Friday, January 29, 2010


The mere mention of the “F” word sends a shiver up my spine. When I think of the word, I do not envision an athletic horse performing a spin or a beautiful sliding stop, but instead I envision the aftermath of that beautiful horse’s efforts: early break-down. This is obviously indirectly thus related to the future post pertaining to hock injections; so many of the horses who participate in futurities (or the training leading up to futurities) seem to require hock injections and other such maintenance early in their careers and lives, ultimately due to their being pushed beyond their physical capacities at the time.

Why do futurities even exist? They originally came about as breeding/training/competition incentives. For the promotion of particular horses, a way to showcase a horse and to demonstrate its potential. Today they seem to have been twisted into a financial gain that neglects to take into account the welfare of the horse. While it is true these horses are “treated like royalty” when one takes a deeper look, I think for the most part you will find horses who are slowly being pushed towards a doomed fate. Furthermore our definition of "royalty" often very much differs from that of a horse's and many of the training, feeding, management, and husbandry practices employed to create these futurity stars is questionable.

How they work. Essentially, a horse is started as a yearling or 2yo, with the goal of creating a superstar by the age of 3 years. As a 2yo (and some are not even a full 2), the horse starts its campaign: the more shows the horse attends and wins (or does well in) = the more his name is publicized and promoted = the higher the chance of a successful breeding career, the more winnings that horse earns, the more prominent the name of the breeder, owner, trainer. Campaign campaign campaign. In doing so, the horse is exposed and has more breeding potential and value. Though others may exist outside of the futurity world with as much or more talent, because such-and-such-horse’s name has been campaigned to death and everyone is aware of its existence, they then choose to breed to it and seek out its foals rather than no-name over there who could produce just as successfully…which obviously ultimately results in more money in the owners’ pocket. Campaigning a horse is expensive – first there is the value of the horse itself, then one needs a trainer or rider (preferably a big name) to advertise and compete on the horse, then there is the care and upkeep of not only keeping, but showing and hauling the horse…the list continues. So it pays to start the horse young; the younger the horse competes, the sooner the owner gets their investment back. As a result, futurities are essentially allowing the same as what occurs in the racehorse industry; the horse is seen and used almost solely as a financial investment. As such, the horse’s welfare is often forgotten. It becomes okay to overuse a horse because it will be retired by the time it is 4 or so. Arthritis and other such manifestations as a result of the young horse’s burden will likely not become apparent until down the road and at that time, the horse will still be able to breed (or make a name for its farm or parents or trainer) – it is not necessary for it to be competition sound any longer. Read this to understand how a horse matures and thus the physical repercussions of competing these horses so young. Not to mention the mental effects of pushing a young and immature horse...

Why they will stay. Ultimately, individuals themselves will likely not have the self-discipline to wait and allow the horse to mature, to not push the horse into futurities at such a young age – it just does not pay or allow for the same financial gain. Breed and competitive associations, who are ultimately responsible for this, have the power to push futurities to a horse’s 5th or 6th year (or heck, even the 4th would be an improvement). They won’t, however, for monetary reasons. If they push futurities, individuals will be less likely to gain financially and thus will be less likely to participate in the first place. This would ultimately affect the various breed associations as their members' participation and thus fees and the association's income, drops. It does not pay for the associations to regulate futurities in the best interests of the horse.

What should happen. The horse should be put first, above all financial gain. The horse is not a financial investment above all else and its long-term welfare needs to be placed above all else. He is not a vessel for human greed. Unfortunately, this will likely simply remain a “nice thought” rather than a future reality. In the end, it is only the horse who suffers – at our hands, as a result of our greed.

**Please take note the preceding concerns performance futurities for young horses only...other types of futurities are another class altogether and not nearly as (if at all, depending on the situations) worrisome. Please also take note also that I am not involved in futurity competition or such, so if I am missing any points or am misunderstanding to an extent, feel free to comment. The preceding is what I have gleaned from my own associations who are involved in such events and who raise such horses, and from what I myself have observed. The futurity industry obviously leaves much to be desired by the horse.

Monday, January 25, 2010


Clone of Gem Twist, the Thoroughbred jumper

Researchers Give Clone Health Warning - a little outdated now, but still interesting.

Champion Horse Cloned

Cloning & Horse Racing

Cloning Open to the Public

Pacific & Prairie on Horse Cloning - Feb 2009

Interesting... scary?!

Why do people do it? I think it can be for a number of reasons:
- the chance to have "ol' lucky" back (particularly as cloning becomes more accessible)
- the same conformation and thus physical ability, but breedable (ie, gelding versus stallion)
- a younger version of the original is created - missed competitions, races, etc may be completed
- preserve particular bloodlines

I suppose I can understand at some level. For example, there is validity in wanting to breed a horse who was gelded at a young age but that possesses excellent bloodlines and proves to be athletic and talented and successful in his particular discipline. Cloning such a gelding and keeping the resultant clone a stallion that may pass along the original gelding's genes could have an impact on the industry. In regards to mares, it could be extremely useful to be able to have a clone of hers maintained as a broodmare at home whilst the original mare continues to compete, as an alternative to embryo transfer. If the mare is highly successful, there could be some merit in having a copy of her producing foals simultaneously with herself, producing a greater number of progeny from that mare's genes. On the other hand, I cannot possibly imagine wishing to have a twin of one of our horses - I already have my boys, I don't need carbon copies of them! I would much rather start a new partnership with a new horse than try to 'relive' a life with a copy of one of my deceased horses.

Conversely, as far as the preservation of bloodlines go, my personal opinion is that while losing certain bloodlines is certainly disappointing, it is part of the business and a part of life. It is what happens. Instead of relying on specific bloodlines, we are then forced to create, develop and experiment in new potentially successful and revolutionary lines.

Furthermore, a cloned horse will not necessarily exhibit the same temperament, personality, drive, heart, or sheer luck of the original. Other variables also impact a clone's success or lack thereof:
- nutritional practises (both in-utero, as a foal nursing from a specific mare, and as a growing horse), which can affect bone density, growth, and muscle development
- illness/disease/other (including worms)
- handling/human interaction
- general training
- under-saddle work
- individual experiences
- how the foal is raised (in a herd, in a stall, with older horses, with only younger horses)

Nevermind the fact that the health and longevity of the 'carbon copy' is still questionable. Remember Dolly the sheep, cloned in Scotland? She had to be euthanised at roughly half the age she should have lived to. Is it fair we pre-destine an animal to an early and undetermined fate?

On the subject of ethics, where do we draw the lines at what is ethical and what is not? For example, would a person having a 'brood/stud copy' at home be tempted to over-race or over-compete the original or the clone, or take risks they would not normally take should they only have 'one copy' of the horse in question?

Current cloning prices run in the low six-figures, but researchers and companies hope that as the process becomes more efficient and available, the price will eventually be dropped to a level acceptable to mid-incomers. However as it stands in 2009, cloned horses are not (to my knowledge) eligible to be registered by any governing bodies. They may still compete in non-sanctioned shows and competitions, but their use is rather limited.

On the other hand, 'clone-type' work and research can definitely be beneficial...such as using stem cell therapy to repair injuries to horses. So where do we draw the line?

Obviously my personal opinion is clear - cloning just somehow sits wrong with me and while I recognise the benefits of the research that yields cloning, I cannot side with cloning itself. I think by attempting to rubber stamp our horses we risk damaging the breed, bloodlines, and the species in general. I also resent that people with the money to throw at this think that they can simply purchase a 'champion' with so little work and effort. I mean, essentially, the way they are looking at is: hey, I can spend thousands breeding, buying, and training horses in the hopes that one becomes a champion, or I can just skip the 'line' and buy a 'pre-made champion'. They are taking away all the creativity and intelligence that comes of breeding and training horses. We had might as well race/compete robots!

What do you think? Would you do it if you had the money?

Friday, January 22, 2010

Urgent: Albertans!!

Attention: Albertans

I just wanted to bring to light the following auction, as per Edmonton's Bar N K Rescue and Placement for OTTB's:

Bar N K Rescue

"On Jan 5, 2009 there was an SPCA seizure of 33 head of TB'S in the Calgary area. Since then 2 have died."

33 horses seized in Springbank

Apparently, from what I can gather, there are:
2 Appy-type geldings
2 Arab-type mares
1 Pinto Arab-type mare
2 Arab-type yearling fillies
Thoroughbreds (the rest), some with tattoos.

They are poised to be auctioned off at the High River Auction Mart January 27 at 1pm. If anyone can find the room in their hearts and pockets, please try to give these guys a hand if possible. I'll bet one could get them for a decent price, get them back into condition, and turn them over to a good home without losing out financially; it would make a huge difference to the horse (they certainly deserve a second chance!) without placing too much strain on the rescuer, particularly in this economy. My only "warning" would be to make sure you are prepared to give such a horse a home (even if temporarily to later place them) and that you have the experience (or help) and finances to deal with who-knows-what.

Monday, January 18, 2010

TWH Celebration: cele- wha-??

So...what are we celebrating??

Take a look at the following videos and let me know what is natural about this:

2009 TWH Celebration entrances. Some of those horses do look sore to my eye, however I cannot say for sure as my expertise lies far from TWH's.

2009 TWH Celebration classes. Some more uncomfortable looking horses - though they are absolutely gorgeous! I have to admit though that that unnatural-looking gait gives me the creeps.

How do people perceive this as good for the horse, as natural, and as desired??! Not only is this not healthy (in any way, shape or form) to the horse, but what use does such an extreme high step serve? Would you want this on a trail ride? For any real purpose?! Why would we, as people, reward the horse with the highest step, with no use for it? It’s like a fashion show, a talent show, where, instead of developing the horse into a useful and healthy animal, it is turned into a ruined wreck who never learned how to carry itself or think properly, and needs hock injections the rest of its life by the age of 4. Yay for the TWH industry. Good job, guys. Good job.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Follow the feel

How do you teach your horse to “follow the feel” of a leadrope or rein to be softer? I play a number of games and exercises with young horses to teach them to be responsive and light from the ground…here are a few:

Teaching a horse to “lead” by its mane or forelock:
Gently pick up a piece of forelock or mane and apply gentle pressure in phases – hold.
Reward the slightest try (the thought, a weight shift, or a step) by releasing your hold and rubbing, then re-ask (start over through all the phases of asking again), gradually expecting more and more from your horse.
Your horse might not understand at first your request, in which case you may use the leadrope or halter to hint to the horse to back: apply gentle pressure (in addition to continuing to hold pressure on the mane or forelock) to the lead or halter until the horse responds, then release both the mane or forelock and the halter or lead.
I find it also helps if you take a step back as you apply mane or forelock pressure, as then your horse naturally tries to follow you.
Your goal is to develop the exercise to the point where your horse is responsive and light to the feel you apply. This is a handy exercise if you are bringing your horse in sans halter or other like situations, and it teaches your horse in general to release to pressure of various sorts.

Teaching a horse to “lead” by its tail:
For this one I highly recommend teaching your horse the 7 games first – the yo-yo game in particular.
1 - Start by teaching your horse to yo-yo backwards to a light phase while you stand in front of him.
2 - Teach your horse to back while applying the yo-yo exercise standing at his nose or neck and back with him, maintaining your position
3 - Apply the yo-yo exercise standing at your horse's shoulder
4 - Apply the yo-yo exercise standing at your horse's barrel
5 - Apply the yo-yo exercise standing at your horse's hind
6 - Finally, apply the yo-yo exercise standing behind your horse. When you stand behind your horse be sure to stand off to the side and not directly behind him, in his blind spot, for safety reasons.
7 - Next you can pick up a piece of his tail and gently hold it outward, applying increasing pressure - then hold. Be careful with the tail – always keep the pressure steady and light so as to not damage the horse's tail.
8 - If your horse does not respond, you can gently progress through your yo-yo phases with the leadrope until your horse is backing appropriately when you simply rely on the tail.
Reward the slightest try by dropping the tail and releasing the yo-yo – expect a lot but accept little!
Be sure to play with and manipulate your horse's tail - friendly game - other times in such a way where you are not asking for him to back, between exercises and at random times. It is important your horse understand the difference in your intent when picking up his tail so you can pull, groom, braid or manipulate his tail for massage purposes without his mistaking the manipulation for a request to back. This exercise teaches the horse to release to pressure in another form and can be useful for asking your horse to back out of a trailer or in other similar situations.

'Wrapping' your horse in ropes:
1 - Start by standing behind your horse and just off to the side, holding the leadrope
2 - Apply gentle pressure in phases and hold until your horse releases by turning towards you – do not pull - hold and allow your horse to release. This should result in your horse doing a 180 turn to face you. Comb the rope (as in the yo-yo game) as your horse turns to encourage your horse to not just turn and face you, but to also walk up to you.
3 - Do the same exercise while standing on the opposite side of your horse, at his hind, the leadrope looping behind your horse at his hocks. Maintain a safe distance where you may not be kicked in the case your horse is startled.
Note: please make sure your horse is comfortable with being touched and with ropes all over his body before attempting this exercise. Use the friendly game to prepare your horse.
4 - Perform the same exercise standing at your horse's barrel on the opposite side - the leadrope looping from the horse’s halter, behind the horse, and to your hand.
5 - Perform the same exercise standing at your horse's opposite shoulder
6 - Perform the exercise standing at your horse's head so he ultimately does a full 360 turn away from you and finishes facing you
In step #6 your horse starts out facing you, does a full turn away from you, and finishes facing you once again as he follows the feel of the rope. When your horse is comfortable with the aforementioned steps, you may progress to 'wrapping' your rope twice around the horse so he has to do two 360 degree turns to finish facing you. Apply gentle pressure in phases and hold until your horse releases – the goal is to have your horse turn and face you as he follows the lightest possible feel.
As noted above, please first make sure that you have played enough friendly game with your horse so that he is comfortable with the feel of the rope around his hind end, legs, and sides, and do not 'wrap' your horse if he is showing any signs of right-brained behaviour (reactiveness). Wait until he is relaxed with the previous steps first prior to progressing to asking more of him, including the 'wrap'.

Leg ropes:
Get creative with your ropes! Start by looping a (soft, thick) rope around one of your horse’s legs - anywhere on the leg whether at the fetlock or the knee or hock - and asking him to release to the pressure. I actually use this exercise to teach young or 'problem' horses to pick up their feet, from a safe distance where I cannot be kicked. Make sure the rope can loosen and come completely free immediately as soon as you release pressure, for safety reasons. Once your horse is comfortable with ropes around his legs and releasing to pressure with the rope looped around the fetlock, knee, hock, etc, you can move on to teaching him to “lead” by his feet or legs.
1 - Casually loop a soft and thick rope behind your horse’s fronts (I usually allow the rope to rest behind the horse’s knees) and apply gentle pressure (in phases, as always), particularly on the leg poised furthest back – the leg the horse automatically will want to lift if he’s to move forward.
2 - Hold pressure and use the halter or leadrope to encourage the horse to step forward if he does not initially respond to the leg pressure.
3 - Repeat. Apply pressure on the legs first then the lead or halter if necessary, with the goal of ultimately only using the rope on the legs.
The goal is to apply gentle pressure (imagine yourself using a tailhair) and have the horse step forward and ultimately walk forward. Start with the front, then work on the hinds, having the horse back according to light pressure on his legs (you can use the yo-yo game if he doesn’t respond to the pressure applied initially). Be careful with the hinds - only ask if your horse is properly prepared beforehand (calm and relaxed doing the preparation exercises) and ask at a distance where you are not within kicking range.

Other ways you may teach your horse to follow the feel:
Under-saddle, work on a loose rein and teach your horse the 3-part maneuver - keep your hands light and soft.
If you are playing the circling game, allow your horse to get “caught” on the wrong side of things such as barrels, trees (provided no branches are in the way), etc. When the horse goes to the wrong side of an obstacle, he runs out of rope and is forced to follow the feel to figure his way out of the situation (like teaching a leashed dog to go around a tree when he goes on the opposite side of the tree from you). Be sure to not give your horse too much rope length on the opposite side of the obstacle - set him up for success so he may solve the puzzle easily. If your horse gives the wrong answer, first look at your own cues and how you have set your horse up in this exercise or prepared him with prior exercises.

The goal is always to have your horse focused, responsive, and light – always ready to respond to the lightest feel of a rope, your energy, your legs, etc. Some of these exercises may not seem useful under-saddle however if you create a horse who is light and follows the feel on the ground and in general, he is more likely to think light and follow the feel under-saddle as well. Everything you desire in the saddle can first be taught on the ground. The above exercises also teach your horse to problem solve and to think outside the box. This is an advantage at times when your horse is faced with a challenge he has not experienced in the past.

If you are ever unsure of something and are struggling with it, stop, take a deep breath, and relax. Seek professional help. Don't annoy or frustrate your horse or yourself! If it is not something the two of you are ready for, take a break and come back to it another day.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Wild Horses

The following is a video clip of Thistle, a wild mustang originally from the 3 Strikes Ranch rescue whom Pat Parelli put some work on; I thought it was pretty interesting (and awesome!).


"At each of the Celebrations, The Humane Society of the United States has worked with local horse rescue groups to bring an adoptable rescued horse who trained with Pat Parelli for a three-day development program from ground work to riding. At the end of the Celebration, the featured horses were offered for adoption."

I just think that is fantastic, for a BNT to be show-casing specific horses who need homes as well as heightening awareness of the plights of horses (and mustangs!) in need of homes in general! Think of the good start and exposure these horses get in this type of arrangement, plus they hopefully find a good home and encourage others to pursue other horses currently in need of homes. What a good-looking little mustang, too, and obviously with a great mind (Pat even rides him bridleless in the video!) ;)