Monday, December 17, 2012

Nutrient deficiencies in hay and pasture

This post has been brewing for a while, and I will still have more to add to it in the future as I get results back from our own hay. 

Several months ago, as I looked at a picture of Griffin tied to my horse trailer...
Griffin - 5 years old, spring 2012

I passingly thought his mane sure seems shorter and frizzier than it used to be when we first got him from the BLM pens.

Griffin - 2 years old, summer 2009

Then the other day I was in the pasture brushing Chico's mane, and I though the same thing. 

Chico - 8 years old, fall 2012

His  mane just seemed thinner and shorter than it was when he lived in Idaho.

Chico - 3 years old, spring 2007 - primarily looks thicker here, rather than longer.

And I looked through old pictures of Kachina, and though more subtle, I think it holds true for her her.  Longer when she first came to us, and shorter now.
Kachina - 6 years old, spring 2012

Kachina - 3 years old, summer 2009

I haven't really noticed it as much with Catlow or Cody...though I do feel like Catlow's mane is thinner, though still as long, so the difference doesn't show in pictures.  Don't horses generally get longer manes as they get older, not shorter?

This is a very odd subtle difference.  I also never thought that there might be an issue because their springtime coats come in so luxurious and dappled.  They never used to have dapples in Idaho.

But then, I started thinking about how Cody is now developing a crack at the toe of one front hoof anytime I let her hooves grow out a half inch longer than her soles...which is long, but it's not THAT long.  She never used to get cracks and this crack is not never extends longer than an inch from the ground, and I can trim all but about 1/8 inch of it off when I trim her hooves up usually.  And it doesn't make her lame or anything.  The first time she developed a crack was the summer of 2010 - that was about a year a half after I brought them here to Wisconsin from Idaho.  Since it can take up to a year for a hoof to grow from coronet band to the end of the toe, I started thinking....

Are my horses missing some vital mineral that affects both hoof and hair growth leading to brittle hooves and brittle hairs that break and make the mane shorter?  These signs are extremely subtle - I only have one tiny cracked hoof out of 20 hooves.  All the rest seem normal.

And my horses have always had access to a trace mineral block, a mineral block with selenium, and a plain white salt block.  Plus they have all the lush pasture they can eat, and good quality hay (grass with just a tad of alfalfa mixed in) during the winter.  They are fat and happy.

But am I missing something?

That question set me off on a long obsessive search.  I compiled information about the nutrient requirements for a typical 1100 lb horse living primarily on pasture - my horses don't even qualify as having "light" exercise. 

Then I found a forage testing laboratory (Dairyland Laboratories, Inc) that is near my area that also tests forages from around here.  I was delighted to discover that they report averages of all their test results for various classes of forages.  I found the information for grass hay.  I figured they would have data that was representative of my pastures and hay fields.

I then compared the needs of an 1100lb horse at maintenance to what that horse would consume in 22 lbs of average grass hay (according to Dairyland Laboratories).  I was immediately satisfied that my horses were getting way more than they needed for daily energy, and protein (but I did not examine individual amino acids), so I focused on vitamins and minerals.  Now, many of the vitamins (like Vitamin A and Vitamin E) are present and more than adequate in green pasture, but they are pretty much absent in hay.  Horses likely sythesize adequate amounts of Vitamin D in their skin when exposed to sunlight, but may not during certain times of year and if they are kept indoors.  And the B vitamins are a bit confusing...many of them are synthesized adequately in a horse's hindgut by their specialized microbes as long as they have adequate microminerals like cobalt.  Thiamine and Riboflavin are required in the diet, but were not measured in the forages I used.  They may be adequate (or not).  I decided not to focus on the B vitamins either.

Dairyland Laboratories reported data for: Calcium, Phosphorus, Magnesium, Potassium, Sulfur, Copper, Manganese, Zinc and Iron and Sodium.  They did not report information about Iodine, Cobalt and Selenium, which are all considered micronutrients needed in very tiny amounts and not likely to be in forages in our area (we live in a low Selenium part of the US).  And it is well known that forages are too low in Sodium for herbivores' needs and salt must always be provided extra.

I wanted to know: Are my horses getting adequate minerals? 

The answer:  The average grass hay forage in our area is deficient in Zinc.

And it doesn't seem to be just a little deficient.  It's a lot deficient.

My next question was:  Do the mineral blocks I have supply adequate micronutrients (Cobalt, Selenium, and Iodine), in addition to satisfying the need for Zinc?

The answer: No!  It does not meet the needs for Zinc!  It supples some, but not enough!  But, at the rate that my horses should consume the blocks according to their salt needs, the blocks do supply adequate Cobalt and Selenium.  My particular blocks didn't have enough Iodine either, though plain iodized white salt does have enough Iodine.

Would a zinc deficiency cause what I'm seeing?  Well, I don't think the subtleties that I've seen have been reported, but absolute Zinc deficiency does affect hair and hoof growth, in addition to a whole host of other issues.  I think my horses are getting some Zinc, just not enough.  My conclusion is that what I am seeing makes sense with a marginal Zinc deficiency.

What have I done to solve this?  Well, I looked into many different supplements and minerals.  Most do seem to meet the needs of the average horse, but I need a supplement/mineral that I can offer free choice.  I am not home to feed my horses every day.  We need a low maintenance option!

I found a free choice mineral at our local feed co-op called Kent Equestrian's Choice Equine Mineral.  It is meant to be fed free choice.  It contains about 25% salt, which is what drives the intake of the mineral at the appropriate amounts.  It does also have a little bit of molasses formulated with it to increase palatability, but I tasted it and it really is not very sweet...mostly salty.  Horses should consume 2-4oz of this mix daily.  It is affordable, and most importantly it meets all the minimum needs for the minerals missing in average forage (Zn, Se, Co) with the exception of Iodine.  It actually has enough of these components that the mix can be diluted 1:1 with iodized salt, and then it will still meet the minimum requirements when consumed at 2-4 oz of salt/mineral mix per day and then it also meets the needs for Iodine.

The Kent Mineral also has Vitamin's A, D and E.  It has adequate amounts to meet deficiencies in winter hay for Vitamins A and D, though is deficient in Vitamin E.  Now, Vitamin E is very costly to add to feed and is the one Vitamin that I've found is consistently not present in adequate amounts in supplements.  This Kent mineral does do a pretty good job of supplying more than many other supplements though.

This Kent mineral is meant to be fed without offering another source of salt, unless the weather is hot or your horse has more than a light amount of exercise.  Then salt will need to be added to it.  I'm pretty happy with it, since I can meet all the mineral needs of my horses with the one supplement plus some iodized salt.  And all without having to feed daily.  So far, I've been putting out 2-4 oz X 7 days X 5 horses (so about 5-8 lbs) of the full strength mineral every weekend split into 5 separate buckets in the barn, while still offering their salt blocks, and every weekend, I've come home and they've consumed it all.  I'm glad they like it, and I'm glad to know that they are getting their needs met now, and probably working hard to get that deficiency gone!

In case you are wondering about some of the other supplements and how they measure up.  Equishine pellets when fed at the rate of 2 oz per horse per day (you must also supplement salt) does meet all mineral needs (except for Iodine, but an iodized salt block will supply this), but it is deficient in Vitamin D and Vitamin E, though probably not a deal breaker for me...both of these vitamins are probably adequate in the summertime.  And Equishine does also have B-vitamins, though less than the recommended daily amount for Riboflavin and Thiamin, which may not be important since I'm not sure how much is present in forage - this will be a future point of research for me), and the rest of the B-vitamins may be made in the gut.  If fed at the higher rate of 4 oz per day, Vitamin E would still not quite meet minimum winter requirements, though it would then meet requirements for Vitamin D.

Another supplement I was asked to compare is called HS-35.  It has a ton of things in it (B-vitamins, amino acids...) but when I did the analysis, this supplement combined with good forage is deficient in Zinc, Selenium, Cobalt, Iodine, Vitamin A, Vitamin D and Vitamin E.  I would NOT choose this one unless you also offer a good mineral supplement.  You would be choosing HS-35 simply for all the bling ingredients which are B-vitamins and amino acids.

Purina Enrich 32 compared very well.  When fed at the rate of 1 lb per horse per day, it was only deficient in Vitamin D, and was actually pretty close to meeting the needs, thus when fed at 2 lbs per day, all the needs are met (except Iodine...just doesn't quite have enough).  This supplement fed at the lower feeding rate does actually meets the winter requirements for Vitamin E, which is rare in supplements.  The only thing I would have a concern with this supplement is that the Selenium content was just barely able to meet the minimum requirements of 1mg when fed at 1 lb/day.  This is actually true for Equishine too.  Research has shown that in comparison to only 1mg/day, when mares recieved 3-4mg/day, their colostrum had more antibodies in it that were transferred to their foals - so better immune responses.  If you are in a low selenium area like I am, I'd recommend maybe still feeding a selenium salt block with this, keeping in mind that you will likely boost the total selenium intake to about 3-5mg /day.  The maximum tolerated Selenium dose is about 22 mg/day and toxicity is seen at 50 mg/day (in a 1100 horse), so just keep that in mind when combining supplements that contain Selenium, especially if your forage might have some in it too.  Purina Enrich 32 also has added protein and fat.  I would choose this supplement if I had time to feed daily.

Purina also makes a compressed supplement block for horses called Purina 12:12 block.  This is another free choice option.  This block contains adquate amounts of all minerals (except Iodine is low), and does contain some, though not enough, of Vitamins A, D, and E.  But like I said before, these are all likely to be adequate in summer time.  Salt also needs to be fed in addition to this block, as this block contains very little salt.

Keep in mind that I only evaluated the trace mineral block brand that is in my local feed store.  Other brands may contain different amounts of trace minerals and may or may not meet requirements.  I have yet to investigate that, but I probably will just to know for future's sake.

Also keep in mind, that as a horse increases the amount of work that they do (or if they are pregnant or lactating), they needed increases in some of these nutrients.  Specifically Calcium, Phosphorus, Magnesium, Vitamin A, Vitamin E, Thiamine, Riboflavin, Potassium and Salt.  Though thankfully, most of these nutrients are present in more than adequate amounts in average forage, with the exception of Salt (and Vitamin A and E in dried hay) and of course Zinc if your forage happens to be deficient in that too.

And I have also learned that Zinc can be present in drinking water too, but sometimes, if other nutrients like Iron or Copper are present in high amounts in the diet, it can impair absorbtion from the gut of other minerals present in lower amounts.  So, I do not yet know how much Zinc might be in our water, but I'm going to find out. 

The nutritionist from our feed co-op is coming out tomorrow to take hay and water samples to be analzyed for all these nutrients, so that I can know for SURE that MY horses are getting what they need!

I spent days figuring out these analyses.  I'm sure there are websites that can do it too for less work than I went through.  But I learned a ton about nutrition while I did it. 

And I'm extending this offer to you.  If you want me to evaluate a certain supplement with the average grass hay data I have.  Just let me know...  :)

Update to this post:  This is a map I found from the USGS that shows levels of some minerals in soils across the US.  Very interesting to look at Zinc.  White means less and dark blue means more.  If you are interested, click on the link and you can see that there are similar maps for many other minerals available.  Keep in mind, I'm not sure how these relates to mineral deficiencies in forage, but I'd imagine that if the mineral just isn't there (or very small amounts) then plants can't take it up and offer it to our herbivores.

Also remember that these maps do not reflect how much mineral a horse needs...just content in the soil.  Horses need very low amounts of some of the minerals, like Selenium, and even Copper and Zinc.  To illustrate that point, see the Sodium map.  You can see that there are some areas of the country where Sodium is relatively higher than other areas of the country.  However, in ALL parts of the country, Sodium content is not adequate in forage and herbivores must be supplemented (or they are wild, they will find a mineral "lick" where they can obtain higher amounts of salt than they can get from forage.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

More herd watching

Once again, Chico is the first (only) horse that comes to investigate me as I wander about the pasture.

He sure does have some wonderfully expressive soft eyes.  I love this horse with all my heart, even when he's naughty and rambunctious.  Usually he's a pretty darn good horse.  My only concern with him is the tripping he occasionally does on his hind foot.  He sometimes catches his toe as he's walking and stumbles.  I worried that he might catch it wrong someday and really seriously injure it.  As is now, I think it is just stiff, but I'm planning to do some more entensive lameness evaluation in him as I learn how in school.

 I love the backlighting in the following photos.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Herd watching

I took a walk in the pasture with my dogs and cat the other day.  The winter sunlight is great for photos with its constant low angle in the sky.  This was shortly after noon.  The horses of course saw me and were interested, then they heard the crunching of the dogs and cat in the woods behind me and were even more interested.
Kachina especially was all riled up about the critters in the woods.

The others just herded up, deciding whether or not to come investigate.

Catlow finally decided she needed to check things out, so she strided right out confidently, quickly passing Kachina (who is too chicken to actually check things out on her own).

My gorgous Catlow broke into a trot...

Then into a canter as she came up the hill.

She passed me right by to get to where she could hear the cat creeping through the trees.

The rest of the herd followed rather calmly.

Boss mare Cody wasn't about to be left behind.

 Kachina was still all kinds of riled up by the situation...she usually is.

Once they all made it to the top of the hill and were satisfied with the identity of the pasture invaders, then Chico decided I was finally interesting and was the first to come and greet me.

Griffin decided maybe he should chase the cat.  I know he would stomp and kill one if given the right opportunity.  He'd do it to my dogs too.  Most of the time he tolerates the presence of other critters in his pasture, but he does chase them too.  I don't really need to worry about predators with him around.  I wonder what he'd do to our cows...probably run them and be very mean to them.  I've seen my horses chase deer and foxes out of the pasture before.

Catlow is one of those horses who just has a gentle soul through and through.  She never chases other animals (she does assert her authority over Griffin and Kachina though, but not in a nasty way...only when needed).

My trusty companions...
Sometimes its nice to just go out in the pasture and for a walk in the woods with no particular agenda at all.  I love my horses, but it is also nice to just be able to be out there and watch them without really interacting with them at all.  Lately, I've been riding some (bareback when I do), but mostly just spending time with them near their hay...brushing and picking out hooves.  Catlow, normally a standoff-ish horse, is all over me when I'm out there just to love on them. 

Something interesting in the trail?

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Griffin's summer

I think I owe my blog an update about the summer events around here.  I've been putting it off for so long that I'm afraid my memories are tainted by the future decisions I need to make, but I'll give it a go.

The last time I wrote, I had just left Griffin at Jessie's place for a month of training/riding.  I'd worked with him with saddling, ponying, yielding to the bit, moving off of pressure on his sides, and yielding the hindquarters and fore-quarters separately.  He was lunging well, and responding in a relaxed manner.  A couple weeks before he went to Jessie's, I mounted him for the first time and asked him to just flex to the bit and yield his hindquarters to a leg cue several times.  He was pretty relaxed and did not once over-react, so that lesson was brief but ended on a good note.  I was afraid to continue with him because I felt like I didn't quite have the confidence that he needed to go further. 

I had a little bit of apprehension, mostly because I hadn't been able to work with him as often as I'd like, and I'd not yet been able to do all the crazy things that I had done with Chico to convince myself that he would not buck with me on him.  If you remember, I had ponied him off Cody, lead him through the woods, saddled and unsaddled, and he was unflappable through it all....yet, there was just something that I couldn't quite identify that put me at unease whenever I thought about giving him his first few rides.  I felt like he trusted me and he would let me do anything to him, but I also felt he was holding back a bit with his trust.  I had him lunging well in the round pen at the walk and trot, and he was catching on to voice cues, but I also felt like even though he seemed to go willingly, he wasn't quite as free as I'd like.  I hadn't worked much with him as the canter because my round pen footing was not very good, but I don't think that had anything to do with the apprehension that I had.  The things that I noticed in him were very subtle and I had a hard time explaining to any one else what it was that I felt uneasy about, and no one else that wasn't intimately involved with him like I was could see it at all.  My husband scoffed at my fears, and I chalked a lot of them up to having a lot more fear of what could happen on horses in general now that I was a mother.  I felt more vulnerable.

So given my lack of confidence, I thought the best thing to do for Griffin was send him to someone I respected who I also knew had the confidence to ride a young mustang.  I knew that Jessie would know how to read him, and would feel him out and see where she could get with him.  Jessie spent the first week getting to know Griffin on the ground.  She said the first time she went to catch him in his paddock, he wouldn't let her near him, but she just worked with him in there and in a short time, he gave that up, was facing up and letting her approach and halter him.  This is pretty typical for a mustang that has only been handled by one other person.  After the first lesson he became pretty easy for her to catch. 

She spend the first week doing groundwork and working him up to saddling.  She reported that he was very respectful and seemed to have a great foundation.  I glowed hearing those reports.  The first time she rode him, she said when she put her legs on him, he just wanted to pivot rather than go forward (probably because that's all I had asked him to do the first time I sat on him).  He eventually went forward, but was very spurty.  She got him going.  I asked her about whether or not she felt like he was a little "sticky" because that was the only word I had been able to come up with the lack of freedom of movement I felt from him.  She thought that rather than being "sticky", he seemed to be "calculated".  Once he was moving forward in the small arena, she said he was extremely smooth to ride, like he knew exactly where he was placing every foot.  She said, often, other horses she rode had a hard time with the uneven footing at first as they learned to carry her weight...but not Griffin.  Then again, he was 5 years old, so mature and balanced.  She progressed with him, moving at the walk and trot, turning, yielding hindquarters, then moved to riding him outdoors in the larger paddock area.

She had been riding him for about 2 weeks when one day, she was asking him to move at a trot, then turned him from going on a circle to the left to a circle to the right, and pushed his hindquarters to the left with her right leg at the same time.  He seemed to panic, pull his head straight and set to bucking.  She said he bucks really hard and he is really strong, so she couldn't pull him up and she came off.  Thankfully, she was okay, so she then took him back to the small indoor arena and was able ride him in there without any issues.  On a ride shortly after that (I'm not sure if it was the next ride or not), the same thing pretty much happened again.  Again Jessie took him to the indoor arena and rode him fine.  And then it happened a third time.

At this point, she decided he had some holes somewhere that needed to be worked through.  He needed to learn to deal with more pressure without over-reacting.  And she wanted to teach him that bucking was not the answer to any problem.  She worked him from the ground using a flank rope that she could immediately loosen and give him relief when he quit bucking.  He was starting to understand that bucking was a lot of work and was reacting less and less to the flank rope.  She also worked with desensitizing him with a feed sack tied to a rope.  Her thought was that he had panicked and bucked the first time because he suddenly saw her out of his right eye - he just seemed a little one sided and she wanted him to get used to seeing things following him out of both eyes.  She used a long rope tied to the feed sack that she could loop over the saddle horn and hold on to, so that she had control of where it dragged as he moved.  She also could toss it toward him and get him used to objects moving quickly.   Jessie reported that with the feed sack, she got to see Griffin's "wild" side.  This was all conveyed over email and she didn't go much into detail, but we decided he'd stay with her another 2 weeks for a total of 45 days to see if she could get him past the bucking.  She didn't have time beyond that because she was starting a new job in August. 

Two more weeks passed, and it was time to go pick Griffin up.  Jessie has warned me that she had not been able to ride him much in those two weeks...there were days when he was so tense she didn't even feel she could mount up.  I wanted her to show me all the work she'd done with him so I knew where to pick up.  When I arrived with the trailer, she was saddling him up in the barn.  She said he had learned to stand ground tied and he always did accept saddling without any concern at all.  She also wondered if his bucking might have had something to do with her saddle not fitting right, and she had added another pad to it.  Griffin is narrower than most of her other horses.  Then she proceeded to show me the ground work she'd been doing the last few weeks.  He was definately reactive with the flank rope still, but really not bad.  He would hump and jump a few strides but then quit and stand and face her.  Then she got out the feed sack.  I could immediately see the tension rise in him.  The feed sack was all tied up in a tiny ball, not even big, loose and floppy.  But still, the meer sight of it got him ramped up.  She tossed it at him...he alternated between strong reactions, and then just flinching as it came at him...but he wasn't accepting it, just barely tolerating it.  Then Jessie looped the rope over the saddle horn to let him drag it.  As soon as it started following him, he started scooting forward, occasionally kicking at the feed sack that was dragging about 10 ft behind him.  At one point, when he kicked at it, his leg got tangled in the rope and the feed sack was sucked up against his leg - then all hell broke loose!!!!!  Griffin went crazy bucking, kicking, striking, all the way around the arena until the rope came loose and the feed sack and rope fell away from his leg.  Then he skidded to a stop, facing Jessie in the center of the arena, blowing hard with a little bit of a confused look on his face.  WOW!!!  He bucks BIG!  He got huge air in those jumps.  Jessie said THAT was the "wild" side she was describing before.  He was super defensive about that feed sack and absolutely did not like it.  He seemed to tolerate it okay during some lessons, but when something unexpected happened, like during this short lesson, he'd come unglued.  Jessie just shook her head at him.  I could see that she was a bit confused by his reactions too.  Why did he seem so calm, but yet so "wild"?  Why was he going so well at first, but then seemed to have this huge setback.

Well, I took Griffin home fully understanding what he was capable of.  To say I was intimidated was an understatement, but I also thought maybe he reacted so strongly to these things because he didn't fully trust Jessie?  Maybe he trusted me more, since I'd worked with him more, and he'd settle down with me?  I'd also never quite pushed him to the extent that Jessie did, and maybe he was pushed too fast?  But then again, maybe I was holding him back by not pushing him along a little harder?  It's difficult to know when you need to actually push a little bit to get the horse able to increase the size of his comfort zone, and when you might actually be pushing too much.

Now I have to share this little side embarrasses me to no end to share it, but it illustrates Griffin's steadfast nature...the rock solidness of him that makes me question how he can be so worried of certain things and so sticky and...well, let me get on with this story.  So, on my way back, it was about a 3 hour drive.  I checked the gas guage on the way down and estimated that I should be able to make it home without filling up.  Well, I underestimated how much extra fuel it takes to pull a trailer and I wasn't paying close attention to the gas guage, so I ran out of gas...ON THE INTERSTATE!!!!  Yes, I was going along when the power suddenly started to stall out.  I immediately realized the stupid thing I had done and started searching for where to stop.  Luckily, I saw a road crossing the wide, treed median (I was in the left lane), and was able to pull into that between the two lanes as the truck died.  I felt this was a better option than alongside the road on the right side because I could be farther away from the traffic, and there were a few trees.  So another awful fact that made this such a stupid thing was that it was 99 degrees F!  Griffin was just fine going down the interstate at 65 mph with tons of airflow through the trailer, but he was going to cook in there while we waited for my husband to bring a tank of gas (we were now only 30 minutes from home).  I had no choice but to take him out of the trailer and stand under the trees.  I had awful visions of the terrible things that could happen to a loose panicking horse on the interstate as I opened the trailer doors.  But Griffin just stood calmly, a little confused about trailering in general.  He was totally unconcerned as I lead him out of the trailer into the bright, hot sun with 4 lanes of heavy traffic (including semi's!) whizzing all around us.  We walked into a little pocket between some trees where the state trooper usually likes to hide and got to know eachother a little better.  I rubbed him, and let him graze the drought ridden grass.  A state trooper did pull in to see if we were alright, and then my husband showed up.  Griffin loaded right back up into the trailer no problems at all, and we were on our way home with no further happenings.

Once home, he was ecstatic to be back with his herd.  Right away, I started working him again.  He had become so reactive simply to ropes touching his legs while he was moving (he had never been reactive before the feed sack), so my first goal was that he had to get over that.  We spent several lessons dragging a long rope tied to the saddle horn that touched his legs that he occasionally stepped on.  When stepped on, the rope pulled at the saddle horse.  The first lesson, he did buck some and kick at it repeatedly, but he did get over it.  I pushed him to keep moving at a trot while the rope touched him.  I wanted him to just ignore it completely.  The second lesson, I started with a shorter rope, then progressed to a longer rope and he really did well, only bucking the first time the rope touched him going in one direction and not at all after that...just a little scooty at times.  After several lessons like that and also working with a rope draped around his rump without negative reactions, I decided to start with long-lines.  I had not done this with him before, but thought it would be the best way to make him deal with things touching him on the sides, legs, and also dealing with bit pressure at the same time.  When I use long-lines in the round pen, I stand in the middle and have the lines looped through the stirrups (tied together under his belly) to the bit.  He has to deal with the outside rein either over the saddle, over his rump or around below his rump above his hocks.  He has to follow bit pressure and turn to the outside to change directions when asked.  This is a lot to deal with and he was absolutely awesome the very first time. 

We did this several lessons.  He was so awesome that at times, if he chose to turn the wrong way and started to get all wound up in the ropes, he would stop, think and then turn back the other direction and unwind himself, all without getting reactive.  I decided at that point that he should be able to deal with a rider, especially since he'd been ridden successfully for a few weeks before he every started bucking.  As I got ready to mount, up I did the same pre-mounting things I did every lesson, flexing to the bit, slapping the stirrups against the saddle.  Then I stood in one stirrup and laid across the saddle.  I asked him to flex to the left, no problem.  When I asked him to flex to the right, he would turn, but then immediately pull his head straight again.  As I did this repeatedly, standing in both sides of the stirrups (but not mounting fully), I could see his head coming up higher and higher, and he was getting more tense.  And still, when I asked him to flex to the right, he seemed to not want to see me out of that eye at all.  At that point, I chickened out and decided I was not going to mount up and try to ride.  And then my husband pulled up to check on me, as I had told him I was going to ride Griffin and I needed someone to be there, just in case.  I showed him the tenseness and one-sidedness I was seeing and he didn't seem as concerned as I was.  So I asked him if he wanted to get on, and I'd just lead Griffin a couple steps.  He made friends with Griffin, petting and rubbing him and mounting slowly, then continuing to pet and rub while he was up there.  Griffin knew he was up there, and was hesitant, but seemed okay.  I asked him to take one step forward and then stop.  When he stopped, he swayed a bit with uneasiness, but I petted him and talked to him and he steadied.  Then I asked for another single step...that's when all hell broke loose, again.  I had told my husband to just bail if Griffin started bucking, so he was already half ready with his feet out of the stirrups, but that didn't help him any.  I felt totally helpless watching as Griffin went crazy bronc bucking, with the one I love stuck in the saddle.  He finally cleared himself and landed in the sand, and Griffin stopped bucking immediately.  My poor honey was mostly unhurt, just a few bruises, a cut on his eyebrow and a black eye (from the saddlehorn).

Needless to say, I was mortified.  I could have gotten my husband seriously hurt.  And I felt that there was really no reason for Griffin to have reacted as strongly as he did.  Sure, my honey is heavier than I am, but he is also fairly familiar to Griffin too.  I felt that bucking episode was uncalled for and illustrated to me that he had learned that it was okay to buck to unload what was making him uneasy.  He'd done it 4 times now. After the bucking, I lunged him aggressively to make him work hard, but neither of us was about to mount him again.

Now I want to clarify that I'd checked Griffin's back when he came home from the trainer and he wasn't tender in any areas.  He seemed equally flexible in both directions.  He moved readily at all gaits in the pasture.  I'm pretty sure his one-sidedness is in his brain.  And Griffin is definitely still leary of people.  Even with me.  When I have him caught in the round pen or on the lead line somewhere, he is really obedient, willing, and calm.  When he is loose in the pasture, I can approach him readily, but it doesn't take much to make him move away and take off.  If I'm walking near him in the pasture, he almost always takes a few steps away from me, then turns around to face me.  I generally stop moving and wait till he stops and faces up, then I can walk right up to him.  I always have to let him sniff my hand, then I can move to rub his neck and halter him, or just rub him  or pick up his feet if I don't have a halter with me.  Another interesting note: Jessie said she was catching him pretty easily right up until she started working with him on more desensitizing after his bucking episodes - then he decided getting caught wasn't fun and she had to work to catch him every day.  And the first time I tried to catch him in the pasture at home after bringing him back, he couldn't let me near him.  I decided to bribe them all into the mustang pen with grain so I could close him in there and then catch him, but all I really had to do was start calling all the horses.  Then he walked right up to me, almost like "oh!  It's you!  I remember your voice!"  Then I never had another problem catching him.  Of course, I use treats, and Jessie doesn't. 

So, I think that Griffin needs a LOT more work.  His little bit of distrust and stickiness has turned into a HUGE problem.  I don't have the experience, nor the time to work him through that.  I'm just not sure what else I need to do to earn his trust, other than to push him harder to deal with scary things.  I feel like I've already been working very slowly at it and it hasn't gotten us very far.  Maybe he does just need more slow work.  I don't think that Griffin is beyond help, but I also know that I can't get him to where he needs to be.  To put it simply, I am not going to risk my safety to do it.  It really sucks, especially considering that I have a lot invested in him, emotionally and financially.  Even if I was able to justify spending the money to send him to another trainer for several months, I could never guarantee that I could keep him going when he came back.  I wish I had known what life would have thrown at me later before I adopted him, but I didn't know.  I think if he'd have been as easy as Chico or Catlow, the time wouldn't have been an issue really.  But the point is, I can't do it.  And I also can't justify him living out the rest of his life here as a pasture ornament.  He is only 5.  I want him to go to someone who wants to work him through his issues, but I have contacted several trainers, and Jessie has also asked around in the mustang world, and no one is willing to take on another horse.  I've been looking for several months now.  Part of the problem I think is that this has been such a bad year for hay.  Very few people want to feed another mouth this winter.

I just recently listed him for sale on craigslist.  It's sort of my last hope.  I really want to be sure that he goes to an experienced home, because he is going to need it.  And I fear what might happen to him if things don't work out, or where he might ultimately end up if I lose track of him.  I would feel better letting him go knowing he was with an experienced mustang trainer, but no luck there.  I have few other options.  I've been hesitating describing Griffin's story because I'm still not sure how it is going to end.  And I go back and forth constantly on the decisions that I make regarding his future.  It doesn't help that sometimes he is really sweet.  For example, today was in the 40's but sunny, so I hauled my trimming equipement into the pasture to work on Catlow and Cody.  Griffin hung out with me the whole time, standing nearby, sniffing my hair, overturning my bucket of rasps and nippers, and then when I turned to him to pick up a hoof, he was ready and willing to stand without a halter.  He loved me brushing the burdocks out of his mane.  Sometimes he can be very appreciative of me, but often he is a little reserved until his curiosity gets the better of him.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Fall colors are ablazing!

These pictures are from a week ago. The colors in the woods across the pasture were just on fire! It's the brightest display of fall colors I've seen in a LONG time! The unique part was that most of the trees seemed to hit their peak simultaneously! Normally the color change is a little more drawn out so by the time "peak" occurs, several trees are already naked. I'm not sure if this summer's drought had anything to do with it, but we have had an early fall color bloom. I know the cool nights and sunny days have contributed to the color, but I can't see how this year has been so different from other years...I really wonder if the drought is to blame. Enjoy!



Friday, September 14, 2012

I just saw Wild Horse, Wild Ride tonight.  It was really good!  Well done!  Brought all kinds of emotions to the surface...the thrill of earning a wild horse's trust, the amazing things they will do for you once you earn their was good.  I highly recommend it!  Apparently I was only one of a few people in this whole town interested enough to go out to see it on the first night it opened.  There were only 6 people in the theatre.  But I guess you have to be a horse crazy person go watch a horse movie at the theatre, and on top of that, to watch this one, you have to be a crazy mustang person?  I think we are few and far between.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

My boy Chico

Last weekend, I went for a short bareback ride on Cody, then, since I had extra time, I got Chico out and played with him in the round pen.  I haven't ridden Chico much this summer because he is so fat that I feel like my saddle doesn't fit him quite right.  So, having 3 horses to ride, when I ask myself the question of which horse to ride, I often don't pick him.  I know, it's totally counter production to actually getting him in better shape, but I have such limited time that the time I do ride him probably wouldn't help much anyway!  But back to the's probably been over a year since I've done anything with him in a round pen too.  Actually, I think the last time I had him up there was when I was trying it out to test the footing just after we set it up at the end of last summer.  Anyway, it's been so long that I forgot what it is like to work with him in the round pen.  Chico is so easy.  After working several different horses in there lately that are not accustomed to having to work (I've been working with a friend and her horses a bit this summer), I really forgot how nice it is to have a horse that loves to work with you.  I've included a few pics of our session...please don't laugh that he's so fat!  I'm actually horrified about it, but not enough to change my current management strategy (which is out on pasture full time - primarily to due ease which is a necessity at this point in time).  He's the only horse that is this fat, so a change in management would have to affect just him, and that would be too inconvenient right now.

And in this short video, you can see that I've improved my round pen footing by removing all but the last couple of inches of sand over the base (which is a clay type soil).  I had 6 inches of soft powdery sand initially and it was way too boggy to be useful.  Now there is only deep sand over the linear drain running across the pen, so he has 2 "holes" in footing to step into on every circle around the pen, which you can see trip him up a bit.  Once they get used to the "holes", they start planning for it and adjusting their stride to step over it.  Chico did that later on.  I have plans to fix the "holes" by digging out the sand around the drain tile and packing it with something more course, then replacing the few inches of sand over the top.  That should fix it.

One question as you watch this video...does he seem more stiff on his right hind than the left hind?  The right hind is the one that he injured all those years ago and had a small cut in the muscle.  I think that it does affect his limberness in that leg and he sometimes trips and knuckles over on it on trail rides when he gets tired.  Almost as though it is more difficult to extend when he is fatigued.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

A nice canter

I know I've been absent from the blog this summer, but it's not because I haven't been doing anything with horses.  I've been riding every chance I get.  I'll update another time with a summary of my summer events.  In the meantime, enjoy this video.  I head back to school next week and I'm really not ready to go back.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Currently our valley is the home for 12 horses.  They are fat, happy and have lush green pastures.  I've often wondered, if we had a wild mustang herd here in Wisconsin, how many acres would a herd of 12 need to survive?  It think that our one little valley would be enough during the summer, but the winter would be the deciding factor.  I'm not sure horses could make it in WI in winter no matter how much land they had available to forage...there is usually just too much snow.  But it's interesting to ponder.  These horses are 4 mustangs (3 at this very moment since Griffin is away at training), 1 quarter horse, and 7 Tennessee walkers.