Thursday, April 22, 2010

Horses show marked stress and anxiety pre-slaughter

I truly HATED reading this article about the stress that horses endure en route and prior to slaughter. I have been a vegetarian (who does eat limited seafood now, so a pescetarian) for 13 years of my life, and one big reason that I chose to go meatless was my profound desire to take myself out of the cycle of stock animal suffering. From birth, to over-hormoned growth in tight confinement, to their end in the kill chute, livestock that are destined for the dinner table usually have a pretty egregious life on this earth. Though people like Temple Grandin have worked hard to ease the suffering and anxiety of animals bound for slaughter, and many modern farms promote humane methods of raising and keeping their livestock, those moments right before the animal's death can only imagined to be truly traumatic. This article details the physiological stress reactions that horses undergo in their last dark minutes of anxious waiting before they meet their end, and it is certainly compelling:

Monday, April 19, 2010

Injury and breakdown is even more potent on the Triple Crown Trail

We are less than two weeks and counting until Derby weekend, and news broke this week that the top Kentucky Oaks contender She Be Wild will been scratched due to a pastern fracture, and worse that significant Derby contender Tiz Chrome was euthanized on Saturday after a sesmasoid fracture led to his breakdown during training. These two incidents remind me that everything leading up to the Derby is happening writ large on the national media stage - this is the period of the year when the media and public are following horse racing very closely and forming judgments due to their awareness of the catastrophic events that have marred the sport in the last few years. Horse racing can bury its breakdowns and injuries in small press bylines during the rest of the year, but during Triple Crown season everybody is watching.

Does the added pressure of training and preparing for the Derby increase the likelihood that an injury will be sustained? Or do the injuries and breakdowns just seem more potent because they carry the added weight of significantly influencing public perception about the sport?

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

"Dear Horse" - Just for Fun!

This is not my article, nor do I know who wrote it, so if you can identify the author I will give them full credit! I found it here, while I was poking around on Stacy Westfall's website, and think it's too hilarious not to share:

"Dear Horse (author unknown)

I love you very much, and I truly cherish your presence in my life. I would never wish to criticize you in any way. However, there are a few trivial details regarding our relationship that I think might bear your consideration.

First of all, I am already aware that horses can run faster than I can. I do not need you to demonstrate that fact each time I come to get you in from the field.

Please remember that I work long and hard to earn the money to keep you in the style to which you have become accustomed. In return, I think you should at least pretend to be glad to see me, even when I'm carrying a bridle instead of a bucket of feed.

It should be fairly obvious to you that I am a human being who walks on only two legs. I do not resemble a scratching post. Do not think that, when you rub your head against me with 1,000 pounds of force behind it, I believe that it wasn't your intention to send me flying. I am also aware that stomping on my toes while you are pushing me around is nothing but adding injury to insult.

I understand I cannot expect you to cover your nose when you sneeze, but it would be appreciated if you did not inhale large amounts of dirt and manure prior to aiming your sneezes at my face and shirt. Also, if you have recently filled your mouth with water you do not intend to drink, please let it all dribble from your mouth BEFORE you put your head on my shoulder. In addition, while I know you despise your worming medication, my intentions in giving it to you are good, and I really do not think I should be rewarded by having you spit half of it back out onto my shirt.

Sometimes, I get the feeling that you are confused about the appropriate roles you should play in various situations. One small bit of advice:
Your stone-wall imitation should be used when I am mounting and your speed-walker imitation when I suggest that we proceed on our way, not vice versa.
Please also understand that jumping is meant to be a mutual endeavor. By "mutual", I mean that we are supposed to go over the jump together. You were purchased to be a mount, not a catapult.

I know the world is a scary place when your eyes are on the sides of your head, but I did spend a significant amount of money to buy you, and I have every intention of protecting that investment.
Therefore, please consider the following when you are choosing the appropriate behavior for a particular situation:

When I put your halter on you, attach one end of a lead rope to the halter, and tie the other end of the lead rope to a post or ring or whatever, I am indicating a desire for you to remain in that locale. I would also like the halter, lead rope, post, etc., to remain intact. While I admit that things like sudden loud noises can be startling, I do not consider them to be acceptable excuses for repeatedly snapping expensive new lead ropes (or halters or posts) so that you can run madly around the yard creating havoc in your wake. Such behavior is not conducive to achieving that important goal that I know we both share --- decreasing the number of times the veterinarian comes out to visit you.

By the same token, the barn aisle was not designed for the running of the Derby and is not meant to serve as a racetrack. Dragging me down the aisle in leaps and bounds is not how "leading" is supposed to work, even if someone happens to drop a saddle on the floor as we're passing. Pulling loose and running off is also discouraged (although I admit it does allow you to run faster).

I assure you that blowing pieces of paper do not eat horses. While I realize you are very athletic, I do not need a demonstration of your ability to jump 25 feet sideways from a standing start while swapping ends in midair, nor am I interested in your ability to emulate both a racehorse and a bucking bronco while escaping said piece of paper. Also, if the paper were truly a danger, it would be the height of unkindness to dump me on the ground in front of it as a sacrificial offering to expedite your escape.

When I ask you to cross a small stream, you may safely assume that said stream does not contain crocodiles, sharks, or piranhas, nor will it be likely to drown you. (I have actually seen horses swimming, so I know it can be done.) I expect you to be prepared to comply with the occasional request to wade across some small body of water. Since I would like to be dry when we reach the other side of the stream, deciding to roll when we're halfway across is not encouraged behavior.

I give you my solemn oath that the trailer is nothing but an alternate means of transportation for distances too long for walking. It is not a lion's den or a dragon's maw, nor will it magically transform into such. It is made for horses, and I promise you that you will indeed fit into your assigned space. Please also bear in mind that I generally operate on a schedule, and wherever we're going, I would really like to get there today.

For the last time, I do not intend to abandon you to a barren, friendless existence. If I put you in a turn-out paddock, I promise that no predators will eat you, and I will come back in due time to return you to your stable. It is not necessary to run in circles, whinny pathetically, threaten to jump the fence, or paw at the gate. Neither your stable mates nor I will have left the premises. The other horses standing peacefully in adjacent paddocks amply demonstrate that it is possible to enjoy being turned out for exercise.

Finally, in closing, my strong and gentle companion, I would like to point out that, whatever might happen between horses and their people, we humans will always love you. In fact, our bonds with you help create new bonds among ourselves, even with total strangers. Wherever there are horses, there will be "horse people", and for the blessings you bestow upon us, we thank you.

Most sincerely yours,

Your Adoring Owner"

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Stacy Westfall's Insights

A very successful weekend up at Equine Affaire, with the weather in the mid-seventies, the sun shining, and lots of sparkly horses rounding the grounds. My particular faves are always the Friesians, because seeing these medieval beasts up close is like encountering a group of supermodels having lunch at your local diner. Their good looks are so jaw dropping that they almost appear out of place alongside the typical gamut of rangy TBs and big hipped stock horses that one typically expects to see. Not that I don't love both, but Friesians seem to possess a big helping of that "extra something special" that truly makes them standouts. 2009 IFSHA Horse of the Year "LionHeart" was stabled on the grounds, but unless he was the magisterial Friesian stallion that I caught cantering around the Rod's Covered Arena engaged in a private warm-up, I missed seeing him in the flesh.

The highlight of Equine Affaire for me (besides that feeling of "ahhhhh" I always get as I take in the sites and smells of the breeds barn) is getting to watch a variety of top clinicians do their "thang," and learn from their various perspectives on riding and training. As soon as we got to Equine Affaire, my mom and I rushed to the Coliseum at the Ohio State Fair Grounds to catch Stacy Westfall's clinic on transitioning to brideless riding. She's just wonderful, and her lighthearted demeanor and sensitive outlook on horse training make her potentially my favorite trainer/clinician currently on the circuit. She was doing her clinic from the back of her legendary mare Roxy (Whizard's Baby Doll) who has been pulled out of retirement after several years off. It was nice to watch Stacy meandering around the arena on her famous partner, all the while discussing how to make a horse successful at going bridleless. A few of the insightful points from her clinic:

1. Horse personalities rank on a scale of -10 to 10+ in terms of temperament. A -10 horse is so laid back it's basically dead, while a horse on the 10+ end would be akin to a NASA rocketship, always at the ready to take off. Stacy mentioned that her horse Roxy had a default personality of -3, and tended towards the laid-back side. Stacy's theory is that at "0" a horse is perfectly engaged but also perfectly under control. If your horse, therefore, is on the hot side (my first Quarter Horse was probably a +4, for instance, and he loved to go on all sorts of wonderful "running away" adventures with me when he became too overstimulated) it is useful to do lots of "chill out" exercises, but if he's on the laid-back side (my super lazy -4 Paint gelding), you'll need to concentrate on a lot more "get moving" exercises. The point is to get the horse's energy evenly balanced at "0", so that he is perfectly controlled and focused enough to give a safe bridleless ride. The closer a horse is to zero by default, the better he'll be as a bridleless mount because he'll give you less dramatics to worry about.

2. An oldie but goodie: make the wrong thing hard and the right thing easy. To get your horse to succeed when learning any new task, push him to work harder when he's not giving you what you want. Apply enough pressure that he wants to seek out whatever action will provide him the release. That action, of course, should be the training point you are seeking to institute.

3. Bridleless riding, naturally, is all about controlling the horse's body in lieu of having access to his face/mouth/neck. Spurs, while only advisable when used by someone with significant body and leg control, provide the best way to deliver highly specific and localized leg cues. Stacy's control of Roxy's body at all gaits was, not surprisingly, very impressive, and much of it had to do with the fact that she had conditioned "buttons" all along her horse's sides and shoulders, each of which cued Roxy to make a certain maneuver. Stacy could tap the "shoulder over" button at any speed, for instance, and Roxy would move her forehand laterally, resulting in everything from spins to shoulder ins. As Stacy explained, trying to tap those buttons with a heel provides a much broader and more general cue than tapping them exactly with your spurs, so the spurs are a better choice once the horse is at an advanced level of responsiveness and sensitivity.

4. Stacy's final insight was perhaps the most important, that the point of riding is not to eventually go bridleless and impress the pants off everyone in your riding sphere, it's to develop a highly sensitive and responsive level of communication with your horse. Once you and your horse are ready to go bridleless, it will be because you have succeeded in developing an enviable level of communication with the bridle on. Bridleless riding is only the final step in truly testing that connection. And, ok, it also looks really cool!

To anyone who hasn't experienced Equine Affaire, I highly recommend the experience. I also got to see clinician Chris Cox (two time Road to the Horse winner) take a previously uncanterable horse and canter her in perfect circles, as well as an impressive display of dressage talent from the Lusitano people. To cap it all off, we returned for the evening's Pfizer Fantasia, which featured acts as diverse as a drumline of Icelandic Ponies tolting down a fire-lined straightway, and an eight-horse Haflinger hitch. Lots of fun, lots of horseflesh, and I'll be back next year!

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Shameless Promotion - of myself and others....

Just a brief note for the The Equine Reader today as I am shortly headed up to Equine Affaire to immerse myself in clinics, fabulous horse shopping, and the Pfizer Fantasia equine show, which is the jewel in the event's horse filled crown. I am also headed up today to spread word among the Equine Affaire aficionados of the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation's Hay Bale campaign, for which anyone can donate 5$ to buy a bale of hay for a retired TB through the TRF's text messaging donation platform. I am currently working with the TRF to help develop new marketing and communications strategy for the organization, so I can't help but shamelessly promote the good work that they do! If you would like to donate 5$ to help feed a hungry TB, please text SUPPORT HAYDRIVE to 20222 and a the donation will be automatically charged to your cellphone bill.

And before I go, I would also like to shamelessly promote myself, because I was lucky enough to have one of my blog articles published in a slightly extended form through the Equine Connection's online monthly magazine. Feel free to read the article, on the strides that America has made in terms of horse welfare practices and legislation, via the web link here.

And finally, one last bit of promotion, for Nanette Levin and her blog, Horse Sense and Cents. Nanette was kind enough to feature me on her "horse blogs worth reading" segment this week, and I am now fondly indebted to her for the recognition. Check out Nanette's most recent post which is, timely enough, devoted to the TB rehab and retirement considerations, and raises great questions about the very community that I work so hard to support.