Written By Dr. Kris Hiney
Written By Dr. Kris Hiney
Written By Barbara O’Brien
All photography© 2011-2012, Barbara O’Brien
Written By Julia Edwards-Dake
I ride. That seems like such a simple statement. However as many women who ride know it is really a complicated matter. It has to do with power and empowerment. Being able to do things one might have considered out of reach or ability. I have considered this as I shovel manure, fill water barrels in the cold rain, wait for the vet/farrier/electrician/hay delivery, change a tire on a horse trailer on the side of the freeway or cool a gelding out before getting down to the business of drinking a cold beer after a long ride.
The time, the money, the effort it takes to ride calls for dedication. At least I call it dedication. Both my ex-husbands call it ‘the sickness’. It is a sickness I’ve had since I was a small girl bouncing my model horses and dreaming of the day I would ride a real horse. Most of the women I ride with understand the meaning of ‘the sickness’. It’s not a sport. It’s not a hobby. It’s what we do and, in some ways, who we are as women and human beings.
I ride. I hook up my trailer and load my gelding. I haul to some trailhead somewhere, unload, saddle, whistle up my dog and I ride. I breathe in the air, watch the sunlight filter through the trees and savor the movement of my horse. My shoulders relax. A smile rides my sunscreen smeared face. I pull my ball cap down and let the real world fade into the tracks my horse leaves in the dust.
Time slows. Flying insects buzz loudly, looking like fairies. My gelding flicks his ears and moves down the trail. I can smell his sweat and it is perfume to my senses. Time slows. The rhythm of the walk and the movement of the leaves become my focus. My saddle creaks and the leather rein in my hand softens with the warmth.
I consider the simple statement; I ride. I think of all I do because I ride. Climb granite slabs, wade into a freezing lake, race a friend through the manzanita all the while laughing and feeling my heart in my chest. Other days just the act of mounting and dismounting can be a real accomplishment. Still I ride, no matter how tired or how much my seat bones or any of the numerous horse related injuries hurt. I ride. And I feel better for doing so.
The beauty I’ve seen because I ride amazes me. I’ve ridden out to find lakes that remain, for the most part, unseen. Caves, dark and cold, beside rivers full and rolling are the scenes I see in my dreams. The Granite Staircase at Echo Summit, bald eagles on the wing and bobcats on the prowl add to the empowerment and joy in my heart.
I think of the people, mostly women, I’ve met because I ride. I consider how competent they all are. Not a weenie among the bunch. We haul 40 foot rigs, we back into tight spaces without clipping a tree. We set up camp. Tend the horses. Cook and keep safe. We understand and love our companions; the horse. We respect each other and those we encounter on the trail. We know that if you are out there riding, you also shovel, fill, wait, and doctor. Your hands are a little rough and you travel without makeup or hair gel. You do without to afford ‘the sickness’ and probably, when you were a small girl, you bounced a model horse while you dreamed of riding a real one.
Written By Dr. Kris Hiney
Written By Julia Edwards-Dake
The pace at which we did things together was perfect. We knew without saying what would come next. We drove down the road at the same pace. We rode with no hurry. No flurry. We moved down the trail in a quiet congress with each other. We knew when to saddle and head out. When to gallop or take the lunch stops all rolled together. Even knowing when to be quiet and just ride came naturally between us.
Our geldings seemed to understand. They would stand quietly, the tall elegant Arabian and the stout grey quarter horse, while we had a cup of coffee and watched the clouds slide past the hills. From the beginning, even our horses meshed.
Debra is one of the most natural and knowledgeable horsewomen I’ve had the pleasure of meeting and riding with. She has a common sense that comes from a lifetime with horses. To this day, she doesn’t comprehend the depth of her horse-knowledge. Few really appreciate it but when she shares it with you, you’ve gained a full measure as a horsewoman. Debra isn’t one to go about spouting information, flaunting her experience. She waits until the question is asked and then offers her answer. If you pick it up; you gain. If not, she doesn’t offer again and you lose.
I suppose the strongest basis of our relationship was her willingness to share her horse sense. She was willing to teach and I was willing to learn. She taught me how to haul my big gooseneck horse trailer and just how tightly you can turn. She taught me to trust her when she soaked the fenders of my brand new saddle in water and twisted them in place with a broom handle. I thought I’d die of heart failure during the night and day of drying time. I was certain I’d allowed my friend to ruin my new saddle but the stirrups turned nicely and my knees stopped hurting.
She might offer a simple thing like nail polish on Chicago screws. It takes a bridle coming apart on the trail one time to appreciate that kernel of information. I am amazed when I offer that information to people and they smack their forehead just as I did when she offered it to me. Duh.
Sometime it’s a big thing such as, ‘Don’t pick at your horse. Set him up. Set him straight and get on with riding.’ In the beginning I didn’t know what that meant. I treated my ranch-raised Wyoming quarter horse like a glass figurine. And he took advantage. Now, I set him straight and we proceed without a murmur. No picking. Duh.
Debra stands out as the eye of the storm during a crisis. I was thrown from a horse I had no business riding and broke my back. We were in the middle of nowhere, of course. She calmly called 911, directed the gathering of my gelding and all of this over my protests of “I can ride out….okay…I’ll walk out…okay I’ll crawl out but NO helicopter.” A half an hour later she is directing the helicopter to our location. I still laugh when I remember her telling the emergency transport personnel, ‘We are under the tallest tree.”
When I started riding again 4 months later, I bought a GPS. At least next time (please, no next time) she’ll be able to give the longitude and latitude. “Under the tallest tree”. Smack. Duh.
I am not saying Deb is perfect. No. Certainly not when it comes to objects in the distance. More than once she’s pointed out a bird or bear only to discover it is a branch or a rock. While she claims her eyesight is perfect those of us who know her know better.
One day she outdid herself in prime Debra-style. While hauling to one of our favorite trail heads we passed a ranch that always had a pasture full of exotics. Emus, ostrich, yak and long, long, long horn cattle. Deb points and says, clearly and truthfully, ‘Look. Elephants in the pasture.’ Silence. I look, after all the rancher has exotics. All I see are two huge downed trees with the root balls exposed. Silence. I drive down the road not looking at Debra, just nodding and driving.
I know the exact moment when she realizes the elephants were the root balls of the trees. Silence. I start chuckling, then laughing. I am laughing. Debra is laughing. Neither of us can say a word. Nor do we want to. We both rather like the thought of elephants in the pasture. What I really liked was Debra’s willingness to see, with her vivid imagination and usual flamboyant style, “Elephants in the pasture”.
Together, Deb and I camped and dreamed, laughed and cried. We were together through divorce and death, money and living off credit cards. We fought and made up. We doctored sick horses. We doctored each other. We rode and when we didn’t, we missed the pleasure. We watched the stars, named the constellations and called to the wild turkeys. Miles of trails passed under our horses’ hoofs while secrets passed between two good friends.
Debra still rides in California and I now ride Carolina trails. Even after three years of living on opposite coasts, our friendship stretches the miles. We talk ‘horses’ at least once a week sometime more often. I call on her for advice and a laugh. She calls me for a laugh. And we remember the ‘Elephants’
Perhaps one day you will be on a trail in Northern California. You’ll meet a lean woman on a tall grey Arabian. Ask her is she’s seen any elephants in the pasture. If she says yes, give her a smile from me.
©2007, Julia Dake, January 22, 2007
Written By Walt Friedrich
Recognize the famous opening lines from the old TV show, “Mr. Ed”? Biologically, it’s a true statement. But look again: there is one huge separator in horsedom, and all horses fall into one category or the other. They are either wild/feral or domestic, and while biology and appearances are the same, the lifestyles are completely different. We’ll refer to American ferals here, though much of their condition is mirrored in the world’s true wild horses.
We, in America, can thank the Spanish of 500 years ago for reintroducing the horse onto this continent after an absence of tens of thousands of years. Columbus brought several dozen domestic horses with him, leaving them on the island of Puerto Rico when he returned to Spain, so they might reproduce and, later, serve future Spaniards in quest of wealth on this continent. Those explorers and gold-seekers used them quite handily. Thus, over time, they found their way to northern South America and Central America, ultimately into Mexico, thriving everywhere on their journey. Of course, there were escapees into wild country, notably into what is now southwestern United States, where the fugitives did what horses do – they organized themselves into bands and continued to thrive, but without aid from humankind. These were the progenitors of the modern feral western mustang. The “training” they had received while in captivity was quickly forgotten, as they gained competence in the free but dangerous lifestyle of American ferals. Learning literally “on the run”, over time these magnificent creatures thrived as a transplanted species, developing into very large herds with distinct social orders.
Then, as fate would have it, the tables turned somewhat as our West gradually became populated. Settlers tapped this now-vast resource for animals that provided transportation as well as labor – and there we were, with domestic horses as part of our lives, but with a twist. Our society lived closely enough with both domestic and feral horses that we could easily recognize their differences in lifestyle and behavior.
Good thing, that; by bringing horses into our families in a very real sense, we are easily able to compare them with their feral counterparts. Very convenient – but by taking him from his natural environment, we also take on the responsibility for his well-being. It’s a huge responsibility, since the Caretaker of the ferals is Mother Nature herself, who can do a much better job of it than we can. Fortunately, when we hit a snag, as we often do, we can look across the way and maybe see how Nature does it.
Many of those snags we hit sort of come with the territory. The life of a feral is rather simple, and the needs are generally rather easily met. For instance, as grazers, food for feral horses consists primarily of growing plants, but stands of growing plants are often scattered in our western wilderness, causing feral herds to move constantly in quest of suitable and sufficient sustenance. It is estimated that ferals typically move 20 or more miles every day as they seek out food. Sounds like a tough life, but that’s what it makes these horses…tough. That’s a lot of exercise, it keeps them healthy and fit, burning the energy coming from the sugars in the grasses. Pretty simple – eating a variety of growing plants, lick at mineral deposits, drink fresh water, and move, move, move. The entire species’ success is based upon that simplicity.
But now consider their brothers, the domestics. Rather than in the freedom of the open range, many live fetlock-deep in relatively lush grass in our pastures, and in addition, we provide hay and grain. So they typically have little problem getting food, and they need do practically no work to get it.
What about shelter? For the feral, it’s whatever and wherever he can find it – a stand of trees, thick brush, a rockpile to act as a windbreak. Now, that’s “roughing it”. The domestic, on the other hand, often has a stable with stalls, or at least a run-in shed
Food and shelter, the basics of life. So it would appear that the advantage goes to the domestics.
But not so fast, there’s a price to pay for those benefits. The combined results of Mother Nature’s nurturing and their own genetics supports the ferals’ ability to survive and prosper in their simple but sometimes harsh reality, and Darwin’s survival of the fittest – natural selection, actually — precept keeps the gene pool healthy. Domestics, however, often live their privileged lives within the confines of a fence. A horse has evolved to move, almost constantly, and with the fenced-in restriction, it’s up to his humans to see that he gets some work – but rarely 20 miles per day!
The less-fortunate domestic finds himself living in the confines of a stall for much if not all of the time – this poor fellow misses not only movement, but also fresh air and sunshine, and, importantly, the ability to keep something in his stomach all the time by grazing. Now, who would think that an empty stomach can lead to an ulcer? Yet that seems to be the case; a stall-bound domestic, unable to feed sometimes for hours, compared to a feral, grazing a little all the time, is much more likely to develop ulcers. It is claimed by some that gastric ulcers are very common in domestics, often going undetected or undiagnosed, to the horse’s detriment.
All horses are created, designed and built to eat a variety of growing plants, and thrive on them. Grain never was on his original menu – yet it’s standard for most domestics, largely, some believe, out of habit. When a horse pulled a plow all day, he needed more energy than forage provided, and grain – carbohydrates — filled the bill. But today’s typical domestic, whose biggest workload amounts to carrying a rider from time to time, rarely needs help from extra carbs. And when an overload rushes through his digestive system and into his cecum, he’s in danger of serious complications, like colic, laminitis, founder.
The natural diet of a feral is rather nicely balanced, thanks to the variety of plants he ingests along with the mineral licks he visits for that extra “punch”, and he takes in water untampered by civilization, then tops it off with constant exercise. The result is a naturally healthy horse, rarely afflicted with common ailments of domestics, such as colic, ulcers, laminitis, founder, navicular disease, Cushings, Insulin Resistance, even rain scald, just to scratch the surface of a long list.
Though lacking the benefits of a free lifestyle, domestics can do almost as well as long as they are properly fed and cared for. Grazing the same variety of grass every day, eating the same type of hay, hardly qualifies as a well-balanced diet, resulting in horses “old” before their time.
What can we do about it? It’s not rocket science — feed healthy and well-balanced diets, and ensure as much exercise as we can provide. The exercise part is easy and fun for both ourselves and our horse – riding! — and get him out of his stall and into the field as much as possible. The diet part means back off on the store-bought feed, then take that first, giant step: get his hay analyzed. Armed with that list of nutrients he takes in, we can supplement what’s lacking easily. But be selective, and read the labels carefully. It’s not just what’s in it, how much of each nutrient and how they balance is equally important.
A good general supplement will be rich in Omega-3s, magnesium, zinc and copper, but contain little or no iron (the horse gets all he needs from grazing) – these minerals are often deficient in pasture grasses and hays, but they are vital for good equine health. One of the best such supplements is Omega Fields’ Omega Horseshine®.
There are many laboratories that will analyze your hay. Contact your local Ag Extension for names. One of the best is Dairy One in Ithaca, New York.
There is a great little book you can buy or borrow from your library – it’s entitled, “Beyond the Hay Days”, written by Rex Ewing. It’s an excellent, easy-to-read reference on equine nutrition. It belongs on your shelf for quick reference if you’re serious about feeding your beloved equine companion properly.