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AlphaHorse News - September 2005

Greetings (Subscriber),

I hope these first days of fall find you all doing well. Since neither me nor the horses appreciate the sticky, humid dog days of summer that are so prevalent in the Northeast, fall and spring are by far the most pleasant seasons for us. This of course leads into one of the most enjoyable elements of horse ownership: leisurely trail riding!

Trail riding is something that all too many horse owners take for granted; they fail to adopt safe trail riding practices and preparations that can (and often do) lead to discomfort, injuries and even fatalities for horses and owners alike. In this issue we will take a closer look at a few of the more common safety rules that every horse owner should follow before and during their trail rides.

In addition we will be doing something a bit different this issue… we'll be asking for your help! We are strongly considering a complete redesign and reorganization of AlphaHorse.com and in order to serve you better we would like your input in determining our future additions.

Speaking of input, yesterday I discovered a little glitch that was preventing some of the mail submitted via the AlphaHorse Contact Form from reaching me... ouch! I patched the issue up so things are back to normal, but if you recently sent us a note through that form and didn't receive any response please know that I wasn't ignoring you.

So with that business out of the way, please sit back, relax and enjoy the rest of this issue.

Sincerely,
Jeffrey Rolo

In This Issue:


bulletThe Future of AlphaHorse
bulletHorse Safety During Trail Rides
bulletSometimes It's The Horse

The Future of AlphaHorse

Some of you have noticed that AlphaHorse hasn't been updated all that frequently over the summer months, and those observations are indeed true. But fear not fellow horse lovers… this temporary "silence" does not mean further work on AlphaHorse has been halted. In fact the opposite is true… this period should be considered the calm before a potential storm!

When I created AlphaHorse I wanted it to be more than just another horse site… I wanted it to be a community of horse lovers and owners. The goal was to have a place where horse fans of all ages could research essential information about horse care and horse training, play games, become introduced to other people in the horse world (i.e., the dude ranch owner spotlights), etc. From the feedback I've received from you all, I think we have succeeded in many of these goals, but I can't help but feel that one element is still lacking: community potential.

Right now AlphaHorse isn't really a two-way street where communication can go back and forth. Some of you might be familiar with blogging. While I am not interested in converting AlphaHorse into a blog, I do believe it's possible to incorporate some of its community-building technologies so that all of us could share thoughts, tips and conversation on virtually every page and article included on the site.

We do have some other ideas up our sleeves, but I won't babble on about them here. Instead I will ask you to visit http://www.alphahorse.com/future-survey.html and take a moment of your time to fill out a quick survey. Restructuring AlphaHorse would be a long-term plan, but before cementing my plans I'd like to see what's most important to you.

Horse Safety During Trail Rides

For a horse owner, few things are better than taking a leisurely trail ride with your equine companion. Taking in the surroundings… breathing the fresh air… gently swaying back and forth in the saddle… combined they can make the hours slip away like seconds. But as peaceful as trail rides with your horse are, there are certain "rules" a horse rider should follow to ensure that a foul surprise doesn't interrupt the experience.

The first key to a safe trail ride is a sense of comfort with your partner, and that goes for both you AND your horse. Trail rides often have many surprises in store, ranging from birds suddenly darting out from trees overhead to cars zooming on by too quickly. Such incidents can easily startle your horse, and when this occurs it is essential that you convey a sense of ease to your partner lest he bolt or rear, possibly throwing you in the process.

It's also essential to keep in mind that a trail ride is NOT the time to introduce your horse to new experiences unless the trail ride itself is a planned and controlled lesson. Horses may often be required to backup, perform 180 turns in tight quarters, cross pools of water, maneuver over fallen trees or debris and much, much more. Make sure your horse can perform these necessary moves and/or requests, because if they cannot you might find yourself in a bit of a pickle on the trail.

Unless the trail ride is a training lesson, you should use a horse that is already comfortable being a leader and a follower. During most trail rides the horses will ride in a formation, but if for whatever reason that formation breaks up you don't want a one-trick pony that will panic being placed in a new role.

Never ride alone! It's one thing to ride alone in a controlled atmosphere such as a round pen, but it's almost foolhardy to do so on trails or roads. Even the best horse can panic and do something silly when you least expect it. Even the best rider can lose his balance and fall. And although riding helmets do offer good head protection, I've seen many injuries ranging from badly sprained ankles to broken necks. Remember, a helmet can only offer so much protection.

Know your horse. The more familiar you are with horses and their body language, the better you can recognize potential trouble signs such as tensed muscles, pinned ears, etc. By knowing your horse, you can help take his mind off potential "boogey men" every time his attention floats away from the task at hand.

It also helps to be aware of your surroundings such that you can anticipate potential trouble spots. For example, if you know that around the bend resides a dog that charges towards the fence and barks up a storm every time a horse approaches, you can start reassuring your horse the moment the commotion begins. Although your horse might be initially spooked, if he sees that you're aware of the "problem" and have dismissed it as a non-threat, chances are he will relax.

Be careful not to take this too far. A great rider is constantly alert, but he's also in complete control of his movement and emotional state. For example if you hear a car approaching from the rear, it's NOT a good idea to hold your breath and tense up like many riders unknowingly do. Those are nervous reactions that have a high probability of convincing your horse that the car is a threat… after all, if YOU fear it then HE should too! An alert rider predicts threats and reassures their horses upon exposure. A nervous rider predicts threats and only makes matters worse.

Food and water are controversial topics when it comes to trail rides, and for most of us they never really enter the equation during the rides themselves since many of us don't ride more than a couple hours at a time. If you do undergo a strenuous or extended trail ride though you will want to be aware of your horse's food and water needs.

Some riders will never allow their horses to drink water during a trail ride, fearful that cool water from a pond can cause colic. This is a semi-accurate concern – you definitely do not want to allow your horse to drink too much water in the midst of that work or he can colic. But by the same token if your horse becomes too dehydrated he can still colic, this time due to waste compaction caused by a lack of liquids required by the digestive system. I personally feel it's safe to allow your horse to drink for approximately one minute – you want to allow him enough liquids to function, but not so much as to cause ill health.

As far as food goes, the trail is no place for a grain-only diet. Sometimes horse owners are tempted to bring nothing but grain since grain is easy to transport, but horses require a majority diet of hay, grass and other forms of forage.

There are a multitude of considerations that go into safe horsemanship, so clearly this article was not to be an all-inclusive look at trail riding. But as long as you keep the above horse safety tips in mind at all times, you'll already be one step ahead of many.

With the fall riding season kicking off into gear, perhaps it is time to consider purchasing new tack or replacing old and worn items. StateLineTack.com is one of the premiere providers of horse equipment, offering a huge selection of items and great prices to boot.

Sometimes It's The Horse

Horses have taught me most of what I know about training horses. This is a secondhand story, but the story and the horse impressed me enough that I never forgot it. If memory serves, the guy who told me the story was Bud Blackburn, one of the first people to bring Quarter horses into our area. Bud had a stallion named Rock and was doing quite a bit of breeding.

One day a guy called Bud and said his mare ready to be bred. Could he bring her over? Sure, Bud says, and pretty soon he sees a flatbed truck (that means it had no sides or back for those of you who aren’t into trucks) coming down his driveway. Bud had to rub his eyes when he saw the payload. The mare was standing in the center of the truck platform looking over the top of the cab. The guy pulled into Bud’s yard and found a bank he could back up to. The mare was wearing a Western saddle. There was a rope running from a stake pocket on one side of the platform, up and around the saddle horn, and down to a stake pocket on the other side.

The guy and the mare were both cool as cucumbers. He untied the rope, unwrapped the horn, and unsaddled the mare. Then he turned her around, walked her to the back of the truck and she jumped down. Off they went to find Rock and get her bred. When the party was over, the guy asked the mare to jump back up on the truck platform and she complied. He tied the mare’s halter rope over the top of the cab and put the saddle back on. Then he ran the rope up from one side of the truck, around the horn, and down to the other side again. The fella paid Bud and off he went with his mare standing on the flatbed, leaving Bud to pick his jaw up off the ground.

The guess the moral of this story is that some horses are so darn good you can get away with anything. We had a horse like that once named Mama. She wasn’t much of a looker but she knew the drill so well that she could make anybody look good in the show ring no matter how bad a rider they were. We used to rent her out at shows so people could go home feeling good because they’d won a ribbon.

If there’s a lesson here, it might be that if you go to someone who calls themselves a trainer, check out the kind of horses they work with first. A good trainer should be able to work with all temperaments, all breeds, all sexes, and all kinds of horses. We get all kinds every year here at Meredith Manor. We get baby horses that have been running wild in a pasture before they arrive. They’re a totally clean slate. We also get a lot of reform school candidates, even a few that have been rejected from clinics by come of the current gurus traveling the country. And we get everything in between.

There’re all OK with us because we want our students to experience what it’s like to work with the hard ones as well as the easy ones. Anybody can be a success with the easy horses. But professional trainers don’t get the easy horses. They get the ones the owners or other trainers have given up on. They can’t depend on the horse’s good nature and willingness to cooperate to get the job done. They have to have a systematic way of putting a foundation on the horse that will eventually allow the horse to specialize in whatever game the owner wants to play.

There’s another lesson. A good natured horse that just goes along with whatever you ask relieves you somewhat from the responsibility of having a training system that can work with any horse playing any game whether that game is dressage or reining or jumping. Some people focus on the game they want to play and all its rules and idiosyncrasies. They build their “training program” around following those rules instead of making sure that the horse progressively develops the rhythm, relaxation, freedom of gaits, acceptance of contact, straightness, balance, impulsion, suppleness, response to the aids, and collection (to whatever degree he’s physically capable) that allow him to play any game.

The nice thing about having a system, whether you’re an amateur rider with one horse or a professional trainer with a barnful of them, is that you’ve always got a place to go to figure out what the horse knows and what he needs to work on. So the horse comes to you with a bad habit or gets confused or cranky somewhere along the way while you’re working with him, you can always back up in the system until you find the hole, fix it, and move forward again. If you’ve got a good system, you’ll never have to worry about being a one-horse wonder.

© 1997-2002 Meredith Manor International Equestrian Centre. All rights reserved.

Ron Meredith has refined his "horse logical" methods for communicating with equines for over 30 years as president of Meredith Manor International Equestrian Centre, an ACCET accredited equestrian educational institution.

Rt. 1 Box 66
Waverly, WV 26184
(800) 679-2603

Thanks again for making AlphaHorse one of the premiere sources for horse enthusiasts. As always, we welcome your contributions and thoughts on how to further ensure AlphaHorse exceeds your expectations.

Sincerely,
--The Team at AlphaHorse



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