It’s been awhile since I’ve worked cattle on horseback (well, almost a year to be exact!), but I used to do it every day when I was a teenager. I learned so much about cattle when I was working alongside my dad. His approach to working cattle was very practical and methodical; my dad is a very patient individual. But he never really explained things—he expected us to know what he was thinking, to understand what the cattle were going to do before they did it, and to be exactly in the right place to control them at all times. This article is an attempt to do just that: guidelines for handling cattle for the beginner.
I grew up in the country, but I wasn’t born in a barn. More like a cornfield. We had a barn, but it was not your typical horse stable, and the horses never slept in it. It had a room we kept the saddles in and a heat lamp for baby calves that were chilled and needed a dry space to warm up in the winter, it had a stanchion area for milking a cow (that was one of my jobs when I was in high school), and it had a bigger open area we saddled the horses in, and then two stalls and a headgate for restraining cows if they wouldn’t let their calves nurse or if they needed help calving. I spent a lot of time in our barn as a child, but I didn’t learn how to muck a stall until I was in my twenties.
Usually my horse maintenance plan goes something like this: pitching hay morning and night and making sure they’re all walking on four legs. But sometimes horses require more than that. We had the vet come out the other day, to castrate our buckskin yearling stallion and check on his mother’s health. Both of the buckskins have lost body condition in the year that we have owned them, and we wanted to get a professional evalution from a veterinarian on how to counteract that. We weren’t sure if it was a tooth problem or lack of adequate nutrition for the mare, and the colt needed gelded and is looking a little bony as well.
Most of us horse lovers have been inspired by horses and riders in the movies at one point or another. Whether it was growing up watching Bonanza or seeing Wild Hearts Can’t Be Broken for the first time, those horses and the people who rode them made a big impact on us and deepened our interest in becoming a rider or owning our own horse someday. There are just a few things that have crossed my mind when watching some of the Hollywood-style riding, and wanted to comment for the benefit of the total beginning horse enthusiast.
We’re still trying to come up with a name for our mare. We have kicked around ideas, but no matter what one person suggests, someone else has an aversion to that particular name, or they have a suggestion that they think would work better. I’m beginning to think that I just don’t have the imagination I used to have when I was younger. Coming up with horse names was a cinch when I was a little girl.
It’s springtime, and babies are being born, and it makes me start wishing and hoping. No, we don’t have any expectant mares this year, but my folks out in Idaho have several mares that are bred to this Hancock bred blue roan stallion, Handmade Forever, for his first foal crop. They purchased the stud colt and two fillies from Keith Munn’s production sale two summers ago, and are really excited to see how this young stallion turns out. I’m looking forward to lots of baby pictures and celebrating spring as it should be.
I’ve been thinking about the horse slaughter topic a lot lately, and would like to share some of my thoughts on the issue, but I find that I can hardly discuss it without stepping on toes, and probably square on the toes of some of my friends. When you start talking about killing horses, there isn’t any middle ground where you can please everybody—people are either adamantly against it or staunchly for it, and are prepared to fight for the chance to prove that the opposing side is filled with lunatics and monsters. I would like to point out that it shouldn’t be that way, because I do find myself somewhere in the middle on the question of horse slaughter.
One of the things every horse owner should consider is the fact that horses don’t live forever, nor do they stay rideable forever. It might seem overly simple to state it in that fashion, but we really don’t like to think about horses getting old, getting hurt, or dying. Our imaginations enable us to envision the Black Stallion living in endless glory…and even though we understand the old gray mare “ain’t what she used to be”, we like to pretend that she is still quite comfortable and able. The truth is far uglier at times, and a responsible horse owner will understand and plan ahead of time. What should you do when your horse is too old to be useful? What are the options for owners of aged equines?
When you have a foal, everything is sweetness and light. But only for so long. Then the life lessons begin and they have to learn to wear a halter, to follow a leader, to stand tied, and face their biggest fear of all—being separated from their mommy. It is a difficult change for both mare and foal, to give up that comfort and connection. But weaning a foal helps develop the disposition a horse needs to have—a working horse has to be able to go out and do a job without throwing a fuss when it is separated from other horses. Weaning is a very important step in the life of a foal.
“Did you mean to leave this out here?” asked my husband, as I was pitching hay into the horse’s feeder. I looked up to see him holding what appeared to be a black mud crusted length of coiled rope. “What is it?” I asked. “The new halter.” Sure enough it was the brand new bright purple halter we had bought, and me being the forgetful person I am, I had evidently taken it off a horse and dropped it. Only now it was mud soaked and trompled in manure, sporting a new horrible color and the smell to match it. How do you clean a halter? I was certain it would never look new again.
In my quest to provide good advice to my readers, one of my most often incurred questions is how to overcome your fear of riding. While there are millions of people who love horses, a surprisingly large percentage of those people are actually afraid of them. Some are afraid because of a frightening experience in their past, and others have an instinctive fear stemming from an overall lack of experience with horses. Either way, the fear of horses (which has its own scientific term equinophobia or hippophobia), can be helped and sometimes completely overcome.
This might be one of the more obvious posts on this blog, leaving some of my readers wondering about my credibility as a cowgirl, if I have to explain something so elementary. But one of my goals with my writing is to provide a resource for beginner horse lovers, and we all start at the same square one, so in this post I’m filling in one of those first blanks: how to saddle a horse properly. If you’ve never done it before, it’s not something you want to guess about, as saddling the wrong way can result in a bad accident and possible injuries. These step by step photos will show you what to do and what not to do when you’re wanting to learn how to put a saddle on a horse.
For those of us who had the opportunity to grow up around horses, responsibilities and safe horse-handling practices became lifelong habits. But there are a lot of families with children who are starting from scratch, buying their first horse, and have no idea how to go about handling one. Here are some basic guidelines that kids and beginners should know about horses:
Writing in response to a recent question from a reader of my horse blog, I’d like to address the issue of how to correct a horse that bites you when you’re handling it. In this day and age of political correctness, what kind of discipline is acceptable to train a horse to not bite?
Here’s a point to ponder for all of you horse lovers out there: Don’t get so horse crazy that you lose all common sense. Getting caught up in your enthusiasm and passion for horses can easily overshadow some basic truths that I would like to point out.