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How do you get over the grief of losing your beloved horses?

19/12/14

“Stacy, how do you get over the grief of losing your beloved horses?. Roxy & Vaquero. I lost my Paint gelding, Boo, last year. I had to put him down on Christmas day. The closer it gets to Christmas the more emotional I get. I am in tears as I am writing this. I miss him so much. In July my Paint mare Montana coliced and I had to have her put down. I raised both of them from babies and it has been really hard for me. I am riding again but I still miss them so much.”-Joyce P.

RoxyheadstoneI was fortunate to grow up in a family that had animals…which also meant that I learned early about death. We had rabbits, chickens, dogs just to name a few, which also meant that I learned that they all had varying natural lifespans. According to a quick Google search, the average human lifespan in the US is 79 and the average for horses is 25-30 years. I also learned at an early age, when my rabbit died of mastitis, that sometimes even that time is cut short.

It was very public when Roxy and Vaquero died, both at young ages but I have had other horses live well into their 20’s and 30’s. When they died the only real difference was that it was a little more expected…but not necessarily easier.

The morning Roxy died I stood in the vets clinic with Greg and through tears told him a quote that I had read somewhere, “Don’t cry because it is over, smile because it happened.” Knowing this didn’t stop the tears but it has helped me to remember the good times. And I think that might be the key.

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My remuda in heaven…

Stacy rearing Misty- Stacy 11, Misty 21

Stacy rearing Misty- Stacy 11, Misty 21

Stacy Westfall and Bay- High School graduation

Stacy Westfall and Bay- High School graduation

 


Do you start your training sessions with lunging your horse?

18/12/14

“Hi Stacy! Question for you. Do you start your training sessions with lunging? I lunge my horse every time I ride and also any horse I’m going to ride. Lately I have been talking with other friends who think lunging is not necessary and one who says it makes her horse more naughty and hot. Just wondering what you think about it. Thanks:)” -Melissa T.

What is the purpose of lunging a horse? Is it to physically wear him out? Is it to change his mental state of mind? Is it to teach him a new concept? Lunging has been used with all of these goals in mind at some point…the question is ‘why are you lunging your horse?’I don't always lunge, but I do always evaluate how the horse is behaving on the ground.
Early on in a horses training I use lunging, or groundwork, as a big part of my training. My goal is to begin to change his state of mind, which is a new concept to the horse at that time. Part of this often involves physical exertion because we often work the body to influence the mind. If you go back and watch the early episodes of Stacy’s Video Diary you can see a huge change in the horse’s behavior in a few days. This is because I am doing more than just running the horse around me…I am using a variety of groundwork cues to train him.
As the training progressed and the horses mental state of mind was changed, I began riding more and I gradually reduced the amount of groundwork.
Many people use lunging in an attempt to wear the horse out. If the horse’s mind is not engaged but instead they are only asked to physically exert themselves this should be considered an attempt to wear the horse out. The problem with this is that the horses get more and more fit, requiring longer and longer lunging times. Engaging the mind is far more effective than only trying to wear out the body.
If lunging is making the horse more naughty or hot I would evaluate what methods are being used. This is most common if the horse thinks the only point is to run wildly around the human. If instead of lunging the handler instead uses groundwork to engage the mind then the horse should respond more favorably. If not, then the pair should look at taking some lessons.
I don’t always lunge…but I do always evaluate how they are behaving on the ground. With a horse I know this ‘evaluation’ may take place as I lead them to the area where I groom and saddle and then out to mount up. If I know the horse I can evaluate their mental state in this short amount of time, much like you can evaluate a friends state of mind during a short ‘hello.’ If I detect that they are feeling fresh or seem distracted then I may choose to do some groundwork.
To decide if you should lunge you should be able to identify your purpose for lunging. You may lunge a horse that is new to you for an evaluation, or a horse you know because you detected his behavior was a bit odd, or yet another horse because you would like to improve your communication on the ground.

What was your favorite episode from Stacy’s Video Diary: Jac?

17/12/14

This question was posted to me on Facebook:

“Whats ur fave episode?”-Chelsey B.Remain calm and see the problem as an opportunity. Stacy Westfall quote

My favorite is probably Episode 26…the first three minutes. I love it because Jac is asking questions. That means that he is comfortable asking questions while at the same time he is still being respectful. To me this is a beautiful illustration of how the conversation between a horse and human can be.

The interesting thing is that in this episode many people would have said that Jac was being ‘bad’. I knew the history and I knew what I had been rewarding Jac for doing in previous lessons. I was also willing to see the situation from Jac’s perspective.

It is ok that Jac was making mistakes. Mistakes are part of the learning process. How people react to your mistakes says more about them than it says about the one who made the mistake.

 

 


Could you have used a bosal instead of a bit for some of his training? Stacy’s Video Diary: Jac Review

17/12/14

“Thanks so much Stacy for your honesty about what really happens! I really enjoy reading your blogs:) Back when Jac’s mouth was irritated, could you have used a bosal instead of a bit for some of his training? Happily following you from Williams Lake, BC, Canada” -Jen

A bosal is not the same as a mechanical hackmore. Click photo to see more bosals.

A bosal is not the same as a mechanical hackmore. Click photo to see more bosals.

I had the same thought myself. If you watch the video below, Episode 39, at the 2 minute mark, you will see that I did ride Jac a few times in a bosal. A bosal  has nothing in the mouth and is something that I am even allowed to show in, so I gave it a try.  But it didn’t work.

There were two issues here; physical and mental.

Physically, at least early on, there was still evidence that Jac’s mouth was irritated, even without a bit. When ridden his saliva was occasionally tinged with blood. I don’t know for sure if the riding irritated his mouth; breaking at the poll requires the lower jaw to slide forward. Maybe his mouth was irritated in the stall or in the run too…I don’t know for sure. I stopped poking around all the time because it bothered him and I wanted to let it heal.

Mentally, because I didn’t know if riding was irritating him…but it become a mental problem for me.

Sigmund Freud once stated, “A man with a toothache cannot be in love.”

Oddly enough, maybe the best way to say it is, I felt guilty riding him. Guilty because I could be causing him discomfort. The idea that I might be unfair in still riding him changed the way I felt about riding him. The problem with feeling guilty is that you ride like you are guilty.

When I ride I know that there is a mental connection. I am always training the mental as well as the physical horse. If I made Jac ‘push through the pain’ would he respect me for it? Would I respect me for it?  If I disrespect the horses feelings here, can I expect him to give me his ‘extra’ when it really matters?

If another similar situation were to occur I would use a bosal again. Just because it didn’t work well in this situation doesn’t mean I don’t like the tool. I like a bosal on some horses. Much like different bits have different ‘side effects’, so does a bosal. I think that riding in a bosal encourages the rider to have more ‘feel’. Some horses respond well to a hackmore but other horses find them easy to ignore. I still keep one around to use at times and the best part is they look AMAZING!


Who needs insurance for their horse?

16/12/14

Who needs insurance for their horse? This is the question that I asked and insurance agent. What do you think he said?

I was expecting him to say “everyone” but to my surprise he didn’t.  His answer was, “If you can’t write a check to replace the horse, then you should consider insurance.”

Hum, this sounded a lot like the training I had received about insurance when I took Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace class. And it was fairly similar to advice I have given over the years.

I have never, personally, insured a horse…but I have recommended that other people do. Why the difference?

The last person I helped walk through this decision was a lady who had been saving up to buy a really nice reining horse for several years. She purchased a horse that was ready to show for about $20,000. What she had purchased was a sane, sound and ready to show horse that had several years of training with a professional. She had also purchased a friendly, kind horse that was a joy to be around. Insurance would not be able to help her through the pain of losing her horse but it would give her the ability to purchase one trained to the same level again.

The most valuable horse I have personally owned was my stallion, Vaquero. I purchased him when he was three and he died at the age of six. I had considered insuring him but I chose not to. My reasoning was that I could not walk out and buy another one that was trained to his same level. If something were to happen to Vaquero then I knew I would be starting from scratch with another horse and would be investing years in training. Essentially, I could have insured him for his ‘raw’ value, the untrained value, but either way I was going to be putting in the time again.

I had no idea that I would lose Vaquero so young. He died in 2012 and I just now -almost -have a horse trained to that level again. Although I didn’t have insurance I did have the ‘next’ horse already standing in the barn, Newt. Insurance would have paid me for my time but nothing can help me know if the horse I am investing my time in will ever reach bridleless competition level.

Do I regret not having Vaquero insured? Yes…and no. The money would have helped pay for the vet bills that I ran up trying to save him and it would have given me the opportunity to possibly purchase another young prospect. But, there was one moment where I was very happy NOT to have insurance.

THE FOLLOWING is not a reason to skip insuring…but I do wish I had been more emotionally prepared.

When things were looking really bad for Vaquero and we were at the vets they have to try to tell you how bad it is. One of the ways they tell you is they will say, “Insurance company guidelines will allow…” and this makes sense. You don’t want vets declaring horses beyond saving…if they really aren’t. But when the vets told me that, had Vaquero been insured, the insurance company would have approved euthanizing…I remember feeling conflicted. There was a moment where I was glad that he wasn’t insured because I WANTED the feeling of loss and I didn’t want a feeling of gain. I didn’t want to wonder why I made the choice.

In hindsight this was a very emotional reaction at a very emotional time, but I am still thankful that I experienced it. I know I made the choice I would have made either way. Maybe in the future I will have an insured horse and will have to make the same decision again. I really hope I’m NEVER in that situation again though. Maybe it will benefit someone who reads this though. From my experience when the vets say it is this bad…it is bad.

The majority of horses that I have had in training over the years have not been insured. Do you have your horses insured? If so, what are they insured against?

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Vaquero after his second trip to the vet, just before his last trip to the vet.

Vaquero six months earlier.

For the rest of Vaquero’s blogs: