May 2020 Horse Report

For my horses, not much has changed during the pandemic. For me, I’m adjusting to a  new rhythm that does not include packing and unpacking. Being stuck at home, I thought I’d have more time to ride, but it turns out running a business during a shutdown and producing daily content is more time consuming than I originally thought.

My two personal horses, Annie and Pepperoni (both Quarter Horses; 13 and 4 in age, respectively), get ridden or longed five days a week. Annie is a finished cowhorse and as such, just needs enough riding to maintain her skills and enough exercise to keep her from looking like a Thelwell pony. At 14.0 hands, with a curvaceous figure, she leans that way.

Pepperoni has matured nicely as a 4-year-old, after a challenging adolescence where he seemed determined to injure and maim himself. I love training young horses but it’s even more rewarding when they mature into reliable, hard-working adults. I’m not saying he’s fully mature yet—he’s still prone to an occasional burst of adolescent exuberance every now and then, but he seems to have grown a brain this year. I’ve even been able to use him in video production, which proves he’s come a long way and is actually making himself useful.

Pepper has advanced in his basic training enough where his higher level skills are developing nicely. Currently, we’re working on pivots from a standstill, canter departs, collection at canter and lead changes. He’s gotten pretty good at bending, counter-bending, leg-yielding and he’s starting to neck-rein. Recently, he had a light bulb moment about doing a jog trot on a loose rein—it was as if he finally realized we’re not really going anywhere when we ride in the arena, so there’s no need to get in a hurry.

We have been getting the horses out on the trail and up in the mountains more (shutdown bonus), which has been a lot of fun for us, great experience for the youngsters and refreshing for the older horses. I’ve enjoyed working with Melissa’s colt, Woodrow for groundwork sessions in the Daily Doses of Horsemanship Homework. He’s a brave, bold horse that’s not afraid of much and he’s quite expressive at times! But he learns fast and has been an ideal demo horse with his dramatic and righteous behavior.

In a few days, I’ll be picking up my new foster horse—a 4-year-old deaf QH named Doc Gunner. He’s in need of some training before he’s suitable for adoption, so I’ll have a new training project to report on soon. Stay tuned to Facebook and YouTube to watch the journey of this colt as he transitions from a rough start to what I hope will be a brilliant future.

Helping Horses in Need—It Takes a Village

Dear Friends,

This is a story about one horse that needs our help, and the dozens of people stepping up to help horses in need every day. But the truth is, he is only one of hundreds of thousands of horses at risk in the United States. The latest figures from the Humane Society of the United States are that roughly 80,000 horses cross into Mexico or Canada, bound for slaughter each year.

If that seems like a lot of horses, you should know that the number is down significantly from a few years ago when it was around 130-150,000 each year for more than a decade. Keep in mind that these slaughter-bound horses are just a partial reflection of the number of horses at risk of homelessness, starvation, neglect or worse each year. We have two million fewer horses in the United States today, than we did in 2005, as evidenced by the numerous shuttered horse properties all over the country. What happened to all those horses?

How Did We Get Here?

Dr. Tom Lenz, one of our nation’s top veterinary experts on horse welfare, authored this fact-based article on the history of unwanted horses in this country. I encourage you to read this article yourself, so you have a realistic perspective on the depth and scope of this issue. Recently Dr. Lenz said, “I think the smaller number of mares bred today, the industry’s awareness of the problem and the re-homing of horses by many organizations have contributed to the lowered numbers [of horses going over our borders to slaughter].” But we have a long way to go.

Dr. Lenz explained further, “The horse industry will never completely eliminate unwanted horses. Horses will always age, sustain career ending injuries, or not meet their owner expectations. However, I’m optimistic that the future is brighter for these horses because the horse industry has turned its attention to the issue and continues to develop strategies to both reduce the number of unwanted horses on the front end through responsible care and breeding as well as on the rear end through rescue/retirement programs, retraining for alternative careers, and low-cost euthanasia options. Horse owners today are more aware than ever of how their actions affect the welfare of their horses and an ever-increasing number consider the consequences before they breed, buy, or discard a horse.”

Awareness and Action by Others are Saving Horses Every Day

According to The Right Horse Initiative, a horse in transition is any horse who is currently in transition from one home, vocation, opportunity or owner to the next. Throughout their lifetime, most horses will have multiple homes and owners. Often, these horses find themselves in transition due to no fault of their own, rather, as the result of a change in the owner’s circumstances (time, location, finances, need, etc.).

Because horses are long-lived animals, on average a horse is re-homed seven times in its life—and at each transition, it may be at risk of homelessness or worse. This is where we pick up the story of Doc Gunner. For us, the story begins in December 2019, when the then 3-year-old gelding was purchased in Kansas by a woman who found the horse via a social media post. Her sole reason for acquiring the horse was to rescue him from a bad situation. This woman courageously stepped up to help one horse, and through her actions, it’s quite possible his life was saved.

The gelding was quarantined for 30 days, then trailered to Oklahoma City, where he resided on the woman’s small farm until April 2020. He was vetted, vaccinated and dewormed. His neglected teeth and feet were treated and healed. But as is often the case with neglected horses brought back to health, it became increasingly obvious the horse had little handling and training. Although this gelding was fortunate to have one person step up to help him out of a bad spot, his fate was not yet secure.

 

Meet Doc Gunner

He is a 2015 or 2016 sorrel overo gelding, reported to be registered with APHA (papers lost) and apparently the progeny of Colonels Smokin Gun (aka Gunner), an AQHA/NRHA reining champion from the late ‘90s and a NRHA Hall of Fame inductee. Certainly, the young gelding strongly resembles the sire in color and movement, plus he was born deaf, as some Gunner foals are. We are investigating his alleged registration with APHA. We know there is a Paint horse registered by that name, we just don’t know for sure if it’s him. We will run some DNA tests soon, 

 

Doc Gunner arrives at the ASPCA Regional Support Center in Oklahoma City to be vetted before he comes to Colorado.

which will give us more information about his color, breeding, health, and behavior (and possibly something about his deafness, too).

Although the horse seems quiet and kind, he ultimately proved to be too much for the 75-year-old woman to handle. She contacted the ASPCA Regional Support Center in Oklahoma City, a no-cost, open-door center that provides options for horse owners who need to surrender a horse or seek euthanasia if that is what’s best for the horse. At this point, a second set of people have now stepped up to the plate to help save one more horse.

It Takes a Village

Tom Persechino, Director of Equine Welfare at the ASPCA, who helps operate the Regional Support Center, worked with Nexus Equine to get the horse into the adoption pipeline. Persechino indicates the horse is quiet and cooperative with relatively good manners, and although he does not tie and is slippery to catch, he is good with having his feet handled and trailers well. According to Persechino, “The only thing standing in the way of this horse having a happy home and a purposeful life is basic training in ground handling and a solid start under-saddle.”

Apparently, this is where I came into the conversation, due to my involvement with the Right Horse Initiative and their efforts to increase awareness of the huge need for foster homes for horses. According to Christie Schulte-Kappert, Program Director for The Right Horse Initiative (and the mastermind behind me taking Doc Gunner for foster training), “This young horse is just a perfect example of a horse in transition. We like to say horses like him ‘get lost in transition.’ Horses can be at risk when they transition from one career to the next.  Training can often be the missing link that increases this risk.”

In mid-April, Christie gently prodded me to put my money where my mouth was. “He’s cute and athletic and apparently pretty well bred – we think he could really flourish in the right home, but it will take some training to get him there,” said Schulte-Kappert.

“So when Tom brought this gelding to our attention this week,” she continued, “your name came up as a possibility to help him become a good citizen and transition to his next career. His story is an amazing example of a ‘horse in transition’ – not a rescue case, but a horse that needs help to get from point A to point B, and could be at risk in between there. He’s a great example of how any horse, regardless of parentage or background, can be in transition at some point in their lives and the programs we’re working to build to stand in those gaps.”

Doc Gunner Starts his New Journey

On April 24th, Tom Persechino and Katrina Friend, a horse trainer from Nexus Equine, picked up the young gelding from the woman who first saved him and delivered him to the vet clinic that works with the Regional Support Center, where a thorough health, dental and lameness evaluation was completed. A benign mass was removed from a hind leg (possibly a sarcoid or proud flesh), and no other health issues were found. Before valuable resources (in short supply) are spent on a horse, we want to make sure its training will be successful. If not, another horse may need those resources more. Currently, Doc Gunner is at Nexus Equine, awaiting the results of his vet work while Persechino works on his travel logistics to Colorado.

Like the dog and cat world, in which animals in the system are routinely transported to different locations, horses are also transported from state to state, with a goal of giving them the best opportunity to be adopted. Horses, as in the case with Doc Gunner, may be transported to receive specialized training, or in some instances, there may be a higher demand for certain types of breeds of horses in different parts of the country.

“For example, gaited horses may move into new homes faster in states like Missouri, Tennessee or in the Northeast, so if one is sitting in Texas or Oklahoma, we would consider transporting that horse to increase his chances of finding a suitable adopter. We also have learned that some re-homing organizations have become highly skilled at re-homing either certain breeds or types of horses, or have programs that might benefit different horses,” said Persechino. “We’ve seen this with older horses or horses with minor medical issues who still have many good years left in them, however, the key is finding adopters willing to take on horses like this, so we might move horses to a re-homing organization that specializes in finding homes for what one might deem the more difficult to adopt.”

Persechino goes on to explain that once they ensure a horse is fit for travel and have its Coggins updated and health certificate in order, the actual transporting is relatively straightforward. “However, we think a key to transporting horses is to try and be as efficient as possible, so we have this understood rule of trying not to leave any empty slots in trailers when we transport! Last year, through the Regional Support Center, we had a group of five horses that we needed to move from Oklahoma to Minnesota. As our luck had it, waiting in Minnesota were 10 miniatures that were having a hard time in the adoption process so as our luck would have it we were able to send five horses north from Oklahoma and load 10 minis up for a return to Oklahoma where they were able to receive some much-needed training and gentling.”

“With Doc Gunner, as we’re working to bring him up to Colorado, we’re also working with a couple of other groups in the area to send them a horse or two and receive some back,” said Persechino. “Again, the whole goal of transporting horses is to move them to a location where they have the best opportunities for success!”

The network of individuals and organizations working together to help horses is both amazing and inspiring. This story has left me wondering what would happen if every horse lover in this country made one single effort to help. Would there still be horses at risk?

My Turn to Help

Doc Gunner is awaiting his journey to Colorado, where he will begin training to become a solid equine good citizen and a reliable and safe riding horse. I am taking the gelding into my barn for foster training.

Once here, we will evaluate his training and temperament, then make plans to fill in the holes in his ground manners and start his under-saddle training. Once he is more manageable and rideable, he may go to a foster home as an intermediate step, while his training continues under my supervision, and where his life will more closely resemble the pace of a real home, in preparation for a non-pro adopter (as opposed to the regimented life in a horse trainer’s program).

In time, Doc Gunner will be matched with the perfect human to adopt him and who will give him a purposeful and secure life. Fortunately for Doc Gunner, he will always have the safety net of Nexus Equine should he ever find himself in bad circumstances again.

Come with Us on This Journey

We will document Doc Gunner’s journey via a social media campaign on Facebook, YouTube and at JulieGoodnight.com, to bring awareness to the needs of horses in transition and how horse people everywhere might help at-risk horses in their area.

We will video this journey and post regularly, so you can follow the gelding’s progress as he works his way through the training, fostering and adoption process. With any luck, he’ll be on the road soon, headed from Oklahoma to Colorado, and we are eager to welcome him into his temporary home, here at my ranch. My crew and my friends are all excited to help out where they can and it will be rewarding for all of us to see this young horse blossom and have a secure future. It will take a village.

You Can Help Horses Too

If horse owners everywhere made a commitment to help even just one horse a year, imagine how we could reduce the numbers of horses at risk. There are many things people can do to help, even if you’re not a horse person.

  • Now more than ever, adoption is critical—more and more horse owners are affected by the pandemic and are facing loss of jobs or income. Shelters and rescues have limited capacity and even in the best of times are often full or pressed for space.
  • The American Horse Council and United Horse Coalition both have great COVID-19 information hubs on their websites. UHC has a nice overview on cost-saving tips for horse owners which we encourage owners to implement before seeking surrender options.
  • Folks can search for adoptable horses at org or visit TheRightHorse.org and click on “Partners” to find an adoption partner near them.
  • Contribute money to a local horse advocacy organization if you can. If not, maybe you can offer in-kind donations of hay, grain, equipment or services
  • If you have experience caring for horses, and have space for one or two horses, you could play a vital role by providing a temporary Foster Home for horses, helping to bring them back to health as they work their way through the adoption pipeline.
  • If you are experienced in riding and training horses, you could be a Foster Trainer, like me, and take on a project like Doc Gunner for training or evaluate a trained horse for the type of home he is most suitable for. There are many trained riding horses that wind up at-risk.
  • If you have a truck and horse trailer, perhaps you could volunteer to transport horses to their new homes or to their temporary foster homes
  • Look for safety net programs in your state or region to support. Colorado has a great hay/feed bank organized by Drifter’s Hearts of Hope and Colorado Unwanted Horse Alliance.
  • Horse owners can also reach out to friends and neighbors in their horse communities and offer their help. Seniors or owners with health issues may need temporary help with basic care for their horses, or a place to keep their horses for a few weeks. The more we can help in our local communities in small ways, the more horses we can keep safe and keep in their homes through the crisis.
  • And at the very minimum, we can all keep our eyes out for horses at risk, that might exist right before our very eyes. Maybe a neighbor needs help. Maybe you see horses that have fallen through the cracks. Be proactive on behalf of horses and contact your local animal control or horse rescue. Who else will advocate for them if the owner isn’t?

If you want to help horses like Doc Gunner, be sure to visit MyRightHorse.org to find a horse to foster, adopt or share on your social media.

May 2020 Letter from Julie

Dear Friends, 

Another month has gone by while we all do our share to fight the spread of this awful virus. Here in Colorado, we are slowly rebooting the economy and I am hopeful that people will continue to be smart and not erase all the sacrifices we have collectively made in the past eight weeks. For the most part, I am staying at home (“Safer at Home” is the new motto in our state) and I have a suitable array of home-made face masks that I wear when I must go out.

I do see some silver linings. Certainly, people everywhere have become more aware of the importance of personal health, good hygiene and are altering social norms so we don’t contribute to the spread of disease. I think we’ve all become more empathetic of people that may not have it as good and we’ve changed our perspectives about what workers are important and essential in our society. And dare I hope that people around the world will see the obvious and positive impact this shutdown has had on the global environment and come to realize we can stop climate change if we work at it? Also, many of us have reshaped our relationships with those closest to us, hopefully in positive ways.

Some of you, like me, are forced to stay at home, but we are happy to have more time with our families and our horses. Many of you have shared with me on Face Book that you’ve been separated from your horses for way too long or maybe you’re able to go back to the barn now but riding is restricted. In both instances, perhaps we are finding new appreciation for our horses.

I’ve been offering a Daily Dose of Horsemanship Homework, 7-days a week for the past  six weeks, to help you ease through this challenging time and further your horsemanship goals. We’ve been doing LIVE posts several days a week where we can all connect and where I enjoy answering your questions. Since I have not been able to make presentations at horse expos or teach horsemanship clinics since this thing began, this is my way of continuing my work and staying connected with my audience of horse lovers. In case you’ve missed out on the Daily Doses, you can find them all  here  Daily Dose’s

I look forward to the day when nonessential travel resumes, events are rescheduled and I can start teaching at clinics and expos again. At the end of this month, I am co-teaching with Barbra Schulte  for the Women’s Riding & Wholeness Retreat, at the renowned C Lazy U Ranch. I’ve got lots of clinics, expos and conferences in the fall and my schedule   is always current online, if you want to find out more.

I’ve got lots of open dates to fill in my calendar now, and I haven’t said that in a very long time. If you’re interested in hosting a horsemanship clinic or hiring me for a private clinic at your facility, please contact twyla@juliegoodnight.com.

I’ve learned a lot about individuals, about society and about myself during this pandemic, as our emotions and opinions have evolved over the past two months. I’ve enjoyed a different pace of life and my crew and I have proven that if we work hard, we will succeed. I’ll be ready to get back on the road, and pick up where we left off, once its’ safe to do so.

Be sure to check out this month’s blog to meet my new foster horse project, Doc Gunner. We’re all in this together and we need each other’s support, so be smart and set a good example.

Until next time,

Julie

The Unwanted Horse in the United States: An Overview of the Issue

Author, Tom R. Lenz, DVM, MS, DACT provided permission to post.

Horses in the United States no longer wanted have been sold or discarded by their owners throughout history, but it is only in the last few years this subset of the horse population has been designated “unwanted”. To many, the horse is a symbol of beauty, grace, and the American West. A study of American attitudes toward animals in 1980, found the horse to be one of the top 3 most beloved animals. (1) Public sentiment and misinformation provided by animal activist groups have greatly complicated the unwanted horse issue and the discussion of end-of-life decisions for horses. Adding to the divisiveness in the unwanted horse debate is the fact the American horse industry and the Federal government classify horses as “livestock” whereas the non-horse owning public considers the horse a “companion animal” or pet.

 

U.S. horse population numbers increased gradually from their introduction into North America, peaking in 1910 at 19.8 million head. That number decreased dramatically with the start of industrial mass production of motorized vehicles and reached an all time low of 1.6 million head in 1974. (2) Because most horses no longer had value as work animals and the interest in horses as recreational animals had not yet surfaced, horse surplus reduction occurred at dozens of horse processing plants across the country where they were processed for both human and animal consumption. Later, as the number of surplus horses dwindled and pet food manufacturers turned to cast off products from beef and hog processing plants, the number of horse processing plants dwindled to a very few. American consumers never developed a preference for horse meat and as their economic situation improved in the post-war years, horse meat largely fell out of favor. As these events were occurring in the United States, post-World War II European and Asian populations were being encouraged to eat horse meat that was considered lean and a good source of iron.(3) The result was the development of a U.S. horse meat export market to European and Asian countries for human consumption.  The U.S. horse slaughter industry steadily grew to meet that demand and in the late nineteen eighties was processing over 300,000 horses per year on average. Overtime, the number of horses processed gradually declined and reached a low of only 42,303 head in 2002 before stabilizing at approximately 100,000 head per year over the last few years.

 

Today, over one billion people, or 16% of the world’s populations, eat horse meat. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) total production of horse meat for human consumption world-wide in 2007 was 1,040,450 tons, roughly five million horses.(4) This is an increase of 27.6% in consumption since 1990. The top five leading horse meat producing countries in 2007 were China, Mexico, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, and Argentina.(5) Generally, English speaking countries, such as the United Kingdom, Australia and the United States, do not consume horse meat, yet often export it to countries that do. The horse processed for meat represents the lowest economic level of the U.S. horse population and epitomizes the unwanted horse. Therefore, when addressing the unwanted horse problem, the issue of processing horses for human consumption and its welfare implications must be considered. Unfortunately, the debate over the processing of horses for human consumption has polarized the U.S. horse industry and non-horse owning public. Segments of each have strong, emotional opinions on the subject and share little common ground. This may be due to the change in modern American culture, which is two to three generations removed from the ranch or farm, toward animal advocacy and away from viewing animals as a food or labor source. That coupled with increased costs in boarding, farriery, hay, fuel, and veterinary care has made it harder and more problematic to keep a horse until its natural death. When age, physical disability, or behavior decreases the horse’s value below a certain point, it often ends up at a slaughter plant. And therefore, the issues of the unwanted horse and the horse processed for meat cannot be separated.

 

Until the Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) outbreak in Europe in 2000 and the Foot and Mouth disease epidemic that occurred in the United Kingdom in 2001, Americans, both the horse owning and non-horse owning public, were not aware horses were being processed in the United States and their meat shipped to foreign markets. In addition, both disease outbreaks were responsible for changing many European consumers’ preferences from beef to horse meat.(6) This change drew American media attention to the fact horses were being processed for meat in the United States and their meat exported to Europe for human consumption. Media coverage of the issue not only drew the attention of the horse owning public, but also equine breed associations, animal rights/welfare organizations, veterinary associations and the non-horse owning public. Because of the resultant focused lobbying efforts of many animal activist groups and some horse owners, federal legislation was introduced in the U.S. Congress in 2001 to prohibit processing of horses in the United States for human consumption. The legislation sparked aggressive debate on equine welfare and initiated a series of unintended horse industry welfare and financial consequences.

 

The term “Unwanted Horse” was first coined by the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) at a horse industry meeting in Washington D.C. in 2005. Unwanted horses are defined as “those no longer wanted by their current owner because they are old; injured; sick; unmanageable; fail to meet their owner’s expectations; or the owner can no longer afford to keep them”.(7) Generally, these are horses which are geriatric, incurably lame, have behavior problems, or are dangerous. They also include un-adoptable feral horses and horses that fail to meet their owner’s expectations because they are unmarketable, unattractive, not athletic, unmanageable, have no color, are the wrong color, or cost too much to maintain. Normal healthy horses of varying ages and breeds may also become unwanted. (8) In many cases, these animals have had multiple owners, have been shipped from one sale barn, stable or farm to another, and have ultimately been rejected. In 2007, approximately 58,000 horses were processed for meat in the United States, +35,000 horses were exported to Canada for processing, + 45,000 were exported to Mexico for processing.(T.Cordes, USDA, personal communication) In 2008, after closure of the U.S. horse processing plants, ± 57,000 horses were exported to Mexico and ±50,000 were exported to Canada for slaughter. In addition, + 21,000 un-adoptable feral horses were kept in Bureau of Land Management (BLM) funded long-term sanctuaries, + 9,000 feral horses were in the BLM adoption pipeline and an undetermined number of unwanted horses were potentially abandoned, neglected or abused. As of February 2008, there are approximately 29,500 wild horses and 3,500 wild burros roaming free on BLM-managed range lands. Because feral horses have few predators, the herds double in size every four years unless animals are captured and removed.  Since 1971, 235,000 wild horses and burros have been removed from federal lands and adopted(9) Feral horses that are over ten years of age when captured or have been put up for adoption three times and not adopted are placed in long-term BLM funded refuges where they live out the rest of their lives. In 2007, BLM spent $ 26 million to support wild horses and burros kept in short and long-term holding facilities.(10) That is well over three-fourths of the BLM’s 2007 fiscal budget of $38.8 million. The BLM is authorized under a 2004 amendment to the 1971 Wild Free Roaming Horses and Burro Act to sell “without limitations” unadoptable horses and burros, but pressure from animal activists and public sentiment has not allowed these animals to be euthanized or sold for slaughter.

 

Initially, there was debate in the horse industry on what type of horses were primarily represented and who was responsible for creating the significant number of unwanted horses in the U.S. However, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) export records on U.S. horses shipped to Canadian processing plants in 2002-2005 reveal 42.8 percent were geldings, 52.1 percent were mares, 3.41 percent were stallions, and the gender was not recorded on 1.70 percent. In addition, 70 percent were western type horses, 11 percent were English or Thoroughbred type horses, 3.6 percent were draft type horses, and the rest included various breeds or types of horses or mules.(11) Observational studies conducted in 2001 reveal that “riding” horses make up 74% of the horses processed for meat as opposed to draft or other horse types.(12) In general, these types of horses reflect the demographics of the U. S. horse population with no specific type or breed of horse standing out as the quintessential unwanted horse. On average, over the past 10 years, 1-2% of the 9.2 million head (75,000 – 150,000 horses) domestic equine population in the United States has been deemed unwanted and sent to processing plants.(13) (14) According to the 2005 USDA National Animal Health Monitoring System survey, + 167,000 (1.8 percent) horses in the United States 30 days of age or older were euthanized or died that year. In addition, + 112,000 (1.3 percent) horses were processed for meat.(15) Therefore, the total mortality for horses in the United States in 2005 was approximately 3 to 4 percent of the horse population of 9.2 million. These percentages have varied little during the last decade.(16) The question facing the horse industry is if the option of annually removing many of the unwanted horses from the general horse population via euthanasia at a processing plant is legislated out of existence, will the horse industry be able to provide adequate care and accommodations for these animals or opposed to draft or other horse types.(12) In general, these types of horses reflect the demographics of the U. S. horse population with no specific type or breed of horse standing out as the quintessential unwanted horse. On average, over the past 10 years, 1-2% of the 9.2 million head (75,000 – 150,000 horses) domestic equine population in the United States has been deemed unwanted and sent to processing plants.(13) (14) According to the 2005 USDA National Animal Health Monitoring System survey, + 167,000 (1.8 percent) horses in the United States 30 days of age or older were euthanized or died that year. In addition, + 112,000 (1.3 percent) horses were processed for meat.(15) Therefore, the total mortality for horses in the United States in 2005 was approximately 3 to 4 percent of the horse population of 9.2 million. These percentages have varied little during the last decade.(16) The question facing the horse industry is if the option of annually removing many of the unwanted horses from the general horse population via euthanasia at a processing plant is legislated out of existence, will the horse industry be able to provide adequate care and accommodations for these animals or will it be forced to absorb the additional cost of their euthanasia and carcass disposal?

 

In recent years horse rescue/adoption/retirement organizations have, to their credit, made a conscientious and concerted effort to provide care, funding or suitable accommodations for unwanted horses in both the private and public sector. The number and capacity of these facilities can only be estimated as they function relatively independently and do not have a national organization. The American Horse Council’s National Assessment of Contributing Factors Surrounding the Unwanted Horse Problem found the average maximum capacity of rescue/retirement/retraining facilities is 42 horses or an estimated total of 18,060 horses per year.(17) Due to the long natural life span of twenty five to thirty years for most horses, rescue/adoption/retirement facilities face a potentially long, costly care period for each horse, and have placed funding as the critical, limiting factor for those striving to provide an adequate standard of care. In addition, there is a strong need for the formation of a national oversight organization that could inspect and register equine shelters that meet humane husbandry standards in order to prevent animal hoarders and unscrupulous horse traders from taking in horses under false pretenses. According to the American Horse Council study, rescues reported the cost to maintain a horse for one year to be $2,300 on average. If the horses sent to processing plants in 2008 had been rescued, it would have cost the industry $343 million.(17) This annual cost, however, understates the total cost required because unwanted horses that would have been processed in previous years will now remain in the horse population.

 

There are a number of options for horses that are unwanted or no longer considered useful. Some can be retrained for other uses. This is common in racehorses that often find second careers in dressage or hunter jumper competition or cutting horses that find second careers in team penning or as pleasure horses. Some are donated to university animal science departments, law enforcement agencies, veterinary teaching hospitals or therapeutic riding programs. As has been discussed earlier, some are simply euthanized at the request of their owners or sent to processing plants. Whenever there are large numbers of unwanted horses, there is always concern for their welfare and the reality for many unwanted horses is that they become a burden and are potential candidates for abuse, neglect or abandonment.

 

A review of the unwanted horse issue would not be complete without a brief review of anti-slaughter legislation and the effect it has had on the horse industry. The term euthanasia has already been defined, but because the term slaughter is used frequently in the proposed legislations it is important to understand its meaning. In North America, slaughter is used to describe the humane ending of an animal’s life under strict federal regulations and is used only when the carcass is processed at a licensed meat plant for food purposes. In the European Union, slaughter is used by authorities to describe humane animal death, no matter the end result of the carcass.(18) The 1996 Farm Bill gave the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) regulatory responsibility for the humane commercial transport of horses to processing plants.

APHIS oversees the requirements on access to food, water and rest during shipment, as well as the types of horses that cannot be shipped. In addition, the regulations phased out the use of double‑decker trailers in 2006 and require that origin/shipper certificates accompany each shipment that document identifying marks, breed, color and gender.(19) A major concern by proponents of the anti-slaughter legislation is they believe horses, despite USDA oversight, suffer during transportation to the processing facilities. In a study reported in 1999 and conducted at the two Texas horse processing plants, a total of 1,008 horses in sixty‑three trailer loads were observed during unloading. Conditions considered severe welfare problems in horses were body condition scores of 1 to 2 (emaciated) of 9; recumbency or the inability to walk; fractured limbs; and severe wounds. Ninety-two percent of the horses arrived in good condition. Fighting was the major cause of the injuries that occurred during transport and marketing. Abuse or neglect by the owner, not transportation, was the cause of 77% of the severe welfare problems observed.(20) In a study conducted by Stull et al, nine trailer loads of horses (n=306) transported to slaughter facilities with distances ranging from 596 to 2,496 kms were observed to characterize the physiological responses and number of injures due to transportation under summer conditions. The percent of horses injured was greater for two‑tiered “potbelly” (29.2%) compared to straight-deck (8%) trailers.(21)

 

In 2001, the first proposed law to outlaw horse slaughter was introduced into Congress. The bill was never taken up by the full House, however, it did strike an emotional chord within both the horse industry and the non-horse owning public and started a debate that continues today. Proponents argued the ban on slaughter would eliminate pain and suffering of those horses shipped to processing plants and the surplus of unwanted horses that would result could easily be absorbed by the horse retirement/rescue industry. Opponents to the bill argued that banning the slaughter of unwanted horses would result in unintended consequences that would include increased neglect, abuse and abandonment. They also argued that unwanted horses, which in the past could have been sold for a profit, will now become a cost to the horse owner who must pay for care or euthanasia and carcass disposal.(22) They believed this would most severely impact the approximately 45% of U.S. horse owners that have an annual household income below $75,000 per year.(14) They also pointed out the bill did not provide funding, an infrastructure or enforcement authority to address the welfare of unwanted horses no longer processed for meat. There was also concern voiced that if the processing plants overseen by USDA veterinarians were closed, horses would be transferred longer distances to foreign processing plants The bill was not passed, but in subsequent years bills have again been introduced in Congress to prohibit the slaughter of horses for human consumption. Independent inspections of processing plants in the U.S., Mexico, and Canada by AAEP veterinarians verified that animals at the plants were handled properly and their use of captive bolt and gunshot were acceptable forms of humane euthanasia for the horses being processed.(23)

 

Federal legislation to stop horse processing for meat became a moot point when in 2007 a 1949 Texas law that prohibits the slaughter of horses for human consumption (Texas Agriculture Code, Section 149.002) was discovered and enforced, closing the two horse processing plants in Texas.(24) In that same year, Illinois Bill H.B.1711 was passed and amended the Illinois Horse Meat Act, thus making it unlawful for any person in Illinois to slaughter a horse if that person knows that any of the horse meat will be used for human consumption.(25)  Now that there are no longer horse processing plants operating in the U.S., activists have turned their attention to introducing federal legislation to prevent the export of U.S. horses to processing plants in foreign countries.

 

 

Although the Unwanted Horse issue appears to be a U.S. only problem, animal activists in Canada and Europe are beginning to stimulate discussion on banning horse slaughter in their respective countries. From the U.S. experience with both the horse slaughter and unwanted horse issues it can be predicted that such activities will have a negative affect on the horse industry and equine welfare in countries where it occurs. The U.S. unwanted horse issue coupled with a dramatic downturn in the economy has produced several negative affects on the horse industry. The cost of caring for horses has increased and the amount of money available to owners has decreased. This has resulted in an increased sell-off of horses and the inability of owners to adequately care for them if they will not or cannot sell them. Because the processing plants in the U.S. have been closed, horses are currently shipped to Mexico or Canada for processing. The resultant high cost of transporting the horses has lowered the price buyers are willing to pay to only a few hundred dollars for a standard sized horse in good flesh.   Horses that have traditionally be sold at sale barns for 50 to 60 cents per pound are now bringing 10 to 15 cents per pound. As a result, the lowered price being paid for low-end horses has lowered the sale price of all U.S. horses. In addition, the number of horses abandoned and neglected has significantly increased. In a recently conducted national survey, over 90% of those polled indicated the number of neglected and abused horses is increasing. Eighty seven percent indicated the issue of the unwanted horse has become a “big problem”, compared with only 22% who felt it was important three years ago. Sixty-three percent of rescue/retirement/retraining facilities surveyed reported they are currently at or near capacity and, on average, turn away 38% of the horses brought to them.(17) Other problems created by the issue include a push by animal activist to reclassify the horse as a companion animal rather than livestock. The general public supports this initiative because they no longer view horses as working animals, but rather a luxury item that is to be treated as a pet. If horses were to be officially reclassified as companion animals, the horse industry would lose all federal and state funding for disease control, equine research, and disaster relief. The debate over horse processing and the unwanted horse has also fragmented the U.S. horse industry and created strong, emotional divides in an industry that traditionally collaborates.

 

The horse industry will never be able to completely eliminate unwanted horses. Horses will always age, sustain career ending injuries, not perform up to owner expectations or not be attractive enough. However, the horse industry has turned its attention to the unwanted horse issue and is developing strategies to both reduce the number of unwanted horses on the front end through responsible breeding as well as on the rear end through rescue/retirement facilities, retraining for alternative careers, and low-cost euthanasia options. It is the responsibility of all horse owners to learn the facts about the unwanted horse issue and to own responsibly. They must be aware of how their actions affect the welfare of the horses they own and consider the consequences before they breed, buy, or discard a horse at the local sale barn. The unwanted horse issue will not be resolved over night and over time will extend to other countries. Concerted efforts to reduce the number of unwanted dogs and cats in the United States have been underway for decades, yet millions of dogs and cats are still euthanized at animal shelters and veterinary clinics each year. (26) Key equine stakeholders are now working together to develop effective strategies to improve the quality of life of unwanted horses and to reduce their numbers.

 

References:

 

(1)        Kellert, S.R. (1980) American Attitudes Toward and Knowledge of Animals: An Update. International Journal of the Study of Animal Problems, 1:2, 87-119.

 

(2)        U.S. Department of Agriculture (2008) Highlights of Equine 2005 Part II: Changes in the U.S. Equine Industry, 1998-2005. U.S. Department of Agriculture Information Sheet.

 

(3)        Reece, V.P., Friend, T.H., Stull, C.H. (2000) Equine Slaughter Transport-Update on Research and Regulations. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, 216:8, 15 April 2000.

 

(4)        Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (2006) www.faostat.fao.org. [Accessed 26 October 2007].

 

(5)        Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Statistics and Data Development Unit, ARD (2008) www.faostat.fao.org/statistics [Accessed 25 September 2008].

 

(6)        Helm, T. (2000) Horse Meat Sales Soar Over German BSE/Mad Cow Crisis. Telegraph, U.K. www.rense.com/general/6/bdse.htm [Accessed 17 October 2008].

 

(7)        American Association of Equine Practitioners Hosted Unwanted Horse Summit (2005). The American Horse Council Annual Meeting, Washington D.C.

 

(8)        Messer, N.T. (2004) The Plight of the Unwanted Horse: Scope of the Problem. American Association of Equine Practitioners Proceedings, 50: 165-167.

 

(9)        Lofholm, N. (2008) Slaughterhouse, Euthanasia Possible for Wild Horses. The Denver Post, 29 July 2008. Source: Bureau of Land Management.

 

(10)      U.S. Department of the Interior (2008) Challenges Facing the BLM in its Management of Wild Horses and Burros. Bureau of Land Management Fact Sheet.

 

(11)      Cordes, T. (2008) Commercial Transportation of Horses to Slaughter in the United States Knowns and Unknowns. The Unwanted Horse Issue: What Now? Forum, U.S. Department of Agriculture Revised Proceedings, 18 June 2008.

 

(12)      McGee, K., Lanier, J.L., Grandin, T. (2001) Characterizations of Horses at Auctions in Slaughter Plants. 2001 Animal Sciences Research Report. The Department of Animal Sciences, Colorado State University.

 

(13)      U.S. Department of Agriculture, National Agriculture Statistics Service (2007) Livestock Slaughter Summary 2007 Report. www.nass.usda.gov/quickstats/indexbysubject.jsp? [Accessed 25 October 2008].

 

(14)      American Horse Council (2003) Horse Industry Statistics. www.horsecouncil.org/statistics.htm [Accessed 2 October 2008].

 

(15)      U.S. Department of Agriculture, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (2005) Trends in Equine Mortality, 1998-2005 #N471-0307. National Animal Health Monitoring System’s Equine 2005 Study.

 

(16)      U.S. Department of Agriculture, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (1999) Deaths in U.S. Horses, 1997 and Spring of 1998-Spring 1999 #N337-0501. National Animal Health Monitoring System’s Equine 1998 Study.

 

(17)      Lenz, T.R. (2008) National Assessment of Contributing Factors Surrounding the Unwanted Horse Problem, American Horse Council, Washington D.C.

 

(18)      Alberta Farm Animal Care (AFAC) (2008) The Alberta Horse Welfare Report. www.afac.ab.ca.

 

(19)      U.S. Department of Agriculture, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, Technical Pubs. Commercial Transportation of Equines to Slaughter. www.aphis.usda.gov/lpa/pubs_ahhorses.html. [Accessed 23 October 2008].

 

(20)      Grandin, T., McGee, K., Lanier, J. (1999) Prevalence of Severe Welfare Problems in Horses that Arrive at Slaughter Plants. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, 1999, 214: 1531-1533.

 

(21)      Stull, C. L. (1999) Responses of Horses to Trailer Design, Duration, and Floor Area During Commercial Transportation to Slaughter. Journal of Animal Science, 1999, 77: 2925-2933.

 

(22)      Ahern, J.J., et al. (2006) The Unintended Consequences of a Ban on the Humane Slaughter (Processing) of Horses in the United States. Animal Welfare Council, Inc. 15 May 2006. www.animalwelfarecouncil.org.

 

(23)     Grandin, T. (2004) How to Determine Insensitivity. www.grandin.com. [Accessed 14 August 2004].

(24)      State of Texas, The Sale of Horsemeat for Human Consumption. Texas Agriculture Code, Chapter 149.002. www.tlo2.tlc.state.tx.us/statutes/ag.toc.htm. [Accessed 24 October 2008].

 

(25)      State of Illinois, Amendment to the Illinois Horse Meat Act. Illinois Bill HB 1711.             www.ilga.gov/legislation/fulltext.asp?DocName=09300HB17118GA. [Accessed 24

October 2008].

 

(36)     http://www.americanhumane.org/site/PageServer?pagename=nr factsheets animal

euthanasia [Accessed 13 November 2008].

The Unwanted Horse issue – Where is it today? 2020

This article is posted with the Author’s  Tom Lenz DVM, MS, DACT permission.

 

 

Horses in the United States no longer wanted have been sold or discarded by their owners throughout history, but it is only in the last decade or so this subset of the horse population has been designated “unwanted”. Until the Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) outbreak in Europe in 2000 and the Foot and Mouth disease epidemic that occurred in the United Kingdom in 2001, Americans, both the horse owning and non-horse owning public, were not aware of the unwanted issue. European have traditionally eaten horse meat but both cattle disease outbreaks were responsible for changing the European consumers’ preference from beef to horse meat because they didn’t trust the safety of beef. This change drew American media attention to the fact that American horses were being processed for meat in the United States and their meat exported to Europe for human consumption. Media coverage of the issue not only drew the attention of the horse owning public, but also equine breed associations, animal rights/welfare organizations, veterinary associations and the non-horse owning public. Because of the resultant focused lobbying efforts of animal activists, the public and some horse owners, federal legislation was introduced in the United States Congress in 2001 to prohibit the processing of horses in the United States for human consumption. Since then similar federal legislation has been reintroduced in every Congress and has been expanded to include the export of horses to foreign meat processing plants. The 2001 legislation introduction initiated a series of contentious debates within the country that ultimately divided the horse community.

 

The term “Unwanted Horse” was first coined by the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) at a horse industry meeting in Washington D.C. in 2005. Generally, these are horses that are geriatric, incurably lame, have behavior problems, or are dangerous. They also include un-adoptable feral horses and horses that fail to meet their owner’s expectations because they are unmarketable, unattractive, not athletic, unmanageable, are the wrong color, or cost too much to maintain. Normal healthy horses of varying ages and breeds may also become unwanted. In many cases, these animals have had multiple owners, have been shipped from one sale, stable or training facility to another, and ultimately rejected. Some are refitted and find new homes in alternate careers but others continue to be shipped to meat processing plants.

The U.S. horse processing plants were closed by state law in 2007 but today horses continue to be shipped to plants in Mexico and Canada. Because horses being process for human consumption epitomize the unwanted horse, they have been at the heart of the discussion. At the 2005 American Horse Council meeting leaders from across the industry came together to discuss options for resolving the unwanted horse issue. It was agreed that because there were strong opinions on both side of the horse processing issue the focus should be educating the horse industry and owners on responsible care of their horses and options that were available for a horse that was no longer wanted by its current owner. The result was the formation of the Unwanted Horse Coalition, which was placed under the umbrella of the American Horse Council. The goal of the organization was to raise awareness of the unwanted horse and provide a medium for the exchange of information about adoption, proper care, alternative careers and responsible ownership. This was done through a website, print material, educational forums and public service announcements. Last year it was agreed that raising awareness of the issue has been accomplished so the Unwanted Horse Coalition transitioned to the United Horse Coalition with a goal of “ providing information for existing and prospective owners, breeders, sellers, and horse organizations regarding the long-term responsibilities of owning and caring for horses, as well as focusing on the opportunities available for these horses through industry collaboration”. Particular attention is being given to the education of potential owners regarding the cost of care, proper husbandry, training requirements, expectations and life-ending decisions. In addition, since 2001 virtually every horse breed and discipline has developed a program to identify unwanted horses and to provide options for retraining, rehoming and post career care. None of these programs were present in 2001. They include the American Quarter Horse’s Re-ride Adoption program, the U.S. Trotting Association’s Full Circle Program, The American Horse Council’s Time to Ride Initiative and many more. The Thoroughbred industry has been active in finding new homes for retired race horses through their TB Aftercare Alliance, Take the Lead Program and their Retirement Check-off Program, just to name a few. A new unwanted horse advocacy group, The Right Horse Initiative, brought years of experience in finding homes for shelter dogs and cats to the horse industry. The organization is a collective of industry professionals and equine welfare advocates working together to improve the lives of horses in transition through a dialogue of kindness and respect, reducing the number of at-risk horses, providing information on end-of-life decisions and working towards eliminating the problem.

 

The horse industry will never completely eliminate unwanted horses. Horses will always age, sustain career ending injuries, or not meet their owner expectations. However, I’m optimistic that the future is brighter for these horses because the horse industry has turned its attention to the issue and continues to develop strategies to both reduce the number of unwanted horses on the front end through responsible care and breeding as well as on the rear end through rescue/retirement programs, retraining for alternative careers, and low-cost euthanasia options. Horse owners today are more aware then ever of how their actions affect the welfare of their horses and an ever-increasing number consider the consequences before they breed, buy, or discard a horse.

April 2020 Horse Report

In the four weeks since my last horse report, we have been on lockdown. Most Americans, and indeed people all over the world, are affected by this pandemic but for each of us, the effects are different. Some of you are separated from your horses, because boarding facilities are not allowing access. Some of us are stuck at home with our horses, and grateful for that. Maybe you are at home but not able to work from home, or perhaps you’re stuck at home and working all day. Still others are going to work as usual every day because you perform an essential service—THANK YOU! For me, our horses are right outside the door and things are operating somewhat normally around here except that some of my crew are working remotely and that I am home during what is normally my busiest travel time of the year.

I’ve been enjoying producing my Daily Doses of Horsemanship Homework, but I’ll be honest, it’s a lot more work than I originally  thought! I made a commitment to post a horsemanship lesson every day during this shutdown, not fully comprehending how long this thing would last (if only we knew a month ago what we know now). But a promise is a promise, and with the help of my far flung crew, we are delivering. I’ve really enjoyed the LIVE posts I’ve been doing 3-4 times a week—we’ve had good turnout and it’s really satisfying for me to connect with everyone in the live posts—to know that you are out there and engaging with me and enjoying the lessons we are posting. I love answering your real-time, real-life questions on the live posts and to debrief the arena lessons I’ve offered you.

I’ve been using Pepperoni mostly for the arena lessons—this is his first serious media job and he has performed quite well, almost like a grown-up horse. When we are producing content, the horses have to do a lot of waiting– repositioning for the camera, trial runs, stops and starts– while we get set up. Young horses aren’t always that patient or cooperative, while my mature horses have learned how to pose for the camera and when to turn it on. Pepper is four years old now and he’s more mature and more reliable and I am pleased to see that he is learning to be in front of the camera.

In order to mix it up a little and to produce some real-time training content, we’ve been using Woodrow for ground manners lessons. He’s a 3 year-old QH gelding that belongs to my barn manager and assistant trainer, Melissa. He’s quite a character, he’s very brave and opinionated, and he hasn’t had much work in this department, so he’s been an excellent demo horse! We’ve done some entertaining ground lessons with Woodrow on establishing boundaries, standing still, leading manners, ground tying, rating speed on the lead line… and there’s much more to come! He’s even developing his own fan club.

If you’ve missed any of the Daily Doses of Horsemanship Homework, you’ve got some catching up to do! There are plenty of lessons to keep you busy—both arena and “living room lessons,” that you can pick through to find the lessons that help you the most. You can find every single one of the Daily Doses here. Please join me on the LIVE posts on Facebook, to share your story and ask questions @JulieGoodnight. The LIVE posts are always announced ahead of time on my Facebook page. I look forward to connecting with you there!

Horsemanship Homework

Sometimes life doesn’t go as planned. Despite our best efforts, there are times when life-events will supplant your horsemanship activities. Putting in too many hours at work, an illness in the family, a new job, building a house, starting a family, moving or changing jobs are all events that can put your riding on hold for an extended period. But who knew a viral pandemic and national stay-at-home orders would stand in the way of improving your horsemanship?

Right now, people all over the country and all over the world are home from work or school, helping to curtail the spread, with nothing but time on their hands. Have you ever thought how much time you’d spend riding if you didn’t have to go to work or school? Or fantasized about being able to spend all day at the barn, with no other demands on your schedule? Be careful what you wish for.

The truth is, in this new reality, some of you are stuck at home WITH your horses, while some of you are stuck at home WITHOUT access to your horses. I’m sure most of you would prefer to be in the former group—to be able to get outside, do the physical chores, groom, ride and train. But without guidance, supervision and structure, how will you improve and what will you work on? If you’re in this boat, you might want to check out my riding audios that you listen to while you ride.

For those of you experiencing separation from your horses, not only are your goals and dreams temporarily suspended, but you’re also worried about your horse and the separation must be heartbreaking. Still, there are ways to make lemonade.

Sometimes life gets in the way of our plans. That’s our current reality and the hand we must play. No matter what your circumstance, whether you’re isolated from your horse or not, able to ride or not, there are ways to stay on track with your horsemanship, to grow your knowledge, to improve your balance and fitness, to learn more about horse behavior and influencing a horse’s behavior.

I often talk about the Mind-Body-Spirit connection, or, if you prefer, the Mental-Physical-Emotional connection. These are three parts of our being that are inseparable and inter-connected. When you have a thought, it affects you physically. When your emotions surge, it affects the thoughts in your mind and has a physical effect. We do best when these three parts of our being are in balance.

To take it one step farther, if you’re stuck at home, separated from your horses or feeling like you’ve been set adrift, there are many things you can do to keep you mind, body and spirit engaged in a positive direction to further your horsemanship, even when times are tough.

Mental Connection

If you can’t go out and ride your horse or your regular riding lessons are cancelled, you can still improve your horsemanship by studying! Read books and research articles, listen to podcasts, and watch videos to learn more about horses and riding. I love to read, especially about horse behavior, and recently I dedicated a blog to my favorite horse books.

I shudder to think where would we be without the internet in times like these. Online courses about horses and riding sports makes study-at-home easy. I started converting all my content to the digital space about a decade ago, in the form of articles, videos and audio recordings and we’ve amassed a huge resource library. We’ve got hundreds of episodes of Horse Master, all searchable content, streaming on-demand. My Interactive membership includes an online curriculum, study resources and assignments, plus personalized coaching from me. There are plenty of educational resources out there, both paid and free. And remember, when you read a term you don’t understand, look it up in your Equine Dictionary!

Study horsemanship theory—classical riding. The higher you go in your riding level, the more important riding and training theory comes into play. It’s less mechanical and more cerebral. Read the Book of Xenophon, the oldest known complete work of horsemanship (written almost 4,000 years ago). Take a cross-discipline approach and study skills and techniques in other disciplines of riding than the one you are used to. There’s more to riding than heels down, eyes up and shoulders back!

Focus is an important mental skill in all areas of life, but especially with horses. Multi-tasking is not as valuable as the ability to bring 100% focus onto a singular task. I’d guess that all accomplished riders have exceptional focus. It’s a skill you must hone and practice. To me, riding my bike on a single-track trail in the mountains, is as much an exercise on focus as it is physical. Riding a horse can be similar. Check out this exhilarating helmet-cam video that shows the amount of focus it takes to pilot a powerful horse through a five-star cross country jumping course.

In everyday life you can find ways to improve your focus with brain teasers, meditation, exercise, jigsaw puzzles, or simply putting your phone down and practicing listening skills.

Physical Connection

Riding is a very physical sport, so getting in better shape will help. Also, since horses communicate primarily with gestures and postures (body language), having good control of your physicality and body language helps you communicate more effectively and actually will help you ride better.

Balance is the #1 skill required of riders. It’s a challenging balance sport, because it’s a balance-in-motion and the synchronization of the balance of two animals—horse and human. Each has a will of its own and a balance of its own. Balance is a skill that naturally declines with age, peaking at about 18-20 years old. But no matter your age, young, old or in-between, you can always improve your balance through exercises that challenge your balance.

I’ll give you a full refund for the price of this blog if you practice a simple balance exercise two days in a row, and don’t see a huge improvement the second day. Balance improves rapidly when you work on it. Whether your exercise is as simple as balancing on one foot when you brush your teeth, or as complicated as walking a tightrope, you get better every time you practice and anything you do to improve balance off the horse, will help you on the horse as well.

Core strength is essential to good balance and to great riding skills. Riding is a weird combination of balancing while seated and synchronizing your balance with the horse—making your core strength and center-of-gravity critically important. It’s not enough to just do sit-ups and strength-building exercise, you must also use your core for balance and coordination. There are many great workout routines that address core strength and balance, and you can look at my favorites here.

Bi-lateral coordination refers to being equally strong and coordinated on both sides of your body. But the sad truth is, most of us are one-side dominant—as are most horses. Once again, getting older doesn’t help because often old injuries, scoliosis or arthritis will make lateral imbalances more pronounced. I seek out activities and exercises that help me develop bi-lateral coordination and I like to work my weak side more than my strong side.

I enjoy exercise routines like Pilates because it helps me identify my lateral weaknesses, which in turn affect my horse’s performance. Exercises that improve bi-lateral coordination are fun—try patting your head with one hand and rubbing your stomach with the other at the same time. Try signing your name with your other hand. Groom with two brushes– wax-on-wax-off (one of many reasons why I love the HandsOn grooming gloves

Most riding errors are posture related. If you do it on the ground, chances are you do it on the horse. Also, posture declines with age—that’s a fact of life. Our body shape changes with age from year one to 100. But like balance, you can always improve your posture. Just simply making an effort to sit up straight or making a mutual agreement with your friend or spouse (I’ll remind you if you remind me) to kindly point out when you are slouching, will go a long way to improve your posture. Better posture is good for your health, your confidence and your riding! 

Emotional Connection

Having faith in a positive outcome is important no matter how bad or chaotic it seems in the moment. Things will look different with time and perspective. Having confidence in yourself is not easy, but sometimes it’s required. “I’ve got this,” “I’ve been through worse,” “I love this!” (as my friend and colleague Barbra Schulte would say in any moment of adversity), are productive messages to give yourself. Just like when your horse spooks and blows up on you, you need to stay focused and proactive and do what you and your horse know how to do.

Everyone has moments of self-doubt. It’s normal. But not everyone has the grit to deal with it. The ability to embrace failure as an opportunity to learn more and succeed next time, the ability to lean-in when the going gets tough, and the ability to have faith in the positive outcome require true grit.

Building confidence and honestly examining your fears will not only help with your horsemanship, it will impact everything in life from scolding a naughty horse to asking your boss for a raise. Building your confidence will not happen automatically, it’s an attitude you must develop and maintain. There are many tools available for building confidence on my website, including a motivational audio and an online short course, both called Build Your Confidence with Horses.

Practice controlling your emotions through deep abdominal breathing and mental relaxation techniques. This stuff works, but only if you practice it. Next time you are startled and feel your heart rate shoot up, practice calming yourself through deep abdominal breathing and positive imagery. Next time you have an emotional confrontation or even just a welling of emotion, practice these skills. Sometimes when I am speaking in front of a crowd, touching on something poignant, I feel myself starting to cry and I view it as an opportunity to push through and take control of the emotion. Calming yourself and steeling your emotions is not always easy but like any skill, it gets easier when you practice.

There’s so much you can do to improve your horsemanship, even when you are secluded at home, unable to ride or feeling disconnected from the sport. While it’s great to have a trainer and/or riding instructor to motivate you and guide your learning, with some dedication and self-discipline, you can achieve your goals independently.

Take the time to study, read, watch and listen. Study classical riding theory and science-based research on horse behavior and training. Improve yourself physically and learn to steady your emotions. It’s a wholistic approach, to address the Mind, the Body and the Spirit in your horsemanship pursuits, and it will cause your horsemanship to soar. Regardless of your current situation, there is much you can do to become the horseperson your horse deserves!

April 2020 Letter From Julie

Dear friends,

What a difference a month makes! Here in Colorado, we are in our third week of shutdown and second week of stay-at-home orders. We are all taking the pandemic seriously and doing our part to prevent spread, keep distance, protect the vulnerable and support our health care workers and first responders. My hope is that four weeks from now, I’ll be writing in this newsletter about how the worst of it is behind us. But for now, we have to hunker down, be smart and do what we can to contribute to flattening the curve.

 

Fortunately for me, much of my business is internet-based, so we can keep the virtual doors open! Our subscription services (streaming horse-training videos) and membership programs (online horsemanship curriculum and coaching) are going strong and many of you are making the most of this time by improving your horsemanship knowledge. Diana is standing by, both online and by phone (719-530-0531), to help you with customer service, as usual.

 

If you’re stuck at home, fantasizing about getting back to regular riding and cruising the internet, check out our online store at shop.juliegoodnight.com! We’re still open for business and processing orders and offering you FREE SHIPPING (no minimums) as an incentive to shop. In addition to our fabulous rope halters, training leads, and reins, we also offer unique grooming products that you can’t find anywhere else, streaming horse training videos, sticks and flags, and many other great products.

 

It was tragic that so many great horse expos had to cancel this spring. I’ve agreed to be a presenter next year at the Northwest Horse Fair (Albany, Oregon) and the Midwest Horse Fair (Madison, Wisconsin). We’ll pick up right where we left off! We are in the process of rescheduling horsemanship clinics as needed. My previously rigid schedule has suddenly gotten more flexible!

 

In response to the health crisis and the increasing amount of people under stay-at-home orders in this country (3 out of 4 Americans, at the time of this writing), I’ve started daily postings offering you horsemanship homework—both “Living Room Lessons” and arena lessons. I’ve either posted through Facebook Live (I love connecting with you in real time!) or through a video uploaded to my YouTube channel. We’re starting on our third week of Daily Doses! In case you’ve missed any or all of them, we’ve put them on the Goodnight Academy homepage, under What’s New? https://signin.juliegoodnight.com/

 

Also new in my shop this month (this week) is a brand new digital product—a horsemanship short course on Building Confidence with Horses. We’ve been working on the short courses for months, and now happens to be a good time and a good subject to release the first one. Check it out here: https://signin.juliegoodnight.com/goodnight-academy-short-courses/

 

Many of you are separated from your horses during this shutdown and I know that must be tough! I’m incredibly grateful to have my horses at home and to be able to go to the barn for a sense of normalcy. I’m making the most of this unplanned time at home to ride my horse more, catch up on back-burner projects and produce more educational content for our online Library (we’re releasing new content every week). I’m looking forward to getting back on the road for clinics and expos, but for now, I am content to stay home and do what I can to help. I am confident we will get through this with American determination and ingenuity.

 

Please check out my Daily Dose of Horsemanship Homework and join us for a live post if you can! Help spread the word to your horsey friends, especially those with kids at home that may need a horse fix.

 

Until next time, stay safe, be smart and let’s do this!

Take care,

Julie

March 2020 Horse Report

Had I written this report a week ago, when I was supposed to, it would have sounded much different. Then, I would’ve been whining about being on the road too much and how little ride-time I had with my own horses. Now, I’ve got all the time in the world because my business trips have been cancelled through April. I’ve got plenty of time at home to ride my horses now and I’m making the most of it. However, I will miss connecting with you, my loyal friends and followers, and I am sad about all the vendors and expo producers whose hard work preparing for horse expos burned up in a flash.

Fortunately, Goodnight Horsemanship is an internet-based business, located in a remote and rural area and my crew and I are still hard at work, in a seemingly normal way. Twyla and Diana are in our (spacious) office every day (taking all precautions, of course), to keep up with orders and give technical support (and emotional support) to our members and subscribers. Melissa is taking care of the horses as usual and we are riding and training every day (she’s also videotaping, editing and modeling too). She’s working more from home now, in an attempt to keep her son busy while he’s home from school. Megan, who keeps our intricate websites and social media platforms functioning (among many other things), works remotely from home normally anyway. We are all working hard to make the most of this slowdown by producing even more video/audio content for our subscribers. We are working on it every day and plan to release brand new content several times a week!

Our streaming services and online horsemanship library have definitely seen an uptick in activity this week, a sign of all the people who cannot go to work but still have a hankering for horses. We are grateful to be able to share this searchable educational content with you and to help you reach your horsemanship goals. I’ve also seen an increase in completed assignments and messages from my Interactive members (it’s an online curriculum and coaching program). This tells me that many of you, like me, are stuck at home for a while and trying to keep moving in a positive direction. Let’s keep these connections going!

I’m eager to get back on the road again soon. As much as I enjoy this unplanned time at home, I love traveling to clinics and expos and I already miss it. The Women’s Riding & Wholeness Retreat, at the C Lazy U Ranch, that I co-teach with Barbra Schulte, is going on as planned in May and I cannot wait! We are optimistic that our government and the greatest scientists in the world will continue to be proactive and will get this viral outbreak under control quickly, and that restrictions will be lessening soon. Obviously, it’s a fluid situation and it can change rapidly, but we are optimistic and eager to get back to normal.

With all the event cancellations, I’ll have lots of time available once things kick back into gear. I’d love to schedule more private clinics around the country, especially in the areas where horse expos were cancelled. If you’re interesting in partnering with us to host a horsemanship clinic, please call my office.

My horses are all healthy, fat and happy. I’m getting more ride time these days and I’ve been sharing that on FaceBook and YouTube. Many of you wonder what I do with my own horses, so now’s your chance to get an insider’s look at my farm, my personal horses and what training challenges I face. You’ll hear from me again in a couple weeks and I’m confidant my newsletter will have a more positive tone by then. In the meantime, let’s all stay connected online, through live posts and chat rooms. Keep your comments coming and let us know you’re still there!

Take care and be smart,
Julie

Fresh Start

Like my fruits and vegetables, I prefer my horses fresh. It’s clearly not for everyone, but I enjoy riding a horse that’s a little bit excited, that’s looking down the road, eager to get there and curious about what job awaits him. It took me about forty years to realize it, but I prefer a horse with a big motor and a busy mind. To me, it’s more fun than riding a horse that’s sluggish, insensitive and looking for a way out of work. But a fresh horse is neither fun nor confidence inspiring to many riders.

What is a fresh horse?

A fresh horse is one that has not been handled or ridden for an extended time or for a longer period than normal. Perhaps it’s a horse that’s simply not in a regular riding routine or hasn’t been ridden in a few days. At one end of the extreme, it could be a horse that’s been turned out with the herd for several years without any riding or handling, and at the other end, maybe it’s Monday and that horse just had the weekend off. 

Because horses are emotional animals, a horse might be in a fresh state of mind because of the situation it’s in. Riding in a strange area or with unknown horses can sometimes cause emotional overload. When something changes in a horse’s known environment, like a new banner on the fence, it can temporarily blow his mind. Maybe the wind is howling, putting a normally calm horse on edge. Often a nervous or excited horse feels just like a fresh horse— it’s more horse than you are used to.

What does fresh look and feel like? 

A horse with the freshies tends to be high-headed, energetic and easily distracted. It may be looking around a lot, calling out to other horses, fidgeting. It’s muscles feel and look tight (we call that “on the muscle”) and sometimes the rider feels a hump in the horse’s back that may morph into a little crow-hop. It’s often the result of pent up energy in the horse, not the result of disobedience or defiance. There’s a big difference.

If a trained horse has simply had a time off, even if it’s been months or years, it does not forget its training or become untrained, let alone become disobedient or defiant. Horses retain their training forever; they don’t unlearn, although they may benefit from occasional reminders. 

However that horse was left before the lay-off, is the same horse that you get back, once you get the freshies out. While I expect a fresh horse to be energetic and need some re-tuning, that should not translate to disobedience if the horse was properly trained to begin with. Defiance and disobedience are signs of poor training, not a fresh horse.

Whether your horse has been laid off for days or weeks or has had time off due to weather conditions, vacation, physical rehab or some external reason, there are a few steps you can take to make sure your first few rides on a fresh horse go well. From take-off to landing, it helps to pay attention to details, to insure a smooth and safe flight.

Pre-Flight Checklist

At its best, riding is a physically demanding and somewhat risky activity. When a horse is fresh, it’s important to be thorough in your preparations and make sure all conditions are perfect for flight. If we always consider the worst-case-scenario with horses, it will keep us safer. Minimally, I want to make certain that my tack is right, the environment is conducive to training, and my horse is in the right state-of-mind. Before I take that first ride, I’ll go through a pre-flight checklist, to make sure all conditions are right.

  • Saddle fit and tack check: If the horse has had weeks or months off, it pays to reassess saddle fit. A horse’s body shape changes rapidly with age and conditioning, so saddle fit is a constant concern. With an extended layoff, it’s even more important. Pads may need to be adjusted; billets and latigos may need adjusting. Check all parts of your tack, especially if it hasn’t been used in a while. Adjust the headstall/bit/curb strap; look for wear spots where metal meets leather; check Chicago screws and other connections.
  • Safe footing: Keep in mind that the fresh horse is probably going to outrun his lungs. Like most horse trainers, I’m a fanatic about soft, freshly-groomed and consistent footing. A fresh horse may be physically out of shape or coming off injured reserve and in his excitement, he may run fast and buck hard in the groundwork and trot/canter hard when I ride. I want deep enough footing that my horse has plenty of soft ground underneath him, but not so deep that he over-stresses his tendons. I don’t mind mud unless it’s slippery, as long as the footing is consistent. 
  • Groundwork for focus, not to tire: If the fresh horse is nervous and a looky-lou right when I pull him out of the stall, some groundwork is indicated. If the well-trained horse is mannerly from the start, listening to me, standing quietly while tied and compliant, I may skip it. If I do groundwork with the fresh horse, my goal is to get the horse to listen to me, follow instructions and demonstrate compliance. It is not to “get the bucks out” or tire out the horse. In my experience, people who say that are often inadvertently training the horse to buck on the lunge line. 
  • Ground School. For groundwork, I use a premium rope halter, with a 15-foot training lead; I may also employ a flag or boundary stick. I start with leading the horse around at walk and trot, doing turns and stops, to check its manners, its awareness of boundaries and its focus on me. Then I might circle the horse on the end of the line and ask it to turn around and trot off a few times. If it gives me green lights, I may only spend a couple minutes in groundwork before I step up in the stirrup. If I think the horse really needs to blow off some steam, due to excessive confinement or extreme emotionality, I’d rather use the round pen or turn him loose in a bigger pen (assuming re-injury is not a concern).

Cleared for Take-off

Once I swing a leg over the back of a fresh horse, we are wheels up. As soon as I settle in the saddle, I will ask the horse to move forward at either walk or trot. If he’s truly fresh and has a lot of energy, I want to send that energy in a positive direction. Riding and training horses is entirely about controlling forward movement—start with the forward, then gradually start guiding the horse more and more.

  • Forward motion is the basis of all training. Working trot is the best gait for a fresh horse. It covers the most ground and is the most efficient gait for the horse. If he’s really fresh, I’ll jump right to working trot as soon as I get on and keep him at that gait for at least ten minutes. That’s enough to take the air out of most horses. After that, we can usually settle into some more serious work.
  • Lower your expectations for performance, but not for obedience. I don’t expect a horse that hasn’t been ridden in months to be as sharp in his skills as he was in the peak of his training, but I always expect and require obedience. If he hasn’t had a reason to think about riding cues in a long time, he’s a little rusty and I will give him the time he needs to regain his performance skills. But I expect him to go in the direction I choose, at the speed I dictate, without argument. Having time off does not change the rules of expected behavior.
  • Bending, not pulling, to control speed. A hot blooded, forward moving horse that has been laid-off or cooped up, is going to have a full tank of gas and be eager to go. What never works well on a horse like this is to try to control speed by pulling back on two reins. Instead, I prefer to control speed or excessive energy by bending the neck of the horse softly from right to left to right to left. When the horse builds speed, I gradually bring him onto an arcing circle, increasing the bend in the neck until I feel him gear down a notch, then letting him go straight in reward. Remember, the goal is to control forward motion, not stop it. A lot of behavioral problems stem from the latter.
  • Changes of direction matter. If I am bending the horse to control speed, I will also throw in some changes of direction too. I never go ‘round and ‘round in one direction; instead, I change directions often. This has the double-effect of bending the horse and showing the horse I control its direction. Changes of direction are a powerful tool on a horse that’s excited, scared or feisty.
  • Be prepared for spooks. A nervous or excited horse is more prone to spook, spin and bolt. Mange your rein length and know how to shorten and lengthen your reins blindfolded (my rope reins are the perfect length and are easy to manage); know how to execute the emergency stop (see my YouTube video on Pulley Rein). Don’t ride the horse as if he is going to spook (because he will), but be prepared to react if he does.
  • Rest in the far corners. After extensive trotting, circling, changes of direction, hand gallop and canter, when the horse reaches his full aerobic capacity (maxVO2), I will take him to one of the far corners of the arena (where he doesn’t want to be) for rest and recovery. This addresses barn sour tendencies and teaches the horse to enjoy the part of the arena he normally avoids. 

Horse, this is Your Captain Speaking

Besides getting the fresh off the horse and dissipating his pent-up energy, my main goal with this horse is to remind him of how we do business, who is in charge and who will be making all the decisions (me). I’m less concerned on the horse’s accurate response to specific cues, and more interested in re-establishing a productive working relationship. With that in mind, there are some specific parameters that I work within.

  • No looking around. Focus on the job ahead of you. This is a strict rule of mine on any horse, but especially for the green or fresh horse. A horse that is looking around excessively is not focused on me or the task ahead. I simply disallow it by bumping the outside rein once when the horse turns its head to look. As soon as the nose crosses the line of its shoulder, I issue the correction. Using good timing and the right amount of pressure, the horse stops looking for his escape and brings more focus to riding within a minute or two.
  • Breaking gait (up or down) is bad. Whether the horse is lazy or full of gas, he doesn’t get to pick the speed. Ever. You don’t want a thousand-pound flight animal thinking he controls the speed. A fresh horse needs to move forward, so I proactively take charge by asking it to move forward before it has the chance and for longer than it wants to. Holding that forward horse back when it’s fresh is a bad idea; it’s better for me to be the one asking for speed (and the horse asking to slow down). 
  • Control direction; don’t compromise the path. Just as with speed, I also don’t want my horse thinking it gets a vote in where it goes. If the horse is avoiding the far corners, pulling toward the gait or otherwise veering off the path I have chosen, I will address it. If the horse is nervous or full of itself, I may not take it immediately to the scary places, but it’s important that I maintain control of the direction. I may employ changes of direction, but always turning the horse away from where he wants to go (the gate) or toward the place his is avoiding (the scary place). This kills two birds with one stone: the changes of direction give me more authority over the horse and turning toward scary or away from home will make sure the horse does not benefit from its disobedient actions. If I let the horse veer-away from a place I’ve directed it to go or let the horse pull me in a direction without addressing it, it is learning the wrong thing.

Us horse trainers like to talk about riding the horse underneath you and staying in the moment. Ride the horse that showed up today; play the hand you are dealt. They are not robots and they all have good days and bad days. It’s the rider’s job to adjust to the needs of the horse, in the moment and ride proactively.

Just because a horse has pent-up energy or hasn’t been ridden for an extended period, does not mean he is a bad horse or that he has become untrained. Think about kids going back to school after summer break. They are a little wild and may need a few days to fall back into the routine, but they know how to do it. Contain and direct their energy, remind them of their manners, and get their mind back in the game. That’s what you want to do with the fresh horse.

As always, with horses, keep your safety and the safety of your horse, first and foremost in your mind. And don’t forget… enjoy the ride!

March 2020 Letter from Julie

Dear friends,

The valley I live in is known as “the banana belt of Colorado” for a reason. At a high altitude, winters are long and in spite of lots of snow and cold in February, I was able to ride Pepperoni in the outdoor arena on March 3rd, for the first time since mid-October. And let’s just say it was an enthusiastic ride, thoroughly enjoyed by both of us! With wide open spaces all around us (and epic views I might add), after months of staring at walls and going in circles, and with freshly groomed footing, Pepper had a revved up engine and seemed like he had somewhere important to go! We laid a lot of tracks in that fresh soft dirt, before the thin air slowed us down.

After three back-to-back trips and two weeks on the road, I’m happy to be home for a couple weeks. My first trip was to Fort Collins, CO, in mid-February. I’ve been involved with the Colorado State University Equine program for a long time and I often show up there as a guest lecturer. This time, I was substitute-teaching for John Snyder, the instructor for the colt-training class. Thirty-one colts are trained by students over two semesters and they had their first rides scheduled for the week I was there. I was like a kid in a candy shop! I love training  young horses and I had a blast. With the help of two patient and supportive teaching assistants, we got every last colt through their first few rides. There were three half-siblings to my youngster, Pepperoni, which was interesting. Like déjà vu. All the colts are working well under-saddle now, in preparation for the Legends of Ranching Horse Sale in April. https://equinescience.agsci.colostate.edu/outreach-events/legends-of-ranching/ I can’t wait to go back to Fort Collins early next month, to lecture to the Behavior class and to see how the colts have progressed.

My last two trips in February were to Tennessee and Pennsylvania. Lucy and I had a fabulous time at the Southern Equine Expo—it was a busy weekend for us and the attendance was tremendous! Same at the Horse World Expo—great crowds, lots of friends—old and new.

Later this month, I’m headed to the Northwest Horse Expo in Albany, Oregon. http://equinepromotions.net/northwest-horse-fair/ My presentations include The Natural Ride, Riding ‘til You’re 90!, Finding Your Dream Horse, Exercises to Improve Riding Skills, and Canter Master: Leads and Lead Changes. This well-established horse expo offers three full days of education, entertainment and shopping for all horse lovers. I look forward to seeing you there!

February 2020 Horse Report

We are in the midst of a long, hard winter! Typical this time of year, one day might be sunny and warm with highs in the 40s or 50s, and the next is single digits, snowy and high winds. If it weren’t for the indoor arena, not much riding would be happening at all. But even with a cozy indoor, when high temperatures are single digits or below, we do not work horses. One reason is that when the air is that cold and dry (often below 20% humidity), it can “scorch” the lungs of both horses and people if they start breathing too hard. Also, if the horses work up any kind of sweat when it’s that cold, it’s very difficult to get them to dry before nightfall. But even on the coldest days, it doesn’t hurt to get the horses out, tie them up, give them a good grooming and do a little slow-paced ground work (see my blog this month on Winter Whoas).

Rich’s new horse, Casper, is in-training as a mounted shooting horse and although gun-fire is not his favorite thing, he’s accepting it just fine with a little positive reinforcement. He’s now starting to associate the loud noise and strong smell with the good feelings he gets from eating a delectable treat. It will be a while before Rich can haul him anywhere, since our hauling truck was stolen in December. It was recovered a month later, but with a lot of cosmetic damage, so it remains in the shop. Don’t get me started on this subject…

My horses, Dually, Annie and Pepperoni, are all doing great. Dually is in full retirement now and although he still enjoys a high status in the herd, it’s gradually slipping with his age. Annie has become my go-to horse and is the only finished horse I have. She’s an awesome little horse—uncomplicated, fun to ride, and just my size at 14.0 hands! Not much to “work” on with her—she’s pretty finished but we ride her daily to maintain her fitness. My youngster, Pepperoni, is maturing nicely as a four-year-old. After his latest accident back in December (kicking out in his stall and entangling his foot high up on the stall grate, ultimately ripping the stall wall down), he seems to have become much more sensible during his moments of exuberance. Fortunately, he did not sustain any significant injury from that episode, but it did seem to have a positive effect on his maturity and sensibility.

Pepper is still relatively green for a horse of his age, partly by design and partly because of his propensity for injury. I intentionally bought a young horse because I enjoy training colts but also because I want to control how much pressure is put on him in his youth. Without a competition deadline looming, I’ve been able to ease up on his training and take breaks when needed for physical reasons. Currently, Pepper and I are working on collection at the canter, bending, shoulder-fore, haunches-in and leg yielding at the walk and trot. He’s naturally a big stopper and not something we’ve worked on much, but we are starting to work on the slide. Same with pivots. In preparation for starting him on the cutting machine (a fake cow suspended from cables that you can control with a remote, so that it stops and turns like a cow), we are working on stop-back-turnaround. This all comes pretty easy to Pepper since he is line-bred to work cattle. It’s in his DNA.

Speaking of DNA, I was excited to find out that Etalon Genetics www.etalondiagnostics.com was doing additional research on Annie’s DNA. The domestication of horses is a fascinating subject to me and one I’ve been studying a lot lately (as well as the domestication of dogs). This additional information from Etalon includes an Ancestry report and a lot of factual information on breeds around the world. Just as with an ancestry report on humans, if you go back far enough, horses are all related! And just like with humans, my ancestry report might vary slightly from my sibling, in terms of which genes expressed themselves. I’m including Annie’s ancestry report here, so you can see what it looks like. The initial DNA report includes color genetics, health markers and behavioral traits—very fascinating! This is a supplemental report.

Winter “Whoas”

Pepper walking in the snow between two tree branches.
Pepper walking in the snow between two tree branches.
Unless you have the luxury of loading up your horses and heading to Arizona or south Florida for the winter, chances are good your riding activities have been seriously curtailed by winter weather. Whether you’re dealing with rain and mud, snow and ice, or sub-zero temps and bomb cyclones, the winter months can put the brakes on your horsemanship, if you let it.

This time of year, I hear a lot of frustration in the voices of the riders I coach online, because they have assignments they want to complete, but can’t do much with their horses until the weather improves. I grew up in Florida, where winter is the prime riding season, but after decades of living in the Rocky Mountains, 7800 feet above sea level, I can certainly relate to the winter whoas.

Truth is, there are plenty of things you can do to advance your horsemanship and increase your horse’s training, no matter how bad the footing gets. I think it’s important to keep your hands on your horses daily—for health reasons, for bonding, for leadership. Even if the winter weather restricts you from riding or groundwork, just grooming your horse in the barn, is time well-spent.

With just a little bit of ground with decent footing– in the barn aisle, a stall or the driveway—there are ground exercises that will keep your horse tuned into your signals and interested in what you have to say. Even with no footing at all, you can engage your horse enough to maintain the relationship (and authority) you’ve built. 

The heart of winter is a great time to reassess your riding goals and your horse’s training. Evaluate and plan. And while you’re at it, think about improving your own self too! Horse sports are physically demanding, so fitness matters. 

Finally, while there are some skills that require getting your hands dirty in order to learn, there is much about riding, training and horse behavior that can be learned didactically. Winter is a great time to read, study, take online short courses and gain knowledge. There’s a lot to learn about horses; you need to gain knowledge every way you can.

Grooming Time is Bonding Time
Even if you can’t ride, it’s important to visit your horse and remind him of your relationship. Here in Colorado, some people hardly touch their horses all winter and by Spring, the horses are incredibly herd-bound. Getting your horse out, separating him from the herd and reminding him who you are, will help a lot.

Horses are mutually-grooming animals and they won’t groom on just any horse—it’s a behavior that only occurs between bonded horses. Giving your horse a thorough grooming reminds him of your special relationship and gives you an opportunity to remind him that you are still the one in charge. 

I like to lay my hands over every square inch of my horse’s body, legs, neck and face. It’s especially important in the winter when their coats are long. Winter coats can mask health problems, like weight loss, plus, I like to feel the skin for any scabbing or injuries. I give my horses a thorough head-to-tail curry with HandsOn Gloves, just for this reason. I can kill two birds with one stone—while I curry and clean, I’m also feeling the skin and searching for sore spots. It’s a great massage for my horse and it mimics the way horses groom each other.

Grooming promotes health and well-being in your horse in many ways. Since I cannot bathe my horses all winter, yet we’re still riding and causing sweat buildup, I use a waterless bathing product called Miracle Groom. It also cleans manure and urine stains, without requiring any rinsing.

Get Grounded
Even if you don’t have suitable footing for riding or active groundwork, there are still things you can do with your horse in the winter to maintain your leadership and authority. As I said, just getting him away from the herd and alone for an hour or so will help. Tying your horse for grooming reminds him to be patient. You can work on ground tying exercises in the aisle of the barn.

If your driveway has some dry areas or even some snow-packed areas, you might be able to do some leading exercises with your horse to keep his ground manners sharp and to keep him tuned into you. Check out my Lead Line Leadership video for ground tying and other exercises to work on. 

We try to keep our horses barefoot in the winter because it’s better for their hooves and an unshod horse has better traction in the snow and ice and is less-likely to get snowballs under his hooves. Hoof boots can be useful for shod or unshod horses, when you need more traction. If we have a horse that must remain shod in the winter for therapeutic reasons, we use snow pads for added traction and to prevent snowballs. Sometimes people use studded shoes or borium welded onto a steel shoe, for added traction in the winter.

If you have an indoor arena or suitable footing outside, you can include lungeing and circling work with your horse, which will not only keep him responsive, but also improve his fitness. If your riding activities are restricted in the winter months, spend whatever time you can on groundwork and relationship building activities. If you keep the relationship strong between you and your horse, you won’t miss a beat when the good weather finally arrives.

Goal-setting and Training Plans 
Winter is a logical time to look forward and decide what you will accomplish with your horse in the coming year. Feats to accomplish, skills to master, trail rides, horse shows and clinics to attend. Get a calendar and fill that thing up. Set your long-range goals now.

The next step is to think about the skills and resources you will need to acquire, what steps you will take, how you will condition both you and your horse. Back-track on that calendar, thinking about how many weeks it takes to impact fitness, training and performance. What skills are you and your horse lacking and how long will it take to fill the holes? Break down the skills and set a training schedule.

Training and performance goals are accomplished over months and years, not hours and days. Looking forward, six to twelve months in advance, will help you chart a course. My Interactive Academy curriculum begins with assessing the current skill level of you and your horse, then setting realistic goals for the future.

For instance, if you’re planning to attend a multi-day rigorous trail ride in July, start by getting that date on the calendar. Calculate how many weeks and days-per-week of riding t will it take to condition your horse. Now you can back track on the calendar and set your riding goals.

Maybe you need to acquire some new skills for the trail ride… ground tying, tying to the trailer, trailer loading, crossing water, riding in a strange location. Identify the skills/experience/resources you need and make a plan. Take lessons, go on shorter rides, fill the holes with training—all that requires planning and time to accomplish.

In Pursuit of Knowledge
Most accomplished horse people are curious and insatiable learners. It’s a good sport for people that crave learning because if you devoted every waking minute of your life to learning more about horses, you’d still never learn it all. There’s no such thing as a perfect rider—never has been, never will be. And even after more than five thousand years of domestication, there’s still an awful lot about horses we don’t know. 

The professional horse trainers that I admire, all have cross-trained in other disciplines and/or taken any opportunity they can find to study classical horsemanship. Certainly, riding horses requires a lot of physical skill, but there is also a huge body of riding theory that can be learned by reading, studying and taking lessons, clinics or online courses

I’ll never grow tired of studying horse behavior and the science behind behavior modification. Sometimes a small piece of information can connect a lot of dots in your understanding. Personally, I look to science-based, peer-reviewed research and avoid fluffy, anecdotal books that tend to romanticize horse behavior. 

Recently I wrote a blog sharing my favorite horse books, so if you’re looking for books that will increase your knowledge base, check it out. Also, if structured learning is important to you, check out my Interactive Academy. Each set of assignments includes a study problem (complete with all the study resources you need), a groundwork exercise, an equitation exercise (to improve riding skill) and a horse training exercise (mounted). It’s self-paced and for all skill levels and I personally coach you through the program. It’s not for everyone, but for self-motivated, insatiable learners, this program is perfect!

Fitness Matters
Horse sports are physically demanding and getting in better shape will always make a positive difference in your riding and in your self-confidence. The winter months are a great time to reassess your fitness and think about improving your conditioning in ways that impact your riding. 

Balance is the #1 skill required of riders—a critical skill that must be constantly honed through exercise. We reach our peak ability to balance at the age of 18-20. Balance decreases with age, unless you work on it. Fortunately, balance improves quickly with exercise and practice.

My fitness regime always includes exercises to address core strength, increase aerobic capacity and improve my balance. I find that cross-training in my fitness routine is important—I might hike one day, bicycle or ski the next. I like to start my day with a 30-minute Pilates workout because it involves core strength and dynamic balance. Of all the exercises classes/videos I have done, Pilates relates the most to riding because it connects your core strength to body control and balance.

Consider your horse’s fitness alongside your own. Inactivity affects all of us. If nothing else, maybe you can go on walks with your horse in-hand. Stretch your legs, jog a little bit, work on your horse’s ground manners and get him away from the herd and more focused on you.

From “Whoas” to Goes
Don’t let the winter months bring your horsemanship to a sliding stop. Even if you only find one thing from this entire blog that you can employ, it will help you further your goals. Just imagine if you picked one thing from each category and then dedicated time each week to work on it! Without question, both you and your horse will feel a positive impact. 

Stay connected with your horse through grooming and groundwork, even if it takes place standing in the barn aisle. Take time to assess where you and your horse are in the training continuum, where you’d like to go, then chart a course to get there. Great accomplishment stems from evaluation, planning and taking small steps. 

Finally, invest in yourself. Improve your balance and strength—even just adding one new component to your exercise regime can make an impact. If you cannot spend time in the saddle, the next best thing is to study riding theory, watch videos, take online courses and read, read, read. 

Horse sports are some of the most complicated, physically demanding and difficult-to-learn activities out there. To excel, you must give it everything you’ve got and attack it on all fronts. My husband likes to tease me by saying I can relate any subject in the world to horses, and he’s right. I look to all areas of sport, exercise, philosophy, psychology, science and behavior for knowledge that can inform my horsemanship. 

Go ahead and take the plunge.  Change the narrative from whoa to go. Make a commitment to advance your horsemanship and don’t let winter slow you down!

February 2020 Letter From Julie

Dear friends,

Is it Spring yet? Once the holidays are behind me, I’m always eager to get the year underway. I’ve got places to go, people to meet and horses to ride! I’ve been busy making plans for the year, both professionally—with clinics, vacation retreats, horse expos and TV shoots—and personally—setting goals with my horses, starting new projects on the farm, living up to my NYs resolutions!

I’m looking forward to the start of the Spring horse expo season this month! I’m headed to Murfreesboro TN, February 21-23, for the Southern Equine Expo . I’ll be busy all three days, with multiple presentations each day about improving your riding, building confidence and letting horses be your guide. I’m eager to be back in Tennessee—I’ve got lots of good friends there and if I’m lucky, I’ll get to see my nephew perform in Nashville—he’s a successful base player/backup singer there and it’s always a treat to hear him play.

February 27-March 1, I’ll be in Harrisburg PA for the Horse World Expo. I always enjoy this event—it’s one of the best for shopping, especially if you’re in the market for tack, equipment, barn or arena construction. I’ve got clinics and lectures scheduled all four days of the event, on topics ranging from collection, lateral movements and canter, to overcoming fear and riding ‘til you’re 90! I’ll be riding my favorite demo horse, Smoke, the beautiful champagne cremella stallion that you’ve seen me ride at many events. My job does come with certain perks!

As Spring approaches, I’ll head to Oregon for the Northwest Horse Fair & Expo, then Wisconsin for the Midwest Horse Fair. In May, Barbra Schulte and I co-teach the Women’s Wholeness & Riding Retreat at the C Lazy U Ranch—a fabulous riding vacation and an inspirational weekend for everyone. For details on all these programs, plus my September riding tour in Ireland, please check my schedule online: Julie’s Events

Later this month, I’ll share what I’ve been working on with my own horses and I’ll drop another installment of my podcast, Ride On with Julie Goodnight. The podcast has been growing by leaps and bounds, now that accessing podcasts is so easy. You can find it anywhere you get your podcast or at JulieGoodnight.com/podcast . Be sure you hit subscribe, so you won’t miss a single episode! And if you like it, rate and review so more horse lovers like you can find the podcast.

Enjoy the ride!

Julie Signature

January 2020 Horse Report

All of the horses are currently healthy, hairy and happy. And for that, I am grateful. Even old Dually (now 20 years old and retired from active duty) is occasionally spotted running and bucking in the field, such is the spirit in our herd of seven head.

It’s been a very cold and snowy winter here in the high mountains of Colorado, and in the past month we’ve lost quite a few training days simply due to cold temperatures. Once the temps are below zero or even single digits (Fahrenheit), working horses can become harmful. Super cold air can “scorch” their respiratory system and cause inflammation. Also, if a horse gets sweaty when it’s that cold, it’s nearly impossible to get him dry. I couldn’t stand the thought of one of my horses wet and shivering under the blanket at night. That’s a big reason why I use blankets with moisture-wicking lining and high-tech insulation. High-quality heavy-weight winter horse blankets are a big investment, but well worth it, because of the comfort our horses get.

Pepperoni, my now four-year-old AQHA gelding, is back to work full time and has settled into his training regimen well. I’m always astounded by the change in maturity level between a 3 and 4 year old. It’s almost as huge as the difference in a 2 year old and a 3 year old, in terms of training. His long layoff hasn’t affected his training much, we’ve picked up right where we left off—working on collection and extension in all gaits, shoulder-fore, haunches-in, leg yielding, pivots and canter departures. Pepper is a naturally big stopper and it’s something I’ve been avoiding in the last year, for two reasons: one, no need to drill on a skill he’s naturally good at it; and two, trying to keep stress off his hocks and stifles (those joints only have so many hard stops in them, so why waste them?).

Annie, my sweet little AQHA mare, is enjoying her status as my top horse—my fallback horse, our media star and my only finished bridle horse (I went from three bridle horses to one last year). She gets moderate exercise and lots of pampering daily. Her training is at the maintenance level, which means we don’t need to teach her new skills, just keep her fit and sharp. Mel rides her most days, bareback and bridle-less, so it’s more fun for everyone. Melissa (barn manager/assistant trainer/photographer), Megan (heads up my marketing team) and Rich (hubby) are all doing mounted shooting with their horses now, and Mel is also shooting off Annie (who seems particularly inclined to that sport, so why not add it to her resumé). Rich’s new horse has settled into the herd and worked his way almost to the top of the pecking order. He and Rich are working well together and Rich is slowly introducing him to gunfire. He’s a finished Reiner, so he will handle well as a shooting horse, once he accepts the noise.

So for now, the horses are all well, both physically and emotionally. I’m enjoying this time and hoping it will last forever (knowing full well the reality—they are delicate creatures!).

My Favorite Books of the Year and Decade

As a voracious reader, I often reference books when I’m teaching or public speaking. Typically, that leads to questions from other voracious readers about what horse books I recommend. With the start of a new decade, I thought it would be a good time to share my favorite books on horses and animals. While I’m at it, I may as well share all my favorite books with you.

Reading is one of my favorite pastimes. In fact, my fantasy vacation (which I’ve yet to take) always involves endless reading on a beach or a boat. I read myself to sleep every single night, but I’m lucky to get through one paragraph. To sit down and read a book, for the sheer pleasure of reading, is the ultimate luxury. 

I read for a lot of different reasons: education, edification, entertainment, and personal betterment (call it self-help, if you’d like). I try to alternate between fiction and nonfiction, but nothing is more entertaining to me than curling up with a fast-paced spy novel.

For more than a decade, I’ve been reading almost exclusively on my Kindle. It travels with me everywhere I go, and it literally sleeps in the bed with me. Occasionally I read hard copies—often they are books about horses or obscure titles that are not available in digital format.

Although I prefer the written word over listening to audio books, lately I’ve been using the “Switch to Listening” feature on my Kindle, so I can consume more books—listening in the car, the hot tub or while doing chores. I’ve learned not to listen to books at night in bed, because I awaken to a finished book that I’ve slept through. 

If I really fall in love with a book, I often buy the hard copy to add it to my collection and so I have something to loan to others. I prize my library of real books. They surround my desk—most of them titles about horses—and I enjoy perusing the titles and thumbing through them. When it comes to books, I suppose I’m moving into the 21st century, slowly but surely, since the titles in my personal Kindle Library now outnumber those on my book shelves. 

Below, I’d like to share with you my favorite books of the year and of the decade! In case you are only interested in one type of reading, I’ll divide them into the categories of horses, nonfiction, fiction and self-help.

My Favorite Books of 2019

About Horses

Whole Heart, Whole Horse, by Mark Rashid
Mark Rashid is one of my all-time favorite authors; he’s also a friend and colleague. Not only a talented and engaging author, Mark is an exceptional horseman and a stellar person. In this book, he emphasizes the importance of not placing judgment on a horse’s behavior. As with all of Mark’s books, this one will change your perspective on horses and people.

Nonfiction

The Invaders: How Humans and Their Dogs Drove Neanderthals to Extinction, by Pat Shipman  
This may be my number one read of 2019. Lately, I’ve been very researching the domestication of dogs and horses and their roles in human society. This book offers a scientific look at the evolution of homo-sapiens and how they collaborated with wolves to become the apex predator. The author lays out a compelling case for humans as the most invasive species on earth and how the domestication of wolves may have played a role in the extinction of many species, including Neanderthals.

Fiction

Where the Crawdads Sing, by Delia Owens
This is a beautiful work of fiction set in coastal North Carolina. The story is full of the wonders of the coastal environment; it’s a beautiful love story and a compelling murder mystery. Kya, the main character, is abandoned as a child and forced to survive on her own in the swamp. With a few characters to guide her, she not only survives, but goes on to become self-educated and highly successful. But will she survive the cruelty of the people in her own community?

Self-Help

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking, by Susan Cain
As a confirmed introvert myself, this book spoke volumes to me, in terms of the value of listening and the importance of quiet and solitude. According to the author, at least a third of humans all over the world are introverts; they are the ones that are listening, not talking. She talks about the rise of the “Extrovert Ideal” in the 20th century and how deeply it has permeated our culture. 

My Favorite Books of the Decade

Online, I can scan through hundreds of digital books that I’ve read over the past ten years. The best books stand out in my mind like I read them yesterday; others evoke vague memories of pleasant reading, while some are completely forgettable. Here, I will list my most favorite books that I have read or re-read in the past 10 years on horses, works of nonfiction, novels, and personal betterment.

Books on Horses and Animal Behavior

Evidenced-Based Horsemanship, by Dr. Stephen Peters & Martin Black. This is a short book and an easy read, but it will teach you a lot about how horses think (and don’t think). It’s about the neurology, physiology and behavior of horses and how that relates to the ways we train them.
Equine Behaviour: Principles & Practice, by Daniel Mills and Kathryn Nankervis. This is my favorite book on horse behavior because it’s science-based, with textbook content, but it’s relatively easy to read. The author’s British wit made me chuckle throughout this comprehensive look at horses.
Equine Behavior: A Guide for Veterinarians and Equine Scientists, by Paul McGreevy. Widely regarded as the definitive work and the “Bible” of horse behavior, you’ll need a highlighter, a dictionary and plenty of time to make it through this book. Caveat: It’s very expensive and only for the obsessed student of horse behavior.

Zen Mind, Zen Horse: The Science and Spirituality of Working with Horses, by Allan J. Hamilton, MD. In many ways, the simplicity of this book on horse behavior is in stark contrast to the work above. Written more for the horse owner, it combines a scientific look at behavior, both horse and human, with simple and effective training techniques that promote harmony in both.

Understanding the Ancient Secrets of the Horse’s Mind, by Dr. Robert Miller. I love this book—it’s a quick read, chock full of science-based behavior, and it offers the reader a much deeper understanding of the horse’s perspective and it will give you a greater ability to think like a horse.

Animals in Translation, by Temple Grandin and Catherine Johnson. This book is about the behavior in many different species, including humans, and brings insight that only Dr. Grandin can give. She’s a renowned animal behaviorist at Colorado State University, primarily known for her work in the cattle industry (and the HBO movie about her life), but she has, and is currently, researching horse behavior as well.

Equine Science: Basic Knowledge for Horse People of All Ages, by Jean T. Griffiths. This is a comprehensive reference book for horse owners, with everything you need in one place: evolution, behavior, coat colors, senses, gaits, genetics, nutrition, health, disease and anatomy. This book should be required reading for all horse owners.

Nonfiction

Educated: A Memoir, by Tara Westover. For me, this book ranks as one of the best reads of the decade. It is a fascinating autobiography that reads like a novel. It’s a story of cruelty, survival and amazing accomplishment.

Becoming, by Michelle Obama. An intriguing and inspirational memoir about the former First Lady and the path that led her to the White House.

Red Notice: A True Story of High Finance, Murder and One Man’s Fight for Justice, by Bill Browder. Honestly, I thought it was a novel when I first started reading it; but sadly, it’s true and factual. This books sheds light on the entrenched corruption and murder in Putin’s regime. 

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, by Yuval Noah Harari. This renowned historian takes us through the evolution of modern humans, starting about 70 thousand years ago with the appearance of modern cognition, through the cultures and conquests of history, to the state of affairs today.

Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis, by J.D. Vance. A true story about a culture in crisis—the white working class—and the loss of the “American Dream.”

American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History, by Chris Kyle. This is the deeply personal story of a young soldier from Texas, a former cowboy and bronc rider, who went on to become an Army sniper. You may recall the tragic real-life ending of this story, which occurred after the book was published, when the author was tragically murdered by a fellow Veteran. 

An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth: What Going to Space Taught Me About Ingenuity, Determination, and Being Prepared for Anything, by Chris Hadfield. This is a light-hearted, but fascinating read on what it takes to become an astronaut and the harrowing stories of real-life space travel. It is a motivating tale of determination, perseverance and ingenuity.

Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience and Redemption, by Laura Hillenbrand. From the author of Seabiscuit, one of my ‘books of a decade’ from the 2010s (also a must read), comes this true-life story that proves life is stranger (and more fascinating) than fiction.

Fiction

An American Marriage, by Tayari Jones. A moving love story steeped in southern culture and institutionalized racism. It’s a compelling story that opens your eyes to some ugly truths.

A Man Called Ove, by Fredrik Backman. This is a charming and heart-warming story about the “neighbor from hell,” a grumpy old curmudgeon, and how the actions of others can have meaningful impact.

Small Great Things, by Jodi Picoult. A moving and gut-wrenching look at racism, privilege, prejudice and justice in American society.

Spilled Milk, by K.L. Randis. Based on a true story, this book offers a disturbing look at child abuse and one girl’s pursuit of safety and justice.

The Girl on the Train, by Paula Hawkins. A psychological thriller with many twists and turns; a serious page-turner.

Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn. A riveting and unique plot about a marriage gone bad. I love plots that are unpredictable and this one keeps you guessing.

Hunger Games Trilogy, by Suzanne Collins. Okay, I admit it. I often read young-adult fiction. This trilogy has everything I love—it’s post-apocalyptic, dystopian, sci-fi, and futuristic all in one story. And, it has a strong female heroine.

The Art of Racing in the Rain, by Garth Stein. One of my favorite books of all time, this novel is narrated from the voice of its main character—a dog. On top of the unique point of view, the plot is as intriguing as the setting—the life of a race car driver. BTW, it’s a major motion picture now and the movie is almost as good as the book. Bonus book: Ephemeral, by Andie Andrews, is a charming novel written from the first-person voice of a horse named Sonny, and how he deals with his novice rider. 

Personal Betterment 

Leadership and Self-Deception: Getting Out of the Box, by The Arbinger Institute. I first read this book to increase my business acumen but soon realized it also has a significant impact on more intimate relationships too. I’ve gifted this book to quit a few people; I’ve read it several times and reviewing it now, makes me want to read it again. 

Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, by Malcolm Gladwell. A fascinating look at the neuroscience and psychology behind making good decisions and snap judgments. Filled with anecdotes and scientific research, it is both fascinating and entertaining.

The Happiness Animal, by Will Jelbert. This book explains the painful truth… that happiness comes from within. It helps us become accountable for our own happiness and to train our minds to think positively.

Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity, by David Allen. I’m an organization freak, so I loved this helpful book on organizing your business and personal life. I read this almost 10 years ago and I still use these techniques daily.

Mulling over and describing these books to you is like reliving the joy of reading them all over again. I love that about a good book and it’s the reason I like to keep hard copies around. I like to highlight meaningful passages or beautifully crafted prose, to make it easy to enjoy again later.

Maybe you’ve found some books in my list that you’ve read already—I hope you loved them too. Perhaps there are a few titles that interest you and maybe you’ll find some new gems. Be sure to comment below if you’ve read, or want to read, any of these books or if you want to share your favorite books of the decade with me!

Enjoy the read,