The articles that appear here are drawn from the series “Corrales Para Los Caballos" (Corrales for Horses), written by Steve Komadina for the Corrales Comment newspaper.
Steve has owned and ridden horses for over six decades and served as President of CHAMP from 2011 to 2014. He has served with many organizations supporting all aspects of horse/human relationships. As a State Senator for eight years, he was the voice for horses and passed hallmark legislation protecting the legacy of the wild horse in New Mexico. Steve also served as Vice President and Councilor for the New Mexico Horse Council and was recognized in 2014 as their Horse Person of the Year. His vision and leadership resulted in Corrales being designated the "Horse Capital of New Mexico". He continues to stay involved in equine activities and to pursue his lifetime goal of being "good enough" for his horses and to deserve them as partners.
All Steve’s articles can be found at www.corralescomment.com.
Which one of these five categories represents the relationship you have with your horse?
There are different kinds of parents. There are different kinds of dog owners. There are different kinds of cat owners. And there are definitely different kinds of Corrales horse owners.
Maybe you identify with one of these types, or maybe your style of horse ownership is a style all your own. Either way, there’s definitely no wrong way to be a horse owner. The differences are what make Corrales horse ownership so unique and special and difficult to understand by the non-horsey person.
My horse is an animal.
This type of horse owner loves animals, but animals have their place. Hand feeding doesn’t need to happen, and the horse doesn’t need three different halters. A horse needs food, shelter, water and exercise to lead a healthy and positive life. You love seeing your horse in his element, grazing in the field and occasionally running across the pasture to play with his pasture mates.
My horse is an investment.
This type of horse owner is often involved in horse racing or high end showing, but not exclusively. This horse owner is enamored with the power of the animal and wants to see it succeed in whatever discipline it’s been bred or conditioned for. You give your horse any opportunity it can to work with the best trainers and riders so you can see him become the best equine athlete he can be.
My horse is my best friend and a member of the family.
This would be the category I fit in to. This type of horse owner loves her horse and includes him in holiday cards, celebrates the horse’s birthdays and treats him with all the hugs and carrots he could ever need. You talk about the horse like the he is a person. You narrate his thoughts and opinions, and you can’t wait to bring your friends out to the barn to meet him. You know he can’t wait, either. That means more hugs and treats!
My horse is a workout partner.
This horse owner has found that horseback riding is an enjoyable way to get exercise, and while it benefits the rider, it also benefits the horse. You both get to stay in shape! You may or may not have show aspirations, and you enjoy your time grooming and caring for your horse, but the workouts are what drive you to come out to the barn as often as possible.
My horse is my teammate.
This horse owner has a competitive drive. Whether your sport is eventing, endurance riding, reining or a different competitive discipline, your horse is part of a team. Through long waits at shows to long drives to different competition venues, you and your horse stick together. Without that adrenaline rush, your relationship would lack its meaning.
So, which Corrales horse owner are you? See you on the trail!
So, as we start a new year we wonder what adventures it will hold for we and our equine buddies. I had a chance to reflect during the holidays on some of the interesting facts you may or may not know about these plentiful Corrales critters. So here goes with a few you may recognize...
Horses have played an important role in human history. They are magnificent creatures that have served dutifully alongside humans in times of war, farming and hunting as well. In addition, people have always relied on equines for transportation during ancient times. Horses were the first “engines” and were originally used to pull chariots and wagons until the invention of the combustion engine.
Horses have been admired through the ages for their beauty, speed and strength. They also have many other characteristics and abilities that may not be as well- known but are still fascinating. There are plenty of horse facts and horse trivia to learn. Here are some of those horse facts and trivia for you to enjoy.
So there you have it. Aren't you glad you read this and have trivia to spring on your friends at that next cocktail party? Horses are great any way you slice it and that is not intended to be a comment on ingestion of horse meat. See you on the trail!
A whinny is not just a whinny. Horses convey complex information when they whinny. These expressions reflect their emotions, in the same way as human’s voice. Each whinny is made up of two independent fundamental frequencies, according to researchers at the Ethology and Animal Welfare Unit at ETH Zurich’s Institute of Agricultural Science. One frequency indicates whether the emotion is positive or negative, while the other frequency reveals the strength of the emotion.
This phenomenon had not been described in any scientific study on horse vocalizations but the fact is that listeners with normal hearing can easily perceive both fundamental frequencies if they are aware of them.
Such vocalizations with the two fundamental frequencies are actually rare among mammals, in contrast, for example, to songbirds. It is not yet known how horses simultaneously produce such complex sounds. Researchers suspect that the presence of these two fundamental frequencies is due to an asynchronous vibration pattern of the vocal cords. In order to learn more about the expression of emotion in horses, the researchers tested 20 groups of horses by exposing them to various positive and negative situations. This allowed researchers to study the individual horses reaction when members of the group were removed and later returned. Researchers used cameras and microphones to record the behavior and vocalizations of the horses and to also measure the animal's physiological response, such as heart rate, breathing and skin temperature.
The findings show that the intensity of emotions is best indicated by the heart and respiratory rates, the horses’ movements, the characteristics of the lower of the two fundamental frequencies of the whinny and the amplitude of higher frequencies. Specifically, the more aroused the horse is, the more its heart rate and breathing increase. It moves more and produces whinnies in which the lower of the two fundamental frequencies is higher, regardless of whether the emotion is positive or negative.
The valence—that is, whether the emotion is positive or negative—is expressed most strongly through the characteristics of the duration of the whinny, the higher fundamental frequency and the position of the head. Positive emotions can be recognized by the fact that the horse emits whinnies of shorter duration and in which the higher fundamental frequency is lower, and it lowers its head. Whinnies produced during negative emotions are longer and the higher fundamental frequency is higher.
This knowledge could be useful to horse owners allowing them to better interpret the animal’s behavior and thus respond more effectively to its needs. This research is part of a larger research project that explores how the expression of emotions has evolved among various ungulates. The main aim of this project is to look at the effect of domestication. The researchers want to find out whether domestic animals and their wild counterparts express their emotions in a similar way, or if domestic species have adapted their means of expression to humans. Comparisons are planned between domestic and Przewalski horses (a species of wild horse), domestic pigs and wild boars, and cattle and bison.
Briefer EF, Maigrot AL, Roi Mandel R, Briefer Freymond S, Bachmann I, Hillmann E: Segregation of Information about Emotional Arousal and Valence in Horse Whinnies. Scientific Reports, 21. April 2015, DOI: 10.1038/srep09989
What kid turns down the chance to sit on a horse, be it rocking or walking? There is a natural affinity to touch that big woolly, kind-eyed giant.
Well Corrales is the perfect place to mix kids and horses. There are probably 25+ youth horseback instructors in Corrales and daily kids come to the Village to get their dose of horse one on one. It is amazing to see the synergy between a 50-pound kid and a 1,400-pound horse.
One such horse is Sweet Pea age 37. She was a polo pony as a youth and charged up and down a field of green chasing a white ball and having a man lean off her center of gravity to win a match. What an athlete she was!!! Time moved on and she was not quit the swift of foot and her next life was spent teaching riding at an academy. Because of her sweet disposition she was a favorite of young riders and patiently did her best to carry out their demands. Later life found her as a therapy horse working with special needs riders and finally she was given away as too old and to hard to keep weight on. She ended up at my farm 5 or 6 years ago and she truly was a gift horse. She got her special senior pelleted food and had a special place to eat away from the herd so she could take her time and gum her food down since she had little left in the way of teeth. She would be borrowed for weekly horse camp now and then and often would get swollen knees and have to be rested for days with cold compresses. With some trepidation I sent her to Scout camp this year hoping a timid boy might find her reassuring and a companion for the week. Well she flourished at camp. No lame days for Sweet Pea! She has returned to Corrales and continues to take even 4 year olds for a ride out on the trail being ponied by the instructor.
There is nothing like the smile on the face of the child as they let the mane trickle through their fingers and feel the swell of the muscles under their thighs. It is quite a sight and warms the heart beyond belief.
On Saturday September 27th during the Annual Corrales Harvest Festival we invite you to join CHAMP for the 2nd Annual Celebration of the Horse at Top Form Arena at the Recreation Center. Hay wagons will drop you there for demonstrations on all aspects of horses in Corrales. There will be many youth horsemanship instructors with booths where you can see the opportunities for your child or grandchild to learn a safe lifelong recreation activity under the guidance of an expert. Kids and horses mix safely only with instruction and guidance. Horse packing, driving, therapy, rescue, training, trail riding, ranch work, team drills, minis, and mules will all be on display.
Bring the child in your life with you and meet an instructor to open the world of horses to them. Lessons are cheap when compared to the room and board of a horse and even adults are turning to horse lessons to fill that void on their bucket list they never filled as a youth.
Please join us and bring a friend to the Celebration of the Horse Saturday of Harvest Festival. You will be glad you did. Then come the next day at 9 am to enjoy the best youth horse show in the State as Dan's Boots and Saddles sponsors the Ditch Pony Promenade in the same location.
As Balloon Fiesta draws to a close, another week was survived by the residents of Corrales. Many love the balloons and hope they will land in their back yards. Others hope they will keep flying high and land in Rio Rancho. So what's up? Well there are more "Prohibited Zones" per square mile of Corrales than in any place in America. Those are places that have designated to the balloonists that they do not want them on their land. There is an absolute prohibition. Then there are "Sensitive Zones" where a balloon can only land in an emergency.
We all see the balloons flying our way frequently due to the prevailing winds in October but why do we have those zones? It is mostly due to horses. So you say "What's the big deal? I see the police horses on the field and NM Mounted Search and Rescue every time I go and they are on their horses right in the middle of the balloons." Well the answer isn't as simple as you may think.
Remember that horses are prey animals and their whole life is spent trying to stay alive and not to get eaten by a predator. They live in herds where many eyes can look for predators. They look for a leader who will keep them safe. So why do the horses in a pasture think a balloon in the sky is dangerous and not when it is under a rider at the Fiesta Park?
The police horse is trained to trust it's rider and leader who will keep it safe and never ask it to do anything dangerous. They are a team. The horse in the pasture may not trust the pasture mates to keep it safe and its owner is nowhere to be found to reassure it of the safety. Hence the need for some horse owners to request the balloons stay away.
My favorite picture is of Dick Rowels sitting on his horse with a camera in one hand on the Corrales pedestrian/equestrian bridge on Alameda with balloons all around him splashing and dashing and his horse is basically yawning.
Each owner knows their horses personality and for many the balloons are not a problem, but Fiesta publishes a map with the SZ and PZ sites to help good landowner relations and to insure Fiesta can continue to entertain the community here in the Middle Rio Grande Corridor.
So here is a thanks to all of Corrales and especially the horse community for allowing us to continue to fly so high and so well that mother earth welcomes us back into her loving arms (in Rio Rancho!). See you on the trail or as I fly the Stork over your home on my way to a great landing in the wide open spaces of Western Rio Rancho.
Ok… Are you up to owning a Mule?
Lots of people have opinions about those curious beasts who are the offspring of the mating of a horse with a donkey. One wise man said you must treat a mule the way you should treat a horse.
What type of riding do you do?
Select a mule to meet your needs. Because mules can come from any breed of mare and from different sizes and types of jacks, try to select your mule with the mental and physical aptitudes you need. Keep in mind that the jack will contribute to size, disposition, and soundness, but the majority of the mental attitudes and athletic ability will come from the mother. Know what you expect from your mule before you buy him, and select him to meet your expectations.
Do you enjoy head games?
If you like to match wits, you will enjoy mules. They are highly intelligent animals who are always thinking. Mules don’t program like a horse, so in your training you need to mentally challenge your mule, keep him interested, quit before you bore him, and give him praise when he responds well. If your mule gets mad, or is in a bad mood, you might as well forget the day’s training session. Realize, when you have a well – trained mule, that he is humoring you by responding correctly to your cues. Make him mad and watch him ignore you.
How patient are you?
It takes patience to own mules. You have to be able to out think them, not overpower them. If you start trying to force a mule to do something, instead of convincing them that he wants to do it your way, you will have problems. Working with mules involves a lot of head games.
How experienced with horses are you?
If you have not ridden or owned horses, you may not have enough background to deal with mules. They are smart, and if you make mistakes with them, they will take advantage of you. You must understand equine psychology and be able to read horse or mule body language – something that takes time and experience. If you allow your mule to outsmart you, he will.
OK… So are you up to owning a Mule (Or being owned by a Mule)?
In our next edition we will explore why there are more mules than horses in the world. We will also share why on the average mules are worth more than horses at sales around the world.
WOW! Did I stir up a hornet's nest with the last article on mules. Mule lovers and detractors came out of the woodwork (or maybe it was the Bosque) to voice their opinions. Since the last article was my opinion pretty much, I decided research was in order…
I did one of those "Man on the Street" approaches with a pencil and pad at the post office and Village Mercantile, but I think people thought I was an agent from the IRS or something and there was little stomach for spending time talking to me. So I did what any modern day researcher does and Googled the topic. Many hour later I felt I had mastered the subject so here goes with the why mules even exist and why you would prefer a mule over a horse. (There are more mules than horses in the world today and they on average are worth more when sold.) I want to acknowledge the help of Paul and Betsy Hutchins, founders of the American Donkey and Mule Society for the following observations.
"Mules endure heat better than horses do.
It has been scientifically proven that the donkey is similar to the camel in its ability, when water starved, to drink only enough water to replace lost body fluids. Most mules inherit this ability. Water founder in a mule is so rare as to be notable when it does occur.
Mules have fewer feeding problems than horses do.
Many farmers keep their draft and work mules together in pens with feed available at all times, yet the mules rarely overeat to the point of colic or founder. Mules from pony mares, however, may grass or grain or road founder, so the idea that a mule never founders is not true. Mules require no fancy hay—just plain, clean, fresh hay suitable for equines. People who buy cheaper weedy hay find that their mules clean out the weeds first.
Mules eat less than horses do.
Mules that are not working usually don't need grain at all. Good pasture or clean hay is the usual maintenance ration, unless extra fat is required for show purposes. Many a man has complained that his mules won't fatten because they won't eat enough, requiring the owner to spend extra money buying richer food to put the fat on. When mules are working, their grain ration is usually about 1/3 less than that of a horse of the same size. Of course, a mule must be fed enough for its size, its metabolism, and the work it is doing.
Mules rarely have hoof problems.
Mules naturally have small, upright, boxy feet—which is part of the secret of their surefootedness. Mules that work on pavement, stony ground, etc. are shod, but most pleasure animals, or mules that work on softer ground, never see a shoe. Regular hoof trimming keeps them just fine. Their feet are strong, tough, flexible, and usually not as brittle and shelly as those of a horse. They have less of a problem with splitting, chipping, and contracted heels.
Mules excel in physical soundness.
Mules last longer, are more "maintenance free," and are less expensive at the vet's office than horses are. Leg problems are far less likely in a mule than in a horse, and when leg problems do occur, they are far less severe. "Why do they stay sound?" wonders Robert Miller, DVM. "Seeking answers... equine practitioners exposed daily to the tragedy of lameness in beautiful horses, look at the mules, run their hands down the tough little legs, and wonder." Not only legs, but wind, "innards," and all other parts of the mule including his hide are tougher and more durable than comparable parts of the horse. Hybrid vigor explains a lot of this; the tough physical and mental qualities of the donkey explain the rest.
Mules live longer productive lives than horses do.
Farm mules average 18 years to a horse's 15 years. When the mule is a companion animal doing lighter work and getting better medical care, better feed, and good management, the mule can give its owner good riding at age 30; 40-year-old retirees are not at all uncommon.
Mules can more easily than horses be handled in large groups.
Mules can be corralled on farms 30 or 40 to a group, or up to 500 in a feeding pen, without the injuries or other consequences commonly seen with horses.
Mules have a strong sense of self preservation.
This is one good reason why mules physically last longer than horses do. If they are overheated, overworked, or overused for any reason, mules will either slow down to a safe pace or stop completely. Mules are not stubborn. Neither are donkeys. Yes, of you want them to work too hard for their own well being, especially in hot weather, they will be "stubborn." We have never heard of a messenger running a mule to death the way legends say they ran their horses! The facts that mules are inclined not to panic, that they think about what is happening to them, and they take care of their own physical well being prevents many accidents that might happen if they were horses.
Mules are surefooted and careful.
Their surefootedness is partly physical and partly psychological. On the physical side, the mule has a narrower body than a horse of the same height and weight. He gets this from the ass side of the family. His legs are strong and his feet are small and neat. This narrow structure and small hoof configuration enable him to place his feet carefully and neatly. On the psychological side, mules have a tendency to assess situations and act according to their views (most of which have to do with self preservation). A mule will trust its own judgment before it trusts yours.
Mules incur fewer veterinary expenses.
It seems odd and unprovable, but to the confirmed mule owner a horse seems to be a vet bill waiting for a place to happen. Hybrid vigor accounts for a good deal of the mule's sturdy health. The toughness of the ass accounts for the other aspects. Perhaps the instinct of self preservation that shows up in such diverse ways as not drinking or eating too much when hot, or not panicking when caught in barbed wire, accounts for the rest. This is not to say that mules never get sick, injured, or otherwise "damaged." It is just that they are tougher than horses and they take care of themselves better.
Mules don't look like horses.
This is the thing about a mule that is most obvious to the casual observer--of course they look different. Well, you see, mule lovers like the look of a mule. We love those magnificent big ears. We love to watch those ears flop in a relaxing rhythm on a placid drive, or prick rigidly forward when the mule spots something interesting. We begin to think there is something wrong with those tiny little useless-looking ears of a horse. We like the mule's look of strength without bulk. We enjoy being different, knowing that a mule will draw attention where only the most outstanding and expensive horse will stand out from the crowd. Everyone looks at a colorful Appaloosa, but everyone "oohs" and "aahs" over a colorful Appaloosa mule. We like they way a mule sounds, too—kinda silly, but fun.
Mules are loaded with personality.
This is the most difficult thing to define. Yes, mules are intelligent. They can be very decided about how they want to do things. They are great at running a bluff, a trait they undoubtedly get from the donkey. All of our donkeys refuse to do anything until they are absolutely positive that we are going to make them do it, then they give right in and cooperate like angels. Rather than pit your strength against the tremendous strength of a mule, you must outthink him to calmly outmaneuver him. The key to handling mules is to do things simply, calmly, and firmly. Don't lose your temper and don't push too hard until you are ready and sure you can make it stick. The big secret to having a calm mule that never kicks and doesn't have bad habits is to handle it firmly but gently from the time it is born, or from the time you acquire the mule."
So there you have it. The hybrid power of the best of horse and donkey make these animals the work "horses" of the equine world. As the owner of 3 mules, I have got to say they are truly characters and although look ungainly at times, they make up for it with hybrid vigor. See you on the trail!
This could be the most contentious article I have written on horses and rival the great Corrales debates on sewers, coyotes, and skate parks that have graced the pages of the Comment in the past.
To wear or not to wear, that is the question...... Spurs? Shoes? Chinks or Chaps? No... HELMETS!
Oh, oh, I said the word. I can feel the tension already rising across the newsprint. Helmets..... Yes the topic of the month as we prepare for a summer of adventure aboard our steeds. After all the knights of the round table all wore helmets didn't they? Why wouldn't we join in? It just makes sense... or does it.
When did you last see jousting in Corrales other than parking for the Harvest Festival? Is horseback riding any more prone to hurt our heads than other routine Corrales activities?
I sometimes fear for my head while fishing for the last piece of Green Chili Cheeseburger pizza at the Village Pizza Monday night buffet. I worry about the heads of our elected officials at the Village Council meetings where there is a fair amount of jousting. How about the brain cancer you are getting by illegally talking on your cell phone while driving home on Loma Larga? Would a helmet protect those neurons from invisible cancer causing rays?
Things can get pretty "Heady" at the Sunday Grower's Market, not to mention the post office if you have a lower box and the one above you is open as you check your mail.
Maybe these should all become helmeted activities?
One of the most common accidents is falling and things like wet bathroom floor make it even a bigger risk. I suppose helmets should be required for all bathroom activities unless you still have a dirt floor outhouse or non-skid planks on the floor of your one or two holer.
Next to vehicular accidents, falling is the largest area of injuries for Boy Scouts and most Corraleños are hardly as agile as a sure footed First Class Boy Scout!
Gardening is certainly a cerebral activity in Corrales where all the refugees from Tanoan pray for their plants and commune with the praying mantises they purchased at Village Mercantile, not to mention the lady bugs. Heaven forbid if one was knocked on the noodle by a falling rake or a Roto Hoe handle and left the garden to nature to survive! I say helmet those gardeners before it is too late!
Now hold on Komadina... this is a HORSE article. Right? Then how come all those non-horse folks are trying to tell me I have to wear a helmet on Milagro my mighty steed? It is a miracle I can get on him much less not fall off at my advanced age.
I got so tired of well meaning jibes that I actually bought a helmet a few years ago. It looked a little weird and felt even weirder, but I did wear it to bed twice so my wife would not give me a intracranial bleed if she threw her arm over my head during the night. I felt so much safer when I dropped off to sleep, but the crick in my neck the next morning was not worth it.
So to wear or not to wear... what is the answer? My initial thought is that there could be worse ways to die. I would much rather die doing something I enjoy that at the end of a long stay in a nursing home unable to care for my every need. But that is just me and you may well feel differently. Quality of life to me is paramount and quantity is secondary.
But doesn't it just make sense to not risk what could be so easily prevented? So say the helmet always people. I respect their opinion. But you have to realize that I have survived 70 helmetless years (except for that one night in bed) and here I am. Sort of in one piece. Wearing a helmet is certainly a proactive way to lessen the risk of injury falling from a height off a horse, but maybe there are other things just as proactive...
You see I am very selective in the way I interact with a horse be it on the ground or on its back. I carefully select the horse I ride and the day and circumstances I ride in. I see people frequently out of control in a setting that is not conducive to their or their horses health. I kind of like ambling along the dirt trails of the outback (softer place to land). I don't need a blacktop path and people waving at me and other distractions one might find in a parade for instance. But I would not chide anyone who loves riding in parades. You see I love parades, but I often will walk my horse along the crowd on foot so the children can pet my horse and get up close and personal. Little do they know I have decreased my risk by not riding on blacktop. I used to ride alone in very remote places. I no longer do that and love long multi-day rides with groups where most of the logistics are taken care of and I can just enjoy my horse and the view. Probably safer behavior for a senior rider.
I always work with my horse on the ground before ever getting in the saddle. I don't mean lunging to "wear the horse down." I mean communicating on the ground what I will later transfer to the horse from the saddle. Some days we never get beyond the ground game, but I always ask the horse if it was as good for them as it was for me.
Lastly I would caution as more risky behavior than not wearing a helmet the danger of ego in a rider. Just because everyone else is doing it does not mean you have to do it. You probably should question the friendship which depends on you doing things you don't feel good about and look for more harmonious partners. "Come on. You can do it." can make you better and more proficient but I always listen to that still small voice that says time to turn back and prepare a little better before accepting the challenge.
So there you have it... To Wear a Helmet or NOT to Wear a Helmet? That is an answer you will have to look for when you see me on the trail. Did John Wayne have to worry about this stuff? Time to saddle up and move out. Adios Amigo!
Life and death are daily occurrences in this Village of Corrales. It just seems to happen to those we love and those we hardly even knew. We each realize our time will come, but usually push the thought from our mind and carry on the work of the hour and never dwell on the what ifs. We mark the passing of the family pet with as much reverence as a good friend. The worst day often comes when our saddle partner is put down because of an incurable disease and pain and suffering which cannot be helped any longer. That horse we have hugged and stroked and cared for leaves an empty spot in our heart that another horse will never completely fill. The circle of life they call it but it is never easy.
Many of us in Corrales, Corrales Horse and Mule People (CHAMP) and in the International Spanish Horse Community lost a friend and truly unique horseman this last month.
He won't be there when we need a hard worker or a willing hand to do whatever task is needed. He was cut from a different cloth than most these days. He had an unending desire to help, to buoy up, to pitch in.
He kept everything in notebooks. Stacks and stacks of notebooks. When he ran a meeting it went on for hours as he told story after story of similar events and you planed for the next one. If you were in charge, he had the notebook to document what you needed to do.
He knew everyone you needed to know to get the permission or permit or OK to succeed. In fact I think he knew everyone. He always had a grin and an impish look which seemed to make difficult things easy. There probably is no way to replace him. He was unique. He had an opinion on everything, but was willing to listen as well. He functioned at a high level regardless of the politics. If you needed it negotiated with factions within the Village, he was your man.
He touched many parts of this village both officially and behind the scenes. We will never really know all he did. His wife was truly a saint as she supported his frequent absences from home for never-ending meetings and he sacrificed professionally and hence economically to carry out volunteer responsibilities. You never had to worry about him not doing what he said he would do.
At his memorial service in the old church it was standing room only and family and friends gave heartfelt remarks to mark his passing. As I sat there it was hard to believe he was really gone. Maybe he just saddled up and rode off into the sunset? Maybe he left on one of those long-rider adventures?
I missed the last months of suffering that I know he and Robin endured until he took his last breath. I can't even think of my friend going through so much after always giving so much to others. Life isn't fair. Good people do have bad things happen to them. He was one of the best.
So as I write this monthly column I have given myself the challenge to do more. To complain less. To roll up my sleeves more. To try to be as good a citizen as he was. I am afraid I will never fill his stirrups or boots, but that is not a reason to not try.
Life will go on for a while for all of us until we have to face the final journey into the next life. We will adjust and we will move on, but I can't help think of those who he lived with and interacted with daily. A husband, a provider, a companion, a best friend... The hole will never be filled. He was truly unique.
I wish I could have magically made him better. How could the cancer have taken him from his wife and best friend? Not all questions have answers but their love should be an example to all of us. She was there for all of us. Thanks Robin for loving my friend, for wiping his brow, for caring for him always. We all love you and want you to call on the horse community of Corrales whenever needed. We owe it to you for all you have done.
Steve Henry was one of the best and all who knew him know exactly what I mean.
Adios Amigo. Vaya con Dios.
In case you didn't notice, it has been just a little cold the last few weeks. So many horse and non-horse people are probably wondering whether their horse needs to slip on its wintery best blanket and snuggle up for the long winter's night.
Most horse owners are aware of the damage and crisis inherent with fever states. But few horse owners realize how well adapted horses are to deal with cold when certain aspects of their lifestyle have not been altered by humans. In order for a horse to survive, internal body temperature is kept within a very narrow range. If the temperature exceeds these limits either above or below, the chemical reactions on the cellular level function improperly, or they stop functioning at all.
Over thousands of years, the wild horse has spread over the entire world. Whatever place in the world they live, the horse is exposed to constantly changing temperature from night to day. Even today wild and semi-wild horses, as well as domestic ones survive perfectly any weather conditions. Whether it is the north of Europe, or Australian deserts, the horse is exposed to all of Nature’s changing elements— wind, sun, rain, snow, fluctuating temperature, etc. No need for excessive enclosed shelters such as stables and barns or caves. Never in nature is the horse seeking ways of covering themselves with fabric. The horse has naturally evolved ways of thriving.
The Corrales domestic horse is the same as its wild counterpart: it has the same abilities to survive. Basically, they do not need anything more from us humans than what nature provided. Here is what is needed: freedom of movement 24 hours a day, free access to appropriate food 24 hours a day, herd life, proper hoof care, shelter which it can enter and leave freely. Given these simple things the domestic horse is able to properly use its amazing natural thermoregulatory abilities exactly the same way as the wild horse. The danger comes when we make our horse a subject for anthropomorphism through stabling, changing eating habits, blanketing, clipping, shoeing, etc.
Blanketing a horse can make the thermoregulation in a horse a complete mess. The animal tries to warm up parts of the body left exposed to the cold such as head, neck, belly and legs, in the process they become over-heated in those parts covered by the blanket. A horse cannot increase heat in selected areas of the body. The whole body cools or the whole body heats up. Sweating under a blanket is more of a problem metabolically to the horse than people realize.
Remember, due to thermoregulatory factors such as the skin and coat being very good insulators, which prevent heat loss, and the muscles producing heat through their movements, it is far easier for horses to warm up in cold weather than to cool down in hot weather. Cooling down is more difficult for the horse. Horses are adapted to handle cold. The horse’s skin is responsible both for protecting the interior of the body from outside temperature changes as well as not allowing heat loss in cold weather. The skin is also responsible for dissipation of internal heat generated by muscle action to prevent the body from over-heating. The skins’ thermoregulatory mechanisms consist of four major factors, skin, coat, arteries and sweat glands, three of which are responsible for keeping the horse warm in a cold weather.
The skin itself works as an insulating layer through its relative thickness.
The coat insulation depends on the depth and thickness of the hair layer, the wind speed and the temperature and humidity gradients within the coat. The coat, in horses, changes twice a year through the mechanism called photoperiodism, adapting to different seasonal base temperatures. Sensors in the horse’s skin react to the daytime light length changes. The horse is ready to grow their winter coat right after the summer solstice, when days start getting shorter. The horse is ready to change their winter coat to a summer one right after the winter solstice, when days start getting longer. In addition to photoperiod, environmental temperature also affects hair growth. Colder climates produce thicker and longer coats in horses than warmer climates do, when comparing horses who have the same body score and are fed the same amount of food. Also, coat growth is affected by some other factors, for example, feeding and breed. In addition to growing its coat, the horse can increase the insulation of the coat through the mechanism called piloerection — raising, lowering or turning in different directions the hair in the coat via hair erector muscles. This way the horse increases or decreases the thickness of the insulation layer and efficiently varies the amount of airflow to the skin surface. Piloerection increases coat depth 10% to 30% in mature horses. The hair erector muscles must be exercised regularly in order to work properly, as with any other muscle in the body. Hairs of the coat are also covered with a greasy substance, which helps the horse not get wet to the skin on rainy or snowy days. The coat has a water-repelling effect through the hair grease — water runs down the outer hair while the deeper coat remains dry. The longer the coat, the less chance water has to get to the skin. Through regular coat brushing the greasy substance gets removed, and the water-repelling effect gets impaired. It is not advisable either to clean off the layer of dirt that rolling in mud gives a horse. The mud has protective effects to the body. Needless to say, that the popular practice of clipping the hair of a horse’s coat eliminates, completely, the thermoregulatory factor of the coat.
The arteries in the skin through muscle actions, called vasoconstriction or vasodilation, can be narrowed or enlarged, regulating blood flow to the skin. Constricting prevents internal heat loss by reducing the amount of warm blood brought to the cooler body surface. Dilation allows for a larger amount of hot blood from over-heated interiors to reach the body surface and to be cooled. The cooled blood lowers internal body temperature when it’s returned back to the interior of the body.
The sweat glands in the horse are used to cool down at a time when external or internal temperatures are too hot. When the outside temperature is too high for the air to cool the blood through the skin, the sweat glands secrete fluid. Evaporation of this fluid cools the skin surface and the blood in the surface arteries. In this way, bringing the cooled blood to the internal body, the temperature internally can be lowered even when it is hot outside. The horse stops secreting sweat as soon as the internal body temperature has reached it’s norm. Then it must dry quickly, since otherwise cooling would continue and bring body temperature below normal limits. A sweaty horse turns its coat hairs in various directions in order to avoid under-cooling and given freedom usually seeks a windy spot to effectively fast and safely dry itself. Mentioning the sweat glands mechanism is important because sweat glands are also brought into function through muscle action.
The amount of fat in the body is also an important factor of thermoregulation. In addition to being the body’s energy reserve, fat is three times more insulating than other tissues due to its low thermal conductivity and poor blood supply. Thus it is important for a horse to have a good layer of fat before winter. Wild horses and naturally kept domestic horses maintain the natural rhythm of weight change throughout the year with their weight growing up to 20% by the Autumn. Also fat gets distributed more evenly over the body surface in cold conditions instead of being concentrated in some particular areas as in hot conditions.
Large size horses have less relative surface area available for heat exchange, and thus importantly lose less heat in the cold than small size horses do. Northern breeds of horses are rounder than warm climate southern breeds of horses.
Increasing feed intake increases heat production in the horse’s body. The process of digesting long fibers produces heat as a by-product. It is important that every domestic horse has unrestricted access to hay 24 hours a day in cold weather, having a chance of increasing heat production through continuously consuming and digesting long fiber. This is especially important when some of the other thermoregulatory mechanisms aren’t yet adjusted in suddenly changing weather such as a rapid drop in temperature.
Along with general reduction of activity in the cold, you have probably observed in horses standing or lying down very close to each other. In this way they reduce heat loss via radiation. By such positional closeness to each other they reduce the body surface area exposed to the external environment.
Snow which we can sometimes see lying along horses backs during winter also plays the helpful role of providing an extra protective layer against internal heat loss. On windy, rainy days, we can see horses standing with their tails to the wind and their heads low. This way they effectively keep their necks, heads, ears and eyes, underbelly and sheaths out of water and wind. Their tails serve to protect their rear ends — the shorter hairs on the dock fan out deflecting both snow and wind.
Under extreme circumstances, heat in the horse body can be generated by shivering. During shivering, heat is rapidly produced by breaking down ATP in the muscles. Shivering is usually an acute response to sudden cold exposure, or sometimes it occurs during extended periods of exposure to cold in rainy weather. In healthy animals, shivering is replaced by normal internal heat production as they adapt to new weather conditions.
The natural thermoregulatory mechanisms can only be fully utilized when a horse is kept in their natural i.e. wild living conditions. There is an anxiety and stress factor that horses inevitably experience when cut off from their basic needs and kept in ways unnatural for this species (stabling, separating from equine companions, forced exercising, lack of continuous fiber uptake, etc.). This stress also makes them less capable of coping with cold.
So, as you drive by that pasture filled with horses out in the snow, don't necessarily feel sorry for them. If their owner is wise they will do just fine left to natures ways.
Thanks to Natalija Aleksandrova for the information in her article and her words of wisdom.
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