Friday, September 30, 2011

Have you heard about the herd?

From Jim: Horses are herd animals. We're not. That can create some communications issues. Herding evolved as a survival strategy for prey animals. The mass of animals, moving as confusing, but coherent group made life for predators more difficult. Herd animals are dependent on behaviors that allow the herd to function. There is a leader. Following is not optional. Leadership can and does change in an effort to provide the best chance for the herd to succeed-That is, to continue to exist. Survival is not about the individual, it's about the group. Every member of the herd is ranked. There are no equals. Leadership is constantly challenged by the next in line. Mating is governed by dominance. Stallions are always seeking to be keepers of a harem of mares. Mares and foals band together. Bachelor stallions form groups-sub herds-while they mature and develop. They tag along at the fringes of the main herd. Generally, a dominant mare leads and the stallion protects his harem from other stallions. When you're with horses, they incorporate you into the herd. You are assigned a status. You need to be a leader, unless you enjoy unruly horse behavior. They will try you out often. It's their way of insuring good leadership. They follow without question so long as you are viewed as the leader. If you falter, they simply take over. Not so fun for you. Gaining leadership is a subtle process, not one of force and anger. Pressure and movement are the elements of dominance. I move you at will, I lead. You move me or balk, you lead. The pressure to move can range from a dropped head and pinned ears, a swift kick or bite to simply stepping into your space. Horses are very sensitive to personal space issues. We teach them to respect our space, partly as a safety issue, but also as a demonstration of dominance and leadership. To really know your horse, I think you need to observe them in a herd setting. Their role and status will tell you a lot about them and give you some ideas about how to work with them. Studying herd behavior is a key to understanding equines.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Always and Never...

From Jim: There are a few things that are absolute. Slaughter of equines is always wrong. You should never beat a horse. Stuff like that, obvious and worth the big DUH. There are also a lot of wobblers. They get a soft blurry "sometimes". Training techniques fit the maybe/maybe not category, depends on the horse and the trainer. I know it's sure better to know what you're doing and feel confident with it, than to try the latest and greatest and hope you get it right. New skills and ideas are wonderful and we should all try to be life-long learners. We owe it to the horses to take the time to master the technique and practice it before we switch up on the animal. That means slow and easy, with an eye on making few and little mistakes and backing off when we see we're not getting where we want to go. Horses are pretty good at letting us know when we're communicating effectively. That's always on us! It is never the horse's fault! Patience, time, and practice. Slow, deliberate, sequential steps. Review and reteaching. Gentle, firm insistent demands. Quick reward and immediate appropriate reprimand. Checking for understanding. These are the bits and pieces of working with horses-no matter which technique. The bad old days of busting horses is gone-hopefully forever. We still get horses that have been abused terribly, covered with scars and sweeneys, lumps and bumps. The folks that did that aren't horsemen/women. They're just abusers. Abuse is never OK. Safety is always a priority. Horses live a long time. If you're not up for a long period of training and teaching, you might want a gold-fish or a canary. Horses have great memories. They learn well and retain for a long time. They will also try you out. It's their way. Be steady, consistent, and clear in what you want and, generally, they'll go along. Get angry or upset or, worse, afraid and it will be a step backwards. Remember, they are always a horse, never a human.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Having Senior Moments...the older equine

From Jim: We have quite a few senior equines at the sanctuary. These are animals that are in the last few years of their life cycle. There's a wide range of life expectancy for donkeys-up to 50 years, mules-45 or so years, and horses, depending on breed-early 20s to mid 40s. The senior years for equines are really special. They have a dignity and wisdom that comes with the years. They are mature emotionally and mentally. They can be incredibly affectionate. They have special needs. Generally, there diet will require supplements and high quality hay. Their teeth, if they're still there, need floated, usually once a year. They need blanketed in the cold and protection from the weather. Their hoof care may reflect accommodations for low soles or old injuries. Their stiffening and arthritic joints may also require some corrective trimming and shoeing. Occasionally, they might need some pain meds to move more freely. Cushing's can become an issue with the older equine-a really devastating disease. Their immune system is established, but they will need their annual immunizations throughout their lives. Sometimes a jolt of B12 will help fire off a waning appetite. Biotin and probiotics can be helpful. And, of course, regular worming is necessary. We have a very specific protocol for determining when euthanasia is in order. With senior equines it's very easy to lead with your heart and not put the animal's welfare first. We choose three things the animal loves to do. When they can no longer do two of the three, we believe their quality of life is over and it's time for the last act of kindness. All of our seniors are observed on a daily basis and generally seen by our Vet once or twice a month. We have a multi-tiered watch list for those animals which concern us. It is one of the most difficult parts of having the sanctuary. It is never easy and always emotionally painful to say, "See you at the rainbow bridge Old Friend". We always sedate the animal and always give best friends a chance to say good bye and to grieve for their lost partner. Letting them smell and touch their friend's body helps give them them the closure they seem to need. It is moving to watch. These animals have so much to give and share with our kind. It is humbling and a privilege to have the opportunity be with and love our seniors.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Perceptions Are Everything...

From Jim: We come to know the reality of our world through the input of our senses. If we can't perceive it, it doesn't exist for us. We, because of out frontal lobes, can imagine things, but to us they're make-believe, We need to know the difference. We help our little ones with nightmares and and all manner of imaginary fears. Equines, on the other hand, don't spend much time sorting out real and not so real. It there's a chance it's real, that's good enough. If they sense you're afraid, never mind the reason, they believe you and they're fearful. If you're apprehensive, their level of concern rises. For them, fear is a high stakes game with no bluffing. This has real implications for how we feel and behave when we're with horses, donkeys, and mules. When we get out of our comfort zone, we move them out of theirs. It's a "herd thing". Calm, peaceful, firm direction and interaction is reassuring. Emotional noisy blustery behavior is upsetting and really gets in the way of learning and teaching. Horses need to be trained and educated. This makes them useful and safer to be around. They need confidence in us and in how we'll behave. If we show frustration, then we'll see frustration. Get angry, see fear. Get frightened and you'll have your fear and the horse's to deal with. Time is perceived differently by equines. They're not checking their inboxes and penciling us in. They come to things when they come to them, not on some artificial schedule. You can stimulus/response condition their behavior much faster than you can teach them, but you'll get a lesser result in the long run. You can train a horse and never get to know them. They'll hold back most of who they are and you'll be the poorer for it. They will form their perceptions about who you are based on what you present to them. Your understanding of them will come from how open and patient your behavior and attitude is. You cannot escape your perceptions any more than they can. First impressions are lasting. Clear perceptions take time. Perceptions can be hard to change. True for us and them. Take the time to be the horseperson you want them to know and to get to know who they are. Both horse and human will benefit in uncountable ways.

Friday, September 23, 2011

How Do They Do That? The Focal Sense...

From Jim: Whether it's a flock, school, or herd, the animals that group together in a collective gain an advantage for survival. There is an organic nature to this mass which requires something beyond the usual sensory inputs. The members must discern, instantly, the will and direction of the group. Watch a flock of birds wheel as one in the sky, or a school of fish turn and turn again in perfect unison, or a herd of horses turn and bolt simultaneously and you realize nothing has reflexes that fast. There's an ability which we'll call the "focal sense" which holds the group together, which let's them know what the will of the group is and act as one. Sometimes, we can have a taste of this, when our horse simply does what we want without any conscious cue from us. They sense our presence, our intent, and they respond. Wow, is it neat when that happens. I believe we can develop our abilities to connect focally with our equines, it we work at it. It takes discipline, time, and effort, but the payoff is wonderful. I think the real trick to this is to work towards more and more subtle conventional cues, while sharing our intent more and more deliberately. I know, it sounds "new age" and phony horse whispery, but It's really no different than acknowledging the other sensory differences between our kind and theirs. It's another example of how willing these great creatures are to let us know them. Knowing them, not knowing about them, is the best part of working with equines. I've found some of the best moments of my life have been in the company of the herd. If they're willing to extend an honorary membership, I'll take it. There's no reason that you and equine can't be a herd of two and enjoy getting to know each other.

Update from Donna

From Donna -Still can't find the pictures. Time to call in the pros to get back on track. Jim has been doing a great job with the blogs. He's not happy having to stay in because of the meds he is taking for diverticulitis, but is keeping busy inside.
The horses are acting like they can feel Fall in the air. It's still in the 100's, but in the early morns and the evenings, there is(are?) some bucking, chasing, rearing and full out galloping.
Yesterday Dunny could hardly contain himself. He wanted to romp with everyone. Dancing Drum looked over her shoulder with the "don't bother me, kid" look, but Star was good for about 10 minutes of horseplay.
Breeze Bay gets the "bug" every once in a while and takes off like the wind. There is nothing prettier than an Arabian floating across the backyard. She is not content to run by herself so she gets Jimmy, AnnaBelle and Quest going. Donkeys scatter and little Gracie finds a tree for protection.
Maggie, Sugar and Posey have been moved to the side yard where Maggie can get some extra feed. Sugar and Posey are plump, but want to be with Maggie. Toby mule has pushed through the temporary fence and got in with them. He does not need extra food, either, and today we'll try to shoo him back with his regular herd.
We'd like to get Jonathan, Dobbin and Gracie in with Maggie, too, but rotund Lacey the Haflinger stands at the gate keeping everyone away. She tries to look pitifully thin, but fails. She looks more like a barrel with legs. Of course wherever Lacey is, Babe is not far behind.
Babe is slowing putting on weight after her bout with strangles. She still has a ways to go, but is making progress.
Chad is in a stall next to Dunny and his group. Chad 's teeth are not good, so he gets extra feed. He doesn't seem to mind being by himself as long as he gets lots of treats.
Our fostered babies are doing very well. We are very particular about where the animals are placed. We miss them, but are so greatful for the good care they get.
The four across the street will be coming home next week. Aurora, Chardonnay, Sunny and Kim spent the spring and summer in Margaret's 10 acre pasture. Every year 85 year old Margaret seeds her pastures, then invites some our critters to share in her bounty. Our horses have been spending time at her place for several years.
Six other of our equine friends are at two other homes where they are loved and pampered. Sparkle, Ruby, Bobbie and Jesse are with Lin and Darell's at their beautiful ranch while ponies Little Dog and Big Red are at Su and Jerry's sharing life with four Gypsy Vanners.
Toyota sent us a second place prize check. Thank you so much Toyota. It was a great contest and you did well in your picks. Thank you, too, to all the generous donations we have received- Pati D, Ursula and Walt C and Holley and Rich Y.
The Thrift Store at 611 Walnut Chico also made a very generous gift to the Sanctuary. Thank you, Helen and Ron, for the incredible amount of work you do. They can always use furniture and other items. Stoop by and shop. Many great things, there.
The Chico Eagles will be holding a dinner and Bingo October 13. Home At Last gets the profits from the dinner so come to 20th and Mulberry in Chico at 4:00 and eat some of Loren's magnificent food. Bingo to follow.
Jim's trying to sleep in a little because he was up so early with a headache, but the barking dogs have put an end to that.
Thank you to everyone who is so supportive and kind to us at Home At Last.
OK rain, where are you?

They've Got the Touch...equine sense of touch

From Jim: Pleasure, pain, pressure, and temperature are the components of touch and equines have the ability to perceive them all with great sensitivity. Their skin, the equine's largest organ, is covered with uncountable receptors which are not evenly distributed. They are most sensitive around their muzzle, eyes, ears, and genitalia. Less sensitive areas include root of the mane, hooves, and, depending on breed, neck and shoulders. Everyone has seen a fly, way less than a gram, torment a horse by just walking on them. They are sensitive! They probably are ticklish and prefer a firm touch to a simulated fly walk contact. They have an array of whiskers around their muzzle and eyes and sensitive guard hairs in their ears which help them explore things in the environment and protect vulnerable sensory organs. Why we think crippling their senses is an attractive show attribute is beyond me. We shave off whiskers and guardhairs with abandon-cause it looks pretty? Really? They didn't evolve these characteristics as a nuisance to show judges. They have them, cause they need them. Equines desensitize, i.e. lose sensation, when areas are subjected to repeated rough stimulation. A "hard mouth" is often the result of a ham-fisted rider with too much bit. Mechanical hackamores are notorious for numb noses.
Horses enjoy great kinethetics. They know where their body parts are, and where those parts are going. Never ever underestimate their ability to aim a kick or strike. They shoot bulleyes. Equines have a much superior sense of touch and awareness of body than we do. This is useful in the conduct of herd behavior and in the avoidance of predators. I think it's also another reason to love on them. They really enjoy being petted and groomed. It feels good to them to be lovingly touched. That's very fortunate for us, because touching a horse is a joy!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Eat this, Not that...smell and taste

From Jim: Horses' taste buds, like ours, distinguish sweet, salty, sour, and bitter. Their taste buds are arranged differently than ours, on the back of their tongue and roof of their mouth, while our pappilae are on our tongue only-front to back. The horse has a sensitive palate and can taste quite well. Like us, their sense of taste is a mixture of smell and taste bud response and it's very discriminating. Horses can easily tell water from different sources and sort out preferred bits of hay. Their sense of smell is far more effective than ours. They can discern differences which would be unnoticable to us. They use their sense of smell for several purposes; for example, to identify one another, to detect predators, to select food items, to signal mating opportunities, to find water, and to locate places by their unique smells. Horses have a Jacobson's organ (vomerona organ) located in their hard palate. (rattlers have one too!) This enhances and amplifies smells and can trigger the Flehman response when pheremones or really unique odors are present. Horses nasal structures are effective in gathering scents and directing them to the olfactory portion of their brain. Closely associated with this part of the the brain is the limbic area-the amygdala and hippocampus. These are linked to emotion and memory. Smells are powerful sources for both emotion and memory. Mares use smell to bond with newborns. It's hard to over-estimate the link between the emotional attachment between mare and colt and the smell of the baby horse to the mom. Same is true of bad smells. Horses have a very different approach to food than us. They eat a lot of the same old stuff with gusto and seem not to tire of the flavor. They are pretty good at refusing "bad" food, but don't let that fool you into thinking they can sort through moldy hay or toxic pasture plants. They can't or don't and colic or worse can happen. Same is true of yucky water. They may drink nasty water, but not enough. Clear clean water is going to help insure they drink enough to avoid impactions from dehydration. Windy days not only interfer with a horse's sense of hearing, they confuse their sense of smell and they don like that. Any time anything advantages a predator, horses grow anxious. Horses' taste and smell abilities exceed ours. They have great memories-(probably better than ours). The way they use these superior abilities is different than we would. There are no equine Ben and Jerries" tasters.

Listen Up...

From Jim: Horses' ears are very expressive. They often tell us how the animal is feeling or what they're about at the moment. This aspect of their behavior will be for a later time. This essay is addresses their sense of hearing. As prey animals, equines need to have a great sense of hearing and they do. Their external ear can sweep through 180 degrees of movement. We're lucky if we can wiggle ours. The cup shaped pinnae (external ears) funnel sound to their timpanic membrane efficiently and give them more range in detecting sounds. They can quickly, almost instantaneously determine the direction a sound comes from, useful when you're on the menu. They have 10 muscles, compared to our 3, to move their ears about. They can and do use their ears together and independently. Think of their ears as an early threat warning system, hard wired to be very sensitive to the signature noises of a predator in the stalking mode. Broken twigs, crushed dried grasses, grating stones and gravel stand out like the guitar rift in a pop instrumental. They direct both ears to the sound, freeze, may lift and turn their head, bring vision into play, winnow the air for scents, brace, prepare to spin and bolt. Their response to sounds is emotional and the emotion is FEAR. The frequency range for equine hearing is much broader than ours, around 55 to 32,500 Hz for equines, 64 to 23,000 for us. They can hear things we can't. They can hear bats' echo location and the thuds of approaching herds that are not part of our reality. Their auditory acuity, like ours, declines with age. By 4 or 5, this decline begins slowly, and by 15, their high frequency hearing loss is significant. Loud noises can and do affect the rate of loss. If you ever observed a more anxious mood in your horse during windy days, it's because the sounds of the wind interfer with their ability to hear and they don't like it. Being deliberate and non-stealthy in your actions when you're around equines is good. Sneaking up on them is ill advised. Even though you'll probably fail in your efforts, it doesn't exactly make for a good experience. I cannot over-emphasize the importance of the sense of hearing for equines. It exceeds vision by magnitudes of difference. Our constant vocalizations are most likely ignored by equines. It's probably correct to say they don't listen to us-at least not our incessant chatter. Better to offer up a moving solo, than fade into just another voice in the chorus.
Their hearing is not there for our languaging. They will accommodate us because they want to please, but it's not their nature to be verbal.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The beholder of the eye...

From Jim: Proportionately, horses have the largest eyes of any land animal. We often look at and and into their beautiful eyes because it's so pleasing to do. Their eyes are way different than ours in form and function. If you wanted to look through their eyes, you couldn't do it because they see differently than we do and your brain wouldn't have the receptors to use the visual information. They can see monocularly and independently with each eye at the same time. You can't do that. Moreover, they can readily transition to binocular vision, fuse the images, and enjoy good depth perception. The retina of their eye has proportionately more rods to cones. They percieve motion and acquire light better than we do. Better night vision. Better motion detection. You'd think something was trying to eat them. Their color vision lacks the red spectrum. They percieve shades of blues and greens and, of course, black and white. They see better in the dark, but are easily night blinded by brilliant transitions. That's something to consider when riding in low light conditions. Bright oncoming headlights leave them temporarily blinded. Their peripheral vision is exceptional, around 270 degrees, and very sensitive to motion. They have blind spots fore and aft. The frontal blind spot extends to around four feet in front of their nose. If your standing there, they can't see you. They can't see their nose. To the rear, the hooks of their hips are about the limit. Walk up quietly behind them at your peril. They can't see their feet, or yours, for that matter. Although vision is an important sensory input for horses, their other senses are even keener. A horse tends toward nearsightedness and their acuity is not very sharp, maybe 20/40 or so. One eyed horses seem to do very well. And, depending on their ability to adjust, horses that lose all vision can function satisfactorly. There are behavioral issues linked to a horse's visual equipment that the horseperson should take into account for the animal's sake and the human's safety. As one integrates their knowledge about the organic behavioral nature of equines, the role vision plays shouldn't be over or underestimated. It's just one more aspect of getting to know horses, donkeys and mules! And, of course, there are those profound moments when our eyes meet theirs and the differences between our species are left behind for a moment.

If you don't "mind", it doesn't matter...

From Jim: Do you know your horse's mind? Not his or her mood or temperment, but the way they process information. Have you thought about your own mind's routines and habits? Have you been careful not to assign how you think and process to your horse? As we form a bond and working relationship with equines, it's really easy to slip into the unfair practice of treating them as if they're equi-people. They're not, can't be, never will be! It's on us to come to understand this and learn our differences and to behave in ways that are consistant with this knowledge. I suppose all of us think we have a pretty good handle on this and probably the truth is none of us do. Most of us probably don't even have a very clear idea about our own minds. If you're like me, I figure alot of it's missing by now. Horses not only have a mind that's very different from ours, there are big differences between individual horses. Some are smarter-learn faster, some are shaped by their experiences, both good and bad, some have been trained, while others were taught-BIG DIFFERENCE! Do you give your horse the time and patience it takes to let them learn and understand or do you settle for stimulus/response conditioning. It is naive to think horses are only capable of basic conditioned response behavior. Watching them unravel a gate latch, or play with a toy or another critter, or dream tells you this is true. Sometimes I think the best learning I've had as a horseman has occurred when I've spent time thinking about my observations of the herd and it's members. We tend to fall into the routine of being with our horses when we're going to work with them. That really changes their agenda and behavior and makes it somewhat harder to see who they are. We tend to be actively engaged with the animal and reacting to our desired outcomes and their responses to that. Again, makes it harder to think about what we're seeing of their mind's structure. I guess the lesson here is take the time to observe passively and reflect on what you've seen. Be actively inquisitive about how your horse thinks and how you think and how you think about how they think. Sounds like gibberish. It's not. It's a way to be a better horse person and to enjoy these wonderful animals on another level.

Monday, September 19, 2011


From Jim: Our equines live in herds whenever possible. We have several herds, composed by disposition, needs, and compatibility. The longears tend to sort themselves out without a lot of fuss. Some of our horses are a different story. We're always happy when they find a friend and bond. They become very close. If there is an accidental separation, the whinnying and mad search is on and the reunion is touching. We're careful not to ever unnecessarily separate friends. Here's three stories about friends. Stuart is a Kiger mustang. Like all of the Kigers we have, he is a gentle peaceful fellow. It took about a year to get him back to health, but we never could find a horse he would befriend. The upper herd accepted him, but there was no one special for him. Skittles, a little quarterhorse, was another loner. Sweet mare, but very much alone in the herd. These two are now inseparable. Tail to nose, swatting flies and dozing, heads down together eating, or just moving around the turnout, they are a pair. Teddy is a big thoroughbred, all of 17 hands. He spent his last working years as a school horse. He came to the sanctuary for his retirement, placed by caring owners. Rosie is another Kiger. It took a couple of years to bring her to a state of health. A lifetime of neglect and poor hoof care took some time to reverse. Her mistrust of people took awhile to overcome. She was in the backyard bunch herd, because of her special needs. They instantly became a pair. Teddy arrived and by that afternoon, he and Rosie were side by side. Frankie is a big
oldenberg. He was retired after a catastophic stifle injury. He also had cancer, which was pressing on his carotid artery and juglar vein. Moon Dancer is a sweet appalousa mare, nearly blind and in her 20's. They are best friends. When Frankie had his cancer surgery, Moon stood with her head on him for the three hours it took to remove the massive tumors. She stayed with him while he recovered from the anethesia and while he gained strength from his loss of blood. There was no way to separate them. And there still isn't. Frankie can't tolerate even a few minutes without her. She is constantly by his side. I suppose you could work on the separation anxiety issue if you wanted. Around here, it's not an issue.

Cash and Breezy Bay, Tiger Lily and Quincy, Chance and Harmony, Levi and Daisey, and so on and so on. They have wonderful and inspiring stories of their own and their friendships are a source of even more tales. Blind horses and their guides. Abused horses and their emotional support mates. Very old horses and those that share their last months being friends. Living right in the middle of several herds is a very special opportunity to come to know about these critters. They are social animals and, to really know them, you need to see them within a herd. They can be who they are and we get the wonder and joy of seeing it.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Some Core Values...

From Jim: Every once in awhile, it's probably good to revisit the values and beliefs that shape your behaviors. Here's a short and, most likely, incomplete list of ours. Life is precious and should be respected. Living things deserve kindness and dignity-except for flies and mosquitos. Do good works quietly and without fanfare, they are their own reward. Have a purpose for living. Serve a cause(s) beyond yourself. Humility is appropriate and appreciated. Pride and arrogance are off-putting. The measure of true strength comes from gentleness. We can and should be life-time learners. If you can, You can must. No one gets it easy, be slow to anger and quick to forgive. It's OK to sound sappy sometimes. Live life moment to moment, there's no bank account for time. Life is not a dress rehearsal. Things will always be a disappointment, materialism is an emotional cul-de-sac. You are one diagnosis away from a new agenda. We like horses, donkeys, and mules a lot more than we like most people. Better count on yourself, but nobody does this alone. It's OK to ask for help and gives others an opportunity to serve. Peace is an under-valued state of being. Loyalty and trust are absolutes, you can't sorta trust someone. Life is not fair and it never will be. Having a positive attitude and can-do approach is not optional. Love is what this life is about.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Run For Your Life...

From Jim: We have about a dozen off-the-track race horses at the sanctuary. They're thoroughbreds and standardbreds. Most were on the way to slaughter when we got them. Most have been injured from their track experiences. All of them are great horses. Some won alot of money and then were thrown away. Some got injured early on and were thrown away. Some were sent off to be brood mares and when they got older, were thrown away. The racing industry contributes exactly zero dollars to the care of these animals-ZERO. They don't set aside anything for the lifetime care of these "atheletes". They would have us believe that the colts and fillys that are run way too early in life signed on and wanted a racing career. Talk about anthropormorphism. Horses do their best to do what we ask of them. It's on us! They could just as well have done dressage or ranch work or been pleasure horses. Sea Bisket spend the last years of his life working cattle. The owners are about winning, gambling, and breeding. The horse is a necessary, but expendable requirement to racing/gambling. Take the paramutuel betting out of the racing industry and see how many true sportsmen you'll have left. The hats at the Kentucky Derby get more airtime than the fate of the horses that don't win. Every once in awhile, the lack of the emperor's clothes is obvious. A favorite suffers a catastrophic injury. Oh, the humanity. The fact that these injuries occur all over the country, often, is just not polite to talk about. Spoils the mood. When I pet Chance, our colt that broke his knee in his 4th race and was in the KB pen at the auction, because "he didn't show an apptitude for racing"-Yep that was written on his papers, it crosses my eyes. Chance is one of the sweetest colts you'd ever want to meet. He'll deal with a lifetime injury because the racing folks won't let these horses grow up. They race babies. Barbaro and Eight Bells got the headlines. What about all the others?

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Remembering Two Great Cow Ponies...

From Jim: Every once in awhile, a horse shows up at the sanctuary that has had an incredible past. Oh, the stories they could tell. Here's a little about tow of them. Ebb was a little club footed grey Arabian. Maybe 14 hands, but probably 13 something. He was as elegant a senior horse as you could lay eyes on. Arabians seem to just prettier as they age. He was also, under a different name, a 7 time champion cutting horse. We had a few opportunities to see him work over the donkeys or colts just to have fun. He was in his middle thirties. His hocks were arthritic and his knees bent. He moved like glass on ball bearings. He was pure joy to watch. He passed away at 37. He had gotten so stiff he couldn't get up by himself and was ready for the stock at the rainbow bridge that needed a push toward that heavenly chute. I still miss Ebb. Another really memorable cow horse was Teddy. He was a Quarterhorse out of the old King P234 line. He was 14/2 and weighted in at 1150. He was a copper penny sorrel and had bone and feet from back in the day. He earned his keep as a roping horse and knew his stuff. When the neighbor's cows got out, our other horses were concerned about the "horse-getters", Teddy was more than ready to get on with puttin a string on them. He was a wonderful Quarterhorse. He had that great mind and peaceful way you just have to love. He passed away when he was 37. I think he might have been the perfect horse. Don't tell the others I said that, they're pretty sure they're the perfect horse. Ebb and Teddy are just a couple of the great ones we've had the honor to know.

The Backyard Bunch

From Jim: We have about 15 of our critters in the backyard, and that's not counting the dogs and cats. This backyard bunch is composed of donkeys, mules, and horses. There are Arabians, Thoroughbreds, Quarter Horses, Appies, ponies-3 breeds, and so on. We try to rotate different animals into the "backyard experience" because we really enjoy the close contact we have with them every day. Some of our residents have stories of terrible abuse and have learned the worst about our kind. Constant human contact, with no strings attached, and being in the midst of trusting herdmates helps them gain trust and lessens their anxiety. It can take a long time-by our standards. Equines don't carry watches or calendars. For them, it just takes the time it takes. I think the lesson is patience and then more patience. One of our donkeys took 4 years to grow from a frightened mistrustful victim of abuse to a loving and sweet friendly pet. That's how long it took and it was worth it. We believe that animals at liberty come to a trusting relationship by choice. They are not just desensitised, they are at peace. There is definitely a place for round ring work and training. Our failure to get common expected training done with an animal puts them and us at risk. An equine with no learned skills has a hard time of it. This is quite different from how an animal views our kind. The more they are able to trust us and follow our attempts to shape their behavior, the more things can get done. Lots of positive and non-threatening contact with lots of patience and time is what backyarding our babies is all about. Plus, we really enjoy it. It's our garden of long and short ears.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

What's in a name?

From Jim: We have a lot of horses, donkeys, and mules. They all have names. They all know their names. And, believe it or not, they know each other's names. I'm not making this up. When I call to a particular animal, they will acknowledge me with a look or turned ear or an approach. Not so remarkable. The other critters in the area will often look at the animal being called-not me. They recognize their herd mates' appellations. Now, when you consider how very non-verbal equines are and that herd behavior is usually proximity and focally governed, their adaptation to our languaging is amazing. I guess the parallel is our attempts to read their non-verbal language of subtle gestures and movements. In the attempt to describe this, I have really tried to leave out any assignment of human behavior to equines. I don't think that's fair. They are not "equi-people" and it's a big mistake to think of them that way. It's probably even dangerous. Their behaviors are governed very differently than ours. Tina Turner's great song, "What's Love Got To Do With It", is pretty accurate when it comes to equines' reactions. They'll do what horses do and if you're in the way, you'll get hurt. That's on us, not them. They most likely said, "Look Out, I'm on the move!", and we didn't get the message. They are quicker than us. They are not reflective animals. The proto-horses that pondered issues, like,"I wonder if that's a dangerous animal?", got eaten all gone. The modern equine was behaviorly shaped to react-then think. They're also herd animals, and the survival of the herd is the over-riding factor for them. They are not particularly careful with their personal fate. Thus the horrible injuries and, even fatalities, from ill considered behavior. Their responses, over time, proved to help the herd survive. That's why I find it so profoundly wonderful that they will get past that and meet us on our terms, with our completely alien languaging, and have a name. I know they know each other as herd mates is a natural setting, but that's not the same thing. Our sounds, non-equine sounds, get to be understood and meaningful to them. They are magnificent creatures!

Monday, September 12, 2011

That time of year...

From Jim: Around here, Fall is a conflicted season. We're glad to be nearing the end of "Fly Time" and the heat and dust. We are also reaching the time when the horses on our watch list will either go into another winter or not. Because we take mostly unadoptable animals-They're old or injured, we face hard decisions every year. For us, quality of life is everything. When the days will be filled with pain and suffering or the chill of winter with no good body weight, then it's time for the last act of kindness. It is never easy! We check and recheck. We change diets and supplements. Teeth are floated and worming is done. Animals are stalled and sorted into compatible groups. And so on and so on! Dr. Gary consults and treats and worries with us. Finally, there's just nothing left to do. This ultimate responsibility is the hardest part of what we do. The worries about finances, the work load, the upkeep, the long hours are easy to accept. The fact that quality of life outweights quanity of life is a hard equation. When the moment for your beloved critter comes, be there for them. The loving and peaceful end we can give them is an unselfish and proper thing to do. We seem to have to learn this every single time.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

30 years or more...

From Jim: We really try to keep our blog upbeat and positive, but sometimes there are issues that just need to be addressed. One of them is "dumping an old friend". People call and ask us to take their horse, which they've had for 20 or so years because they can't ride it anymore. They want to get/buy a younger/better horse and don't want/can't afford to care for their older horse. Let's see, you've used this faithful animal for the best years of it's life and now it's time to dump it. This is NOT retiring a beloved pet. We have those and their owners are wonderful caring people. No, this is selfish behavior which shows no comittment to the horse. Well, it makes me mad and disappointed. We get threats of "If you don't take the horse, we'll just shoot it or ship it to slaughter". Emotional blackmail! We stay focused on the animal's welfare and do everything we can to find an appropiate home for it. We work to find our peace and conserve our energy. Doesn't always work. Sometimes the thoughtless, selfish, mean behavior of others just beaks you off! Please, everyone, love your old critters. They are a joy to know and would never consider dumping you because you could no longer ride. That's all I have to say about that.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Sunday Mornings

From Donna= Sunday mornings bring their own peace. No matter your religion or belief Sundays seem to be special. There is a quietness for the first little bit before the work begins. You go to bed Saturday night saying good-bye to one week and wake up saying hello to another.
Whether the sky is an exuberant pink, red and blue or a soft grey it is Sunday.
Breakfast is a little different- in our house anyway. Jim has been dieting, so there is extra love and a few extra calories for the start of the day.
The roosters' songs are sweeter and the dog tail wags wagglier.
There is as much work to do, but the pace seems slower. Maybe that's just a wish, but that's OK. I'll take it. I like having special days.
Today will be the same chores- feeding, caring for our oldies in the barn, watering horses and gardens, doing chicken, cat and dog chores, maybe cleaning a little- but it will be Sunday. Maybe friends will call, email or FaceBook. Maybe someone will choose to rescue a pet and make a new forever friend. Maybe some someone's heart will soften a little and view a former foe as a possible friend. All that is possible because it it Sunday.
Thank you to Cathy C, Cathy S, Lisa A, Carla G, Janis P, Debra C, Maurya F and all those who have helped Home At Last. You are special every day.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

It's Hot! Dang it!

From Jim: It's down right hot! Pushing into the low 100s. And its stuffy humid. It's almost, but not quite, SE Asia hot! I don't like it. There's a lot to do around here and when it's like this, I get lazy and sit in the house and complain about sitting in the house and complaining. Donna went shopping and running errands. In other words, she is hiding out. I'm waiting until this evening to finish the welding on the flatbed and I'll plank the deck tommorrow in the AM, while it's cooler. Then, it's over to Lyle's for a square of hay. See if all this truck work is going to pay off. The horses have settled into doze mode for the day. They will go through around 3000 gallons of water today. That's about 30 gallons apiece plus what they spill playing around. When we refill the tanks, there will many requests for a bath or a chance to hold the hose in their mouth and squirt water everywhere. If a sense of humor and playfulness are any measure of intelligence, Horses score way up high! I'll be glad when Fall gets here and I'm really hoping for a nice Indian Summer. Get a quick freeze-kill the ---- flies, and then warm back up for 5 or 6 weeks to around 70 degrees. The real down side to Fall is making the hard decisions about the seniors that can't and shouldn't do another Winter. We've already lost Tess and Callie, and next week it looks like there will be 3 or 4 more. Can't tell you how difficult this is for us. Thank goodness for Dr. Gary and his wise and loving counsel. Be time to set up for the evening chores soon. The patterns and cycles of the sanctuary are like a beautiful song. They lilt you along. I think I still have a little while left to stay in the house and complain, so I better get to it, before I have to get to work!

Thursday, September 1, 2011


There seems to be no limits on the number of equines that need a home. We get calls everyday asking if we can take an animal. Usually the request is from an owner that can no longer keep a beloved pet. We are at a point where our board of directors has set a limit of 50 animals for the sanctuary. Of course, we're at 73 animals and it will be awhile until the herd drops to 50. Every one the animals that live here will be given the best care possible and no animal will be euthanized or rehomed to reduce the number. But the age profile of our herd makes it plain that we will lose some-every single year for years to come. It tests the limits of our emotional strength. You see, we love them all. Their care and feeding and the maintenance of the ranch tests the limits of our physical strength. The constant pressure from the economy tests our monetary limits. The joy and satisfaction we have everyday is boundless. The peace and quiet of the herd seems all encompassing. The notion of a limit to our committment to these creatures sounds absurd. Within the limits of what Home At Last can do is a limitless expression of compassion and love and life. Quality of life exceeds any other consideration. Limits certainly exist. Being limited is only a choice, not a mandate. Take the time to love on your horses everyday. We do.