by sending in pictures. The Registry itself could regulate breeding by not accepting the foal of a registered horse if it was bred after the horse left the registry.

It doesn’t end there however… 

What if the Rescue Registry held local shows and competitions where horses could earn points toward a national Rescue Registry show that’s held once a year? The only horses that could compete would be rescue horses with the Rescue Registry papers.

The local and national approved shows could get Sponsorships from businesses – much like Jumping and Barrel Racing already do – and offer added money as an incentive. Look at the RFD-TV American Rodeo that offered a million dollars. People came out of the woodwork to compete for the American – money talks!

The Extreme Mustang Makeover and Retired Race Horse Project are already doing this exact thing. They both have been very successful at not only saving some horses, but also bringing an awareness of slaughter, and bringing new people into the horse industry. If the Horse Rescues came together, they could do the same thing on a national or even global level.

Some points to ponder for shows would be: 

  • Get major money behind the movement in the form of sponsorships & media  -people love heart string stories
  • Make the shows much more affordable than the average breed or discipline show to encourage new owners to show their horses for the first time
  • Get involved with local 4H & Pony Club 
  • Offer scholarships to the national show
  • Offer classes for all breeds & disciplines as rescue horses are all breeds – Include Donkey & Mule classes!
  • Co-Sanction with other associations as much as possible to offer approved classes within the show.
  • A high percentage of rescue horses are trail horses – offer an ACTHA or Ranch Trail class for those folks 
  • Offer an In-Hand Trail or Agility type class specifically for retired horses that are not rideable due to soundness issues – this would open up an opportunity for people with those horses to compete 

One concern that comes up is when rescue horses are placed in the homes of well-meaning people who honestly don’t have a clue. The Registry could get local trainers on board and get them to donate their time to locally held Horsemanship clinics. They could cover basic Horsemanship and basic showing and make it affordable.  New owners would learn about horsemanship, trainers would get the word out about what they do, all the while helping horses.

Again, I don’t think this would be a complete solution to the problem of unwanted horses and slaughter. You can’t change human nature and things people do which is why regulation doesn’t work very well. However, money does talk and it motivates people to get involved when they might not be otherwise. When you give people an incentive and an avenue to compete, it makes a difference as we’ve seen with the Extreme Mustang Makeover and the Retired Race Horse Project. 

Obviously there’s a lot of details that need to be worked out and a lot of work to be done to get the ball rolling. But the first step is discussion and building the momentum behind the idea. It’s amazing what can happen when people start talking about what started out as a simple idea. Legendary things have happened by just taking that one step.

So what can you do to help? Share this post. Talk to your friends and fellow competitors. Talk the local trainers. Talk to your local rescue and encourage them start holding shows for the horses they adopt out. The main thin is to just get people talking and get them asking how they can do something instead of saying why they can’t.

 

Lacy - She's a rescued mare that we've had for a lot of years and she's now a pasture ornament. Ideally, I would like to find her & another mare a new home where they could have more attention!
Lacy – She’s a rescued mare that we’ve had for a lot of years and she’s now a pasture ornament. Ideally, I would like to find her & another mare a new home where they could have more attention!

 

 

 

 

 

Cardinal Rules Of Showing – Tips For Your First Show

Spring is almost here and if you’re like a lot of folks, you’re already thinking about the show season. Some of you may have already scheduled your entire show season, and others may be considering showing for the first time. Either way, now is the best time to set your goals and schedule accordingly.

SHOW RING

Being a competitor and a judge, I see a lot of new comers to barrel races and horse shows. Remembering what it’s like to be a complete novice and not know anyone, I always try to reach out and help folks that are new to showing. Regardless of what level you ride at, or what event you decide to compete in there’s a lot to learn and a lot of “unwritten rules”.

MO STEVE

The first cardinal rule is always bring your Coggins test even if it doesn’t say it’s required!

The second cardinal rule is thoroughly read the Show Bill or Prize List and pay attention to all the details. The show bill will tell you when the show starts, what the rules are, how much entry fees are and if there are any miscellaneous fees.

The show bill will also list the classes that will be offered. You’ll want to decide way ahead of time which classes you want to ride in. Write down the number and name of the class on a sheet of paper and keep that with you at all times. It’s also a good idea to keep a show bill in your pocket. This way you won’t forget which classes you’re entering at sign up – you’d be amazed how many people forget. This also helps to speed up the sign up process.

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Speaking of sign ups, one question I often get is “What do I do to sign up and where do I go?”

Every event will have either a sign up table or an actual show office. This is where you sign up and pay for classes and get information about the show. Another tip is always bring cash. Not every show takes checks so be prepared.

 

Another cardinal rule of showing is be ready for your class! Always know what class is in the arena so that you’ll know when it’s time for you to be close to the in gate and ready to go in. If you miss your class, you can be disqualified and in most cases entry fees won’t be refunded.

cool halter1

If you think you might not have enough time between classes to get tack or horses changed, request a “Tack Change” at the time of sign ups. That way the judge and ring steward will know you’re running late and will allot a little extra time before the class.

extreme 114

One cardinal rule that is frequently broken is know your patterns. Most shows will post the pattern early on to let contestants memorize it ahead of time. Look at and memorize the pattern as early as possible so that you know what you’re supposed to be doing in the pen. One tip is to take a picture of the pattern with your phone – that way you can carry it with you.

The last cardinal rule I’ll talk about is getting to the show early. A good rule of thumb is to get to the show at least two hours before it starts. That way you have plenty of time to acclimate your horses and warm up.There’s nothing more stressful to you or your horse than dashing into a class at the last-minute.

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By planning ahead way ahead, allotting for enough time, and paying attention to the details your first show experience can be a positive one.

Are you planning on showing or competing this year? If so, what events? What are you looking forward to and what are you worried about?

More Than One Way

First of all — MERRY CHRISTMAS & HAPPY NEW YEAR!!

With a new year and resolutions it’s time for new thinking which is what led me to my post this time. Sit down and think a spell….

Recently I had the wonderful privilege of being called the “Idiot Of The Day” when I responded to a post on Facebook about how selfish and cruel it was to clip the muzzle on your horse because they needed their whiskers to feel the wind and find water. My post stated that I clipped only for shows and in over twenty years I’d never had one that seemed harmed by it, nor had I had any accidents.

With a little research, I quickly found out that the arrogant person behind the community promoting “common sense with horses” is affectionately known as the “Jerry Springer” of the horse world. With narcissistic videos on YouTube and an open deep hatred for women, it’s clear he lives for conflict and he’s managed to sensationalize himself into a cult following.

Quite frankly, after seeing his posts and doing a little research it’s extremely clear the man has severe anger issues and I’m thoroughly convinced he’s got a few “Barn Witches”, as he likes to call them, buried under his basement somewhere!

At any rate, it’s obvious he would never even remotely entertain the idea that he might be wrong. The funny thing is that a lot of times the initial premise in what he posts has a small nugget of truth. But he goes in a totally different extreme direction and that direction is the only way and all others are selfish and stupid.

While I’ve always said the horse industry is like a soap opera and full of crazies, after the post experience I was still shocked at just how many there are on so many levels.

One thing that I noticed is that there are some people who are dogmatic when it comes to taking what someone says as pure gold. The mind-set that if “So and So” said it then it HAS to be true! They have lost their ability, if they ever had it in the first place, to think for themselves and try something to see if it’s actually true for them.

Another thing I noticed was that these same people usually think they have to be extremely hateful to get their point across. If they’re right why do they have to be so hateful? Maybe they’ve just been in the cult too long?

Why does the horse industry get so locked down into it having to be one certain way?

We all know people like that and we’ve all seen them. We all may have been them at one in point in time until we knew better — The clinician follower, the trainer groupie.  There’s a lot of money made on those two categories of folks.

Yet there’s lots of people out there, well-known and not so well-known, that do a fabulous job working with horses because they have an open mind and they love working with them. But because they’re not as well-known, they don’t hold as much as weight as the ones that have made a big name for themselves. Does that mean they’re not as credible or they’re not as good a horseman? We tend to think so but I don’t agree.

Circle C Clinic pen 1

There’s a saying that I see from time to time floating around Facebook that basically says that horsemanship is about realizing that everything you think you know about horses can completely change with the very next horse. I love that saying because to me, that’s exactly what it’s all about. You never know it all and there’s never any one way when it comes to horses.

Through the years, there have been many training methods that I’ve latched on to for a few years only to come back full circle to what I originally used. Maybe it took a while but after trying something different I realized that the original way was better. But the neat thing is that I learned something new that I wouldn’t have if I hadn’t had an open mind to try something different.

There’s also been things that I’ve been skeptical about that I’ve tried any way that wound up working so well that I changed how I did things. You never know where a good training idea is going to come from!

Speaking of open minds and horsemanship, I have to share the link to my other blog, Talking In The Barn.  I interviewed Sam Finden who is a young author that loves horses as much as he loves to write. He’s also a humble horseman that will get you thinking about horses and horsemanship.

SMGH New Cover Art

Have you ever been closed-minded about a training idea? What was it? Have you ever changed your mind about a training idea? How did it make an impact on you?

 

 

Water For Winter

Cold weather is here and in some cases the temperature has dropped drastically in a matter of just a few hours. While extreme changes in weather can cause some concerns for managing your horse, there are things you can do to minimize your horse’s risk of getting sick.

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Any time the thermometer drops it’s a good idea to add water to your horse’s feed. Horses generally drink less and eat more hay when it’s cold. This of course is the prime set up for compaction colic. Adding water to the feed is a great way to get some guaranteed fluids in their digestive system and avoid choke at the same time.

Some owners will add salt to the feed to encourage their horses to drink. While this may work for a lot of horses, I have seen some horses with digestive issues that will not up their water intake even with the salt. The result is that they become dehydrated much faster because they don’t drink enough water to compensate for the added salt. This is why wetting down feed is a good option.

Even if your horse’s weight is where it should be and they don’t require additional grain, it’s still a good idea to add soaked roughage during the changes in weather. Adding a small amount of soaked alfalfa or beet pulp is a great choices for horses that are on hay and/or pasture and don’t require feed.

Soaked Alfalfa cubes

soakedalf

Alfalfa comes in small squares or cubes and in pelleted form. Beet pulp comes in pelleted, shredded, or meal form. Both options are high in fiber and expand when water is added. As both can be used to replace a small part of the hay intake (20-30%) they’re a great way to stretch your hay supply.

When soaking feed or cubes, it’s a good idea to let it soak until it’s soft and expanded. If you feed a straight grain, you can still add some water to the grain until it softens. Hot water can shorten the amount of time needed to soften and expand. If more convenient you can also soak overnight as long as the water does not freeze. Freezing will make it impossible to get the feed or forage out of the bucket.

Soaked Beet Pulp

soaked beet

A good rule of thumb for soaking is to cover the cubes, pellets, or shreds with at least an inch of water. If you’re feeding straight grain, you won’t need as much water. For pellets that are extremely hard or for beet pulp shreds you’ll want to add a little more water. Horses with teeth issues will also need a wetter mix.

As fresh drinking water is a critical component to managing horses well in cold weather, make sure your horses have free access to their water buckets or troughs. Keep the ice busted up and if necessary periodically off them warm water to encourage them to drink. If tank warmers are not an option, setting your troughs in an area where they receive direct sunlight on a daily basis will help minimize the amount of ice that accumulates.

 

What concerns do you have for your horse this winter? What are your strategies to avoid those concerns?

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