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Spring Update 2011

Spring has FINALLY sprung (I hope).  The flowers are popping, the pastures greening up and the animals are restless in their winter paddocks.  Its my favorite day in the spring when I am able to release the horses out to the summer pasture.  Its downright joyous, watching them romp and munch on the new grass.  It will need to dry out alittle more before that day comes, but it will be soon.

This is a busy time of year on the farm, with lots to do…

Piglets have arrived.  Three this year.  My niece, Marina named them Salt, Pepper and Basil.  Now there’s a kid who knows where her bacon comes from….

The calves, Tbone and Porter (aka Willy and Wally for my vegetarian friends), are settling in nicely.  I recently moved them down to the lower barn in anticipation of some electric fence training and more space for turnout.  Two days ago I let them out with Bogie as a trial.  They went right to the electric fence and put their sorry little noses squarely on the lowest strand.  Good boys.  Some lessons just have to be learned the hard way…

Porter and Tbone kick it up in their new enclosure

Just now, I was called away from my writing by the sound of thundering hooves.  I went to the window to watch Ripple and Reno tearing around their winter track.  What a sight, these huge horses galloping full speed, stop, spin, buck, run some more.    Ripple in particular is fun to watch, as he figures out how much better he feels this spring.  He moves tentatively at first, then you can see the idea click in that it feels ok to him.  Then he bucks and steps it up into high gear.  You can almost hear a ‘weeeeeeeeeee’, like a little kid on a rollar coaster, coming psychically from him.  Nothing says spring like a frisky horse!

What’s going on at Resting Heart Farm this Spring and Summer:

In the store, we currently have lots of eggs, both chicken and duck.  All are organic, free range and antibiotic free.  Our duck eggs are spectacular, with a rich buttery flavor.  They make the best omelets and frittadas, a great way to clean out your fridge leftovers on a sunday morning.

We will have fresh Goat Cheese toward the end of May.  We are expecting kids in the next week or two.  You can check our latest store offerings here.  For directions, click here.

Ripple Love Fest, Sunday, May 1st.

TBA,  June 25/26

Hands on Driving Workshop.  July 10th.  Reno and I have been asked to come teach at the Animal-Power Field Days at the NOFA Summer Conference in August.  I like to do a dry run ahead of time and this is it.  So if you have an interest in driving and want to learn more, come on over.  Donations will go to Frog Pond Draft Horse Rescue.  

Reiki Level 1.  August 7th.  Leela Olsen will return to the farm for a more formal Reiki workshop.  Proceeds will go to Frog Pond Draft Horse Rescue.

Northeast Animal-Power Field Days at NOFA Summer Conference.  August 12-14.  Amherst, MA.  Info at NOFA Summer Conference.

Draft Animal Power Network Annual Gathering at Fairwinds Farm. Sept 16-18. More details to come.

Updates to follow…Happy Spring, everyone!

Support Henniker Farm Store….

If you haven’t already heard the Mock Family who own the Henniker Farm Store in Henniker, NH lost their home, several beloved pets and all their belongings in a tragic house fire last week.  They are holding a bake sale at the store this weekend to help with the rebuilding of their home.  Please take a drive on this beautiful weekend to support them.

Out of town and want to contribute?  Donations can be sent to the store.

The Mock Family, 110 Bradford Road, Henniker, NH 03242

April Update on Beaugart

I’ve had Bogie home from the trainer for almost 2 weeks now.  I’m sticking to my plan and have left out the timeline, going very slowly.  I spent most of the first week in observation mode, trying to see where Bogie’s mind is at.  Having him away from the main herd has been very helpful, in that I can see his reactions to me more clearly.  Its amazing…he is all over the map!  From pacing the fenceline looking for the safety of the herd (RBE) to stomping on the chickens (LBE) to frozen and tense while I work around him(RBI) and then to frisking me for cookies (LBI)…all in a matter of a few minutes.  Phew…he’s like a friggin rollercoaster!

The first big ‘aha’ was that he really does not tolerate me approaching him directly.  He might manage to stand still, but he is tense and suspicious. I had missed that before.   If I have something in my hand, like a brush or a leadline, forget it, he is out of dodge.  This is the response I have seen before and attibuted it to the ‘thing’, when really I was just putting more pressure on a RB horse in an introverted moment.  What a dummy, lol!

So I have been really sticking to a consistent pattern..bring water, hay and grain, then cleaning up his paddock, in that order.  I have been waiting for him to approach me to instigate any direct interaction.  He has to be in a LB mode to get his curiousity up and I really want to keep him in this thinking frame of mind.  It was about the middle of last week when we had a break through.  I was down for his evening meal.  He had pooped where he eats, so I had changed up the pattern and was cleaning his paddock BEFORE getting his hay and grain.  So I was cleaning up his paddock, observing his behavior out of my peripheral vision.  He was pacing the fenceline.  Then he stopped abruptly (and so did I….surprised by his sudden lack of motion), looked over at me and started yawning vigorously.  I turned toward him and waited.  As he took one step toward me, I thought ‘There it is!  A question! You forgot my hay?!”  Thrilled, I set my manure fork down and walked over to the shed to retrieve his dinner.  To my amazement, as I arrived at the shed door, he was at my shoulder.  We had made contact…mentally…through communication.  It was a profound moment.

Since then he has been way more left brain than right.  I still have to be very careful about how I present my energy and about not putting more pressure on when he is unconfident.  Its very hard for me.  The other day I wanted to put a cooler on him.  It was cold and had been raining and he won’t go in the shelter.  I just wanted to get him dried off.  It was a perplexing situation.  I knew he would be unconfident about the cooler, and worried I would set us back if I pressed the issue.  On the other hand, the night was slated to be cold and I would be up all night worried about him if I didn’t get him warm.  I considered bringing him up to the barn and locking him in a stall, but that would have required catching and haltering…the one thing I promised I would not rush him into.  So I decided to try with the cooler, but had a plan to abort the attempt if things went south.  Put the relationship first, right.  I presented my idea to him by letting him sniff the cooler.  He obviously liked my idea and let me slide it onto his back and over his head, at liberty, without any resistance.  When he needed to move his feet as the leg straps touched him, I acknowledged his apprehension and idea about movement by simply going with him without adding pressure.  Worked like a charm.  When I was done, he licked his lips and set about frisking me for cookies.  Hysterical.

We’ve really made little progress on my list, probably still at step 1 and 2, but the tiny microsteps have allowed me to investigate other directions we might want to explore first,  For instance.  Bogie likes treats, when in a LB state of mind.  In fact, one of the ways I can tell he is LB, is that he is looking for treats from me.  But he always keeps me out in front of him in zone 1.  I realized this was a game he was pretty good at and it allows him to block my approach to the ‘catching areas’ in zone 2 and 3.  So I plotted a strategy to convince him that I am way more interesting in zone 2 or 3.  My initial approach into these zones would make him move away from me, sometimes in a RB over-reaction, but sometimes in a ‘you can’t catch me’ snotty manuveur.  I found that I could more easily back into that space, keeping my energy off Bogie.  Once I could do that, I started to only give treats from that spot near his shoulder.  Its good for him to bend around like that as well, as the trainer was concerned about his unwillingness to bend in the neck.  We’ve progressed right along with this game and I am now working on getting him to position me there by himself.  In the meantime, I can now stand in zone 2 or 3 and rub his withers, neck and even adjust his collar without losing him to the dark side.

Bogie and some typical NH spring weather...

New Format…

Some of you may have noticed the style and format of my blog has changed a few times this week.  I’ve been searching for the right theme.  Both appealing to the eye and functional.  I think I have settled on this one.  Check it out.  I’ve updated our home page and added a page that highlights what the farm is selling each week.  Feedback appreciated.

Starting Over with Beaugart…

Beaugart aka ‘Bogie’ is a young arab X NSH that came to Resting Heart Farm last winter.  From the start he has been difficult for me to read….hard to catch, head shy, evasive….sometimes anxious, sometimes curious, sometimes over-reactive.   He is a rescue and I don’t know alot about his history, but I can see he has some old wounds on his legs, and asymmetric eyes, so there has been some trauma.  The question is….does the old trauma create his current state of mind or did his innate way of dealing with life make him more likely to have accidents.  Doesn’t really matter, I guess…I have to deal with the horse that is here right now.  And where we are right now is, well, complicated.  Last summer, I was working pretty successfully with Bogie, or so I thought.  I wrote about it here.   Over the winter, our partnership started to deteriorate.  He became impossible to catch without chasing him into a stall and cornering him.  I can hear you all, rolling your eyes, in exasperation thinking…. ‘TELL ME YOU DIDN’T!’  Yes, I did.  I let my task oriented nature make decisions.  He had to have his feet trimmed, he had to see the vet, go to the trainers, etc….and my agenda forced the tactics.  What I got for my trouble is MORE trouble.  He now totally mistrusts me and we are back to square one.  On the one hand I feel ashamed that I put that kind of pressure on him…a failure in my stewardship toward him.  But one thing I know for sure about horses, is there is no place for feelings of regret or shame.  I am either building trust, rapport and respect or I am tearing them down.  Its a simple choice which side of the equation I want to be on.

Bogie spent the past month with Neal Perry and Bekah Bailey at Perry Farm in training.  My fears were confirmed when they reported very slow progress with Bogie.  Some of their comments:  He seems scared and tense most of the time….over-reactive.  He has some trouble with his vision on the left (something I was beginning to suspect prior).  He adapts to new objects or situations quickly when a human is not attached…very slowly if a human is present.  Every teaching session seems to have to start with alot of review, like he is retaining the previous lesson poorly.  He seems extreme in how he reacts differently with people or objects in either eye or switching from one side to the other.  Very hard to catch and halter without alot of resistant behavior.  It wasn’t until the last week that Neal thought he might be ready to put a saddle on.   He also does not seem to transfer learned behavior between people, so that if he learns something with Neal, Bekah could not necessarily start from the same spot and certainly I could not.  But it was not ALL bad news.  On the positive side, they thought he was smart, a beautiful mover, and had the capacity to be a great problem solver if he could be convinced to think instead of react.  They also thought he was very kind.  Not the type to purposefully hurt you, kick or strike no matter how scared he was.

All of this feedback was worth the training fee.  I realized I had gotten into trouble with this horse a.) because of my agenda and lack of time, b.) because I was misreading him in many ways and c.) because I had talked myself into believing that ‘he was just not MY type of horse’ and gave up on the partnership.

So I brought him home a few days ago and we are starting over.

I’ve dug hard over the past two weeks, reading, watching old PNH videos and thinking about how my approach needs to change to fit Bogie’s horsenality.  I did his chart.  While he is primarily a Right Brain Extrovert, I see behavior all over the chart, which is why he is hard to read sometimes.


I have little experience with Right Brain Introverts, and I think that is where I am getting into trouble with him.  But in truth, in order for this to work, I need a strategy that will set ME up to succeed as well.  I’m very task and goal oriented, though I have learned over the years with my Left Brain Introvert, Manny, I can tone that tendency down by breaking any task down into tiny tiny steps and removing any timeline.  But I have to have things to check off a list….its just how I am built.

So I have built a temporary paddock for Bogie, down by the chicken and goat house where he can be across the fence from the main herd, but not loose with them.  Its a place where I spend a fair amount of time doing chores that have nothing to do with him and as such can serve as ‘undemanding time’ without forcing me to sit still (which would make me quite anxious).  I have removed the water trough and plan to be his only source of water.  So this first stage will serve to restore trust and rapport, the ‘goal’ will be to be able to approach Bogie and halter him without being resistant or bracey (either of us).  However, if I just go directly to haltering, I will fall right back into the old pattern and get no where.  So I have broken down the steps into microsteps, first bring water to Bogie, then taking him out to the water trough first with a collar and then with the halter, using a consistent pattern to help us both stay calm, focused and connected.  So the steps might look like this:

1.  Can he approach me and drink water from a bucket

2.  Can I walk in a circle around him while he drinks…in both directions.  No touching.  Big circle at first (whole paddock), make it smaller as his threshold allows.

3.  Can I touch his body all the way around while he drinks his water without him leaving.

4.  Can I snap the lead line on his collar while he drinks.

5.  Can I snap the leadline on his collar and lead him to the bucket.

6.  Can I snap on and lead him outside the pen to water and then back again.

7.  Can I put a halter on and lead him out of the pen,  to the water and back again.

Each step might take a day or a month….and I might find there are other even smaller steps between these that I want to explore.   Once we are getting close to the goal, we’ll add some distractors, like obstacles, balls, balloons or barrels.  In truth, I believe if I can attain this small goal, the partnership will come very easily.

So the rules I am setting for myself:  Never leave his paddock when he is braced, tense or anxious.  No task can be checked off the list until it is consistently soft and responsive for 7 attempts in a row.  Expect alot, accept alittle….every day.

What Horses have to Teach us about Healing…

I have been struggling to write this piece for over a week now.  Its not typical for me to experience ‘writer’s block’ but there is is.  And as it turns out, totally germane to the topic.  Its been a tough week for me mentally and emotionally.  Engaged in some politically charged organizational rhetoric….within a task I took on voluntarily to help a cause I believe in….I found I was not thriving.   No details are required, but as a result of this turmoil, I have experienced indigestion, muscle aches, headaches, and poor sleep.  Late last evening I was given the opportunity to remove myself from this situation and I gratefully accepted.  I did feel better, but it wasn’t until the wee hours of this morning …..when I was roused from bed by the hospital to come in to care for one of my patients emergently ….that I fully released all that toxic energy.  At my patient’s bedside, as I laid my hand on her shoulder to reassure her that she would be OK…wham…I felt it.  My head cleared, my heart opened, and my body resumed its vibrant hum.  That sensation, folks, and I know you have all felt it, is a chakra (or in this case chakras) opening or releasing.

Sit for a moment and think about how it is you are alive right now.  How do you work…I mean what keeps you as an organism going everyday?  What keeps your brain thinking?  What keeps your heart beating?  What makes your muscles contract on cue?  What allows us to love, to care, to laugh?  Why do we cry or feel pain?  Where does our intuition come from? We are complex beyond imagining.  Energy.  Kinetics.  Power.  Connection.

Not to oversimplify, all living beings are made up of circuitry, energy banks that rely on each other for us to function properly.  Visualize with me a house on a hill, at night, with all the lights on, inside and out…not a very ‘green’ image, but bear with me.  Cut the power and everything goes dark, right?  But its not just the lights.  In addition, all the stuff in the house stops working…the TV, the stove, the computer, the refrigerator, the washer and dryer, even the water runs dry in some cases.  So keep the image of the house in your mind and flip the breakers in the basement one by one.  As you do, a section of the house comes alive.  You see the effect because of the light, but you can also feel it…the hum of electricity!  Now the house is functioning to its capacity and all sorts of complex activities can now take place within it.  This is how I describe the chakra system to people.  Chakras are our internal circutry, our energy banks.  We need them to function physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually.  Can we survive in a dark house without electricity?  Sure.  But we flourish when the power is on and all the connections are working.

So there are 7 main chakras…actually there are 8 major and many minor chakras, but we’ll concentrate on the 7 for now. For more specific information on each go here.  Reno, below, will be our Chakra model.  Pictured here at the height of his rehabilitation, all chakras humming with vibrant energy.   These power sources are associated with different physical organs and body parts as well as emotional and mental aspects of our being.  Power from these sources can be dialed up or down depending on many inputs.  Injury and acute pain, for instance, can shut down one or more chakras very quickly.  Our thoughts and emotions can also dial down these energy points, sometimes so slowly, we don’t even realize it.  In some cases, our mental and emotional effects on our chakras can be so powerful that we develop physical manifestations within that chakra.  And vice versa.  So you can see its very complex.

My work with horses has taught me just about everything I know about chakras.  As in most aspects of my life, horses are amazing teachers.

We’ve all seen neglected horses…thin, depressed, lethargic, injured.  Like the dark house without any power, they are surviving, but shut up within the simple structure of their bodies.  You’ve also probably seen the opposite.

I remember being at a Parelli gathering a few years ago.  I just happened to be near the entry to the arena when Pat was coming through with his stallion, Casper. I was maybe 6 feet away as he passed by.  I was stunned by the presence of this animal (that’s Casper, not Pat).  He was not just beautiful, he was connected, energetic and powerful beyond belief.  I remember feeling his presence so vividly, so positively…he made me feel joy.  I’ve since studied photos and video of Casper and have to admit, he is not the perfect horse…not perfectly built and surely not a suitable partner for most, but he is all there.  His energy centers are charged up and the juice is flowing.

Most of our horses are somewhere in between.  Just like humans, these energy centers are sometimes open, sometimes closed.   The energy flow changes, weakening or strengthening, affected by injury, nutrition, environment and socialization, herd dynamics and past history.  The powerful lesson I’ve learned from the horses is that if you provide what they need nutritionally, mentally, socially, physically, you can open these chakras.  Actually the horse opens them, we simply provide the raw materials.  When they are open, the horse has the amazing ability to heal itself….just like it was magic.  For years I focused on the physical ailments and injuries of my horses.  Manny, who has been with me for a dozen years has had all sorts of afflictions over the years, arthritic hocks, S-I joint instability, uveitis, and sarcoids.  I used every medical trick in the book for him.  I was sometimes successful and sometimes not…mostly not.  My horses have always had the ‘best of care’, but something happened when we moved to NH, they moved home with me and I began to give them the environment and social life that was natural to them.  At the time, I had not tuned into the chakra phenomenon, but I watched Manny change over that first year here.  He became sound, engaged, comfortable in his own skin.  His uveitis cleared, in fact a follow up Opthalmology consult had the doctor baffled…’this horse doesn’t have uveitis!?!’  His arthritis and back issues resolved and his sarcoids dissappeared (seriously), without any intervention from me outside good nutrition, lots of room to move and engage with a herd and horsemanship that protected his dignity and natural power.

Since then I have been rehabilitating rescues.  These are the horses that have shown me the way in regard to what was happening with the chakras.  I was introduced to dowsing many years ago by a dear friend, Sheila Ryan and have developed modest skills over the years.  Dowsing the chakras was always part of my program, but I didn’t see the connection to the healing I was seeing until the last two horses, Reno and Ripple.   You can read about Reno here and he is pictured above.  The initial work in his rehab was painstaking and I feared we would lose him several times.  But one day he just seemed better.  My dowsing revealed all his chakras were open and flowing, despite being on stall rest from a second injury.  I was perplexed.  Shouldn’t the injury be affecting his energy in at least one chakra?  But there it was.  The power of the energy available to him for healing was evident over the ensuing weeks as he made a record breaking recovery in less that half the vet projected time period.  Whoa…that is some weird science!

So I was anxious to test my theory with Ripple.  Rip has some hind end issues, probably OCD in the stifles.  He came to me pretty weak in the hind end in general, so its hard to know exactly what is wrong.  Instead of focusing on a diagnosis, I simply used my dowsing to figure out what he needed in regard to nutrition, turned him out with the herd and waited.  It was over a month before the first chakra opened….the heart…a product likely of attention from me and acceptance by the herd.  A week later came the third eye.  This one I saw immediately.  In stead of watching me move around the paddock out of one eye or the other as was his habit, he was following me with both eyes.  A couple days later the crown opened followed by the throat chakra.  The front half of the horse connected.  Not surprising given the lack of physical power in the hind end.  So I waited another week and then bam, in rapid succession the last three opened…solar plexus, base and finally the reproductive chakra.  I knew these had opened just by looking at him…relaxed, integrated, soft expression.  So now the healing can begin.  Its the power of animal healing.  We all have this ability.  I have believed that for a long time as a physician, though never understood its power until now.

February Farm Update

Squarely in the middle of the herd...

Ripple has integrated nicely into the herd.  Still the low man in status, he can be found sharing hay with everyone, but Reno at this point.  He is starting to stand his ground more when getting pushed around and I see alot more sparring going on now.  He can be found in the middle of the herd and in the barn lying down, now.

I did fecals on everyone this week and was happy to see that Ripple did not have a heavy count, so I’ll do a course of Worm Foe from Silver Lining Herbs over the next full moon.  Its a natural wormer than simply creates an inhospitable environment for parasites by alkalizing the GI tract.  I also use Herbal Tonic from Dynamite , which is very similar.  I like to get everyone cleaned up before the snow melts, to avoid overloading the spring pastures with parasites.

We have alot of snow, so it will be some time before we see green pastures, but the days are definately getting longer and the chickens have started back into production, sure signs that spring is around the corner.  So if you are looking for some farm fresh, free range (an oxymoron in the winter), organic eggs, stop on by…the farm store is open.  Hope to have duck eggs soon.

Every February I get the gardening itch to grow something.  I will start some seeds indoors next week.  Artichokes and Hot peppers to start with…..keeps me hopeful for spring.

Natural Parasite Control…

Someone asked me today how I get away without worming my horses.

To start with…its not that I NEVER use conventional wormers…I have and will use them when its necessary, but I avoid them.  There are several reasons for this, but first, an analogy…

Anyone who has started a garden, large or small, be it a small kitchen garden or a farmers market garden or mass produced corn, has to decide how they will manage pests and disease.  Will they grow organically or conventionally.  Both ways work and of course there is alot of territory in between.  The conventional garden is managed by adding pesticides to the soil to minimize disease and pests either up front as a prophylactic or in response to a threat.  These agents kill not only the pests, but also harms the organic life and sometimes the structure of the soil, making it now necessary to add fertilizers of various compositions to maintain ‘healthy’ levels of nutrients for plant growth.  There’s a billion dollars worth of research about how to do this and grow lots and lots of produce.  But, once you start this cycle, you are committed to managing the soil in these very specific ways.  And there are other down sides, but that would be a huge digression…

The organic farmer uses nature to manage pests and disease and allow the soil and all its amazing physiology to mantain not only order in the insect world, but a continuous supply of nutrients in a soil ecosystem that is self sustaining.  I garden organically.  Its a medium to large family garden.  I use a minimal till method that mimics nature.  Aged compost is applied to the surface and weed seeds stay beneath where they are less likely to germinate.  I have lots of bugs.  Some of these are good bugs and some are not.  I don’t play god in the garden.  I rely on the good bugs, bees, wasps, worms, beetles, butterflies, dragonflies, (bats, chickens), etc to control the pesty bugs.  If I choose to kill off one poulation of bugs, I have to be prepared for the imbalance I create in the garden ecosystem and I choose not to create a defect in the fabric of my garden.  Instead, I rotate my crops and plant groupings of plants that can help each other and because I grow alot of different crops, I accept losses from time to time.  I simply try to mold nature to my design instead of forcing it to produce something it is not capable of.  This design demonstrates the beauty of the small diversified farms.  But again, that would be another digression…

I use the gardening scheme as an analogy because most people nowadays understand the difference organic farming brings to the plant and soil biology and why it is healthy and sustainable.  Horses are no different.

If you take the approach that all horses have parasites and these need to be eradicated, you will need to use conventional wormers.  And if you choose to use rotational worming practices, worming every 6-8 weeks, you will always have to do this.  No matter how good intentioned this practice is, there are consequences to this type of worming….whether we fully understand them now or not.

Consider a more natural way to manage parasites.   What about creating a healthy horse?  One that had a healthy ecosystem inhabiting their GI tract.  One that wide open places to forage, without having to nibble the grass next to its own poop.  One that was able to move for miles everyday, like a wild herd.  OK, maybe I’m getting alittle crazy, but the problem really lies in our ‘modern’ horsekeeping.  We keep horses in stalls, in isolation, in filthy dirt paddocks.  We feed too much grain and not enough forage.  We pump our horses full of chemicals and unnecessary vaccines, that they, in turn, have to compensate for immunologically.  The result is colic, founder, metabolic issues and insulin resistance.

Here’s a great New Years Resolution:  Resolve to find one thing every month that will make your horses life more natural.  Want a list?

1.  Free choice their hay

2.  Cut down on the grain

3.  Stop feeding them peppermints

4.  Turn them out in a herd.

5.  Pick up the manure around their feeding area…all of it.  Compost it for your garden.

6.  Build a paddock paradise.

7.  Let them choose when to go out and when to come into the barn.

8.  Put out free choice minerals.

9.  Top dress feed with probiotics/prebiotics once a week.

10.  Make a salad for your horse. Reads…think outside the box.  What would your horse choose to eat if he could.

11.  Expand your pasture.  Even into the woods where a horse can browse on weeds and some bark.

12. Pull their shoes and balance their feet…where every energy meridian starts.

13.  learn how to do your own fecal tests.  Its easy.

14.   Consider an herbal wormer or diatomaceous earth.  There is a reason you find your horse eating wood or rocks at times.

Well, you get the idea.  There are alot of little adjustments you can make that allow your horse to maintain its own health without your constant meddling.  I call it ‘purposeful neglect’.  Sometime s we have to allow the ecosystem to run itself.

This has been my approach.  Every year, my horses’ lifestyle gets more and more natural and I have to do less and less to keep them healthy.  I have a 16 yo arab cross, Manny, I’ve had for 12 years. He was my learning curve.  He has not been wormed in 10 years.  Back then he had arthritis, uveitis and a bad attitude…now he is my definition of a healthy, happy horse.

Manny is in front

Look what two weeks will do…

These photos were taken two weeks apart.  I know the difference is subtle, but I think you can see Ripple’s topline has relaxed quite abit and the angle of the hip has changed.  The illusion is that he has filled out in the rump area.  What is really happening is that the tightness in the hamstrings is lessening, allowing the hip to relax into a more normal position.  Some of this relaxation is a product of time and lessening anxiety about his new place and herd, but some of it is diet, acupressure, massage  and movement.  Nice start.  Relaxation is the start of everything else.  I like this horse!

Ripple 1-9

Ripple 1-23

Herd Politics

Initial Greeting

People frequently ask me how I introduce a new horse to the herd.  Over the past 5 years I have had a dozen or so rescues and foster care horses of one breed or another to integrate (or not) into the herd.  Every horse is different and there are lots of things to consider.  So far, I can say I have not had a single injury integrating a new horse…not even a patch of lost hair.

The first thing to consider is the health of the new horse.  Where did they come from?  Are they likely to have been exposed to something infectious?  Animals coming from an auction or other high traffic facility, no matter how healthy they look, should have a suitable period of quarantine from your herd.  This ought to be in a separate barn and turnout, some distance from the home crew.  I don’t have such a set-up here, so I am pretty careful about where I will take horses from.  I did take on a mini stallion from an auction a couple of years ago and kept him in the spare stall across the aisle from my horses for a month, but this was not ideal and I was probably just lucky.  The newest addition, Ripple, came from a rescue organization who quarantined him for 30 days and had him on their premises for 2 months, so much less risk there, though not zero.  Unhealthy horses are not only a risk to the health of your herd, they integrate poorly and if integration happens too soon, they can become permanently culled.  If major weakness, either from injury, malnutrition or metabolic issues are present, it is much better to get the horse healthy before trying to integrate fully into a stable herd.  Better to offer the companionship of a goat, mini or other low on the totem pole horse until they are ready.  I will put these horses in an adjoining paddock and allow introductions over a safe, electrified fence until they are ready (if ever) to go mainstream.

The next thing to consider is the temperament of the new horse as well as the already present herd dynamics.  Is the new horse confident or unconfident? Are they reactive?  Do they respect boundaries?  Or push into pressure?  Do you have a good idea about how your horses will respond to a newcomer?  Is there a stable alpha?  Are there any aggressive tendencies or extreme behavior in the current herd members?   The major early complication when integrating a new horse, is injury.  Horses start sparring, chasing, biting, kicking, etc.  You definitely want to know ahead of time if the new horse is likely to go through a fence or jump a gate when the pressure gets high.  Make sure they respect boundaries, personal space and yield to pressure before you put them in a tricky position.  If the new horse doesn’t have these skills, teach them first.  If you have an extreme horse already in your herd, this can complicate things as well.  Generally, if there is enough room, plenty of hay, and no place for a horse to get cornered, horses will quickly and safely sort out their order in the herd.

I have a track modeled after Jaime Jackson’s Paddock Paradise and use it exclusively in the winter, which is when most of my rescues arrive.  Its a great format to introduce new horses as it is a big circular track.  The horses can move along it endlessly promoting exercise and the illusion of wide open space.  Its hard for a horse to get cornered in this type of setting.  When introducing a new horse, I do it gradually.  I usually turn them out in a separate area with each of the herd members, one at a time to assess any surprising aggression.  When I do finally turn the new horse out onto the track with the herd, I make sure I will be home all day and plan to be nearby to intervene if anything extreme happens.  For the first week to month, depending on the horse, I will bring them into the barn at night to eat and rest without the pressures of herd dynamics.  It allows me a place to assess their appetite, hydration and for injuries.  Most of these new horses have special diets I concoct for them, so it is easier to separate them from the others for feeding.   It also gives me an opportunity to interact with the new horse in the context of the herd.  I am part of the herd too.  If I remove myself from the integration process, I might find I have have been replaced as leader the next time I walk among my horses.  I spend plenty of time out with the herd and new herd member, moving horses around, simply to remind them that I’m still in charge.  Its no fun to have one of your trusted steeds push the new horse over the top of you….trust me, been there, done that.  I pay attention to body language.  Even my quietest horse can become unpredictable when herd politics are in negotiation.

There is a general pattern of integration.  I look for certain landmarks to assess progress towards full integration.  Sometimes it takes a day, sometimes a month or more.

The first landmark is what I call ‘the greeting’. Sometimes this happens well in advance of the horse actually joining the herd and occurs over the fence line.  The horses put their noses to each other for a few seconds to moments.  Necks are arched and there is sometimes some squealing or stomping of the feet, but in general no contact.  Its kind of like the knocking of the gloves by boxers before they go back to their corners to strategize before a fight.

The next three landmarks can occur in different order, depending on the horses, but they all generally occur.  I’ve listed them in the order I typically see.  ‘Avoidance’.  Some horse just pretend the new horse doesn’t exist.  They don’t engage positively or negatively.  ‘Pushing’.  This is the one everyone hates to watch.  The new horse generally gets pushed around mercilessly.  If he is lucky, he’ll get it from one horse at a time, but I have seen two horses pushing a newbie at one time. This is really important to the existing herd and is completely natural.  This is, however,  the time when you want to be sure there is plenty of space to run and lots of piles of hay out.  You don’t want horses fighting over food.  ‘Sparring’, which is my favorite.  Here, finally you see some engagement that is two sided, not just one.  Generally sparring starts with the lowest horse in the herd and works its way up, but not always.  But when I see the sparring, I know integration is coming along and this is generally when I start letting the new horse stay out with the herd 24/7.

The last landmark has to do with position within the group.  Up until now the new horse will stay on the outskirts of the group.  When they move along the track they will either be pushed out in front or follow the group from behind.  When I see the new horse confidently moving in the middle of the herd (at least some of the time) without getting pressured from the other herd members, I know integration is nearly complete.

The finer points of where the horse fits into the pecking order takes months and alot depends on the health and confidence of the new horse.  Our newest herd member, Ripple is on his way to full integration, but its going slowly for him.  Slow and right, beats fast and wrong though.

Ripple and Bogie sparring


Notice how Ripple, on the far left, is on the outskirts...

Manny and Ripple

Manny and Ripple were sparring a few minutes before this photo, and now you can see that even though Ripple is still on the outskirts, he is getting much closer to the center of the group...

Anyway, that’s how I do it.  I believe horses should live as a group, outside 24/7.  They all have access to shelter and the choice to where they want to be in a snowstorm or during the summer heat.