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This Is What An Equestrian Looks Like

Shariah Harris was 8 years old when her mom took a wrong turn in Philly's Fairmount Park neighborhood, and she saw other Black kids riding horses. They were with the Work To Ride program, in which children ages 7-19 participate in equestrian activities, get paid for stable work, and receive tutoring to maintain grades and enroll in college. Harris and her siblings spent hours at the barn, learning to ride, groom, and clean stalls. At age 12, Shariah joined the polo team and ended up playing mostly with boys. That challenge turned her into a very physical player with exceptional drive.

Work To Ride offered amazing learning opportunities, including trips to Nigeria and Argentina, and led to her acceptance at Cornell, where she captained the polo team for 3 years and earned a reputation as a formidable player. She got her degree in animal science, then went back to school for a registered nurse degree. She is playing on the Work To Ride team, sponsored by Melissa Ganzi, with British 10-goaler Nina Clarkin, Maddie Grant, and Caitlin Cregg, and scored the winning goal in a match on 2.7. (photo below credit, Candace Ferreira)





My favorite quote comes from the npr piece. Shariah says, "I hate to lose more than I love to win." That article has more about Lezlie Hiner (pictured below) who is also 'what an equestrian looks like.' (Photo credit: Windsor Johnston, NPR)




Why I Love This Story: It's the plot of half the horse stories I ever read, or wrote. A young person with disadvantages; a 'chance' encounter with horses; a stable as refuge; a wise mentor; add hard work, courage, and a supportive mom, and bingo! Several years later, 'instant success'! I also love how formidable Shariah Harris is, and how she rocks that polo helmet.






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Mixed Blessings

Hay weather? Haying? Not happening. We have had some magnificent days here in Vermont, with clear skies and lovely breezes, but in between we've gotten regular weather fronts that bring brief, torrential rains. The destruction has been less here than in central Vermont, but the hay fields are squishy. Equipment can't get on them, and the grass is standing there, browning at the tops, and becoming less nutritious by the day.
The blessing part? Well, the bobolinks have hatched and fledged for sure. The baby turkeys and the fawns have plenty of cover. The roots of those grasses are going deep, perhaps strengthening the field against the over-use we surely do, both haying and grazing it. Every once in a few years those tall grasses get a long season to mature and go to seed as they would naturally. So we all may benefit in the end, but I'd be more sanguine about it with some hay in the barn.
Mud. That is happening, and as my horses must to uphill to their pasture, they have created a very slippery, eroding path. I got a friend to dump some wood chips, and Michael and I have lugged it uphill in 5 gallon buckets. The horses tread it right in, creating a mix like a stiff oatmeal cookie dough, which is still muddy, but far less slippery. There is much more of this work to do, but now Robin will help.
I got a synthetic Western saddle, and a set of saddle panniers, canvas bags that hang over the horn and cantle. Robin is being clicker trained to carry this new rig, and soon I'll be loading her up with wood chips, my treat-vest up with hay pellets and peppermints, and we'll start hauling. I aim to keep it fun for her, with lots of treats and a chance to learn new tricks, while moving some stuff along the squishy edge of the hay field.
The punkies/midges seem to be mostly gone, thank goodness. Before they left I discovered the thing that worked, a Cashel nose net. It curves down over her nostrils and keeps the insects out. She looks like a harem girl or a Western stage-coach robber, but she's able to eat and doze peacefully. A load off both our minds. Read More 
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Equine Herbal and Energetics

Horses are herbalists by definition. A horse on pasture, a rough, 'weedy' pasture like mine, has many opportunities to self-medicate. After a bad colic, my old mare Josey spent days wandering the edge of the hay field nibbling at goldenrod, an aromatic carminative. In late autumn, the horses somehow eat rosehips from the detestable wild rose that is trying to take the pastures. In spring they adore dandelions, even the flowers and rubbery stalks. Dandelion is a classic spring bitter, and horses seem to crave it at that time.
At the moment I'm not needing to intervene in anybody's herbal regimen, but in the past I've had some issues to treat, so I was interested in the new book, EQUINE HERBAL AND ENERGETICS, by Stacey Small and Andrea Baldwin. But perhaps because I had no immediate horse treatment needs, I was a bit disappointed at first, and inclined to notice things I didn't like about the book. It could have used a better copy-editor, for instance, and it didn't seem to me that I was learning anything new.
That was because I was ignoring an important aspect of the book, even though it was right there in the title. "Energetics."
Truthfully, I suspected the whole idea was hooey. Herbs have many powerful constituents, I get that, but this whole idea that some are heating and some are cooling just did not make sense to me. My body, however, had other ideas.
Earlier this spring, my psoriasis and hot flashes suddenly went crazy. It didn't make sense, but in a book about herbal teas for people, I ran across a story of an herbalist who gave herself a good case of rosacea with too many heating herbs. Could I be doing that? For the first time I turned seriously to EQUINE HERBAL AND ENERGETICS; specifically, to the chart titled Energetic Temperature of Herbs. It fits on one page and is clear, color-coded, and highly illuminating. And there was the answer.
As a daily part of my diet, I was including the excellent, multi-healing, but warming herbs ginger, garlic, astragalus, anise, turmeric. I used a lot of valerian to help me sleep. It was all catching up with me.
Since de-emphasizing the heating herbs and seeking out cooler alternatives--hops, elder, fennel, mint--and starting to take gotu kola, my psoriasis has cooled down and the hot flashes have diminished, even though it's now summer. And I have a far greater respect for herbal energetics, and for this new book. I have yet to use it on a horse's ailment, but should the occasion arise, I will take the thermal properties of any remedy seriously.
Bottom Line: this is a useful book to add to your library, no matter what species you are treating. Combined with one or two others, it will give you the tools you need to improve health, and could solve a few mysteries. Read More 
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Girthy, Saddley, Bridley Robin

Little Queen
"Robin's so sweet," her vet says. She often grazes just steps from his front porch, so he does know her in that context.
"I love this horse!" her farrier always says, as she greets him with fluttering nostrils--an inaudible nicker--and the first front hoof already raised. Not that Chad Bacon doesn't have her number. He knows she gets impatient if he doesn't get right to work. Girl has places to go, things to eat! Don't take all day!
Both Chad and Stephen would be astonished at the Robin I see when I approach with her saddle and bridle. Pinned ears, narrowed eyes, a back hoof raised in menace. This horse HATES being tacked up.
It runs in her family. A grand-dam and an older sister have both wrecked carts on being girthed up untactfully. Knowing this, I spent many hours training Robin to accept the girth, clicker training in very small increments, with many treats. Ditto the bitless bridle. I bought a sheepskin for her noseband, and a fleecy, elastic girth. I have worked on this for years and years.
Still I get those looks.
On the plus side, I do tack up in a large box stall, and rarely have to tie Robin to do so. Often she will come to me, even when I'm holding the saddle, if I put out my fist as a target. Click, put saddle on her back, treat.
Then it takes more clicks and treats to get the bridle on, to allow me to straighten out the pad and girth, to tighten the girth in small increments. By the end she is usually looking pleasant (and well-fed!), and all is well until I ask her to step out of her stall. Then more treats may be required.
Once I have her lined up at the mounting block, which she does voluntarily and flawlessly, she's perfectly cheerful and ready to go. That tells me the problem isn't ill-fitting tack. If the saddle was uncomfortable this horse would definitely tell me!
Is this an example of a poisoned cue? Has riding tack become associated with aversive training in her mind? Is it possible that, if I radically switched equipment (and then never made a mistake with it) I could cleanse tacking up of its poison?
I'm betting not. Knowing that this problem is multi-generational, I've come to accept that 'good' tacking up for Robin is when she allows it without actually nipping, raising a back foot, or looking ugly. She will never be like her stablemate, who shoulders her way into a halter. Like all Morgans, the two are closely related, but Martha missed the girthy gene.
With Robin, I imagine it's linked to loss of control. With every strap I put on her, she loses some autonomy. So should I never ride her? Some people would say so.
Me? I figure she can spare me half an hour out of her day, especially since she seems so cheerful once we get going. She's the kind of horse who's inclined to speak her mind, and clicker training has only accentuated that.
That's what I love about clicker training. Horses get a voice. There's no guarantee we're always going to like what they're saying. Read More 
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Did I write enough about flies? I wrote about so many things in The Horse-lover's Encyclopedia 2nd Edition, and I know fly masks, fly sheets, fly repellent, are in there. But did I make it clear how these things can dominate one's life as an equestrian?
For the second year in a row, Robin is obsessed and distressed by a fly ( or possibly a gnat, midge, or punkie). It looks like a white fly you might see on your house plants, and it drifts around the barnyard, even into the barn. According to my dad the little things do bite. Robin spends time with her nose pressed to the ground, or in a dark corner of the barn, not eating, staring straight ahead, waiting for the next one to attack.
Things I've tried: a fly mask with nose piece. It doesn't cover her nostrils, so doesn't completely do the job. Fly spray, of course. Increasing her magnesium supplement; this does seem to have reduced her hysteria somewhat. I've bought a nose net. The problem is that she dislikes the nets touching her nose, and a slight eye injury also has her upset.
So I have not been riding. Starting to get tired of that. My next hope; herbal essential oil drops, which I will put on the face mask. They seem to drive off black flies when I put them on my hat brim. Maybe they'll drive off these white tormentors as well. Stay tuned. Read More 
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Train Like an Editor

My resolution to blog at least weekly has been stymied by my real job, writing books. At the moment I am working on revising my middle-grade novel RESCUE, due out from Boyds Mills Press sometime in spring 2018. I am so happy to be reunited with the wonderful editor Rebecca Davis, with whom I worked at Greenwillow Books a decade ago. And Rebecca is teaching me something about horse training.
Here's what it's like to be edited by Rebecca. You open the manuscript--these days, electronically, back in those days, on paper. You kind of gasp, because there are sooo many notes. Cautiously, you start reading through them. You start smiling.
Because a huge percentage of those notes are "I love this." "This made me (smile, laugh, tear up)." "I love Joni (my main character)." In other words, this is a very +R experience--positive reinforcement, for you non-trainers. What it does is make me very happy to work, eager to improve those sections where Rebecca has questions, hopeful of making her love those sections too.
So how can I do that for my horses? I actually am riding Robin with Rebecca in mind--along with all the other things I have to keep in mind, like position and keeping breathing, etc. Robin knows the basics. I don't want to click and treat her for just walking.
So it's meant that I try harder things sooner in the riding season, and the session, than I might have otherwise, and I click and treat the earliest try. Yesterday I took a shot at haunches-in, which was our achievement last season but which we find challenging. We got an approximation and I hopped off, which got an excited nicker. Robin knows that when I do that, a peppermint is sure to follow. I'm aiming for peppermints in every training session, and lots and lots of nickers.
Be a good horse trainer. Be like Rebecca. Read More 
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Chinning A Horse

I could fill a pretty good-sized horse-lover's encyclopedia annex with the things I had to leave out of the book, and the things I learned after it was done. Some of them are new scientific discoveries, and some are old-timey things I hadn't yet run across by my deadline.
Today's discovery is an oldterm--cited on the Internet in a book from 1911, for example--called 'chinning' a horse. It's a quick and dirty way to estimate a horse's height. You first need to measure how tall you are at the chin when standing upright, and then you go stand upright next to the horse's whithers and see where your chin hits.
I first got on the track of this in a Draft Horse Journal article. The author, a draft horse judge, was asked, "Why do you smell every horse in the ring?' In fact he was chinning them. I would imagine it's an easy way to fool yourself, if you don't stand exactly the same way measuring to your own chin as you do measuring a horse, or if you shrink with age. But it was useful in the past, and probably you get better at it with practice.
Now I need to go measure my chin height, and go up and see the horses. I believe Robin is around 14.2, Martha is around 15.00, and Zeke--who knows? Maybe I will soon.  Read More 
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Sidestepping Spring Laminitis--It's All About The Micro-Biome

The pastures are still mostly white and any bare ground is brown, so file this under wishful thinking--but what's the best way to avoid foundering a horse in spring?
I have been doing a bit of research on that, and find that I was laboring under a couple of misconceptions.
One is the assumptionthat by not fertilizing my pasture I was keeping it 'leaner' and safer for the horses. Not so. The sugar is concentrated near the ground in over-grazed pasture, which is why they keep gnawing it down, and how they manage to fatten so handily in the autumn, when it looks like there's no grass left. If I fertilized, the grass would use that sugar for growth, which would also create more fiber. Less of the bad stuff, more of the good.
I don't want to use chemical fertilizer, as it kills soil bacteria which build tilth and carbon in the soil. So I'll be looking into alternatives.
Good things I've been doing forever? Carefully controlling spring grazing, starting with an hour at a time in the morning, and slowly increasing the amount of hours they get to graze. I knew that was important, but did not understand that it was mostly about the bacteria in the hindgut. The ones that digest fructans apparently die out during a winter of eating hay, and need time to repopulate. Gradual adjustment is important. One year I had a brain-fart and let the horses out for four hours their first time out. We all got lucky and there were no bad consequences, but that was not the way to do it.
Grazing in the morning is helpful in spring and fall, when the nights are cold. Sugar production in the grasses peaks in the afternoon and evening during that time. Luckily it's much easier to bring horses in and out during daylight hours. Later in the year, the bugs help me manage grazing time. Horses go out early, and come back to the barn when the flies start to bother them.
Spring grass is low in magnesium. I've been supplementing with magnesium in the spring for a couple of years and will keep that up. But it's time to step up my game on pasture management. I thought the lazy way was the right way, but apparently not. Now to investigate the best organic way to improve pasture.  Read More 
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Expanding My Mind With The Draft Horse Journal

In revising The Horse-Lover's Encyclopedia, (and earlier, writing Horse Crazy!), one of my goals was to expand awareness of the draft horse scene. How do I know it's a scene? Largely due to my mother's subscription to The Draft Horse Journal.
Founded in 1964 by Maury and Jeannine Telleen, DHJ is published quarterly. A subscription is $35, and it's a bargain. Articles are both in-depth and wide-ranging, covering both the North American draft horse and draft horses around the globe. There are regular columns by a veterinarian and a lawyer, and jokes scattered around on the bottoms of the pages for extra smiles.
The Winter 2017 issue features articles on leading Clydesdale sires, a working field-day for Brabant horses, the equine artist Shannon Lawlor, horse-powered haying and Christmas tree operations, and "Testosterone and the Breeding Stallion." Production values are high and the photography is often beautiful. If you had the impression that draft horses were a thing of the past, DHJ will change your mind. Horse prices are high at the many annual sales, horse pulling and big hitches are going strong, and many people enthusiastically use horses on the farm. DHJ sponsors and reports on Horse Progress Days, an annual field day at which innovative horse-drawn farm equipment makes its debut. Yes, innovation is still happening in the field of horse-drawn farm equipment!
I particularly love the way DHJ articles take me beyond what I already know. In a recent article about logging in the Ardennes forest, I was startled, even concerned, to see a single horse being driven up onto a pile of logs. Turns out these large horses (the Ardennes breed looks similar to the Brabant) are taught to step onto the logs to help settle and organize them into a compact pile. I wouldn't have thought a horse could be taught to do that, calmly and matter-of-factly, as part of the normal course of work.
The horse is driven using a jerk-line. Two reins made of rope combine into a single line that comes back to the driver's hand. Gentle tugs and voice commands allow for sophisticated communication. The command "un pas" (one step) is especially important.
To see a horse who looks like an intelligent boulder, thoughtfully trampling a pile of logs, expands my mind to the possibilities between human and horse. It's reason enough to subscribe to this great magazine--or in my case, freeload off my mom! Thanks, Mom. Thanks, Draft Horse Journal. Read More 
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Tombstone Hay Feeders? Is That a Thing?

You live and learn. Sometimes you don't learn soon enough to put it in your big new encyclopedia. That's why you won't find tombstone hay feeders in The Horse-Lover's Encyclopedia. The phrase was new to me when I spotted it in an equipment ad. Sounded grim and dramatic.
So I looked it up. Turns out "tombstone" refers to the shape of the metal gizmos that form the slots. They look like a circle of old-time tombstones. Tombstone feeders with their rounded shoulders are better for horses because the smooth shape doesn't catch and pull out mane hair. Horses slip their heads through and eat--though I would worry that my dominant mare would come around and chase the other two, and they could get hurt if they were caught with their heads through the slot.
My guess is that they would worry too, and would adopt a snatch, pull out, and munch outside the feeder style of eating. That's why a basket-style feeder would be better for a herd with bossy horses in it. Horses don't put their head into the basket at all. They pull hay through, as they do from a manger or hay net.
Right now though, my horses are eating hay from piles on the snow, and getting lots of exercise walking (or being chased) from pile to pile. It's the most natural way, and they sure look pretty out there. Read More 
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