Category Archives: Horse Lifestyle

6 Horse Myths Westerns Teach Us

I’m a big fan of westerns. My favorites are the old black and white western movies and tv shows from the 40s and 50s. Sometimes it’s hard to find space on our DVR for modern shows because I fill it up with John Wayne, Gene Autry, Randolph Scott and The Virginian westerns. Since we acquired horses, my interest in westerns has increased but I find myself paying more attention to the horsemanship shown. If you have any experience with horses, it’s not difficult to point out the problems often seen in these movies and TV shows. I love them just the same but I couldn’t help but make a list of some of the top horse myths these old westerns (and new westerns, too) teach us.

Rider on galloping horse

Speed by Niko Dimitrov – ecobo, on Flickr

Myth: Horses can gallop nonstop for a long time

Reality: I have no doubt that the bad guys in these scenarios don’t care much for the horses they were riding but if you know much about horses you’ll realize that riding a horse hard for long periods of time will quickly wear it out; most are designed more for sprinting than endurance.  But in the movies, the bad guys run out of the bank they’ve just robbed, quickly hop onto their horses and race out of town at full speed. They are soon followed by the good guys and sometimes a posse that seems to chase them for hours at full speed as they head towards Mexico.

Myth: Horses are either always saddled or can be saddled on a moment’s notice

This makes sense in movies because watching someone saddle a horse wouldn’t be very interesting and would take up valuable story time. but it always seems whenever someone needs to ride a horse, that horse is always pre-saddled.

Reality: In the days before cars, horses wore saddles more often than pleasure horses today, it’s true. But today’s riders unsaddle their horses when they aren’t riding them for a while and preparation needs to be done before putting a saddle on. Its back needs to be brushed and the saddle pad and saddle need to be checked for debris, thorns and spurs that could irritate the horse. The cinch needs to be tightened. These things aren’t done in seconds but minutes.

Cowboy Mounted Shooting

Cowboy Mounted Shooting – note the balloon distance and the powder spray.

Myth: It’s easy to shoot guns while riding a horse. Accurately, too. And your horse doesn’t mind at all.

Every single western shows this. The bad guys usually aren’t good shots but the good guys sure are.

Reality: Moving targets are difficult to hit with a stationary gun. Sitting on a horse bouncing up and down, trying to shoot a tiny bullet into a relatively small moving target far away from you is considerably harder. Cowboy Mounted Shooting has gained in popularity recently but the riders are shooting un-burned black powder at balloons roughly twenty feet away (see photo). I’m sure there was plenty of shooting from the backs of horses in the old west but not nearly as much hitting. Shooting in general also wasn’t as common as westerns would have us believe, so it’s likely there were some startled horses when it actually did happen. Today’s Cowboy Mounted Shooters train their horses to be desensitized to the sound of shooting.

Side-note: Cowboy Mounted Shooting looks like a lot of fun and I would totally love to give it a try!

Myth: It’s easy to play a guitar and sing while riding a horse. And your horse doesn’t mind at all.

Silly as they may seem to some, I’m a big fan of the Gene Autry westerns. I’d like to believe there were good guys who sang a happy tune, always did what was right and protected people from the bad guys. Gene’s westerns usually began and/or ended with him riding down the trail strumming a guitar, singing a cowboy song with a smile.

Reality: Champion was one well-trained horse but most horses shouldn’t be ridden without a reins in hand and you can’t hold reins and strum a guitar at the same time. It would be difficult to carry the guitar when you weren’t strumming it and I think many a horse would rather dump a cowboy crooner who couldn’t carry a tune. Gene could sing but I bet most cowboys who try, can’t (me included).

Myth: Riding horses is easy.

Everyone in westerns seems to ride well and it’s probably true that back in the frontier days, most people knew how to ride. It was a necessity. But not now.

Reality: Those who can ride well now either grew up around horses and have been riding all of their lives or took lessons. Many (probably most) of those amazing horse scenes in the movies or on television were done by stunt riders who are expert trick riders, not the actors themselves. Even if you’re new to horses, it’s pretty easy to spot someone who is faking. James Drury, most famous for his role as The Virginian on the television western series by the same name, clearly knew how to ride a horse. In contrast, some actors appearing in westerns just seem to have a rough ride. They don’t look comfortable in the saddle. Anyone can learn to ride a horse well but it takes practice and it’s easy to pick up bad habits if you’re not careful. You don’t just jump on a horse and ride.

Randolph Scott

Randolph Scott and Maureen O’Sullivan in The Tall T

Myth: The hero is always tall, dark and handsome and usually gets the girl in the end.

Hollywood westerns almost always have a famous and attractive protagonist who saves the beautiful maiden and marries her, followed by happily ever after.

Reality: In real life the good guys come in all shapes, sizes, ages and genders. Sometimes the hero is a young girl who has no plans for marriage anytime soon. Mikki is reading an historical fiction book by Nancy Turner called “These Is My Words” that’s based on the very real life of her frontier great-grandmother, Sarah Prine. She was feminine but tough as nails and occasionally had to be the hero herself. Sometimes the hero is old, overweight, a little person or just plain normal, whatever that is.

I’m still adding westerns to my DVR, even though they’re full of myths, but I’m careful to remember that real life requires more patience, preparation and realistic expectations.

Please comment and let me know if you’ve noticed other prominent Hollywood western myths that relate to horses.

 

Horses and Tornadoes

Tornado

Tornado by airwaves1

In the last two years we’ve experienced several violent spring storms come through east Tennessee and are starting to refer to spring as “tornado season.” We’re looking forward to the end of winter but not to the scary part of spring. It’s bad enough to not know when and if a tornado is coming but having horses makes it worse because they could be far out in pasture, they aren’t easy to move quickly and they don’t fit in the basement or the bathtub.

There were 936 tornadoes in the U.S. in 2012, according to NOAA/National Weather Service. And while some areas are at much higher average risk, all states are at risk. This map is a little old (1950-2005) but gives a quick visual idea of where tornadoes can occur.

US Tornadoes 1950-2005 map

So what should we do with our horses during a tornado threat? Continue reading

Square Bale Hay Harvest Video

Hay WagonI think I’ve finally recovered from last weekend. As predicted, they were the hottest days of the year so far, with humidity that felt too much like monsoon season in the desert southwest. For two days (Saturday and Monday) we sweated in a field, dodged barn swallows and wasps and worked on our tans and our muscles as we harvested the first cutting of hay this summer. We know it will all be worth it come winter. Heck, when we’re using this hay in the middle of a frigid cold night we’ll be thinking pleasantly back to the heat of these days. It’s all relative, isn’t it? Although we often speak of dreading the hay harvest, the truth is we have many good memories we wouldn’t trade. It’s a time when a group of people who like each other works together and accomplishes a goal. At the end, we cool off in air conditioning, cook some burgers and tell tall tales about harvest days of years past. We drive home in the cool of the evening with the windows down. We experience the pleasure of washing off all that dirt in a refreshing shower back at the house and slipping into a clean bed under cool sheets to ease our aching muscles when we finally go horizontal for the night. In the end, it’s all good.

Here’s a brand new short video of how we use machines to harvest these square hay bales. It’s about 2 minutes long, with text narration. This will either bring back memories or show you something maybe you’ve never seen before.

Oh and this year we found a live snake in a bale! I was about to grab a bale to send up the hay elevator in the barn when I noticed something wiggling. It was a small snake but the incident reminded me to always wear gloves.

Do you harvest hay this way, too?

How likely it is we’ll be harvesting hay this weekend

Tomorrow is supposed to be the hottest day of the year so far and you know what that means? Time to harvest hay. You’ve probably read about our hay harvesting escapades before. The overwhelming theme is how hot it is when we’re doing it. You can pretty much pick the hottest, most humid and miserable day of the year and that’s when the hay is coming in. Here’s a handy chart you can use to predict the likelihood of the hay being ready based on temperature:

Correlation of hay time and temperature

I’m speaking specifically of square bales. We don’t use a lot of them this time of year but they’re a staple in winter when the horses spend more time inside the barn. Our own barn can only hold about 80 bales but there is a barn in the hay field that can probably hold 1,000 or more. That’s where we’ll be tomorrow, pulling square bales from the field into a hay wagon and then transferring them to a loft in the big barn. There we’ll battle stifling heat, wasps, dive-bombing barn swallows and the occasional snake to store up hay for the winter. It’s worth it. We have a deal with our provider that gives us discounted pricing in exchange for help harvesting. Some icy cold winter day we’ll look back in envy of this warm day I dread as I type this.

I think I’m recycling this video but just in case you don’t know what square bale harvesting looks like, here’s a short video from a few years ago.

Do you help harvest hay where you live? Does this chart relate to your experience as well?

35 days of horse repair

Camo Horse Bandage Wrap

Stylish Camo Horse Bandage Wrap

Early last month, Mikki posted about Romeo’s leg injury. It was a surprise that we discovered a little later than we should have. Infections are much harder to treat than fresh wounds. In fact, we ended up treating that infected wound for 35 days. Of course it was smack in the middle of winter, mild though it was.

Romeo learned to dread coming to the barn about as much as we did but the bandages had to be changed twice a day at times and the wound cleaned and treated and then re-wrapped to keep the dirt out (we used blue camo horse wrap, like the one in the picture). The antibiotic pills weren’t pleasant, even when we crushed them into something yummy like molasses or apple mush or a sweet oatmeal cake. It didn’t take long for him to be on to us. But considering the pain and unpleasantness of it all, he took it well. We usually cross tied him in the barn. He mostly stood quietly. Having two of us work on him was key. One of us talked to him and rubbed his neck, delivering a needed distraction. He never kicked or bit, though he did try to walk away at times.

Today, Romeo is still not very interesting in coming to the barn, despite the treatment being over. But he walks and runs well and the wound has healed nicely.

Moral of the story? Check your horses every day! Any kind of stiffness or limping needs immediate attention. And if your horse has any kind of open wound injury, expect to treat it several times a day and don’t skimp on cleaning, even though they hate that part. Also, seek medical attention immediately if you have any concerns. Develop a relationship with your horse vet because these things almost always seem to happen late at night on a Friday or Saturday when it’s hard to reach a vet until Monday. We have our vets cell phone number just in case.

Camo horse wrap picture from The Haughty Horse.

Christmas Figgy Pudding Horse Cake

Everyone seems to have holiday traditions. While we’re busy baking Christmas hams and pies and eating figgy pudding, our horses are left to eat the same old hay they get all year. Don’t think their super-sensitive nostrils aren’t picking up on all that yummy holiday food. And while they may not crave ham (horses are thankfully herbivores, after all), there’s no reason why we can’t share with them some of our sweet treats.

Here’s a very simple recipe for a horse treat that smells good, tastes good and is actually good for them. It’s very similar to our horse birthday cake recipe.  Measurements are approximate; this isn’t science here.  No baking involved.  It’s pretty much just throwing together a bunch of stuff horses like.  The amounts below made enough for four horses (about 1 cup each) and one burro-sized mule (about 1/2 cup).

Christmas Figgy Pudding Horse Cake

2 1/2 cups oats (we had 5 packets of plain instant oatmeal, so we used that)
1 large apple, chopped into small pieces
1 large carrot, peeled and shredded
1/4 cup molasses
6 dried figs, chopped

Mix all the ingredients until well blended.  Press into ramekins or other small dishes and freeze until firm.  Unmold and serve!

So while we might think buying reindeer antler hats for our horses constitutes a good Christmas present, I’ll bet you an apple they would prefer Christmas Figgy Pudding Horse Cake.

Simple ingredients

The completed cakes, including a small one for Jazzy the mule

Merry Christmas from Our First Horse!