Category Archives: Horse Stories

Have You Ever Heard the Expression, “Well, Horses in the Wild Don’t Need (fill in the blank)… So My Horse Shouldn’t Either. Hmmmmm.






Ok, well, I know I have been very editorial instead of informational this week.  I promise, next week will be more newsy.  However, today, I woke up with this on my mind…

I hear that disclaimer too often.   “Well, horses in the wild don’t need ______(fill in the blank).  For example: “Well, horses in the wild don’t need shoes” or “Well, horses in the wild don’t need supplements” and “Well, horses in the wild don’t have a dentist…”.  You get my drift.

Now, this blog isn’t here to point a finger at anyone or call anyone out.  I’m merely wishing to put forth my point of view on the subject.  Who knows, maybe it will stick somewhere…

HORSES IN THE WILD ARE NOT SIMILAR TO DOMESTIC HORSES

So here is my basic point.  Horses in the wild are not similar to domestic horses when it comes to fortitude and emotion.  Sure, they can breed together and sure they look alike, but if you ponder closely (inside and out), these two groups are worlds apart.  Simply, if these groups were similar, there wouldn’t be thousands of mustangs in BLM holding pens going unadopted.  Now, I’m not saying that wild horses are bad.  On the contrary, I have two.  What I am saying is that they are a very different animal than the domestic horse. (Paint horse photo: ©Photograph by Elyse Gardner)

So, when I hear people start a sentence with, “Well, horses in the wild…”, I shudder a bit because although I understand that most people think wild horses and domestic horses are the same animal just different situations, if they ever tried to make friends with a wild horse, they would know what I mean.  And, the misunderstanding that a wild horse is just a “location challenged” domestic horse is what keeps the mustangs in holding pens, allows some owners of domesticated horses to make poor choices and ultimately makes me sad all around.

SURVIVAL OF THE FITTEST

I guess it boils down to this.  Survival of the Fittest vs. Humans Breeding Horses.  You see, somewhere in there when the human took over the natural selection of horses by breeding them himself, the concept of survival of the fittest got lost for the equine.  Actually, this totally makes sense since we, as humans, have fought against it  for generations.  Heck, survival of the fittest only applies to football games and marathons for us.  It certainly doesn’t apply to our species anymore or our domesticated horses.   So, it appears that we have forgotten that it still quite applies to wild horses.  This is a big point so I will pause here.

In a nutshell:  Domesticated horses are not genetically as sound as wild horses because we bred that out of them.  Domestic horses may share some equine behaviors cross culturally with their wild brothers but their equine physicality and emotionality is very different.

What I’m getting at here is the domestic hoof is not like the wild hoof.  The domestic skeleton and teeth are not generally as strong as the wild horse variety.  The domestic horse is more susceptible to disease, immune disorders, metabolic disorders, food allergies, skin allergies, etc.  You can see where I’m going here.  What the domestic horse has gained in the skills of human interaction and diplomacy, it has lost in genetic fortitude.

I think this concept has been lost or is slipping from our conscious mind.  Often I will hear people say that their horse should be able to do a number of different things that the wild horse can do. After all, a horse is a horse.   Sigh.

WE CREATED THE DOMESTIC HORSE

If man hadn’t have stepped in, there would be no domestic horses.  We created them.  But, when we were creating them, or taking over their natural breeding process, we weren’t really concerned about what Mother Nature had in mind.  Sure, we wanted robust and hearty horses, but we didn’t do a genetic test for all gene carrying diseases or think about the hoof, let’s say…  When we are breeding, most of us look for what sells or what is popular or what works for us humans.  You know what I mean: color, performance, gait, way of going, conformation, size or temperament…  But, you don’t read ads about “internal fortitude” or “solid teeth”  Herein lies the problem…  Mother Nature might allow a bad breeding, but someone will probably die because of it.  Harsh but true.  Wild horses die if they get a blundered coupla bummer genes.  Bad teeth you die.  Bad feet, you die.  Bad innerds, you die.  The good news is that you don’t pass on any wild horse bad genes to future generations.   But alas, the same is not true with our horses.  In fact, sometimes we breed a disease or anomaly INTO our horses (HYPP, DSLD, HENDA…).  “Maybe it will skip this generation…”  or  “It only happens 40% of the time”…   I know you have heard this from breeders and so have I.

So, my point is that we cannot treat our domestic horses as if they have the constitution of a wild horse.  We cannot forgo the dentistry, farrier care, medical care, feed programs …  because “they don’t have dentists/farriers/meds/supplements…  in the wild.”

We humans bred the collective ability for domestic horses to care for themselves OUT of the domestic horse.  Booya!  As a former breeder, I totally get wanting to breed this to that to get the “perfect” horse.  And, the desire to breed for this and that has welded the blinders onto the human.

PARTICULARS

OK, I’m going to stick my neck out here and follow down some thought processes in regards to domestic vs wild.

MY HORSE SHOULD BE ABLE TO RIDE BAREFOOT LIKE A WILD HORSE

When I hear this comparison, the response in my head is to ask if that particular horse
was bred for a strong hoof like the wild horse.  I don’t know about you, but it isn’t often I hear a breeder promote “Six generations of solid hoof wall” in their sales pitches even though we all know the saying, No hoof, no horse.

But, let’s go a step further back, shall we.  Yes, it is true that wild horses have better feet because they would die otherwise, but going barefoot isn’t always great for the wild horse either.  Succumbing to hoof issues is one way they die.  If a wild horse gets a stone bruise and cannot continue, he gets eaten.  So, a wild hoof may be a lot stronger than a domestic hoof, but it isn’t impervious.  No hoof is…  And speaking of the wild horse hoof, let us not forget that wild horses learn from a very early age to pick their route over the countryside.  Not our horses.  Most of them are in paddocks or soft pastures for their early lives and then are shod once training begins.  These young horses barely look where they walk let alone look for sharp things or slippery things.  If we are not training our horses to learn how to navigate the landscape in bare feet AND we don’t breed for hoof strength, we need to be doubly careful when asking them to carry us barefoot.

So that concept brings me to the bare foot domestic riding horse.  I am not against it.  I have two riding horses that do not wear shoes.  What I am against is forcing a horse to ride barefoot without very carefully dissecting that particular horse’s hoof anatomy.  As we have already discussed, we’ve bred hoof integrity out of our horses.  Or, let’s just say that we don’t breed for it.  For example, if you want to ride your domestic horse barefoot, you need to make sure what that horse can tolerate structurally.   Just because a domestic horse is a horse does not mean that its foot wall construction or frog can withstand barefoot riding.  And, to be honest, if we want our domestic horses to emulate the wild horses foot trimming scenario, we would really have to allow that hoof to chip naturally or file them naturally, not all four at once — which would never happen in the wild.  We humans tend to trim all the feet at the same time which is unnatural for the wild horse. Then we let him sit for a week while he grows back some hoof wall.  Or, we get upset if after a few miles, the horse starts stepping ouchy.  Hey, I’m not pointing a finger because I do the same thing… I’m just saying, it isn’t “natural” to trim all four and ride.  What makes more sense to me for natural hooves is to understand that the wild horses move many miles per day and that is part of the process.  This constant motion tends to bring circulation to the hoof and makes the walls and frogs grow faster and stronger.  Again, our horses live artificially, mostly, and we should understand what creates a healthy hoof when we make decisions for our domestic horses.  Like the famous German farrier, Gunnar Schillig says, “One major part in “natural” care for horses is correct hoof trimming and diet as well as many miles of movement every day. ”

Now, I’m not suggesting that we shoe all of our horses; I’m merely saying to look at the individual hoof carefully and mindfully.  Our horses are not born with wild hooves.  Neither are we…  After all, there is a reason we humans invented shoes.  Somewhere along the way, we thought it was easier/better/more comfortable to cover our feet.  So, I guess I’m saying that proper fitted footwear (boots or shoes) may help the compromised feet of certain domestic horses.

I also wonder, if we could get inside a horse’s mind, if he would like proper fitting hoof covering versus going barefoot.  It would be interesting to hear.  I wonder if a wild horse would kinda like the relief once and a while.  Dunno.

THERE IS NO EQUINE DENTIST IN THE WILD

Well, kinda there is…  Dr. Mother Nature.  Wild horses graze all day (when possible) and eat very differently than domestic horses which contributes to their healthy teeth structure.  Those with bad teeth and bone don’t last long.  Neither do the sad few who cut up their cheeks and cannot eat.  The same fate goes for the few who get an infection or have spaces in their teeth so something can get caught in there or who don’t shed a cap properly.  Survival of the fittest.  Those imperfections in the wild horse teeth get bred out of them.  The same is not true for domestic horses.  Our horses don’t graze all day.  They don’t have their choice of what to eat and they don’t work their teeth constantly.
And, don’t get me started on wolf teeth.  Horses in the wild have wolf teeth, too, yes.  But, they don’t wear bits.  So, Dr. Mother Nature isn’t too concerned about wolf teeth extraction.  But, we should be.  And, since Dr. MN isn’t around to help our domestic horses with genetics, it is our duty as breeder and caretakers to take a look under the hood.  I cannot tell you how many “rank” horses have been relieved of their pain and settled after a simple float or wolf teeth extraction.

I’m not saying anyone has to go crazy with the dentist, just have your horses checked fairly regularly and if they wear bits, have them checked for sure.  It is only fair since I’m guessing none of us purchased/bred our horses based on dentition.  Imagine if your human friends never saw the dentist.  Ouch and Ugh.

HE’S A HORSE, HE LIVES ON THE LAND

Lastly, I want to touch lightly on feed.  Wild horses don’t just eat alfalfa twice a day.  In fact, they never eat alfalfa.  All I will say here is for us humans to try to be feedwise and mindful in mixing it up.  Horses need a variety to be healthy, just like we do.  I know different supplements or different hays or feeds can be expensive.  But, maybe, just get two types of hay that are good compliments to each other and alternate.  Or, do a little equine nutrition research on the internet or talk to an equine nutritionist like Gabrielle Sutton.  There are cost effective, simple solutions.  After all, we are what we eat and so are our horses.

WILD HORSES ARE NOT DOMESTIC HORSES

(The following photos via: ©Photograph by Elyse Gardner)

We’ve been chatting about how domestic horses are not wild horses.  But, that highway goes both ways.  Wild horses are not domestic horses.

It breaks my heart to see our wild horses rounded up in droves.  But, what is even harder  to see is them sitting in jammed holding pens because they are “tough cookies”, “hard to handle” and “unbreakable”.  What they really are is misunderstood.  Apples and Oranges.  Or maybe more clearly, Apples and Pears.  They kinda look the same and kinda smell the same and kinda taste the same, but they are vastly different.

Wild horses are born to distrust in order to stay alive.  They don’t look to us for food and have no predecessors that have had a relationship with humans.  Wild horses don’t understand our body language and need a reason to bond with us.  More to the point, wild horses have to find a reason to want to bond with us. 

And what do we do?  We treat them like rank domestic horses that just need to be broken.

But truly, the wild horses are just trying to survive and a human is an unknown threat.  Since Mother Nature has had her hand in the creation of wild horses, what we have here are the best of the best in procuring wild horse safety.  Yup, our wild horses aren’t going to give in without a fight because that is how they’ve survived.  They know from their very being that flight and running is the best way out of any mess.  Circle the Wagons and kick the bejessus out of the attacker!

Sadly, it is a rare human who has the understanding, compassion or patience to acknowledge the wonderful perfection of the genetic traits that create a successful wild horse.  Who has the time, right?  So, it is a vicious cycle.

A Wild horse sees no reason to befriend a human who is not befriending the wild horse.

Sadly, this is why there are so many of them that go unadopted.  Wait, let me back up… I’m not sure they should be taken off the range to begin with for us to adopt… but that is another story.  What I’m saying is that poor unsuspecting people adopt these wild horses and are met with real and serious challenges.  Hence, hardly any wild horses are adopted older than weanling/yearlings because it just is too much work for most people.  So sad.  Wild horses are not domestic horses.

LAST POINT

This brings me full circle to a very sad and disturbing photo I saw earlier this week.  Here it is.  All the poor mustangs stuck in very unnatural pens, removed from their bands and looking at a fate worse than they ever deserved.  To me, if this is the best solution their guardians (us) can come up with, something huge needs to be done.  Wild horses are not domestic horses.    So, why are we treating them like domestic horses?  Put a wild thing in a cage and it loses its heart.  Give your heart to a wild thing and you are both uncaged.

If you feel a desire to help the wild horses please look at theses three links.  One is for Elyse Gardner, humane observer for the BLM.  The next is a website devoted to all the actions you can take (financially or just moral support) for the wild  horse and the third is Madeleine Pickens.

As far as helping the Mustang rescue facilities, if you feel moved, these folks are deserving.  Some lovely person took the time with my Mustang and I am forever grateful.  I have listed here a link to Strawberry Mountain Mustangs who can steer you in the right direction if you’d like to help them or a Mustang rescue near your home.   A bale of hay, a tube of wormer or just a kind word goes a long way in the arduous but ultimately gushingly rewarding challenge of befriending the Mustang.  You could not rip from me the two I have here.  They are truly amazing.

I promise to get more newsy next time… So, until we meet again, bless the wild ones.

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Horsey At-ti-tude! But not the kind you are thinking…






Horsey ‘Tude.  That’s what I’m sayin’.  But, not the regular ‘tude.  I don’t mean the horse who bucks or rears or doesn’t want to take the bit or the one who steps juuuuust slightly out of reach of the mounting block.  I mean the subtle, not quite a punishable act, but irritating nonetheless Horsey Attitude.   So, today we voyage into Horsey ‘Tude, Part 1.

HORSEY ‘TUDE PART 1

Now, I don’t want to assume that any of your horses show you the tude that my horses show me.  And, I’m kinda miffed because all of my horses have some type of ‘shake your head and walk away’ attitude on occasion.  What does this mean?  Am I a bad owner?  Do I pick horses with personality quirks?  Do I pick horses that are exceptionally expressive?  Or, am I finally becoming the little old lady who lives in the shoe?…  I already know that I scare small children who wander into my yard.  So is this it for me?  Is the white jacket next?  Or, do your horses show you similar tude?

HORSEY OFFENDER #1  (Tess, the Meanderer)

OK, here is her deal.  If she is out grazing on the front pasture (free grazing in the irrigated area), and it is time to go in for dinner, she becomes deaf.  Yet, incredibly, she can sense when I am near and seems to move slowly but accurately just out of my reach with the halter.  She never looks at me, she never acknowledges that I am near.  In fact, the only hint I get that she actually knows I exist is when she pins the near ear in pissedoffness.  “I’m fine here.  Please go away.”

Now, Tess is an angel in every way.  She keeps the peace in the herd and all is right in the universe when she takes charge — which is always.  This mare always does what I ask and is perfect in every way.  Except in this way.  In fact, I have to start trying to gather her at least an hour before I really want her in.  I walk up from any and all directions and she puts out her “not gonna catch me” forcefield immediately.  And, it works.  I have to give up.  She won’t come for an apple, carrot, raisin or Powerball ticket.  The girl is set in her ways.

But, after an hour or thereabouts, she will lift her grassy muzzle, look over my way and say, “Hey, did you want me to come in?  Because I’m ready now if you want to come over and slip that rope around my neck.  Or, actually, I’ll just put myself away, if you don’t mind.”  And, she does.  I just wanna bite her.  But, I restrain myself and let her Highness pass in front of me and saunter into the barn and then onto her pasture where her dinner awaits.  She has me perfectly trained.

HORSEY OFFENDER #2  (Bodhi, the hose hater)

Bodhi is my husband’s horse.  He is a huge draft cross who could not be more sweet.  And because he is the sweetest horse, I cannot comprehend why he give me ‘tude.  Here is his drill.  Because he and Remi are such big horses, they go through a lot of water each day.  So, morning and night I fill their waterer.

Uh huh.  At least I try to fill their trough.  Bodhi thinks it is hysterical to foil me.  As I stumble out in the wee hours of the morning to feed, Bodhi is ready.  He waits for me to get to his pasture and throw the hay.  Now, you’d think he’d be hungry and dive right into his hay.  But no, he stands by the trough just waiting for me to put the hose into it.  So, I do.  And, he pushes it out with his nose.

Have you ever seen a horse snigger? Well, I have.  Yup, Bodhi’s ‘tude has to do with the hose and a very prominent snigger.  I don’t know if he doesn’t like the taste of rubber in his water, or if it reminds him of a snake or it he just likes to watch me turn red — which I suspect is the truth —  but he does this every day, twice a day.  I put the hose in, he throws it out.  I put the hose in, he throws it out.  After about three rounds, he leaves to go eat, thank goodness.  But, invariably, when I do my walk-by around noon, the hose is sitting in the dirt, just where he wants it.  I look over at him and he gives me that raspy “heh-heh” of that dastardly dawg, Muttley,  from those Warner Bros cartoons.  I swear I can hear him…

HORSEY OFFENDER #3 (Beautiful girl, the midriff policewoman)

OK, this mare has a slight right to be uber concerned about her midline under belly.  She had a very severe bug allergy when she was 2.  We don’t know how it started, but once the infection set in from gnats or some type of invisible nighttime biting and flying things, it took us a long time to heal her under belly.  This poor mare wore bright pink SWAT smeared on her belly for 5 months.  Perhaps this is the issue.  Perhaps she is scarred from those months of the wrong color fashion statement on this sorrel colored mare.  Or, perhaps the other horses chided her for the inside-out skunk decorations.  Dunno.  But, now, at 6 years old, this mare doesn’t want ANYONE putting any colored spread or girth let’s say, anywhere near her belly.

Perhaps you know how this goes?  I tie her to the trailer and start the grooming routine.  All is fine.  But, as we near the saddling process (and I do try to switch it up on her), she gives me that look.  You know the one.  “Uh, are you going to put that unsightly goo on my belly because if so, I’m going to bite you.”  I always comfort her and tell her that I have no goo.  She looks at me sideways and watches.  As I pull the girth from the opposite side, I see her eyeing me from between her front legs.  “What do you have there?  If you have anything cold and pink, I’m going to bite you.  I’m just warning you.”

So, I pull the girth to my side and barely attach it.  BG swings her head around and says, “Let me see your hands!  Show me your hands, Now!”  So, I show her my hands as her girth flaps about loosely.  “OK. OK, but I’m warning you, if you put any goo down there, I’m gonna bite you.”  Sigh.  I have to gently go through this process being ever so patient and responsive to every one of her intense horsey inquisitions.  Finally, she decides that I do not have any cold, pink yukky stuff and she relaxes.  OY.

This is also the mare that will tell me in no uncertain terms if the saddle doesn’t fit.  There is no way anyone could miss her cues.  Stevie Wonder would know she hated the saddle you just put on her.  No question, this girl has saddle and goo ‘tude.  But, actually, I kinda like the saddle ‘tude.  At least I know what feels good on her.  Oh, and for the record, she has never put tooth to flesh.  But, I kinda think she would if I brought out any goo and didn’t warm it first…  Is she a princess or am I her slave?  The good news is that she is the most sensible trail horse I have.  So, I accept her ‘tude.  I’m wrapped around her little goo hating hoof!

HORSEY OFFENDER #4 (Norma, the stonewall donkey)

I think this may be universal donkey ‘tude, but I’m not sure.  If Norma doesn’t want to do something, she won’t.  She WON’T.  There is nothing I can do, say, pull, push, tug, swat, scare, whoop or cajole her into doing if she doesn’t want to do it.  She will stand there most graciously and do nothing.  She won’t buck or nip or anything.  She just won’t.  No matter how I ask, how sweetly I suggest or how much food I have in my hand, she will not do anything until she is ready.

So, I have learned to suggest to Norma and then walk away.  Basically, she is a good girl who wants to do the right thing, she just needs time to decide what the right thing for her truly would be.  And, once she comes to her conclusion, she usually trots along and does what I had initially asked.  But, I have to “wait for it… waaaait for it” with Norma.

Now the sad part is that she really doesn’t ultimately trust me.  I don’t think, anyway.  I mean, I ask her to do several things in a day and she won’t do any of them without a huge preponderance of ponder.  I swear, I can call her back to her pen with a bucket of grain and the ponies will come running from far and wide.  But, Norma, no way.  She will sit there and ponder.  After I’ve put away the ponies and everyone is settled, she’ll come running over and demand to be let into her pen.  “After all, I BELONG in there!  How could you shut the gate without me inside!”  I suffer the attitude and the indignity of being called out by a donkey.  A very beautiful and long lashed, gentle and delicate, stonewall donkey.  She kills me.  And, to be honest, I’d kinda like to be just like her.

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