Things to Consider Before “Dashing Through the Snow”

riding-in-snow-katie-peeryThis year, nearly all of the country is being hit with some sort of snowfall. Riding in the snow is one of winter’s joys and is a nice change for your horse. However, there are several things to consider. First, how will your horse react to snow?  It’s a different surface for him.  It looks different, it feels different – this can be spooky to some horses. If it’s merely a dusting of snow, this might not be an issue. But once it gets up around his knees, it becomes a whole new experience. Introduce him to it the say you’d do for any new experience.

Depending on where you live – or how long the snow has been around – there are two kinds of snow: soft and fluffy or packed and icy. Just as skiers and snowboarders love the soft, fluffy snow, this “powder” is ideal for riding due to its even smoothness on trails. However, it can take more effort for your horse to push his legs through it.  It’s just as important to give your horse a thorough warmup before riding in snow. This can help prevent sore muscles later.  Know where you are riding as powdery snow can also cover hazards such as large rocks or tree stumps.  The good news? It provides for a softer landing if you and your horse “disconnect.”

Packed snow is what you get when you are following a trail made by someone else – another horse, a skier, a snowmobile.  It takes less energy for your horse to walk through it, but packed snow can also turn icy so be aware of the possibility of your horse slipping. Due to the sun and shade provided by trees or other structures, a trail can have stretches of powder AND patches of ice that can come up unexpectedly.

horse-with-ice-balls-in-hoofThis wetter, icier snow is a prime cause of “ice balls” in your horse’s hoofs.  When your horse walks on snow, the heat of his hoof can warm up the snow while it touching the metal horseshoe can make it freeze again, causing a buildup.  After a while, this turns into an uneven mass that can cause your horse discomfort when walking and even real damage to tendons and joints.  There are several ways to help prevent this problem.  They include letting your horse go barefoot, using hoof boots or adding anti-snowball pads. 

Finally, make sure both you and your horse are dressed for the weather.  If you have snow, the temperature is probably already near or below freezing. And riding outside means no blocks from the wind, making it even colder. Consider a quarter sheet for your horse’s hindquarters to keep those big muscles warm. And dress in layers yourself. 

It looks like a long winter ahead so make the most of it with a fun, safe ride in the snow.

Photo credit:  Hidden Fox Farm
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Celebrating Veterans – Sgt. Reckless

american-flagWhile Veterans Day traditionally remembers the men and women who served in our Armed Forces, there are some four-legged heroes that deserve recognition as well. One of them was a horse named Reckless. 

A mare born in approximately 1948, Flame (as she was originally known) was out of a Seoul, Korea race horse dam with some Mongolian breeding. In October of 1952, during the Korean War, the United States Marine Corps were in Seoul when Lt. Eric Pederson met a Korean stable boy, Kim Huk, who needed money to buy an artificial leg for his sister. At the same time, the Marines were looking for a way to carry ammunition to the front lines for the 75mm Recoilless Rifle, Anti-Tank Company of the 5th Marines Regiment, 1st Marine Division. Pederson gave the boy $250 of his own money and purchased the horse for the unit. 

She was renamed “Reckless” by the Marines as a combination short-hand name of the Recoilless rifle and the bravery of those who used them. The small chestnut with a blaze and four white socks was closest to her primary trainer Gunnery Sergeant Joseph Latham and to Private First Class Monroe Coleman, her primary caretaker.  The horse was initially kept in a pasture near the encampment.  But Reckless had a gentle disposition and soon developed such a rapport with the troops that she was allowed to freely roam about the camp and entered tents at will, sometimes sleeping inside with the troops, and even lying down next to Latham’s warm tent stove on cold nights.sgt-reckless-live

Like most new recruits, Reckless went through a version of boot camp – or “hoof camp” as it was known for her.  Reckless quickly learned the battle survival skills and, after several trips carrying supplies and ammunition, she learned the route and was able to deliver supplies to the troops without the benefit of a handler.  She was also used to evacuate the wounded. Enemy soldiers could see her as she made her way over dangerous terrain and up the steep mountain trails to the firing sites.  “It’s difficult to describe the elation and the boost in morale that little white-faced mare gave Marines as she outfoxed the enemy bringing vitally needed ammunition up the mountain, “Sgt. Maj. James E. Bobbitt recalled. Bobbitt recalled.

Reckless served in the military for more than nine months. She was the first horse in the Marine Corps to have made an amphibious landing. She was wounded twice in combat and given the rank first of battlefield corporal in 1953, and then a battle field promotion to sergeant in 1954.  Following the war, she was awarded two Purple Hearts, a Marine Corps Good Conduct Medal and was included in her unit’s Presidential Unit Citations.  She received other military honors as well.

Even though she was revered as a war hero, Reckless was favored by the Marines for another reason – her quirky personality. She hated to be ignored or hungry.  She ate any food she could get her lips around – cake, Hershey bars, Coca Cola – and to be sure the Marines got the point, she ate poker chips, blankets and hats as well.

sgt reckless statue camp pendleton.pngShe was retired and brought to the United States after the war.  In 1959 the Commandant of the Marine Corps officially promoted to the rank of   She gave birth to four foals in America and died in May 1968. A plaque and photo were dedicated in her honor at the Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton stables and a statue of her was dedicated on July 26, 2013 at the National Museum of the Marine Corps in Quantico, Virginia. A memorial statue, recently created to honor Sergeant Reckless at Camp Pendleton, was dedicated on October 26, 2016.

What I Accidentally Learned at a Julie Goodnight Clinic

Julie goodnight horse masterEarlier this year, I attended my first Julie Goodnight clinic at the Washington State Horse Expo in Ridgefield, WA.  For those of you who don’t know her, Julie Goodnight is a multidisciplinary rider and clinician, with experience in dressage, jumping, racing, reining, colt-starting, cutting, and wilderness riding. She teaches natural horsemanship, emphasizing doing what is best for the horse, and also the rider’s safety at her clinics and on  her television show on Horse Master With Julie Goodnight.

Julie’s clinic are a combination of “show and tell.”  She was working with another rider, while riding her own horse and explaining what she was doing.  Suddenly, the participants horse started to whinny and whinny and whinny.  Julie advised not to punish the horse and went on to explain the way horses communicate “verbally.”

“Horses are limited to just a few audible expressions that they use to communicate: the whinny, nicker, snort and squeal, all of which have varying deliveries and subtle inflections. The four audible expressions each have specific meaning.

Nickers are the guttural, low-pitched pulsating expressions and occur most often just prior to being fed and announce the horse’s presence and anticipation. Stallions will also nicker at mares during reproductive behavior to draw the mare’s attention. Mares typically give a third type of nicker to their young foals when the mare is concerned about the foal. Basically all three types of nickers mean, “come closer to me.”

Whinnies or neighs are high-pitched calls that begin like a squeal and end like a nicker and it is the longest and loudest of horse sounds. The whinny is a social call and seems to be a form of individual recognition and most often occurs when a foal and mare or peer companions are separated or when a horse is inquisitive after seeing a horse in the distance. The whinny seems to be a searching call that facilitates social contact from a distance.

Snorts and blows are both produced by forceful expulsion of air through the nostrils. The snort has a rattling sound but the blow does not. The snort and blow communicates alarm and apparently serves to alert other horses. The snort may also be given when a horse is restless but constrained and in this case it should be taken seriously as a sign that the horse is feeling trapped and alarmed and may become reactive.

The squeal is a high-pitched outcry with meaning as a defensive warning or threat that the annoyed individual will become aggressive if further provoked. Squeals are typical during aggressive interactions between horses, during sexual encounters when the mare protests the stallion’s advances and when a pre- or early-lactating mare objects to being touched anywhere near her sore teats.

Horses also make body noises that are not communicative but may tell you more about the horse’s physical state. They may groan and snore; the groan occurs mostly when the horse is lying down on his side (lateral recumbency) and is often made by a tired horse as he lies down. The groan may also be an expression of prolonged discomfort like when a horse is colicking or a mare is in labor. The snore is usually labored breathing in a recumbent horse and sounds a lot like the human snore.” – Julie Goodnight, 2007.

Many of us have experienced working with our horse and suddenly they go off on a bout of whinnying, i.e. looking for a friend.  Horses can feel insecure, especially when working alone in a large space.  The best way to overcome this is to working with your horse to establish that YOU are the herd leader.  You are the one in charge of keeping him safe.  He doesn’t need to call for a friend because you are already there to take care of him.  Once he accepts you as the alpha, the whinnying should cease.

Next time there’s a clinician in your area, don’t miss it because they may be focusing on a discipline you don’t practice.  I ride just for pleasure, but it was great to learn something new about horse behavior.

Photo credit:  Julie Goodnight