Dead or Alive?

Let me ask you two questions…Does your horse load into a trailer in two minutes? Can just anyone else get your horse on a trailer?

Those two questions can literally determine whether your horse ends up dead or alive.

Two minutes to load...
Two minutes to load…

Several years back, in researching an article I was writing for America’s Horse Magazine, I learned that during that wildfires that year, they gave people two minutes to load their horse. Two minutes or the police would make you leave your horse to fend for itself.

 

 

This week I saw some of the stories of horses that were stranded in the floods of Louisiana and Texas. In the video below, they’re having to load three horses in knee-deep water. The first two went on without any effort, but the last one went on and came right back off. The video ends before we find out if they got the horse on the trailer.

Video link –

https://www.facebook.com/groups/368919936614181/

No one ever thinks a disaster will happen to them. The truth of the matter is that unexpected things happen that can require your horse to load quickly and easily, and if they don’t there can be some dire consequences.

For instance, depending on where you’re at, having a flat tire on your truck or trailer, or having an accident can require that you load your horses on the side of an interstate or busy road.  The longer it takes your horse to load, the more at risk you are with traffic.

Clinic
Clinic

So what can you do if your horse doesn’t load well?

There’s a million different methods out there on trailer loading  – some safe, some not so safe. Really, in the end, how you get a horse to load easily is making the trailer a place the horse wants to be and is comfortable in.

How do you do that? Short of only feeding you horse at or on the trailer and nowhere else every single day, when a horse wants to leave a trailer let them but put them to work. You can lunge, you make them do side pass work or any other manner of getting their feet to move. Then come back to the trailer to rest.

As long as they’re looking or checking out the trailer, they’re trying. Leave them be. When they’re not, ask them to move forward on to it — it is important that they know how to move forward by pointing or tapping at the hip!

Once they get on, don’t shut them in. Let them come out if they feel the need to come out. If you’re claustrophobic, locking you in a tiny box doesn’t make you like cramped spaces! Horses are the same way. They get comfortable by knowing they can leave.

The next important piece is consistency and repetition. The more a horse does something, the more he learns and the better he gets at it.

If I have a horse that doesn’t want to load, I will set my trailer up where I can expose them to the trailer every time I turn them in and out of the pasture. Ideally, I’ll take them to the trailer twice a day if I have the time. I don’t spend an hour-long marathon session there. I spend just a minute or two there at the trailer asking them to move forward closer or on the trailer. If they do what I ask in thirty seconds, we’re done and they get to be turned out as a reward.

My retired race horse, Dynamic Host, is my latest big trailering project. When I went to pick him up, he had no clue that tapping on the hip meant go forward. (If he’d been in those California wildfires, he’d been dead!)  His heart rate and respiration was so elevated that you would have thought he’d just won a race. It was obvious he was not comfortable being on a trailer, and I wondered if we would be able to bring him home!

The thing about high-strung and nervous horses is that you can’t whip them on to a trailer or make them go. For one, they’re usually too big to make them go anywhere, and someone will most definitely get hurt trying. Additionally, when they get scared they don’t think at all – they panic and blow up. The lessons of giving to pressure go right out their little window.

The answer for those type horses is teaching them to relax and think, and gradually let them get accustomed to being on the trailer. Repetition and time.

Don’t wait until you’re in a bad situation to work on getting your horse to load better. Do it now so that you and your horse won’t be caught off guard.

How well does your horse load? If he doesn’t load easily and quickly, what is something you can do today to remedy that?

 

 

Horses Off The Race Track…

At the end of September, I wound up with Dynamic Host, aka “Louie”, thanks to Prancing Pony Farm owned by Julie & Justina Faunt of Riceville, Tennessee.

An own son of Dynaformer, Dynamic Host is a 17.1 hand, 9-year-old retired Thoroughbred race horse that was originally entered in the Retired Race Horse Project.  Unfortunately, through no fault of his own, he did not make the deadline for training. Although he may have missed that opportunity, his second career as an Eventer is wide open due to his potential.

Dynamic Host was in training with California Chrome’s trainer, Art Sherman in 2012 – 2013. During that time he won the Tokyo City Cup.

Having had an Appendix horse off the track, I somewhat knew what to expect with “Louie”. The nervousness, the sometimes exaggerated big reactions to new things, the gaps in training for things like ground manners or moving forward when you point at the hip. In many ways, they’re like a two years, only bigger and stronger!

In a lot of ways I may be a sucker for punishment when it comes to horses, however at the end of the day I truly love to work with horses that require going that extra mile. It’s something I’m passionate about and I really believe they can teach us so much as horseman that we can’t learn any other way.

I also believe in that in the right hands, these hot thoroughbreds can turn into the same mellow horses found in the cow pen or on the trail. I’ve seen it with my own eyes more than once at ranch clinics!

Talk to most horse people and mention the word “Thoroughbred” or “Race Horse” and you’ll often hear remarks like, “they’re hot”, or “they’re crazy”. Funny thing is that you’ll hear the same remarks about Arabs and Impressive bred horses, both of which are actually incredibly smart.

I think Thoroughbreds are the same way- they’re smart, which is part of the reason some folks have their hands full.

Smart horses notice everything – because they’re smart! Horses like that require a person to step it up and pay attention to everything around them. If they don’t, they get left behind. It’s pretty simple.

Another thing about smart horses is that they don’t require a person to ask as hard. They’re sensitive and they understand much quicker. Usually what gets people in trouble with smart horses is that they ask too hard and keep asking long after the horse is trying. In the end horse gets frustrated and acts out…kind of like we do when we’re talking to someone that’s not as smart and they just don’t get it.

Smart horses also don’t put up with crap. They’re smart enough to realize that they don’t really have to. So then a person has to figure out a creative way to deal them, and it’s easier to blame the horse than it is to admit you’re not smart enough to figure them out.

In the three weeks that I’ve had Dynamic Host, I’ve seen a horse that’s nervous and hot only because he’s never trusted enough to learn he can truly relax. You have to earn the trust of a horse like that, it’s not just given like it is by most horses.

I’ve also seen a horse that tries his heart out and catches on quicker than just about any horse I’ve worked with. For instance, in only one session I had him staying at my shoulder and backing up when I did – without a halter on. Two sessions in the round pen, and he was already joining up and working to the inside instead of the outside.

His sessions haven’t been without over-reactions. For instance, the first time I just touched him with a stock whip he was scared to death of it. When I went to desensitize him with it, he jumped up and sideways a good three feet. But, within a few moments he was letting me rub his shoulders with it even though it was obvious he was still fearful. The next day, he didn’t flinch at all.

There’s a lot of ground we have to cover – things like basic ground manners, and learning to load in a trailer calmly and without fear, giving to the bit – but he’s also made a lot of improvements already in a short time. For instance, learning to lower his head when you turn him out in the pasture or bring him out of his stall, staying relaxed and lowering his head while you rub his ears, and waiting on me instead of just walking ahead when we’re headed out to the pasture, and doing lateral work from the ground.

A big part of me wishes that I could just train horses for a living and not work, but sometimes at times like this I’m thankful that I don’t because I’m not under any pressure to get a horse trained in a certain period of time. I can just enjoy the journey and learn from it – that’s a luxury most trainers don’t get if they want to stay in business.

I truly believe Dynamic Host can make a phenomenal Eventer some day – I just have that feeling, that “knowing”. My goal in working with him is to give him the solid foundation he needs to do just that. I want him to be right – to be sane, solid, and light. I’m just honored I get to be part of such a terrific horse’s story!

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!