Over the years I developed flash cards to carry with me while instructing. I ran into a stack of the cards the other day. Here are 10 of the questions. (Answers, and why the ability to answer in the saddle is an important skill, follow.)
1. Which knot can be used to tie a rope around your horse’s neck?
2. A horse that lopes on the left lead in front and the right lead behind is doing what?
3. True/False: A hackamore is a bridle without a bit.
4. True/False: The judge will call for the trot in Western Pleasure.
5. What three gaits will the judge call for in Western Equitation?
6. True/False: You should wrap the lead shank around your hand for a stronger hold.
7. True/False: The lope is an easy, rhythmical three-beat gait.
I met two young people a few days ago who reminded me why I do this volunteer stuff, anyway.
Much like Pony Club or the Scouts, Colorado’s 4-H Horse Project offers an achievement program in which members demonstrate higher and higher levels of skill. In this case, we are talking about horse knowledge and riding skills.
As an “expert”, my job is to go out and test youngsters. The first brave soul, a young lady, age eight, was as young as you can be and still get into the 4-H horse program.
At the early levels, rules say young or small riders may ask for adult help with things like saddling, bridling, or picking up hooves, as long as they can tell the adult what to do.
This child dragged a three-step mounting block around for the “tall” work, and refused help with the saddle, even when offered.
It took a little longer, and her uncle jumped in when we thought the saddle would land on her head, but she insisted, “I can do it myself!”
And she did do it herself, with flying colors.
My second youngster tested at a higher level.
I like to talk with the riders while we test. They tell great stories and the conversation builds their ability to describe why they are doing what they are doing, a requirement at the higher levels.
Not so usual in today’s text-messaging culture, this boy used clear, complete sentences, and words like “encouragement”, “proper”, and “ma’am”.
Next, the boy asked his gelding to pick up a hoof. He struggled a bit with the pressure point on the fetlock. Finally the horse picked up its foot, and the boy said, “Thank you.” He thanked the horse many more times during the test.I looked at his test sheet. It said age 17. I wondered whether this was in fact, a very small 17-year-old. I was afraid to ask though, and cause the family embarrassment. The high vocabulary continued through a brushing demonstration.
I gave in to curiosity and asked, “How old are you?”
“Nine,” he said.
His mother had accidentally filled in his horse’s age, 17, for the boy’s age on the test form.
“I have known few nine-year-olds that use the words you use,” I said, scratching out the “17” on his age line. “Why do you always thank your horse?”
“Because we all like to be thanked,” he said.
Just a few days ago I rediscovered two of life’s important lessons from two of the real experts in 4-H.
((Karin Livingston was a career 4-H leader specializing in horses, and is the author of the young-adult horse novel, Winning Bet.)
Our horses are good, average horses that fit well with our family. They do multiple jobs in 4-H at open horse shows. None received specialized training. None broke the bank at time of purchase. When it came to learning flying leads, we faced the challenge of rider inexperience, less-than-perfect horse conformation and in some cases, performance baggage that had nothing to do with the quality of our training. We tried method after method, sometimes with hilarious results: Jumping in a western saddle to force a change, horses bolting at the center of the figure eight fearing heavy leg cues, horses changing down the rail just for the fun of it, horses dripping with sweat due to stress. Of all the exercises we tried, this one from John Lyons Perfect Horse Magazines (December 2005 and January 2006) is my favorite. All the horses we tried this exercise on executed a flying lead change by
the end of our 4-H mounted ride. Simply put: You construct a chute of cones close enough together to discourage dodging, put a ground pole at the end of the chute, and ride the horse in an “S” through the chute, switching leads at the ground pole, all while using proper seat, leg, and hand cues. Remember, before you can "fly", you must first be able to sidepass, turn on the forehand, and two-track at the trot and canter, all with your horse in a good, light frame. (Click on the photos to enlarge.)
(Karin Livingston is a career 4-H leader specializing in horses, and the author of the young-adult horse novel, Winning Bet, available in hard copy and for e-readers.)
One item that has proven valuable over the years is our “hair box”. It holds everything from hair nets, to bows, to show numbers, to scissors, to a sewing kit. The latest incarnation of this idea is a tool box from our local Ace Hardware store. (Click to enlarge the photo.) We have used old overnight travel cases, makeup kits and clear, stackable tubs, but the tool box has been the best. The handle is convenient, the plastic is tough and shatterproof, and this size is light and therefore easy to carry along with all the other items you need to pack for a horse show. Our hair box has clear, closable compartments on the lid for small stuff like safety pins, stock pins and bobby pins. When you open it, another tray for bigger items makes up the second layer, and finally, underneath it all is the big open spot for everything else. As an organizational tool, the hair box keeps us from having to repack easily forgettable things, which when forgotten, create a crisis. When the show is over, we just close the lid and our hair box keeps everything in place for next time. This Stanley tool box
at Amazon is similar to ours.
Communication is everything; especially at large horse shows where you may find yourself far away from your support person. (Yes, every contestant needs a support person, and for children, a support person is a must!) There are times when we have missed classes at large horse shows due to arena changes that were suddenly announced in one barn, but not the others, or due to broken sound systems. After suffering the loss of all-around points due to missed classes, we went out and bought two-way radios, which instantly solved the problem. Even with the evolution of cell phones, we prefer our radios because they require no dialing, and therefore no wait time. We also carry the radios around the property at home, and have nipped many an emergency in the bud thanks to instant communication. My last pair of two-way radios purchased about two years ago came with a five-mile range. This pair from Wal-Mart costs about half as much and provides up to 15 miles of coverage. A word to the wise: Make sure you pick a different frequency than horse show management is using, and teach your children to use the radios as a tool, not a toy.
Our hearts go out to the family of Eloise "Ellie" Peek, who died Sunday after a horse kicked her in the head at her grandparents’ farm in Hainford, Norfolk, England. Ellie went out to check her pony, Flynn, before an upcoming horse show, and was kicked by another horse, according to the Morpeth Herald, Ellie had been riding since age four, and according to the Mirror News she attended many jumping competitions. We will probably never know what actually happened during the accident, but this proves a grim reminder of the importance of safety zones when working around horses. Colorado 4-H’ers are taught never to stand directly in front of or behind a horse, but to always work from the side. Believe it or not, it is safest to stand close to a horse’s hindquarters, as opposed to standing several feet away. Always touching a horse and talking to it as you move around its hindquarters lets the horse know exactly where you are. If you stand too far from the horse, you run the risk of being at the point of maximum impact should the horse decide to kick. Another safety must-have is the video, Every Time, Every Ride, which talks about the importance of helmets. Rest in peace, Ellie.
Our gelding, Billy, went down on his knees about 10 years ago just before my son’s Hunt Seat class at the Colorado state fair 4-H horse show in Pueblo. This handsome red gelding had seemed fine all morning, but the temperature spiked 30 degrees in two hours, taking us from the 60’s to the 90’s. We did not think anything of the uncooperative weather until, on the way to the in-gate with his boy, Billy went to his knees, and then to his side. If we had not pulled Billy up by the reins, he would have crushed the saddle. Billy had colic, the Number 1 killer of horses. The many kinds of colic all involve stomach pain. Two of the many causes include a sudden change in the weather and heat distress. Like dehydrated people who experience headaches and muscle cramps, heat stresses horses and they need constant hydration to help cope. Billy suffered a handful of other colics over several years until we figured out that he drinks little water. Today, Billy gets daily electrolytes, and an extra dose for any summer horse show. The electrolytes did the trick. Since then, Billy has been as healthy as … a horse! We prefer Vetline's electrolytes or for convenience, a monthly SmartPak shipment.
Like horses, but don't think you have the aptitude -- or the affinity for dirt -- for a horse career? Think all horse careers are financial dead-ends? Think again! There's a great publication at http://www.ayhc.com/pdfs/careers.pdf, which all Horse Project 4H'ers or anyone interested in a new career should see. Our little 4-H club "raised" one rider who worked for several years at the Arabian Horse Association, and another who assisted at a top-notch local dressage barn. It can be done. This blog is supported by your clicks and shopping through our links. Please explore and enjoy!
Two horses need your help. Yesterday our wonder-vet, Equine Medical Services (EMS), received an e-mail plea from a client who lost her job. The client cannot afford to continue feeding her charges, but fears that if she sells them they might end up in Mexico at a slaughter facility. The client thought her only other option was to euthanize our equine friends to save them from an unspeakable death elsewhere. "There is nothing wrong with these two horses other than they are victims of circumstance," said veterinarian, Dr. Allen Landes. Click here to see more pictures and video. Click here for details on the horses. (You may want to bookmark the second "here" link, which connects to the new EMS forum, an equine medical news/discussion group.) If you are involved in Pony Club, 4-H or any other horse activity, and know someone with a good home for these two horses, have them contact Dr. Landes at firstname.lastname@example.org. The horses are at his ranch until they can be adopted out. One hopes this is not the start of what happened to the floundering Kentucky horse industry.
(Earn points and free badges at our sister site, Mane-U. We are mobile-friendly and love horse trivia.)
The other evening when I brought horses in from their daily turnouts, I found two horses in the same pen, wearing identical blankets, and at first glance, the geldings looked identical. A closer look revealed that my equine friends were actually a brown and a bay. I instantly knew who was who, and therefore who went where. At a stable, you typically have a lot of horses, and being able to describe an individual to the veterinarian, the farrier, or other help becomes crucial. Colors and markings are the equivalent of your horse’s license plate. And if you move into a horse profession, brand inspector, sales broker or breeder for instance, you need an even deeper understanding of colors and markings. Larimer County Horse Project 4-H’ers will find something about colors and markings on almost every written test they take. We think this game (click on the photo to launch the quiz) is appropriate for a 4-H Advancement Level I or II written test. Try it to see how your knowledge stacks up. Have fun! Had trouble? Follow these links to learn more: Morgan Horse colors Quarter Horse colors Paint Horse markings