Archive for January, 2010

The four winds are blowing

Carry me brave and true

Some horses

Are coming

–– Sung by Brave Buffalo

I spent a fair amount of time in my youth watching Westerns, which boiled down to fights between cattleman and sheep ranchers––­­ and cowboys and Indians.

Indians were depicted as stealthy and expert horsemen. During battles the Indians rode bareback, slipping off to the side of the horse, becoming invisible while they shot arrows from below the horse’s chin. In short, they always out rode the cowboy, but they always lost the battle.

My recollections bring forth a pre-battle dance around the fire with chanting, rattles and drums. The War Cry. But something happened and now I am wondering if they were singing to the horses that would take them into battle.

dance stick honoring a prize horse

This week I got a chance to review to those images when I attended the National Museum of the American Indian with fellow blogger Global Horse Culture.  The name of the exhibit says it all “A song for the Horse Nation.” In addition to some well-preserved artifacts the exhibit depicts the importance of the horse in the life of the Plains Indian. Global Horse Culture has a nice link to the exhibit information.

I am always amazed at the impact of the horse on people. The Indians met the horse quite a while before they actually could use the horse. The Conquistadors were careful not to let their steeds into Indian hands. Sometime in 1680 it is credited that a large herd of horses were freed in a battle and that’s when Indians became involved with the horse.

By the 1870s most of the Indian Wars were over and the U.S. government had pretty much stripped the native population of their horses. The most notable horse story is of the last Nez Perce battle and the loss of thousands of its appaloosas.

buffalo hunt on foot

So in a period of a bit more than 150 years the many divergent parts of this culture learned how to ride, train and breed the horse. In a span of 150 years the horse changed the Indian’s life because before there was the horse, life was pretty much walking in search of food. There was no additional time for beadwork, painting teepees and other art forms. Every day was consumed with finding food and shelter. On horseback food came faster and easier, freeing more time to make beautiful things that all depict stories of their life on the plains. The horse helped them move their belongings and yes, the horse helped them wage war on each other and on the new invaders.

The horse is depicted in numerous scenes and became the base for its own art form of beaded saddle pads, cruppers, hoof covers,  bridles and saddles. The word “horse” showed up in names like; Crazy Horse, Horse Capture and Her Many Horses. They gave horses as gifts and stole prize horses from other tribes and the U.S. Calvary. They immortalized their favorite horses in teepee drawings, beadwork and dance sticks. An Indian’s prize possession was a good horse and the number of horses owned indicated status. They had different horses for buffalo hunts and war parties.




A horse


–– Sung by Brave Buffalo

In 150 years the horse had become a mainstay and focus of their culture. The marriage of the two becoming so entwined that when the Indian lost the horse, they felt a loss of their essential being. It was a crushing blow to their culture. For the Plains Indian no other animal became such a critical part of their culture in so short a period of time. They depended on buffalo and elk for sustenance, and they had dogs throughout the camps. But it was the horse they sang to and of.


My horse

Flies like a bird

As it runs

–– sung by Brave Buffalo

It was the horse that humbled them and it was the horse that brought individual honor. Even now the American Indian struggles with his identity without the horse in it.

That speaks well for the power and magic of a horse. That this animal could offer life changing opportunities, become integral to the culture so quickly and the loss could be felt so profoundly for so long.

I never thought about honoring my horse with a song, but I think the next time he carries me safely back from a harrowing ride I will compose a song and sing it to him. But it will be hard to come up with anything as beautiful as this one:

Out of the earth

I sing for them

A Horse nation

I sing for them

Out of the earth

I sing for them,

The animals

I sing for them

-Sung by Lone Man (Teton Sioux)


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Niatross, a Standardbred Giant

My last post I wrote about why we can’t get people to engage, this post I ask the question, why are we so divided?

I am fresh back from a course for developing future leaders of the Equine Industry. It is geared for students, but anyone interested in becoming more active in keeping horses in our future is welcome.  The students were fantastic, bright, engaged, passionate, and have not come up against all the walls that have disillusioned the rest of us. I hope they never do.

Many of the exercises focused on defining problems and what are the major problems that face our industry. There were a variety of answers, but they really boil down to the ability to keep and use our horses in the ways we enjoy. A big sweeping statement, but it needs to be to cover all the little ones. Racing is in jeopardy, trails are in jeopardy; show grounds, space, even the ability to ride the horse, are all in jeopardy.

When under attack the best plan is to develop a counter-plan that will lead to a successful conclusion for your needs. Part of that success is dependent on a cohesive working of the players. Remember that old saying “Divide and Conquer.” That saying is still around because it holds true.

cutting horse at work

The horse community is divided and I’m not sure why. We all seem to think that our discipline, or our breed separates us from the rest. Well, last I looked we were all dealing with an animal of the equine species, it had four legs, hooves, mane, tail, and needed water, forage to survive and are treated by veterinarians as a species that heals, contracts diseases, and responds to medication in a unified manner. Or as Mr. Ed put it- a horse is a horse, of course, of course.

Why are we so blind to see the similarities, preferring to stand on our differences.

Let’s look at the similarities. We all enjoy our time with this animal. This animal needs space, be that wide open pastures or in a box stall in a barn. We need regulations to ensure the space is affordable, not taxed like an apartment building; that new owners wanting to keep horses on their property can find and afford “farmland” property and that zoning doesn’t come in to restrict those who already have property. What if the barn you board in just got zoned residential. It doesn’t matter what discipline or breed you are involved in, you have to go find a new facility ‘cause this one has to close.

show jumper in action

Every single horse produces manure. Manure is a potential pollutant and is regulated. Every horse owner needs to have that regulation realistic and doable.

Every horse is going to need medical care, but not every state has a veterinary college and states tend to favor residents. Sure, you’re fine in California, but, oops, you just got transferred to Maine. Maine is already missing vets.

Every horse needs clean drinking water and weed-free forage. Do we really want to rely on sight-unseen truckloads from Canada for all our forage because we allowed our farmers to starve and sell their land? Do we want to dig our wells deeper because all the surrounding developments sent roof and asphalt runoff into streams instead of recharging the ground water supply?

What if we were all to sit in a room and promise not to talk about breeds or disciplines, just the basics? What if we developed ourselves as a power in our community- the 21st Century horsepower. What if we could then take it to the next step and work with and support each other.

trail riders out for the day

Perhaps the next time you pooh-pooh another discipline or breed you could stop to consider- that horse has the same basic needs as your horse and we all need to work together to ensure that.

Am I the only one who is thinking, “It’s a horse, folks, it’s all about a horse.”

They all have the same basic needs

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New Hampshire Red

Have you heard the story about the little red hen that wanted to make a cake? It’s an old story and in summary form runs like this:

Hen wants to bake a cake

Hen asks friends to help

Friends all have an excuse

Hen bakes cake all by herself

Friends come to ask for a piece.

Hen has a few choice words for friends.

I am starting to feel like that hen: already have the chicken legs going, am known for flapping my wings and I

Chicken legs, big belly

look great in red. But it isn’t cakes that interest me, it is the use, health and welfare of our horses. Being in New Jersey, we are the sentry for what will eventually occur throughout the country. We are in regulation mode, losing real estate mode, losing horses and services mode.

As an industry we are diverse, non-cohesive and therefore non-threatening to politicians and non-important. We grumble when regulations come down to affect us, but we just wad up the notice, kick the dirt and spit. Wow, that really got a lot done. We are not proactive nor reactive, but very involved in the animal that is the target.

There are a lot of reasons for this problem, I’d like to tackle many of them in some of my future blogs. And they are valid reasons. But if we are going to control our own destiny we have to understand the reasons for this malaise and work to solve them.

I propose that there are three major hinderances to getting people engaged in the workings of the horse industry: Fear, Ignorance, and Time

My personal guess is that Fear is the largest factor. People are afraid to be involved. That fear has a lot of different bases and if you asked someone he/she would deny it vehemently, except for the perceptive individual who understands what makes themselves tick. Fear doesn’t come from just the monster in the closet. Fear comes because of the unknown, commitment, or anticipation of  negative consequences. When we ask for someone’s help we are asking them to help with the unknown.

We are the great flexible, adaptable society. The dark side of that is the fear of anything that might affect those attributes. What if I commit to making a phone call and it’s a sunny day and I want to ride instead. Well, we do commit to things, to paying the mortgage, going to work, taking the kids to soccer practice. How do we overcome the fear of commitment when it comes to involvement with horses?

Let’s say I ask Bill to call a few people about holding a horse show. Bill has agreed the idea is a great one, and is very enthusiastic, offers to sponsor a fence and the use of his tractor. But he won’t make the phone calls. Why? Because there is fear. How much time is that going to take, what if the people called say no- rejection is a powerful force, will I be mired-in and be asked to do more things that I don’t have time for. Bill is afraid. He would never think that, he just thinks that he doesn’t have enough time. The truth is he is afraid of the unknown, of what this effort will mentally cost him, of losing time, of being rejected.

We are in an era where we are all VERY busy, we are too busy. That is not going to stop, so we need to determine methods that are easy for a very busy person to work with. How do we organize an effort so that it is in a digestible time-bite? Perhaps part of it is supplying all the needs. If I need you to cut out circles, here’s the paper, the scissors, the circle stencil, and I’ve timed it, should take you about 1 hour. Now it is known, a beginning and end, and I have an idea of how long it will take- and it’s not too long!

Then there is the great Unaware. The majority of equestrians who own horses don’t own the place where the horse lives. They are ignorant of how regulations affecting the property owners will eventually affect them. They are ignorant about how regulations affecting veterinarians, feed mills, etc will affect them. How do we engage these individuals to understand their voice is needed to ensure there is property to house and ride their horse, etc. In this case we need to educate them, but then we also have to deal with the fear of involvement as above.

We are not at a loss of problems facing the horse industry, but I believe the number one problem is the engagement of the horse riding and loving population. And for that engagement I think we have to overcome the Fear, Ignorance and Time constraints.

To wit; lack of youth involvement – Ignorance (less kids know or experience horses), Time (pack in between their already jammed schedules)

Boarders raising their voices about land and use issues: Ignorance, Time, Fear

Support for industry sectors such as racing: Ignorance, Time, Fear

I can keep going, but I suspect you’ve got the point.

What do YOU think are the major issues preventing people from becoming active in the expansion, use and regulation of horses? Better yet, what ideas do you have to help change this, to overcome these three or more obstacles? And who is the chicken that is going to do all of this? Where are the leaders for our industry? Where are the FUTURE leaders of our industry?

You can start to see the complexity of the issue. Life in today’s world is complex. Writing computer programs and developing financial instruments and fighting terrorists is complex. Yet, we do that every day. So we CAN handle complex situations, we just have to be willing to.

Hey, who's been eating my cake?

Oh, oh, oh, what’s that? Hey, the oven timer just rang, I’ve got to pull the cake out. Anyone interested in helping put on the frosting?

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Trigger, born Golden Cloud

We are heading into a New Year, always a time for reflection, nostalgia, plans and hopes for the future. So I can’t help but blend some things together. Hope for the future of our animals- so much of that hope rests on our youth. Yet, there is a dearth of  young people involved with horses. Asking “why” brought me to my own travels in the love of the horse. Could it have been all those Saturday morning shows with Fury, Flicka and Trigger?

So for a bit of meaningful fun, today’s post is in honor of those Hollywood Heros who brought us to drink from this well of equine passion. Let’s talk about Trigger.

From his birth at a San Diego ranch in 1932, the 15’3 h., Golden Cloud (named in honor of the ranch manager, Roy F. Cloud) showed his talents for learning. Around age 3 he was sold to Hudkins Stables, an outfit that supplied mounts to Hollywood. (Wow, an entire industry of suppling equine steeds to Hollywood, those were the days!) By 5 (1938) he was carrying around Olivia de Havilland in The Adventures of Robin Hood. 1938 seemed to be GC’s year. He was picked out of a line of five other horses by a new and upcoming movie star, Roy Rogers. The two “joined-up” quickly and GC’s quick intellect and footwork inspired a supporting role member to comment, “he sure is quick on the trigger.”  The name “Trigger” stuck.

Roy Rogers was no Hollywood air-head. He had lived on a farm in Ohio and ridden an ornery Thoroughbred to school. He spent his childhood through the depression working the family farm and odd jobs. The guy knew what hard work and want really were. He also knew animals and had a fair judgement of mankind.

Roy and Trigger’s debut exceeded the studio’s expectations and Roy was sent on a personal appearance tour. He quickly realized that the young audience wanted the duo, not just him. Smartly, Roy started bringing Trigger along and even smarterly (why can’t I make that word up?) Roy purchased Trigger. Remember Trigger is about 6 now. His purchase price was $2,500 at a time when $200 would buy you a darn fine horse. Roy, did the installment plan (he was only making $75 a week) and it took several years before he owned the stallion outright. But he had control.

It was Trigger that allowed Roy to decline pressure from the studios to do roles he objected to. They might tell Roy Rogers to walk, but even the studio honchos recognized that children were a prime movie audience and they LOVED Trigger. Trigger was Roy Rogers’ Ace.

I have to give a lot of credit to Roy here. Yes, there are probably sinister things about him, but I don’t want to know. I just want to deal with what I see. Roy made sure to take Trigger to all of his personal appearances, parking himself, the horse and the fancy rig outside the event hall so that the kids who could not afford a ticket could still meet and experience Trigger’s magic. He also took Trigger to children in hospitals and shelters- is Trigger perhaps the first therapeutic horse? Trigger appeared in all 88 movies Roy made and in all of the more than 100 TV episodes of the Roy Rogers show.

That’s the marketing end. The health and care end puts Roy in equally good light. He knew he could not ask as much of the horse as he did of himself so he quickly purchased two other look-a-likes, “Trigger Jr.” and “Little Trigger.” Of course this was unknown to the audiences at large and Roy, a meticulous record keeper, saved Trigger’s bill of sale, but has no record for the other two (history by design). This is also one of the reasons you may see conflicting information on Trigger’s heritage. It seems one was an American Saddle bred and one was a registered Palomino, but the real Trigger was out of a Thoroughbred sire and a grade mare.

Just an aside here, for anyone dealing with equine identification, take a look at these photos and pick out the distinguishing differences. The real Trigger has only a left hind sock, and his face white extends over the left eye and right nostril, but not the right eye and left nostril. That should be easy to put on a Coggins.

So Roy took good care of his horses, Trigger lived to age 33, he retired to a close by ranch and lived the last 8 years of his life grazing, passing peacefully in 1965. The other two “Triggers” lived into their late 20s. Remember this was in an era where an average horse lived to 15 and making 20 was a “Wow” factor.

So Roy Rogers carefully crafted a Duo, paid attention to his audience, how to reach it, respected that audience and took care of his resources. Something we should always be aware of in our own endeavors to engage the youth and promote the horse.

And the youth were engaged. Trigger had his own Dell Comic Book and Roy had the Roy Rogers Riding Club that kids joined. There were lunch boxes, personal appearances and toys. Trigger was always a part of the story. It was the horse that brought a generation of children to a well of imagination and passion, and we all drank deeply.

When Trigger died, Roy couldn’t bear to part with him, so he had him stuffed in the rearing position. Macabre to some, understandable to others. Who are we to comment on a person’s grief. Trigger was displayed at the Rogers’ home until Roy’s death when Trigger then went to the Roy Rogers museum.

Alas, that museum just closed its doors on December 10, 2009. Trigger goes on the auction block this summer and I truly hope that the Smithsonian, who had an original interest when Roy died, buys the horse for its American memorabilia collection.

Trigger remained a stallion all his life but is reported to have no offspring. (Can a stallion really stay celibate for 33 years?) Could we capture the attention of a generation of youth with an equine Hollywood Hero? It would be a great way to start a love affair.

This is a clip of one of Roy’s personal appearances with a “Trigger.” It a short spot that shows a remarkable horse, a man very comfortable in the saddle and a heart-song for many of us. Enjoy and


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