Posts Tagged With: equestrian

Horses’ Body Language

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Sorry for being a little late today. The computer gods were being difficult.

horse headLast time I talked about how horses communicate with sounds. While humans are naturally most focused on vocalizations, the horse’s most important form of communication is by body language. The variety and complexity is actually quite astounding.

If you see a horse with its ears back and pinned to its head, eyes slitted, nose tight, and head snaked forward in an aggressive manner, I hope you would realize that the animal is upset or angry about something. And that you would have enough sense to stay away. On the other hand, a horse with its ears forward, eyes open, nose relaxed, and head slightly extended is interested in something and possibly looking for a treat. That’s a horse you can approach (with the owner’s permission). Between these two extremes are a wealth of expressions that indicate what is going on with a horse. And this is just looking at the head.

The ears are like miniature radar cones and they tell you where the horse is focused. Ears rigidly forward with the head high, eyes wide and nostrils flared says he’s on high alert and looking at something exciting or scary and debating about departing the scene. Since horses are prey animals, their first response to something frightening is to flee. That plastic bag may be a horse-eating monster!

A slightly modified version of this, with the head down and a curious expression, indicates something interesting to explore. Again, as prey animals, it’s important for them to investigate their environment to determine if something is a threat, so they have a strong sense of curiosity. And an even stronger desire to play. My Portia was initially scared of the pink unbarrel racericorn piñata hanging from a tree near the pasture and high-tailed it back to the barn. When a crowd of kids gathered around it and began playing with it, she couldn’t contain her curiosity and crept back up to the fence. Each time someone whacked at the toy and sent it swinging, she’d run away, then stop and turn to watch. In a few minutes, she was back at the fence again. I think she was quite disappointed when it finally broke.

Ears that are swiveled backwards are quite different from angry, pinned ones. These mean the horse is focused on something behind him, hopefully the rider. You see this quite often in training sessions and in the show ring. The horse is paying close attention to the rider’s commands. You’ll also see one ear turned back and the other forward or sideways. This indicates a divided attention, with something that the horse needs to keep an eye and ear on.

horses on beachSometimes you’ll see the ears flopped sideways, with the head down and eyes half closed, indicating a totally relaxed, unconcerned attitude. This is great when lazing around in the pasture. However, on the trail a spaced-out horse could be suddenly startled and react in a way that may unseat its rider. Personally I prefer a horse that’s paying some attention to its surroundings.

Learning to read horse body language is a skill that takes time to develop. Also, not all horses are alike, so you need to be aware of the individual. But if you’re going to be around them (or write about them), it’s a vital knack to develop. This post focused on the head. Next time I’ll talk more about the rest of the body.

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Horses on beach: photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/nicksee/3908901846/”>nick see</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/”>cc</a&gt;

Horse head: photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/tambako/2889785643/”>Tambako the Jaguar</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/”>cc</a&gt;

Barrel racer: photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/alanenglish/3354741725/”>Al_HikesAZ</a&gt; via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/”>cc</a&gt;

Categories: animals, horse care, horse power, Horses, How horses talk, nature, riding, training horses, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , | 6 Comments

The Language of Horses

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In contradiction to what we often see in movies and on TV, horses do not constantly make noise. They don’t whinny every time someone rides them, nor do they “scream” if they are hit by a whip (as one misguided author wrote). As prey animals, they tend to be quiet, not wanting to attract attention. They do, however, have very effective communication, using both vocalizations and body language.

small_2645376508A mare talking to her foal uses a low, soft whicker to show affection. She greets a friend, of any species, with a slightly louder, rumbling nicker or, if she’s excited, a higher pitched whinny. If you walk into a barn at feeding time, you’ll probably be barraged by both loud and soft greetings, according to the different personalities and how hungry they are.

Squeals are also a common way that horses communicate. When horses meet for the first time, they sniff noses, sometimes getting quite noisy about it, then often they’ll squeal and strike out with a front foot—a dominance behavior. Mares in season tend to squeal a lot too, usually adding a slight, threatening kick to tell others to keep away. The squeal and kick also say “stay away from my food!” My mare Glory has to assert herself this way whenever the gelding in the next stall looks at her while she’s eating her grain. You’ll also hear squeals as an expression of high spirits and playfulness.

Horses are herd animals and bond very strongly. If they are separated from one of their friends they’ll often neigh repeatedly, calling to them. If another horse answers, it may start a “conversation” that doesn’t end until the looked-for horse returns. Since a neigh is a high-pitched vibrating sound that can be quite loud, this can get old very quickly. My Portia had a bellow that could hurt your ears.

About the only time you might actually hear a horse scream is when a stallion is challenging a rival. A fight is a noisy affair.

small__6087150424The one sound you don’t ever want to hear from your horse is a groan. Horses tend to be quite stoic and tolerate a lot of pain. By the time they hurt enough to groan, they usually are in big trouble and you’d better get the vet out ASAP. The groan associated with colic is one of the scariest a horse owner can hear. However, the hurting groan is different from the grunt and groan you often hear when they roll. That’s just a “oh that feels so good” sound.

I had originally intended to talk about body language too, but that would make this post too long. I’ll save it for next time.

So the next time you see a movie where the horse whinnies as it does something, you can shake your head and mutter “Hollywood.” What silly things have you seen horses do on screen? Or have read about in a book?

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Mare and foal: photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/nomanson/2645376508/”>nomanson</a&gt; via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/”>cc</a&gt
 
Photo: photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/55839122@N04/6087150424/”>NatureNerd (probably outside)</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/”>cc</a&gt;
Categories: animals, horse care, horse personalities, Horses, How horses talk, Mother Nature, outdoors, riding, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , | 24 Comments

Kentucky Horse Park

Kentucky Horse park.

Last month, guest Kathryn Jane told us interesting facts about the Kentucky Derby. This week I’d like to talk about the Kentucky Horse Park, a unique facility celebrating America’s horses.

Located in Lexington, the home of the Kentucky Derby, the Park is a tribute to the racing Thoroughbred. A huge statue of Man of War stands over his grave in a courtyard near the entrance. On the path leading up to the memorial are markers showing the stride length of a few of the most famous Thoroughbreds of all time. The distance that Secretariat covered in one leap vividly demonstrates why he is still the fastest horse ever. All throughout the park you will find statues and graves of many famous racers and other tributes to the state’s most important industry. In addition, at the Haman of warll of Champions you can see retired Thoroughbred, Standardbred and Quarter Horse racing champions exhibited daily.

The Park was designed as a living museum dedicated to all horses, not just Thoroughbreds. One of its most fascinating features is the International Museum of the Horse, the world’s largest museum chronicling the history of the horse and its importance to man. Associated with the Smithsonian, the IMH uses its 60,000 feet to educate the public about the horse’s unique contributions to human history. As you walk up a long, winding ramp you follow the development of the horse and its various roles throughout time. Also there are interactive exhibits about the Arabian horse, the Kentucky Thoroughbred, Draft horses, Horse Shows, the famous Buffalo Soldiers, and horse-drawn vehicles. In addition to the IMH, there are the American Saddlebred museum and the Wheeler museum, which details all aspects of the hunter/jumper world.

KHP tourOne of the most popular attractions is the Horses of the World. Over thirty different breeds live in the Park and are featured in daily shows or tours. Many unique horses with costumed riders are presented and after the shows visitors can meet and pet their favorites. In addition there are horse drawn tours and carriage rides, horseback riding and pony rides, and in the Spring mares and foals to visit.

If you are at all into horses and end up near Lexington, you should try to visit the Kentucky Horse Park. It’s a fascinating and totally unique experience that the whole family should enjoy—especially any horse crazy female members.

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Photo Kentucky Horse Park courtesy of http://www.flickr.com/photos/rbglasson/3742826141
Photo Mar of War Memorial courtesy of http://www.fotopedia.com/items/kweaver2-JCMfVLC4B
Photo Horse Drawn Tour courtesy of myoldkentucky.blogspot.com/2007/10/kentucky-h
 
Categories: Horses, International Museum of the Horse, Kentucky, Kentucky Derby, Kentucky Horse Park, nature, outdoors, Racing, Show jumping, stables, Thoroughbreds, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , | 14 Comments

Kentucky Derby Facts

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May is coming soon  and with it the Kentucky Derby. Today author Kathryn Jane, a race horse trainer, tells us some interesting facts about the Derby and its traditions.

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With the approach of the first Saturday in May, better known in my circles as Kentucky Derby day, I thought I’d share six  interesting facts for writers and everyone else.

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When including the Derby in your writing, there are a some things that really shouldn’t involve artistic license so I’ll save you the embarrassment with a few details that may help you with your work, and those of you who aren’t writers will have a tidbit of knowledge to impress your family and friends as you settle in front of the television on May 3rd to watch the 140th Kentucky Derby.

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Fact 1
The Kentucky Derby has been tagged as the “Greatest Two Minutes in Sports” because the journey begins before a horse is born, takes years of preparation to get to the race itself, and then the whole thing is over in about two minutes.

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Fact 2
The Derby is exclusively for Thoroughbreds in their three year old year. This year, all entrants will be foals of2011, and because Thoroughbreds are typically born between January 01st and May 31st, most of the horses competing will be literally, three years old. (Officially, Thoroughbreds are all considered to have the same birthday, January 1st.)

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Fact 3
The field will be made up of mostly colts. That is, unaltered (unneutered) males. Geldings and fillies are allowed to compete in the race, but fillies usually run in the Kentucky Oaks instead, a race restricted to three year old fillies. There have only been three fillies and nine geldings to win the Derby. Colts and geldings carry 126 lbs, and fillies carry 121lbs

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Fact 4
The Derby is run on a dirt racetrack, never on turf. (Turf is a grass track and a much different surface for horses to run on. Horses are very rarely successful on both surfaces as the two require different types of conformation and running style. It is not unusual for a well-bred horse that has been a racing disappointment on dirt to be switched to turf and show amazing talent.)

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Fact 5
Approximately 400 foals will be nominated each year, and no more than 20 of those will be allowed to compete in the Derby when they turn three. Entry eligibility is based on money earned.

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Fact 6
The race is a mile and a quarter, is run counter clockwise (as are all US horse races), and has never been run in less than one minute and fifty-nine seconds. Secretariat still holds the record for the fastest win at 1:59:4

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It’s been fun to stop by and I’ll stay posted for any questions you’d like to ask

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DaringToLove(2) final coverDaring to Love

A woman who reads hearts…
“Help me…” As an empath working for an organization dedicated to locating missing children, Liz MacKenzie is accustomed to using her unique abilities to sense the emotions of others. She’s not accustomed to hearing them call for her. That’s the specialized skill of a telepath.

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A man who reads minds…

Galen Keifer’s special method of interrogation involves telepathic seduction, a technique that drove away the love of his life two years ago. In spite of their rocky past, Liz has reached out to him again. He’s the one man who may be able to discover the truth about the mysterious voice calling to her.

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A voice from the darkness…

Liz can’t ignore the child’s voice, one that may be connected to a dark secret in her past. Barely recovered from her last rescue mission, she doesn’t trust her own senses, or a man who uses seduction in such a devastating way. But with the possibility of a child’s life in danger, Liz and Galen can’t afford to let it get personal again. Finding the child comes first, even though their hearts and minds are daring them to love…

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THE INTREPID WOMEN SERIES
Stubborn, self-sufficient women, and the men who dare to love them.

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You can find out more about Kathryn at:

Kindle : http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00I13NB9U
Print: http://bit.ly/1d8Wq0w
Website: http://kathrynjane.com/
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/kathryn.jane.921
Twitter: @Author_Kat_Jane

 

Categories: Horses, Kentucky, Kentucky Derby, Racing, riding, Thoroughbreds, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , | 16 Comments

Jumping For Fun or Ribbons

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Horses are good at jumping things. It was necessary for their survival in the wild. People love to ride horses over jumps. In the past it was a fun as well as useful skill. If you were running at speed chasing prey to eat or perhaps charging in a battle, the ground was unlikely to be perfectly level and you and your horse needed to be able to handle ditches, streams and other obstacles.

Today, of course, we don’t have to face those challenges. Instead we ride and jump for the fun of it. Some people ride cross-country in Three-Day Events (see Not For The Faint of Heart) or follow a Hunt (see Hunting—With Horses–Not Guns). But most people ride in a ring and jump over artificial obstacles or fences. For those who like to compete there are horse shows with jumping classes.

Horse show jumping is divided into two separate disciplines—Hunters and Jumpers.

small__4458883343Hunter classes focus on the ease and style of the horse and rider as they go over jumps that are similar to what they might face on a hunt field. Hunters move with long, low, ground-covering strides and are very calm and collected. The rider almost looks like a passenger with the horse just casually floating over the fences. But the hunter must have perfect form as it jumps—knees up and forelegs parallel to the ground, legs even and tucked, and a graceful bascule (curved shaped). Style is all important. Besides way of going, this also includes appropriate tack (saddle, bridle, and martingale), braided manes and sometimes tails too, polished hooves, and the rider in conservative attire.

Hunter video:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cgXm9eR0lb0

There are different tysmall__4630636060pes of hunter classes and a couple don’t include fences. Flat classes, often called hunter under saddle or hunter hack, are judged on the horse’s gaits, way of going and suitability. In-hand or model classes judge the horse’s conformation and gaits. In these the horse is led and has no saddle.

Jumper classes are very different from hunters. The focus is on clearing the jumps in the time allotted. Style, looks, attitude—none of that matters. In a hunter class, your horse may clear all the jumps but unless he does it in an easy, stylish manner with exactly the right striding and take off, he may still not score well. It depends on the subjective evaluation of the judge(s). In a jumping class, numbers tell the story. How many jumps cleared, how many faults from refusals or knockdowns, how many time faults—these are what determine the results.

small__9633348424Instead of natural looking jumps, jumpers are faced with colorful and sometimes quite outlandish obstacles, which can be scary or confusing for the horses but fun for the audience. You can see some of the most dramatic at the Olympics. Not only are the courses unusual, they are also more difficult and technical. These require bold, powerful, fast horses that are also accurate and balanced. Faced with a high fence a horse naturally speeds up. In contrast to the relaxed, laid back hunters, jumpers charge their jumps and often look barely under control. In speed classes, the audience often has their hearts in their throats.

Jumping video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=osAgyQtXWto

If you have the chance, go to a horse show that features hunters and/or jumpers. You’ll see some marvelously skilled athletes and have a great time.

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High jump:  photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/thowra/515302767/”>Thowra_uk</a&gt; via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/”>cc</a&gt;
Hunter photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/nico/4458883343/”>Nico&#8230;.</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/”>cc</a&gt;
In hand:  photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/fivefurlongs/4630636060/”>Five Furlongs</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/”>cc</a&gt;
Zebras:  photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/rpmarks/9633348424/”>R~P~M</a&gt; via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/”>cc</a&gt;
 

Categories: animals, Horses, hunting, Jumping, Olympics, ponies, riding, Show jumping, Thoroughbreds, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , | 7 Comments

Another Snippet

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I’m back again with another small piece. Be sure to catch all the other snippets posted by the many talented authors via Snippet Sunday and Weekend Writing Warriors.

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Here’s a following bit from the second chapter of Wyoming Escape.  Let me know what you think.

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Wyoming Cover - 1600

One dead body is frightening enough. A second one, plus a dirty cop, sends chef Mikela Richards fleeing for her life. She hides on a Wyoming Dude ranch, but her attraction to an on-leave Marine threatens her fragile feeling of safety.

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Hiding her shaking hands under the table, Mikela offered a tentative smile. “I’m fine–just not good with loud noises.” Damn, when would she get over jumping at the slightest racket? How long before the memories of dead men stopped haunting her? She took a deep breath and willed her trembling to quiet.

Once she was sure she wouldn’t spill anything, she sipped at her cup and glanced around the small coffee shop. Not much to look at. Whoever was manning the stove knew their stuff, though. The scrambled eggs passing her table were fragrant with herbs and the coffee was the best she’d tasted in a week.

 
Categories: Cowboys, Dude ranches, Mystery, nature, Romantic suspense, suspense, Uncategorized, Western romance, writing, Wyoming | Tags: , , , , , , , | 26 Comments

I is for Horse Illnesses

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small_185495090For such large, athletic animals domestic horses are surprisingly fragile, due to the artificial environment man puts them in. Wild horses are sturdy, hardy animals—smart, wily and able to take care of themselves. They graze all day, move constantly and only the healthiest survive and reproduce. They are also relatively small, not particularly pretty and very strong-willed.

Consequently, when man decided horses were good for more than providing meat and milk, he began breeding them for specific traits. Good temperament, large size, speed and beauty were some of the prized characteristics. Over the millennia horses morphed into creatures that often would have a hard time surviving in the wild and even have problems surviving in man’s care. The desire to win races has resulted in many Thoroughbreds being very fast but having weak feet and overly sensitive emotions. Show ring “fashions” have encouraged huge bodies with slim, tiny legs and feet that cannot stay sound for the long run. And, of course, miniature horses, as cute as they are, would be hard pressed to survive on their own.

small__598978125Add to that, being confined twenty-three hours a day in a small stall, being fed large amounts of hay, instead of eating grass, and being asked to do intense work instead of moving casually, and today’s horses develop problems that they wouldn’t encounter in the wild.

One of the most common and deadly problems is a result of how they are kept and fed. The horse’s stomach is designed to digest small portions of food all day long. While some horses are kept in large pastures where they can graze naturally, this kind of open land is disappearing and most horses, by necessity, live in confined areas, either stalls or paddocks. Then they are fed calorie-dense hay and often grain too, usually twice a day because that fits best with human schedules. As a result their digestive systems can be easily upset and they can colic.

Colic is basically a painful bellyache that can be relatively easy to treat or can develop into something deadly. It is the most common cause of death in horses. Bad food, dirty water, parasites, lack of exercise, a sudden change in the weather are some of the many things that can provoke a colic attack. In most cases, the problem can be solved by a visit from the vet. Sometimes surgery is required (a very expensive proposition) and other times the only thing to do is to put the suffering animal down. Good management is vital to keeping horses healthy and happy.

freeimage-144227Another illness connected to food and care is known as laminitis, a very painful condition that affects the hooves. The equine digestive system cannot handle large amounts of concentrated, high-carb food. If a horse should get loose and into the grain barrel or pig out on high-sugar Spring grass, this can trigger an inflammatory response which destroys the tissues in its hooves that hold the boney structures in place. Depending on the extent of the damage, the result can be devastating. Conditions such as Cushings Disease or Metabolic Syndrome can make horses susceptible to laminitis problems too.

As odd as it might seem, horses have many of the same problems that humans do. They can have allergies, COPD, arthritis, thyroid dysfunctions, bursitis and a host of other disorders. And they are treated with many of the same medicines. I used to give my daughter’s mare powdered Synthroid for her low thyroid and albuterol for her breathing problems. Horses with stomach ulcers often get Tagamet.

Of course, wild horses are unlikely to have ulcers or allergies or a lot of the other problems. These tend to be the result of living with man and doing the work he asks of them. So it behooves us to be aware of the consequences and do our best to take good care of our equine friends. Today, because of advances in understanding and veterinary care, horses are living and working into their thirties. Something very rare in previous times.

Race horse photo: http://tinyurl.com/mtxc7uo
Stable photo: http://tinyurl.com/lu8ysme
Categories: horse care, Horses, nature, outdoors, ponies, riding, stables, Thoroughbreds | Tags: , , , | 10 Comments

Rack On!

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Walk, trot, canter are the three basic gaits all horses have. What about slow gait, rack, running walk, single foot, tölt, fox trot, or the paso largo? These are a few of the additional gaits some breeds of horses can do. Where did all these additional gaits come from and why do they exist?

small__5787205489The simple answer is comfort. For most of human history people traveled by foot or by horse. Carts and carriages were heavy, slow and not particularly comfortable. If you wanted to get somewhere quickly, you rode horseback. However, a horse’s walk is relatively slow, the trot is uncomfortable and the canter can only be sustained for short periods. Also, it was common for women to ride sideways behind a rider, especially if they didn’t know how to ride. This put them over the most active part of the horse and restricted them to a walk. Any other gait would make it difficult to stay on.

So what was needed was a horse with a fast but smooth gait that would let you ride all day in relative ease and wouldn’t bounce you off its rump. Some horses had natural variations on the walk that allowed them to move this way. Amblers, as they were commonly known, were highly valued until about the 18th century when other forms of transportation arose.

The amble in all its permutations is a four-beat gait where at least one foot remains on the ground at all times (thanks Sue), providing a smooth, easy-to-sit ride. With three gaited horses, their backs move and require the rider to move with them. Gaited horses keep their backs relatively still and just move their legs. This provides a silky smooth ride that requires little of the rider. A classic demonstration is to have the rider carry an old fashioned, shallow glass of champagne in his hand or to put the champagne glass on the horse’s rump. A good horse won’t spill a drop.Silvano Taipe show horse

Innumerable variations of the amble developed over the centuries and in different parts of the world. Hispanic cultures tend to like flashy, showy horses and the Peruvian Paso and Paso Fino of South America reflect that. They have very fast, showy gaits that look quite unusual to American eyes. The Icelandic Pony also attracts attention for its small size and speedy ground-covering tölt.

The early settlers of the United States also valued comfortable horses and developed their own versions. The Tennessee Walking Horse, with its running walk, was bred to give plantation owners a smooth, all-day ride while they supervised their vast holdings. The Missouri Fox Trotter, Rocky Mountain Horse, Spotted Saddle Horse, and Kentucky Mountain Horse are variations on the same theme.

small_9680085853The American Saddlebred was first bred in colonial times as a high-stepping but smooth ride. Then it was further refined in Kentucky and became a popular military mount during the Civil War. Known as the peacock of the horse world, the Saddlebred can be either three-gaited or five-gaited. Its two extras are the slow gait and the rack. The rack is done at speed and is exciting and crowd pleasing. Rack on! is the command.

Here is a link to a site that has short videos of many of the horses I talked about. They need to be seen in action to be understood. http://majesticrider.com/id100.html

Since the previous site didn’t include the Saddlebred, here’s one that does. http://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=American+Saddlebred&FORM=VIRE2#view=detail&mid=1C43754AAF7CEA68E44C1C43754AAF7CEA68E44C

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Lady: photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/marionzetta/5787205489/”>Marionzetta</a&gt; via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/”>cc</a&gt;
Saddlebred:  photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/desertnightcreations/9680085853/”>Heather Moreton-Abounader Photography</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/”>cc</a&gt;
Categories: gaited horses, history, Horses, Kentucky, riding, Trail riding, Uncategorized | Tags: , , | 14 Comments

The Sensitive Extrovert

Wow! WPRG Reviewer's Choice nominee flathat a surprise!

My books, WYOMING ESCAPE and FOREWARNING, have been nominated for the PRG Reviewer’s Choice Award for “Best Mystery/Thriller/Suspense.” Voting is open from through Sun, Jan 12.

I’d really appreciate your support and vote. Unfortunately the books are competing against each other, so I hope you’ll choose Forewarning. You’ll have to page down a ways to get to the Mystery/Suspense listing. If you click on either cover image, you’ll be able to see the reviews for both books.  And you need to register on the site in order to vote.
http://www.paranormalromanceguild.com/2013reviewerschoice.htm

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I’m still catching up from the holidays, so I’m recycling an older post about horse personalities that I hope you will enjoy.

Previously I talked about the Extrovert Thinker as typified by my horse Star. Today, I’d like to discuss the Extrovert Reactor.

First, a quick note: These personality types are on a continuum, of course. Some are more extroverted than others, some are less reactive. Some can change—become less introverted or more of a thinker. But their basic type remains and influences their actions.

Portia at 29

Portia at 29

My mare Portia, a grey Anglo-Arab (half Thoroughbred and half Arabian), was a typical Extrovert Reactor. She was very sensitive to stimuli and hyper-aware of her environment. Even at age twenty-nine and retired, she could be a challenge and needed an experienced handler. Not that she’d ever deliberately hurt someone, she just tended to react first and think later.

She also really enjoyed life. She loved to play and would try her best to please. She’d yell a greeting when she saw me and come running up to the gate eager for a treat or an outing. In the show ring or a parade, when she “turned on” all eyes were on her. She also used to fly down a new trail with her incredible walk, eager to see what was around the next corner. Even though she could be a pain in the butt, her exuberance was a lot of fun.

When I first got her as a seven year-old, she was ready to spin and bolt at the slightest provocation—a rock that looked funny, a horse scratching it’s ear with a hind leg, a COW on the trail! She soon learned bolting wasn’t acceptable behavior so she tried others. Like teleporting half way across the arena or jittering in place or jumping straight up. I eventually discovered that part of the reason for her reactivity was because she was in pain. She needed chiropractic care (just starting with horses at that time and not widely accepted) and a correctly fitted saddle (which proved to be almost impossible to find). Once those problems were solved, she settled down a lot.

But she still retained her quirky personality. One time we hung a bright pink piñata in a tree near the pasture and she and my daughter’s horse decided that it was a decidedly SCARY thing. They came up close to the fence, took a look, then snorted and high-tailed it back to the barn. Duchess stayed there, but Portia couldn’t resist. She’d dance back up to the fence and watch big-eyed as one of kids swung at the colorful unicorn. Then she’d take off for the other end. A few minutes later, she was back, waiting to be “scared” again. I swear she was disappointed when the thing finally broke and everyone went away.

Her playfulness and sensitivity made her a delight to train. She was eager to learn new things and would try her hardest to do what I asked. Of course, this meant I had to be quite careful  with my corrections so I wouldn’t discourage her. In general, she’s always required a very light hand. As a result, I got a horse responsive to the slightest cue and that just about read my mind.

Riding her was never dull. One time we were exploring in the mountains and I twisted around in the saddle to get a map out of the saddlebag behind me. Just then a pair of fawns exploded across the trail, directly in front of us. Portia spun aside–out from under me because of the way I was turned. I ended up hanging off her, one hand somehow on her bridle, one hand on the breast collar, one foot still in a stirrup under her belly and the other still in the stirrup on top of her back. Because of how far down I was and the fact the saddle was slipping, I couldn’t get back up. Another horse might have freaked and tried to get rid of me, but Portia stood perfectly still and waited for me to work myself loose of the stirrups and drop to the ground. I really couldn’t blame her for dodging  the fawns and I certainly appreciated her being sensible.

Obviously a sensitive, reactive personality is not appropriate for an inexperienced horse person. This type needs a calm, confident rider who doesn’t get upset by spooks and silliness. But if you know what you are doing and have a light touch, a extrovert-reactor can be great fun.

I lost Portia this summer at age 30. I really miss my delightful “brat child.”

Categories: Books, horse personalities, Horses, nature, outdoors, riding, training horses, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , | 3 Comments

Gaits – Not Gates

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Today I’m going to talk about how horses move—their gaits. Contrary to what the movies usually show, horses do more than walk or run flat out. In fact the most commonly used gait of all, the trot, is only seen if they are pulling carriages. So what is the reality?

You’re probably familiar with the horse’s four natural gaits—walk, trot, canter and gallop. But did you know that some horses have six or more gaits? I’ll talk about the basics first.

small_10020981376The walk is a slow four-beat movement. First a rear foot moves, followed by the front foot on the same side, then other rear foot followed by its front. With this pattern three feet are always on the ground providing a smooth, easy ride. Horses vary greatly in size, shape and energy, but an average walk is about four miles per hour. Some have much faster walks, in the six mph range.

A good rider knows to keep his/her body still and quiet so as not to disturb the horse’s balance. If you allow yourself to move in the saddle, the horse has to constantly deal with a shifting weight that can interfere with his equilibrium. Therefore, it’s important to keep your upper body still—but not rigid. Your pelvis needs to move with the movement of the horse’s body. At the walk, this means allowing each side of your pelvis to move forward and back independently as first one rear leg steps forward and then the other. At a normal, casual walk this is usually no problem. At a speed walk, it’s surprising how tiring that can be.

The trot is a faster two-beat gait where opposite pairs of legs move at the same time. small_369623604As each pair goes forward, the horse’s back drops a bit, which causes the rider to feel a jar when the feet land and the back rises again. Learning to ride a trot comfortably is a beginner rider’s hardest task. The easiest way is to learn to post, which means rising out of the saddle and sitting back down in rhythm with the gait. Some horses do a slow jog that has very little bounce and is much easier to sit, but it doesn’t cover a lot of ground. If you want to go a long distance fairly fast, you’ll be doing most of it at a trot. This applies whether you are riding or being pulled in a carriage or coach. The trot is the “working” gait for going places. Something to keep in mind if you write about people traveling distances.

small_2431865552The horse’s third gait has a couple of names. If you are riding English style it’s a canter, but it’s a lope when you ride Western. Either way, the canter is a three-beat leaping gait with a moment of suspension, but is much smoother to ride than the trot. Here the rider needs to let her whole pelvis move forward and back with the movement. The canter or lope is a controlled fast pace that allows you to cover ground quickly, for a shorter period of time.

The gallop or full out run is the fourth standard gait and used for racing or fleeing a predator in the wild. It’s a four-beat, stretched out, ground-covering canter that can only be sustained for a relatively brief period of time—one to two miles. Despite what you see in the movies, horses can’t run fast for long periods. Usually the rider stands in the stirrups when galloping.

In addition to these standard gaits, there are a number of additional gaits specific to certain breeds. These horses are unusual and fun and I’ll talk about them next time.

Here’s video about gaits:

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Race photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/kubina/185495090/”>Jeff Kubina</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/”>cc</a&gt;
Horse walking photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/63942879@N05/10020981376/”>Katherine Mustafa Photography</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/”>cc</a&gt;
Horse trotting photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/nikkis_pikkis/369623604/”>nikki_tate</a&gt; via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/”>cc</a&gt;
Horse cantering
Categories: dressage, Horses, nature, outdoors, Racing, riding, Thoroughbreds, training horses, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , | 6 Comments

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