No Personal Attacks Allowed

February 20, 2008

As blog owner, I deleted a negative comment today that was made about one of the posters here. If you have an issue with someone, take it to the person involved. The purpose of this blog is to share information about natural horsecare experiences, not to make personal attacks.

This blog has moved!

February 2, 2008

When I began trying to write an update entry after over 18 months, I remembered one of the reasons why it had been so long…I hate the way wordpress manages photos. I had to edit each photo I placed here to fit wordpress requirements and since so much of the impact of these entries is photo dependent, it was a total pain.

Since there is no way to easily move the earlier entries over to blogger, you will  have to link to ‘Wild Hearts, Willing Spirits’ to continue reading about the residents of Mustang Mountain. For those who come here with questions about creating their own paddock paradise, I would suggest you join the Barefoot Horsecare list on yahoo. All of the posters to this blog are members and you will receive caring responses to your questions and many excellent suggestions on how to make your situation work for your horses.

To all those who have wandered here over the past two years…thanks! And please come visit at the new site.

A Walk Down the Road

August 27, 2006

August 12, 2006


I’ve got a little bit too much on my plate these days getting ready for our biggest event of the year. I’m working without Mike’s help for the first time in five years and it isn’t easy. Since it wasn’t raining this evening and as a reward for persevering through the issues, I went out and got on Griton for a few minutes. It’s been raining so much lately I haven’t had a chance to do that in probably a week and I need to keep that connection with the horses to maintain my sanity when Mike isn’t here. He said during our last phone call he was glad I had the triple troop of dogs to follow me around with their little doggie parade and to keep me company in the house as well.


After I shamelessly hinted, Mike ordered me a beautiful navy blue bareback pad so that I could return Griton to the world of riding without putting a saddle on him. It was so lovely, I ordered Griton a bitless bridle to match it. He has no fear or hesitation about this bridle and he seems to enjoy having me on his back as much as I enjoy being there. He has come a long way in the last year.


If you look closely at these photos of Griton, you will see a star-shaped white dapple on his left shoulder. I like to think it is Star’s sign that Griton is here with his blessing. I have been doing a good bit of alternative work with the horses this summer, experimenting, trying to reach them on their terms instead of forcing them with ours. Things it has been suggested might make a good book if I can figure out how to put what I do by feel into words others can understand. Griton is an amazing example of this work. I have never had a rehab horse respond quite like he has and it almost seems as if he has truly been reborn without a past of abuse.


I feel like we are having language lessons instead of me training him something. He completely understands that we are learning to communicate…I ask him for something and then wait, and wait, and wait, while he thinks about what it might mean. And then finally he responds, ‘do you mean this?’ and I reward him for trying whether it was the response I was looking for or not. He is quickly learning there will never be punishment again in his life, just praise for every effort he makes and so he tries even harder.


Griton has become a quiet and mature horse this summer and at first it worried me, was he not feeling well? Were his stifles or his foot hurting him again? But I think he just finally finished growing up. He was such a persistently annoying prankster when he came here, always harassing the others, pulling most of Corazon’s tail out to bait him into a game of chase. When I would take him for walks to strengthen his stifles, I would see his shadow behind me, big lips reaching out to grab the back of my pants in play. I believe Griton did not have a chance to grow up when he arrived in our human world at roughly two years old. He was put to work immediately and worked hard enough to cause scars all over his body. You can see some of them as large white patches in these photos. When he came to live with us he got a new herd and it seemed as though he picked up life from where he left it in his home group. He has had the benefit of being raised by Corazon, the kind and tolerant leader, and by Mike and me, the humans who taught him people could love and respect him unconditionally. What a touching experience he has given us.


He is reaching that magic place where he is becoming excited about each new thing I show him, eager for the praise and the rewards. He is always watching for us and comes up as soon as he sees me heading out to work with him. So this evening we took our first walk down the road. It wasn’t far or long, but we did it without fear, without a saddle on his back or a bit in his mouth.

Well it has been a pretty hot and dry summer here. There hasn’t been too much to report until now on the Paddock Paradise experience so I haven’t updated lately. So, here’s what has been going on.

The trials and tribulations of managing horses with differing dietary needs….


Until last week I was still allowing the horses access to the pastures at night to graze and putting them on the track during the day. I was doing that because I have a just turned yearling and I wanted her to have the benefit of grazing thinking it was best for her during this period of growing. The problem though is that my other three were getting too fat. I also noticed that my mare was lacking energy again. During the day they weren’t really going on track much, but just hanging out at the barn resting. Then we stopped getting any rain for the past 3 weeks and the grass is pretty dried up, so time to just take them off the pasture all together. I guess I needed that last push. Old habits die hard.


I decided to put them on track full time with hay spread in little piles in a huge circle. I put out hay in the morning and in the evening because my work schedule doesn’t allow time for me to feed more than twice a day. I also purchased a scale so I could weight the hay and make sure I do not overfeed, as I have a habit of doing when I am “eyeballing” it. I also put my filly in a paddock for about an hour in the morning and evening to eat some hay on her own (just to be sure she is getting enough).


So the verdict….

I was expecting my mare to get grumpy about not being on pasture at all anymore. I was also worried about them eating all the hay quickly and then being without forage for many hours until I got home. Well, so far this has not been the case. My mare is very perky and happy (even with it being extremely hot, humid and buggy). They are spreading out their hay intake throughout the day because when I get home at night (or go out in the morning to check) there is always a few morsels left here and there. But the best part is they are in constant motion. Ok, I am sold. It took me awhile, but I am thrilled with this so far and even when the pasture comes back in this fall I think I will just continue to use the track full time.




I can’t wait to see if this helps with some self trimming of hooves. I have added more gravel around the barn area. It has been so dry that I have not been that motivated to spread more gravel on the track. It is so hard and packed on its own right now. I will do more graveling this fall when the weather cools down some.



So that is all for now. I have just included some pictures from this summer of my horses in different places on the track. Thank you Carmon for your inspiration for being more diligent to carry my camera with me more. Your stunning photos of your horses has really inspired me.


Riding Griton

July 25, 2006

 I posted this in my personal blog and it was such a special moment I felt it was appropriate to share here as well…

 The best photo ever.

You might think I’ve lost my mind when you see the photo I’m referring to so let me tell you a story about a horse who was born wild and happy in Wyoming. When he was two years old, he was gathered up with his family and friends by the Bureau of Land Management and taken to an adoption in New Mexico. He was adopted right away but he wasn’t too lucky about who adopted him. Based on the scars on his body, he was ridden hard when he was way too young and with a saddle that didn’t fit him.


When you adopt a horse from the BLM, you don’t legally own the horse and can’t sell them until you have had the horse for one year and receive a title for him. This horse was taken to a sale as soon as his adopters had the title from the BLM. He turned out to be a lot more lucky than many horses. He was being led to be loaded on a truck headed for the slaughter plant in Texas when a woman saw him and bought him before they could load him up. When she got him home, she discovered he had horribly infected feet from thrush and he was terrified of having a saddle put on his back or to let a person get on him.


She got his feet well and tried for a year to help him but still couldn’t get on him. Because she needed a horse for her daughter to ride in 4H, she decided she had to sell him. That’s when this horse got lucky the second time because I only had to look once in those sweet soft eyes and the checkbook jumped out of my purse and he came home with us.


On the trip home Mike and I had been talking about different names for our new horse and when he got home, he named himself – Griton. He was so happy to see other mustangs again he galloped around calling to them all so loud Mike said let’s call him Griton which is a Spanish nickname for someone who shouts a lot. The funny thing about this is after that first night, he has been the most quiet of all of our horses.


After he got settled in, we started working with Griton to heal his fears about humans. He very quickly got over his fear of the saddle because we used a light one that fit him well and we only went as fast as he was ready to manage. He still could jump twenty feet sideways if you thought about getting on him though. We were making steady progress with that when he hurt both of his stifles (mechanically the same as a human’s knees) while he was playing. For the last year, Griton has been healing his injury, playing with the other horses, and learning to trust humans again.


About a month ago I decided it was time to start thinking about getting on Griton’s back again. I wanted to make it completely different from any of his early experiences so I decided to not use a saddle at all and from the beginning I said he would never have a bit in his mouth again. So almost everyday I went out and first just stood next to him on a mounting block and gave him lots of praise and rewards when he would relax. Each day I went a tiny bit farther…leaning my weight over him, bringing my leg up on his back, until last night I was standing on the mounting block with one leg and the other was all the way over on his back. We both took a big breath and I sat down. My sweet, sweet, sweet Griton never moved a muscle or a foot, just wanted to know from which side I was going to lean down and give him a cookie.


So that is why this is the best photo I’ve ever taken. I had brought the camera up there with me and held it out as far as I could, just hoping I would manage to get something. And here we are, me and Griton, on the first day of the rest of our adventures together!

Corazon Diet Update

July 22, 2006

We have had so much going on here I’ve not been good about making entries lately but will try to catch up with several. First, Corazon is doing incredibly well on his diet. The turning point was when our local drought forced us to bring in grass hay from Kansas. I haven’t had it tested yet, but I believe it will test low for NSCs based on Corazon’s response to it. He is losing weight at a steady rate now and getting more animated all the time. Just for a refresher, here is what he looked like at the start of the diet:


And here is how he looked at the two month mark:


And here he is today, working hard coming up from the bottom of the arroyo:


It is pretty amazing to me to see how effectively we can regulate metabolism through diet and exercise in these easy keeper horses who are prone to developing insulin resistance. Trucking hay in from another state was a community effort and I realize it probably wouldn’t be an option for most people. From what I can see, each of our horses has benefited from the diet changes – Valeroso was showing signs of gaining too much weight and he has lost the extra pounds; Llego is growing and filling out; Griton has remained the same in spite of receiving less forage. Once we removed the forage causing the problem, the horses with normal metabolisms remained stable and the others have become more regular in body weight. 

A Hard Rain

July 6, 2006

On June 25th huge black and green tinged clouds moved in over the peak above us, a sure sign we would be getting rain. The clouds were slow moving and ominous but very welcome after an exceptionally dry winter and hot dry spring. I expected a drenching, but did not expect three inches of hail and rain over a one hour period.  


We found early on that our formerly wild horses don’t care much about going indoors during storms. After we moved them here to our own land, we allowed them to use natural shelter which is what they are accustomed to. They have the windbreak of granite bluffs and plenty of stands of trees to take shelter under. hailhorses1.jpg

Valeroso, Llego, Griton and Corazon

As Mike and I stood in the yurt watching the hail which ranged from pea to nickel-sized pile up, I worried about how the horses were handling this cold and unexpected storm. The temperature dropped twenty degrees very quickly from mid-eighties to mid-sixties. As soon as there was a small break, I put on a hat and jacket and grabbed the camera to see how they were doing out there. As expected, the boys had settled down in a group with their rumps pointed into the storm and heads low to allow moisture to run off. You could tell the hail made them uncomfortable, but it was not something that in any way frightened them.


Valeroso, Llego, Corazon and Griton

With an 8,300′ peak above us and two arroyos to carry runoff down the mountain, this kind of storm can quickly cause flash floods. As soon as the arroyo behind the house began to run, our little New Mexico mustang Valeroso went on alert. This boy is from an area of New Mexico where flash floods happen anytime it rains at all. Normally, the other horses pay very little attention to Valeroso who is the low horse of the group. I was really surprised to see them all quickly follow him to the top of the property at a fast trot and canter. I followed far enough to be sure they were all safe and could just see them bunched together under a thick stand of trees and certainly safe from flooding.


Valeroso, Llego, Corazon and Griton

Runoff passes quickly here and in less than an hour the arroyo was back down to a trickle. It was about time for the evening feeding and this time Griton led the group back down the mountain with all of them moving carefully over slick pine thatch.


Griton, Corazon, Llego and Valeroso

When the boys saw me taking their photos, they knew I could be convinced to feed them a bit early and came across the arroyo and up the grade at a full gallop on their beautiful bare feet.


Corazon, Llego and Griton

Mustang Trails

June 19, 2006

Our horses spend a good bit of each day climbing up and down the mountain on switchback trails they have created. During spring and fall, they generally climb up once in the early morning and again around ten at night. I can usually hear the sound of their bare hooves on the granite bluff and sometimes I catch a glimpse of them in the moonlight. Now that fly season is here, they reserve their climbs for after dark to escape biting deer and horseflies.


I haven’t had a chance to read Jaime Jackson’s book, Paddock Paradise, a Guide to Natural Horse Boarding, but I understand he refers to behavior patterns he has observed in wild horses. We find our band of four formerly wild mustangs consistantly climb and come back down the mountain in the same direction and always in a roughly clockwise pattern. The following photo show a portion of the trail they have created that starts the uphill climb after crossing through the bottom of an arroyo.


This portion of trail comes directly across a mostly smooth expanse of granite bluff at the top of our property. It isn’t terribly steep, but can be quite slick. I don’t think our horses would manage it nearly as well with shoes as they do barefoot. Our drought situation is currently so severe here in New Mexico we hear the forests are likely to be closed soon. I remember during my trail riding days in California when the parks would be closed to horses wearing shoes due to the sparks caused by steel hitting granite rocks and I’m glad we have kept our boys barefoot.


After coming across the top of the property, the horses begin to move downward and around a steep bluff we call Cuervo Point. This portion of trail is remarkably steep and treacherous but I have seen the boys come down it at a trot with no hesitation.


And finally, as the horses come down through the last section of loose pine thatch and granite sand, they have created a series of tight switchbacks to get them safely back to the lower portion of the property. We find our horses keep their hooves more laterally balanced than most do. It’s totally a theory, but we feel that might be due to their switchback activities – each time they change directions the outside of one front and back foot and the inside of the others get extra wear.


The bottom of the property is relatively smooth and gently sloping. This is the area that is used for feeding, water and general socializing. During these hot summer days, the boys spend the majority of their time sharing tail swishing and rolling in the sand.

The Benevolent Leader

June 14, 2006

I wish every herd group could have the benefit of a benevolent leader; but how would you plan for something like that? They aren't obvious horses, especially in the beginning. And if you have a standard bully in the group, it takes even longer to spot one. I seem to be unconsciously drawn to them, with Corazon being the fifth who has come into my life. One of the five was a mare and one her son so I believe he learned the role from her.


The band of boys – Valeroso, Llego, Corazon & Griton

When Cuervo was with us, he was a more typical kind of band leader. He could be both pushy and aggressive at times, especially about food. Sometimes when I wanted to work with one of the other horses, I would have to either work in a pen or put Cuervo in one because he would chase the others away to get all of the attention. When we brought Corazon home in February of 2004, Cuervo dominated him and then quickly began to ignore him. I suspect it was because Corazon simply stayed out of his way.


Cuervo Humoso

The week before Cuervo died, Mike and I both observed unusual behavior in Cuervo and at the time we thought he had just finally decided Corazon was worthy of being his friend. The first thing we noticed was Cuervo stood back and allowed Corazon to drink first at the trough. This was highly unusual as Cuervo frequently made the other horses wait as much as half an hour to drink while he played and drenched himself with water. The next thing we saw was Cuervo seeking Corazon out and offering grooming. There were other small things that only people who know their group well would have noticed. In hindsight, we feel Cuervo somehow sensed his coming death and was passing leadership to Corazon.


Cuervo behind, Griton in front

Cuervo was the second horse to be buried here, and both of them were band leaders. Each time we have allowed the others to smell the dead one and watch the burial process. And each time the remaining horses have shown a profound period of grieving. The only spot on our land with sand deep enough for a horse grave is at the bottom of the orchard and it is not a place where the horses habitually spend time. Yet after each death the others have spent a period of about a week standing or lying on the grave, being quiet with each other and showing courtesy to even the lowest in the group.


Griton & Corazon

Since he was captured as a two year old, Griton spent the least amount of time with a wild group. He would very much like to be a bully and without Corazon's quiet influence, he undoubtedly would be. There are a lot of 'ifs' in this equation…if Griton had been in the band before Corazon, if Griton were older than Corazon, if Corazon were less likable, Griton might have actually become that bully. As it is, Griton is continually moderated by his desire to stay in Corazon's favor.


Griton & Corazon

Mike's new horse, Llego, has only been here twelve days and already peace has been restored to the group. Corazon has befriended him and exchanges grooming. Griton tries to ignore him, especially when Corazon is interacting with Llego. And Valeroso, well, his little nose is still a bit bent out of shape but he is accepting that his only way to be part of the group is by minding his manners. I think the most telling sign of the integrated group was seeing Llego, Corazon and Griton all drinking from the water trough at the same time this afternoon. I have no doubt Valeroso would have been in there too if the trough were just a bit larger. 


Llego, Corazon & Griton

Changing Herd Dynamics

June 9, 2006

This month our small bachelor herd of mustangs increased to four with the addition of Mike's new horse. All of our horses were born wild and spent time as part of free roaming bachelor bands. Griton was two on his capture date, Corazon and Llego were three year olds and little Valeroso about four. They each had time to develop unique personalities and behaviors within a male group before learning how to live in the human world.


Llego, Valeroso, Griton, Corazon

Corazon is what I call a benevolent alpha and what Mark Rashid refers to as a passive leader. These are horses who never fight to become leaders; it's more like they are elected. They are calm and quiet and avoid conflict unless given no other option. If there happens to be a bully in the group, the benevolent one will just avoid him and gradually the rest of the group will be found around his quiet influence.


Griton & Corazon

Corazon and Griton have been together the longest, a little over a year, and have a well established friendship. Griton on his own could easily become a bully, and tries to at times. When he does get aggressive with the others though, Corazon simply walks away or avoids him and Griton must stop his activities to stay with his friend. I've used Corazon's example many times to discourage undesirable behavior in the herd…I either walk away or turn my attention to another horse. When the trouble maker discovers he has been left on the outside, he learns to keep his manners in line.


Corazon, Griton & Valeroso behind

Valeroso joined our group about six months ago. He spent the longest time in the wild and has had the least amount of work with humans. At not much over thirteen hands, he is tiny compared to the others but his spirit is huge. Valeroso comes from an area of New Mexico where there isn't much forage or water and his small band was harassed by people on ATVs. With his very crooked front legs, we think his naturally aggressive behavior is what helped him to survive. He and Griton went from being play buddies when he first arrived, to an uneasy tolerance as the two butted heads for position.


Griton & Valeroso

Llego joined our herd just a week ago after only eight months in captivity. He is calm by nature and I think may turn out to be another benevolent alpha like Corazon, though he is much more willing to respond to a challenge than Corazon is. Initially Valeroso was completely infatuated with him and followed him as close as a shadow. Griton challenged Llego but when Corazon avoided the conflicts, he quickly has settled down. At this point there are only small skirmishes between Griton and Llego. For the most part, I am seeing them calmly standing together swishing flies with Corazon sandwiched between Griton and Llego and getting the benefit of both their tails.


Llego & Valeroso

Valeroso has sadly caused himself to be left on the outside as the others increasingly follow Corazon's lead by avoiding the trouble makers. Just a couple of days after Llego arrived, Valeroso began challenging everyone but Corazon for their food. They seem to recognize he is not a threat, but when he charges them with penned ears, bared teeth and kicking, they respond by chasing him away. It is sad to see Valeroso standing by himself; but the others are teaching him what is acceptable behavior within the group. The same thing happened during the first couple of months after Valeroso joined the group and I expect this is a process that will resolve itself by the end of summer as the group becomes adjusted to its new member. If he approaches calmly, they already allow him back into their circle, even sharing piles of hay with him.